Improvisation on the immortality of cultural facts

(Garfinkel, Harold Ethnomethodology's program )

Such facts (social and arbitrary) as

are 'immortal' to the extent that

  1. as any human actor approaches them, such facts are (always) already there in and through the coordinating work of other human beings, dead or alive, who, together, have had to deal with them earlier in the history of the fact (10 minutes ago, one hour ago, two or three centuries ago)
    1. mentioning 'approaching' is intended to deal with all sorts of boundary effects in the work of passing through (including the work of those approaching and the work of those defending)
  2. subsequent work by the actor must take the facts into account
    1. even if the boundary was not crossed (which might be the consequence of approaching the boundary
    2. In other words, the facts have consequentes for subsequent work by the original actor in the response of everyone else as the boundary is approached and then, if it is, crossed.
  3. this work may be [this is not a categorical but an analytic classification]
    1. doxic (its grounds are not explicitly addressed) [the realm of the naturalized culture and classical cultural anthropology as interpreted outside of anthropology by various professionals]
    2. playful (some grounds are addressed)
    3. struggling and resistant (some grounds are specifically fought against)[the realm of the practical, non-discursive]
    4. orthodoxic (a posteriori specification of the rule) ("native models"?) [the realm of the meta-communicational, including the critical]
  4. this work may change the facts (locally and immediately, or more broadly and more longer periods of time)
  5. in all cases this work re-constitutes the facts for those approaching the
    1. congregation (word used by Garfinkel)
    2. community (as used by Lave and building on Arensberg & Kimball, Redfield)
    3. polity (as I am experimenting with to emphasize the political work of all human beings in their groups as they attempt to do anything together.
  6. the facts remain after the actor leaves (whether the actor has effectuated some "change" in the organization of the fact or not)

All this is reflexive as the actor approaching a polity enters it, moves from its periphery to its authoritative core and, as he struggles in every position, reconstitutes the facts for those who now approach (whether the fact is a service line in which the actor only spends a few minutes, or a nation-state in which he spends his whole life).

Note the centrality of work in this discussion. Note the absence of any mention of knowledge, society. In particular, there is every evidence that people approaching most cultural facts in most moments of their lives do not already have some common sense, perhaps inchoate ("doxic"), about the fact. They may even have what anthropologists have called "native models," that is explicit texts about the facts. Bourdieu talks about this as the "ortho-doxic" text and this emphasizes the political history of such texts which, we may wonder, must mostly be composed when trouble arises within the fact and members instruct those identified with starting the trouble about what is to be done. It is also probable that, through participation, a person (say a child or an immigrant) will gain first common sense and then orthodox knowledge. But neither personal common sense nor orthodox knowledge are essential to the maintenance of a fact. The maintenance is dependent on the work of everyone else as they instruct the ignorant and resistant.


Problem: original creole moment when two adults with no previous history meet in a not yet socialized space.