4 - The Ethnomethodological Sense

This is the fifth in a series of notes to fifteen lectures for my class SCFF5005: Interdisciplinary Study of the Family.
  1. One curious feature of most all work on family and kinship is that it calls upon often unspecified hypotheses about internal household dynamics, or even about face-to-face personal interlationships, and yet rarely, if ever, leads to a call for direct investigation into these dynamics or interrelationships.

  2. The criticism may be levelled most specifically to anthropology where, except perhaps for Malinowski (or Mead and Batesons), there is little systematic descriptions of face-to-face relations in the most local of settings

  3. In fact these overall observations have been made many times and, particularly in sociology, and to a certain extent in personality psychology, several starts were made to move from a discussion of general characteristics of family organization and their relationships with general characteristics of the large social contexts of families, to a direct investigation of the inner workings of a household.
    1. Parsons and Bales
    2. Bateson and the Palo Alto School
    3. Others mentioned in Gubrium (p. 38ff)
      1. Note how Gubrium's sketch history of the field suggests that this field has operated in terms of a kind of theory of "family culture" that parallels much that has been written about "culture" in anthropology.
      2. His criticisms are to the point, though he appears to fail to realize that what some described as "family themes" might be interpreted as evidence that small local groups can develop variations over the encompassing patterns that he then proceed to talk about.
    4. Other works such as mine in Ambiguous Harmony

  4. There have been two main difficulties
    1. a technical one: how does one observe the internal workings of families/households
    2. a theoretical one: what is there to observe that we cannot get at through other means?

  5. The responses:
    1. technically:
      1. the development of audio-/video- analysis techniques and
      2. "micro-ethnography"
    2. theoretically:
      1. In psychology, the movement towards the recognition that the individual is not quite a bounded unit, thus the development of family therapy.
      2. In linguistic, the emphasis on the interactional, communicational, social aspects of language in the speaking and the development of "conversational analysis."
      3. In sociology, the challenge raised by Garfinkel and "ethnomethodology" against Parsonian theorizing.

  6. the most important of these developments is that of ethnomethodology since it brings together:
    a determined look at interaction in its actual moment to moment unfolding (rather in its results); thus it ties with interests in agency, (personal?) (shared?) meanings
    a continual reminder that individual action can only be understood in terms of the actions of others.
    a continual reminder that the constructed world is the factual world within which people are living.

    1. The historical roots:
      1. reaction against Parsons understanding of Durkheim;
      2. the importance of Alfred Schutz and, possibly, Weber;
      3. the hidden (in the original sources) relevance of the American pragmatists (Peirce, Dewey and particularly G.H. Mead);
      4. the rediscovery and reconstruction of Durkheim;

    2. The central ideas:
      1. away from analyses looking at action from the standpoint of knowledge or the self as constituted
      2. away from analyses starting with possible formal features of the situation (e.g. no reliance on categories like gender, class, ethnicity, etc., unless specifically used/referred to in interaction.
      3. emphasis on local construction
      4. emphasis on the facticity of consequences as constructed in local interaction.

  7. What does this mean for family studies?
    1. from definitions of the family to action that indexes "family"
    2. emphasis on language and symbolic behavior as demonstratably constituted through the consequences of the behavior on future behavior.
    3. "family" as a posteriori category derived from interaction (if in fact it can be so derived in particular interactions). This would allow for "emic" analyses of features that would specifically refer to early structuralist thinking about the meaningless units that allow for meaning.
    4. thus "family" is not a locus of research but rather a discovery of research.

  8. An example from my research: given the utterance "found us proper china thing" (transcripts)
    1. what is being constructed? (agency of the speaker)
    2. what is being used for this construction? (constraints/resources)
    3. how might it constrain the next construction? (determination)
    4. how might it leave itself open to deconstruction/ appropriation/transformation (agency of the hearer)

October 5, 1999