He wanted to show how conversation analysis and ethnomethodology may elucidate two interrelated matters of continuing concern to the ethnographer: the role of culture in shaping an informants' behavior and the apparent capacity of an investigated culture to compel the fieldworker to follow local habits of thought.
For this research, Watson defined ethnomethodology as "the study of how people, in their everyday lives, constitute the world as a recognizable state of affairs." Similar to conversation analysis, it is concerned with explication of order in social interaction and attempts to replace the existing Parsonian motivational approach to the analysis of social action to one with procedure. It asks not why but how. stipulates four basic moves in conversation analysis of ethnomethodology: 1) Conversation analysis and ethnomethodology look at utterances as tools for the performance of activities, not just things that stand in for other things. Further, activities performed by utterances are not private, but public; not personal but collective; not subjective, but objective. They are regarded as thoroughly social activities 2) Conversation analysis and ethnomethodology see utterances as a phenomenon to be displayed, not mocked. This is one principal way that differentiates ethnomethodology from other social sciences, where subjects are ironically portrayed as struggling with problems of epistemology rather than getting on with their mundane practical concerns (Watson, 1994). 3) Conversation analysis and ethnomethodology see utterances do as being done, not in the abstract, not "in general," but in situ. Work is always situated in the here and now. 4) Conversation analysis and ethnomethodology see utterances in a sequence. Conversation unfolds. Stories begin with a beginning and end with an ending. Answers follow questions; acceptances follow invitations.
The ethnomethodological approach is also used in healthcare, specifically nursing studies. For example, a study by French (2005) had the goal of describing the process of research use undertaken by groups of specialist nurses involved developing policy recommendations for nursing practice. A number of prescriptive models of research use have been described in nursing literature. Earlier studies have tried to measure the instrumental use of research findings in nursing practice. However, there is no evidence the way that research use takes place, or why results differ across individuals, settings, tasks or time.
Little investigation has taken place concerning the congruence of prescriptive models in relationship to the realities of research use in practice. In this study, an ethnomethodological approach was utilized to describe the practical reasoning undertaken by specialist nurses during research use. The method was participant observation with three clinical workgroups, made up of a series of meetings of practitioners from between 11 and 25 healthcare provider organizations. Data collected from recording discussions at the meetings were analyzed using grounded data reduction and subject to external verification of description and inference.
French found that the process of research use continually consisted of four stages of practical reasoning that comprised research identification, confirmation, evaluation and application. Each stage involved practitioners in cognitive work to translate the research evidence into practice policy. She concluded that while the process of research use is not markedly different in outline from prescriptive models of the process available in, prescriptive models of research use do not adequately reflect the task of problem-setting, use of multiple frames of reference for evaluation, and how information from research is to be integrated with information from other sources.
As noted above, the ethnomethodological approach of sociological study is also being used in high-tech instances and informational technology. Dourish and Buttons state that over the past decade, the use of sociological methods and sociological reasoning have become increasingly more essential in the measurement and design of interactive systems. For a number of different reasons, ethnomethodology has become a much-used approach in this area. In their article, the authors used the ethnomethodological perspective to investigate the results of approaching system design. In particular, they were concerned with how ethnomethodology could take a foundational place in the very notion of system design instead of just being used as a resource in aspects of the process, such as requirements elicitation and specification.
They began their study by outlining the basic elements of ethnomethodology and discussing the place that it has come to occupy in computer-supported cooperative work and, increasingly, in human-computer interaction. The also discussed current approaches to the use of ethnomethodology in systems design and pointed to the contrast between the use of ethnomethodology for critique and for design. Presently, they report, understandings of how to use ethnomethodology as a primary aspect of system design are lacking. As a result, they outline a new approach and present an extended example of its use. This hypothesized new approach starts out with a relationship between ethnomethodology and system design that is a foundational, theoretical matter instead of simply one of design practice and process. The authors believe that from this foundation, emerges a new model of interaction with computer systems that is based on ethnomethodological perspectives on everyday human social action.
Finally, ethnomethodology is also being used as a means of analyzing business communication. For example, Ian Griffin related ethnomethodology to the improvement of business speech making. Griffin states: "Ethnomethodology claims we are all constantly making use of unstated 'methods' in our daily lives to create a 'taken-for-granted' world which we feel we 'know' and can be 'at home' in." People perceive their social world through a series of patterns they have constructed for making sense of and coping with the variety of situations encountered on a daily basis.
By conducting a microscopic analysis of the 'technology of interaction' - the structures underlying conversations - there is a framework to understand:
1) the setting of a talk (which could be a face-to-face discussion between two people or a presentation to a large audience by an executive) and how that "affects the shape, form, trajectory, content or character of the interaction"; 2) the form of the institution where the talk is delivered and how that determines the form of presentation delivered and the 'turn-taking' mechanisms used by the presenter and audience member. 3) the ways the participants conspire to create the context and constantly reaffirm they are participating as an audience member at a public presentation.
As with any scientist or social scientist, it is his/her role and responsibility to continually observe life with the ultimate goal of better understanding it as to make improvements in human societal evolution. Ethnomethodology argues that there is no genuine choice to be made between viewing social life from within and from without. The sociologist is first and foremost a member of society and his/her ability to explain social life in any way possible is part of being a member. In making sense of social life as it is observed, the sociologist must employ the same form of resources as any other member of society. Ethnomethodologists help better explain a complex society as to how do people make sense of a situation, so they know how to plan their onw actions to those of others and reach satisfactory results. The important element is how does one put knowledge learned to use in making sense of what is happening in the here and now? "...ethnomethodology provides the most promising prospect to date of adequately answering sociology's foundationational questions," note Francis and Hester. This sociolgical approach will "empower its practioners to revolutionize the discipline and fully realize its promise" and determine how social life really works.
Button, G. & Dourish, P. (1996) Technomethodology Paradoxes and Possibilities. In Proceedings of ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems CHI
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Frances, D. & Hester, S. (2004) an Invitation to Ethnomethodology: Language, Society and Interaction. New York: Sage
French, B. (2005) Issues and Innovations in Nursing Practice. Journal of Advanced Nursing 49(2), 125-134
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Parsons, T. et al. (1951). Toward a General Theory of Action. New York: Harper and Row.