Ethnomethodological Research Paper

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  • Known primarily as the author of a method for studying work, Harold Garfinkel — and ethnomethodological studies of work, or workplace studies — also offer an important alternative theory of work. First articulated in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a theory of communication, organization, and information, it has been Garfinkel's proposal that mutual understanding (orienting objects, meaning, and identities) in interactions, including technical situations of work, requires constant mutual orientation to situated constitutive expectancies — taken-for-granted methods of producing order that constitute sense — accompanied by displays of attention, competence, and trust. Based on this premise, researchers need to enter worksites to learn the order properties of work. Conventional theories, by contrast, treat social orders (including work) as resulting from individual interests, external constraint, and/or some conjunction between the two. For Garfinkel, however, individual motivation, power, and constraint must be managed by workers in and through the details of work. He insists that the need for participants to mutually orient ways of producing order on each next occasion adequately explains the details of order and sensemaking. Thus, any worksite exhibits the details required to produce, manage and understand local orders of work, including power and constraint — details that are local matters, lost to general formulation, requiring a research approach focused on the order properties of those details.

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