frame from video at 9:21:14 Among all human beings who have ever lived on the Earth, a large number will find this image of an hospital delivery familiar.   The same will also notice various things about it that makes it unique.  How any human event can appear familiar to participants or observers, and how it can appear unique must remain a major theoretical issue for social theory.

In recent years, such questions have often been framed in terms of "culture" and "construction."  This is intended to stress that most human beings who have ever lived on the Earth would not find this scene familiar at all.  It is also intended to stress that, at the time of this delivery, the participants where not automatons driven by a burnt-in programming, but actively at work, improvising in some uncertainty if not anxiety about the outcome: would child and mother be alright?

Our questions can thus be asked again using a slightly different vocabulary: how are events constructed that will appear familiar to some?  What is the "it" that is being constructed? What can be said, if anything, about the participants as knowledgeable, intentional, anxious agents?

A version of this answer has received a wide currency in the social sciences.  It stresses the participants' habitus a term introduced by the French anthrologist and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to account for certain paradoxical aspects of social reproduction (Bourdieu [1972] 1977:82- 3).

There is in fact, hidden in this scene, another breach that many people who are presented this research find more problematic: the laboring woman happens to be an experienced mother (who has gone through two labors already), and a professional woman. Above all she is a medical doctor. Most who learn this are convinced that this status should make a difference and want to dismiss the case as not relevant to a general knowledge of "how it is for women during hospital labors." We will make the strong claim that most of the statuses the woman might have are never used to make a difference in the way she is treated by any of the others. This is the case even though all participants do know that she could lay legitimate claim to several of these statuses. We make this claim, on the basis of the activities that do emerge over the course of two hours of taping (and in fact much more data not presented here [ftn 1]). Both common sense and much research allows one to expect that several of those statuses would allow her to claim publicly acknowledged "special" treatment. Instead we see her continually reconstructed by herself as much as by all other participants as an altogether ignorant woman, a "female body" detached if not alienated from all even as it holds center stage and is the locus of all social activity. [ftn 2]). To any question about "the number of doctors" in this performance of the play, we claim that while there are three MD's in the room, there are only two doctors.

The question arose in the midst of a broader research on the construction of childbirth and its evolution over the past two centuries. [ftn 2]). This research itself fit within a wider research agenda (Varenne and McDermott 1998) through which we attempt to demonstrate the need to eschew reference to the internalization of social patterns as the necessary mediating moment in interaction, particularly when these are heavily charged politically and ideologically. We are convinced instead of the need to approach the social as external to any particular individuals even as it is constructed by the joint action of millions over centuries. We use a Durkheimian frame of reference as reinterpreted by Garfinkel and interactional analysts on the one hand, and by Boon () and others on the other hand. If Hilbert (1992) is right, this may develop into a recombination of Weberian and Durkheimian traditions on radically different grounds from those proposed by Parsons and still developed, however differently, whether by Geertz (1973, 1976) or Bourdieu (1977), as well as by many of their students.

Our goal here is narrower. We look in detail at a moment when two lives are directly at stake, focusing particularly on the relative emergence of aspects of experience thereby identifiable as interactionally constraining for the five people who enter the stage. [ftn 4]). Through this analysis of emergence we reveal both the hierarchical organization of the consequentiality of that which emerges, and the extent to which some of that which emerges is negotiated in organized uncertainty. We approach this problem from a broad ethnomethodological angle. In particular, we accept Scheggloff's challenge to sociologists: aspects of the general background of action--like the professional status of a participant--can only be used for interpretative purposes if there is evidence in the behavior of the participants that they are indeed using this aspect for their construction of the local scene. Thus we ask: what aspects of the labor, if any, are explicitly made different because the woman "is" a doctor, or because all participants know that she is a doctor (as is indeed the case)? If, as we show, her professional status is rarely alluded to, and only during what we will call "chitchat", then there is little ground for any affirmation that either this status, or the knowledge of this status, is the "cause" of any major structuring, and method for handling this structure. Eventually it seems that the overall frame, "American labor" with the strong features that various research have begun to identify (Jordan 1993; ??), is powerful enough to push to the interactional periphery matters which common sense might expect would make major differences. [ftn 5]).

An illustrative case

January 30, 1999