Harold Garfinkel (1917 – 2011)

This is a sad day for sociology as we hear of the death of Harold Garfinkel.

I had a love/hate relationship with Harold Garfinkel’s work. Studies in Ethnomethodology had a profound influence on my sociological education, but man, was that book a pain to read, especially at a time when there was no French translation and we had to muddle through the original. And as powerful a framework to analyze social action as ethnomethodology is, I don’t think Garfinkel was much of a public sociologist. The task to publicize the approach was left to the proponents of the school of thought he originated.

I also tend to think that ethnomethodology was misunderstood even within the sociological field. It was often viewed as a variation on Goffmanian analysis, a sub-field that ignored social context and social structure. It was also seen as being on the “agency” side of the classical (and absurd) “structure / agency” divide. Actually, ethnomethodology is a lot more structuralist than one thinks. It is not an actor’s theory. But it treats structures as emergent products of actions and interaction, rather than something to be assumed.

Ethnomethodology and conversation analysis have produced a lot of interesting research, written by insightful researchers, but very few books have actually made it to the mainstream publishing as sociological work does, every once in a while (See: Gang Leader for a Day) and that is a shame.

10 thoughts on “Harold Garfinkel (1917 – 2011)

  1. Pingback: Nie żyje Harold Garfinkel

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  4. Harold Garfinkel was on Carlos Castaneda’s PHD committee. wow. source: Robert anton Wilson audio on James Joyce at around 1hr 20 min.

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