The Importance Of Ethnomethodology

The Importance Of Ethnomethodology

This article is aimed at examining the importance of ethnomethodology in understanding social structures. However, before we do that, we must first define the term ethnomethodology itself.


Ethnomethodology is coined from the words: “ethno” (referring to socio-cultural groups), “method” (that is, approaches and practices of determining the conducts and activities of a socio-cultural group), and “logy” (which loosely translates to “study”: that is, the study or scientific description of methods and practices socio-cultural groups employ). It is an interdisciplinary approach (commonly used in the humanities, social, and health sciences) to study how social structures, institutions, and so on are established using interaction. This mode of inquiry was developed by Harold Garfinkel in 1954 while he was studying the conduct of jurors. In doing this, Garfinkel’s aim was to describe the rational methods and principles by which a jury works—their methods for ascertaining facts, confirming the tangibility and intangibility of evidence, and determining how reliable witness testimonies are.

In simpler words, ethnomethodology can be described as “an approach within sociology that focuses on the way people, as rational actors, make sense of their everyday world by employing practical reasoning rather than formal logic” (Harvey, 2012). This method of studying human activities is primarily concerned with investigating the less obvious aspects of human relationships. It is essentially concerned with how humans go about their daily conduct, as well as how they invariably interact with their environment.

Ethnomethodology is a qualitative research method that “explores how members’ actual, ordinary activities produce and manage settings of organized everyday situations” (Pillay, 2019). According to Pillay (2019), Garfinkel developed ethnomethodology as a criticism of the Action Theory of Talcott Parson (Clayman, 2001), explaining that the approach was designed as an alternative to the traditional sociological theories; it can be seen as a more contemporary method for studying the social life of different people.

Ethnomethodologists are solely concerned with the account (of an event or situation) as well as the principles on which the account is established for it to make meaning to the participants of the account. It places more emphasis on methods and principles than on the account.

Ethnomethodologists believe that, for them to fully grasp participants’ perception of social activities and situations, they must examine, in detail, the regular everyday activities of humans’ social life (Harvey, 2012). They use make use of recorded data, with special attention to talks and gestures. After the data has been gathered, the sociologist then goes on to analyze them to determine and demonstrate the scientific validity they establish. The analytical resources gathered are then used to produce detailed accounts of human conduct (in different environments and situations) (Pillay, 2019).

Ethnomethodology seeks to answer the question, “how”: how do people make sense of their social life?; how do sociocultural groups determine and demonstrate their everyday practices?; etc.

Ethnomethodology focuses on the methods by which social structures (which include language, routine behaviours, and tacit beliefs) are produced. This approach is aimed at understanding the methods by which participants in a social order create, negotiate, agree, and consent to their realities. However, it also questions the possibility of empirical investigations into the subjectivity of the human mind.

Even though ethnomethodology slightly diverts from conventional social theories, it has proven to be quite useful to sociologists for the understanding and explanation of human social life. It has helped sociologists to better analyze objects and situations, and also provide methods by which these are produced in context (Sharrock, & Turner, 1991).

This approach to understanding social life facilitates the move from simple pronouncements of the appeal of ‘processual’ anthropology to practical application. It has resulted in the establishment of a discipline in language studies, discourse, or conversation analysis (CA) which allows linguists to analyze methods and practices in socio-cultural conversations and also identify breakdowns, turns, and “moments of crisis” in social interactions.

Ethnomethodology uses scientific investigation and the in-depth analyses of gathered data to arrive at its premises. These experiments have been designed to draw people’s attention to abandoned and unnoticeable notions and ideas. In doing this, ethnomethodology aims to demonstrate that:

“people interacted on the basis of a shared set of presuppositions; (b) they became frustrated when these did not operate; (c) the world was made accountable to the subject in terms of these taken-for-granted; and (d) people operated with different nationalities in different contexts, i.e. the notion of multiple rationalities” (Harvey, 2012).


Ethnomethodology has been able to construct different approaches to studying different events as well as the activities that are connected to them. This sociological field is not entirely concerned with the “why” (that is, meanings behind situations, as participants would view them), but, rather, with the “how” (conditions and actions that have made those contextual meanings possible). In essence, ethnomethodology places more emphasis on the actual process of producing social conduct and/or behaviours rather than the situations alone, as do the mainstream approaches under Sociology.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *