John Levi Martin on Harold Garfinkel

For a more respectful tribute you could see Dan Hirschman.

But I had to share this footnote in the preface to JLM’s newish book, Explanation of Social Action.

I might reasonably also be asked why no use is made here of the work of Garfinkel (e.g., 2002), which had many of the same influences and made many of the same critiques of conventional sociological explanation. The answer is simple: Garfinkel chose to write in gobbledy-gook, and although I do not begrudge him the enjoyment he so obviously received from this activity, I also see no reason to wade through the results to extract arguments that were made previously and more clearly by others. Finally, rather than indicate to his sociological readers that there was a wide range of inspiring and dissenting traditions from which they could draw (the approach of the current work), Garfinkel instead attempted to put his own formalizations in between his students and the phenomenological tradition, acting more like a cult leader than a scholar. Even did I not find this somewhat disappointing on a human level, it would make little scientific sense to reward such behavior. At the same time, one can find many in this tradition making serious contributions. Most important, the critique of the “misplaced idealization” of sociological theory by Wieder (1974: 22, 24) is crucial — by not recognizing the social process by which actual practices are sublimated into ideal descriptions, sociologists hypostatize the ideals or rules into something that can be used to criticize behavior (which falls short of the rule) or to use behavior to criticize the rule (the triumph of agency), as opposed to understanding the rule or the ideal as one situated form of behavior. To the extent that ethnomethodology was a sustained and rigorous investigation of such productions, it was invaluable, but that extent was not, in my estimation, as great as it should have been. Only conversation analysis pushed forward with a positive research program; in some ways, this book is an attempt to derive arguments for the general applicability of aspects of this approach for all social science.

 

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