An analysis of What ethnomethodological ethnography is

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The interaction of individuals belonging to a social comunity tends to produce many patterns of behaviour and actions and reactions. These patterns reflects the presence of a social order and a set of rules of conduct that organises the thinking structure of this group. Researchers in many social disciplines such as sociology, political science and anthropology have attempted to understand many individual and common aspects of a group of people in order to infer about their cultures, attitudes, perceptions, behaviour, meanings and surroundings. Such goals have been set for achievements using many quantitative and qualitative methodological approach that meet the objectives and allow for producing a richly analysis. One approach that has been widely used in the social and human field is the approach of Ethnomethodological ethnography.

In this essay, I will write about ethnomethodological ethnography and the steps involved in conducting such method. I will also describe the main characteristics of ethnomethodological ethnography. In the final section, I will cite and review a number of previous studies that have used such method in reaching their conclusions about social groups.

Definition of Ethnomethodological ethnography

According to Helman (2007), two traditions have influenced the evolution of ethnomethodological ethnography: ethnography and ethnomethodology.

First, ethnography is an approach that focuses on the prolonged observation and profound exploration of a specific group of people to understand how they organise their everyday activities and how they view their surroundings. In sociology, ethnography is concerned with in-depth exploration an individual's or group's intentions within a culture (Helman, 2007). As a qualitative research, ethnography supplies a comprehensive descriptive analysis of an individual's endeavours, perceptions, meanings, attitudes and interpretations of different events and surroundings in the world they live (Hakim, 2000). Therefore, ethnography offers a number of methodological steps that allows the interested researchers to gain an understanding of the enses and meanings of their cultural behaviour and how this influences cultural attitudes (Spradley, 1979, Parahoo, 2006).

Second, According to Garper (1984), ethnomethodology evolved in the 1960s following the publication of "Studies in Ethnomethodology" by Garfinkel (1967). Garfinkel (1984) defines Ethnomethodology as an approach that can be used to explore and find out how members of a group generate sufficient meanings, concerning their immersion in normal daily activities within their common culture. In other words, this ethnomethodology examines activities of group members to discover how they make sense of their surroundings. It specifically examines how individuals give sense to and accomplish their daily activities, regardless what they are doing.

Harper (2008) defines ethnomethodological ethnography as a research method that primarily consists of describing how individuals of a group perceive, define and group the ways that they execute their everyday activities, what senses and reaasinings they assign to these activities, and how they particpate in producing sufficient social order, which consists of patterns of behaviour and interactions among the group.

The main characteristics of ethnomethodological ethnography

In this section, we describe the main characteristics of ethnomethodological ethnography. These characteristics are summarised by Harper (2007).

Taken for granted assumptions

The ordinary and daily activities exreciced by members of a group are referred to as "taken-for-granted assumptions". This set of assumptions includes all the anticipations prevailing within a specific cultural group about it happens in a normal day and how members anticipate others to act.

Common-sense knowledge and procedures

Common sense knowledge and procedures in ethnomethodological ethnographic setting are related to the collective knowledge that is widely acquired by the members in the group. It describes the stock of knowledge used by individuals within of a social group to make sense of their surroundings.


Typification is related to the methods that the members of a group use to classify their experiences, objects and occurings. All these classified elements are variant according to the situations people find themselves. The process of typification allows for classifying the impressions made by the members of a group into categories that globally structure their experiences.


Indexicality relates to the actions and expressions which their sense is dependent on the circumstances under which they occur. It simply the process of assigning dissimilar meanings to dissimilar occaions. For example, asking how somebody is when you meet them in an informal meeting has a different connotation to when a the same person asks the same question in a more professional setting.


Accounting refers to the different mental and explicit activities that are used in sense-making by the individuals in a social group. The accounting process describes how these individuals use their possessed taken-for-granted assumptions and common-sense knowledge to justify their interpretations of other members' actions.


Reflexivity refers to the the process whereby knowledge of a social world prevailing within a group explains social events. Each of the members of a group possesses own descriptions of what the events themselves.

Steps of Ethnomethodological ethnography

As a qualitative research method, ethnomethodological ethnography uses the standard research prpaoches used in human and social sciences. I used the literature reviewed in the final section of this essay to summarise these steps.

Defining the objectives of the study

The first step in conducting an ethnomethodological ethnographic study is to clearly define the objectives and the goals of the analysis. This can be done by designing a set of appropriate questions that work as guiding questions which are answerable using a ethnomethodological ethnographic research. The basic question for all such studies concentrates on the basic ground of ethnography, which is gaining an understanding of how a members of a community see their social world.

Fieldworks, fieldnotes and documents

The second step in conducting an ethnomethodological ethnographic study is fieldwroks, which represent the step where data of the study are collected. After having defined the research questions, researchers locate the fieldsite (a specific group or community) which is the subject of the research. Data are collected by direct and indirect observation and interaction with the members of the community. While participants' observation provides information about behaviour, direct interaction using interviews for example, lends information that helps gaining an insider's perspective and understand how the members reflect directly on behaviour, circumstances and events.

Fieldnotes, which can be written or oral, represent the main part of the data collected from the fieldworks. Researchers write down the content of their direct and indirect observation and interaction of the members of a group regarding their in-depth details of their lives within the context of the research questions. These notes will serve as the main content of the research context and the ground upon which conclusions are made. Fieldnotes may contain describing a specific observation of behaviour or analysing and linking the contents of various observations with each other in such interrelated way, reflecting on the experience of observing the group

The fieldwork (observation and interviews) can be supplemented by documents that can help answer the research questions. The use of these documents may help gain extra insights to the group within the research contexts. These documents can be produced by the members of the group under observation or by an third party that has an interest in the same group.

Data analysis

When the fieldwork is completed, the next step is to analyse the data using the appropriate quantitative and qualitative analysis tools. ethnomethodological ethnographic studies used two main tools which are conversation analysis and Membership categorisation appraoch.

First, conversation Analysis provides the means of isolating particular practices, therefore allowing to show in detail which aspects of those practices should be altered, and how they could be altered. It concentrates on the structure and content of conversations including the procedures involved and the participant's expectations. Ethnomethodological ethnography focuses on the content of the conversations and aims to describe how members recognise, describe and explain the order of their everyday lives.

Second, membership categorisation appraoch consists of exploring the knowledge possessed by members of a community about the the community itself. This approach allows to examine members' categorisations of themselves and other membersof the groups and caaptures how cultural and moral knowledge and themes about social life are emerged.

Review of selected previous literature

The principles of ethnomethodological ethnography are applied to nursing practice and have been used by many researchers to explore many related questions. Harper (2007) reviewed many studies that used ethnomethodological ethnography in nursing practice, which covered several topics such as how nurses build different concepts, such as 'good' or 'bad' patients and how these are influenced by the attitudes and beliefs held by their cultural group (Kelly and May, 1994), nurses' definitions of medication errors (Baker, 1997), the use of seclusion in psychiatric practice (Mason, 1997) and feeding demented residents in long-term care (Pierson, 1999). These studies show how nurses provide justifications for the decisions that reach in their everyday activities and how they use explicitly or tacitly their knowledge (Baker, 1997, Mason, 1997, p. 783) to make these decisions.

Harper (2007) applied ethnomethodological ethnography to military nursing practice in the UK to explore the concept of post-operative pain evaluation in military nursing practice. This analysis specifically focuses on studying how the assessment process of post-operative pain in military hospitals is influenced and constructed within military culture. Within this context, military culture refers to the socialisation into the armed forces through military training, the wearing of uniforms and the development of military ethos, such as, integrity and honour, military professionalism, loyalty, commitment and cohesion. One result of this socialisation in relation to pain behaviour is the expectation that military personnel will be indifferent to pain to the point of not expressing pain. The study takes into account the phase of restructuring the British military medical services in the 1990s, when military hospital units were integrated within National Health Service (NHS) Trusts in the UK. This restructuring process has made military healthcare personnel including nurses, socialise into the civilian healthcare culture. As a consequence, nurses in military hospital units have increasingly been socialising with civilian health professionals where they are exposed to the prevailing NHS attitudes including those associated with post-operative pain assessment. Harper (2007) observed that nurses should believe what patients say about their pain and they can identify patients' pain levels by using their previous knowledge and experience, autonomic changes and non-verbal behaviours. Data of this study were collected from face to face interviews with twenty-nine military nurses working in acute surgical or orthopaedic environments within NHS hospitals in the UK. The participants were required to describe how they assessed post-operative pain in order to obtain information rich data. Harper (2007) used, among others, the conversation analysis to examine the content of the narrative description of the nurses (from the interviews) and arrive at the appropriate conclusions. The main result of this study is that the socialisation process for military nurses follows the general principles that are present in the civilian health culture.

In another study, Stokoe (2003) used the ethnomethodological approach of "Membership Categorization Analysis" to explore the links between neighbour relationships, gender and morality. Specifically, this study focuses on understanding and interpreting how neighbours as members of a common cultural stock, show their understanding of, and explaning about, their identities and practices. Data, which consist of talk between neighbours and neighbours dispute relationships are collected from two sources: neighbour mediation and televised disputes. First, the mediation data were collected from two centres in the UK (London and East Midlands region). In this mediation process, a mediator, supported by tape recorders, interviews the individuals involved in the conflict one by one to get accounts of the conflict as understood by each of them. The disputants are then brought together in a location where the mediator attempts to find a solution to the argument and conflict. Mediators were provided with. Final data were colelcted from five single-party interviews and two multi-party mediations. Second, the televised data came from UK chat-shows, such as Kilroy and Esther (broadcast between 1995 and 2001) and documentary programmes about neighbour conflicts, such as Neighboursat War (broadcast between 1995 and 1999). Twenty programmes were video-recorded, each a time duration between thirty and sixty minutes, with a total of thirtheen hours of data. Data were transcribed and subsequently analysed using used the ethnomethodological approaches of "Membership Categorization Analysis" and "conversation analysis". It was found that neighbours' complaints and defences were gendered in terms of categorisations of and about women. The disputants have repeatedly mentioned gender when legitimating complaints about their neighbours and in making defences against such complaints. More specifically, complaints regularly turned on moral categorisations of women's activities and characteristics. The rsults of theis study are quite interesting. Stokoe (2003) found that conflicts as a form of neighbour relations generate three interconencted themes. The first theme is related to 'motherhood' and its role in warranting complaints about women neighbours and defences against their complaints. The second these is related to the women's relationship status. The categorisation of 'single woman' appears in the interviews and shows as a source of complaint or defence against a complaint. The third theme describes how neighbours tend to link certain activities and practices to the category of woman.

In an ethnomethodological ethnographic study, Jimerson and Oware (2006) attempted to understand how the code of the street affects the conduct of black male basketball players and how those players explicate their behaviour by telling the code. Jimerson and Oware (2006) built upon the idea that good people are turned into "bad" as a result of "the code of the street". People residing in "dangerous areas" are forced to act dangerous to survive in such climate and nautralise danger. Within the context of black male basketball players, this study observed that "the code of the street" is in practice. Jimerson and Oware (2006) used ethnography to explain the contents of their talk and actions of the participants of the group, supplemented with ethnomethodological analyses of their activities. Data used by Jimerson and Oware (2006) came from filedwork which was performed between 1991 and 1993 in a basktetball court in a high school in Illinois, US. Filednotes were conducted on a group of 10 black male players and compiled using tape and video recorders. It found that members of this group tend to be influenced by the code in how they speak about race and gender, and how they interact in stereotypical ways. Furthermore, the results of this study show that the code of the street defines the parameters of interactions and the terms of the conversations that occur between many black people. Jimerson and Oware (2006) argued that by telling the code of the street, black men may do race and gender in stereotypical, enabling, and also enfeebling ways: stereotypical in that any code is an exaggerated abstraction of the means by which people interact, which often overemphasises certain aspects of how people behave at the expense of overlooking other facets of their behaviour. Much like funhouse mirrors, codes display distorted images of reality, but they still reflect reality.


Ethnography involves the prolonged examination of a group of people. It generally consists of studying the daily lives of this group of people in order to explore and uncover how and what they think about themselves, about their immersion in common activities, and about the objectives of their doings. The accomplishment of an ethnographic examination, many involve methodologies.

Ethnomethodology seeks to understand the common-sense knowledge and procedures used by members in their everyday encounters to make sense of their cultural group so that they can act appropriately and in accordance with the circumstances that they are in.

Harper (2008) defines ethnomethodological ethnography as a research method that primarily consists of describing how individuals of a group perceive, define and group the ways that they execute their everyday activities, what senses and reaasinings they assign to these activities, and how they particpate in producing sufficient social order, which consists of patterns of behaviour and interactions among the group. The main characteristics of ethnomethodological ethnography consist of the presence of Taken for granted assumptions, Common-sense knowledge and procedures, Typification, Indexicality, Accounting, Reflexivity