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Studies in Ethnomethodology

Like phenomenology, ethnomethodology is all about meaning and, in particular, how it is communicated and shared between people. Reading Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology is a bit like reading a sitcom script in parts, if only because his brilliant breaching experiments expose the taken-for-granted absurdity of our everyday existence. Ponder the questions below as you work through the reading.


1. What does Garfinkel mean when he writes that moral facts are the “natural facts of life”?

2. What are “background expectancies” and how do they typically come about in everyday conversation?

3. Garfinkel gives us a series of experiments in which the background expectancies of conversation are made apparent, either by a student analyzing a conversation after the fact, as in the case of the husband and wife talking about Dana, or cases where experimenters deliberately disrupted the taken-for-granted assumptions. Think of an example where such background expectancies were important for your own conversation with someone to become meaningful. What methods did you use to make the conversation “happen”?

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