Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis (Etnometodologi og Konversationsanalyse)

Date: December 9-13, 2013
Format: Residential
Time: Course begins on December 9 at noon and ends on December 13th at noon
Place: SDU, Sønderborg, Room: Alsion M201 and summer cottages at Kegnæs
Pre-readings: Will be made available for the participants at the beginning of November
Faculty: Kenneth Liberman, Professor emeritus, University of Oregon, and HCA professor at SDU
Johannes Wagner, SDU
Registration: Here before November 1st. Please inform us whether you bring data for data sessions
Enrollment: Maximally 20 participants. The seminar is open for Post docs and a small number of senior researchers. If you are a Post doc or a senior researcher, please contact directly instead of enrolling on this webpage


December 9
12.00 – 13.00 Arrival and lunch
13.00 – 16.00 Kenneth Liberman: Objectivation and Accountability in Everyday
Communication (Alsion)
20.00 – 22.00 CA Data session (Kegnæs)
December 10
9.30 – 12.30 Kenneth Liberman: Ethnomethodological Approaches to
the Reflexivity of Understanding (Alsion)
12.30 – 14.00 Lunch break
14.00 – 17.00 CA work with collections (Alsion)
December 11
9.30 – 12.30 Kenneth Liberman: The Reflexivity of Rules in Games
and in Reading Maps
12.30 – 14.00 Lunch break
14.00 – 16.00 CA work with collections (Alsion)
Data session
December 12
10.00 – 13.00 Kenneth Liberman: Analyzing Communication
13.00 – 14.00 Lunch break
14.00 – 17.00 Data sessions
December 13
9.30 – 12.00 Public Talk: Kenneth Liberman: Professional Methods for
Making Coffee Taste Descriptors Objective

Ethnomethodology, Kenneth Liberman


Monday: Objectivation and Accountability in Everyday Communication

Although thinking is often considered to be the activity only of individuals, a great deal of thinking is a public activity and takes place in concert with others. In order for people to concert their thinking together, they must convert their reflection into thought-objects that can be witnessed, understood, shared and adopted by others. This interactive work of coordinating words, meanings and understandings is called “intersubjective,” and intersubjective inquiry has been a focus of the philosophical tradition known as phenomenology. Ethnomethodology has extended phenomenological analysis in new ways in light of discoveries made during its investigations of the ordinary world. This lecture introduces the basic concepts that ethnomethodology uses to investigate the organization of mundane communication.

“Accountability” refers to the practical work of a group of actors concerned to find a way to organize themselves so that their practical tasks can proceed in an orderly manner, and so that all of the participants can recognize just what that local orderliness is. In all social settings, parties continuously offer each other ‘accounts’ of what they are doing; once these accounts are offered, they can be accepted, rejected, or amended. Local activities then proceed under the authority of the account as it is spoken and heard. This creates social order, and persons undertake activities not only for the sake of accomplishing the task at hand but also with an abiding orientation to the work of producing and maintaining a social orderliness, which will facilitate their cooperative accomplishing of the task at hand. The enduring attention paid to keeping the interaction orderly can at times eclipse the professional objectives of the parties. The practical local task of making and keeping the orderlinesses comprehensible to everyone present is referred to as “the accountability” of any local occasion.

Harold Garfinkel, “Author’s Introduction,” Ethnomethodology’s Program, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, pp. 65-74.
Harold Garfinkel, “Authochthonous Order Properties of Formatted Queues,” Ethnomethodology’s Program, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, pp. 245-253.
Michael Lynch, “Accounts,” in Scientific Practice and Ordinary Action, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993, pp. 14-15 & 286-87.
John Heritage, “Accounts and Accountability,” in Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, Polity Press, 1984, pp. 135-41 and 147-150.

Tuesday: Ethnomethodological Approaches to The Reflexivity of Understanding

“Reflexivity” is the most important notion in ethnomethodology, and it differs somewhat from the talk of reflexivity that one finds in anthropology and philosophy. What is meant here is not the capacity to observe one’s own presuppositions in the creation of ethnographic description. Rather, the reflexive ways that ordinary people understand their world in everyday settings is the target for ethnomethodological research. While phenomenological insights into the projection of meaning-structures onto experience (mostly the contributions of Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty) inform these inquiries, ethnomethodology exceeds the ‘constitutional idealism’ and the individualism of phenomenology by observing just-how events organize themselves in ways that outstrip rational and deliberate controls. Reflexivity is a natural phenomenon that was discovered when ethnomethodologists attended closely to how people actually act and think in the world, instead of undertaking research that depended upon the researchers imposing their favored theoretical concepts upon the phenomena being studied.

Michael Lynch, “Reflexivity,” in Scientific Practice and Ordinary Action, pp. 15-22 & 34-38.
Eric Livingston, “Naturally Organized Ordinary Activities,” Making Sense of Ethnomethodology, Routledge, 1986 (1 page).
Kenneth Liberman, “The Reflexive Intelligibility of Affairs: Ethnomethodological Perspectives,” Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure: Revue suisse de linguistique générale 64, pp. 83-96.
Wednesday: The Reflexivity of Rules in Games and in Reading Maps

We will consider an illustration of some video recordings of board games that were analyzed for how players of games understood and employed written rules of procedure. We will examine their rule-governed play for ways that the players successfully provided it with coherent sense. The illustrations are extracted from 40 games that were videotaped from the opening of the cellophane to the final move of the first complete game. The local work of sense assembly is identified and described, including the collaborative effort of players to stabilize meanings when the furnished sense begins to slip. The study also provides an empirically based critique of some classical notions of rule-governed activity, including those that might be offered by rational choice theorists.

Students can read either of two chapters of a More Studies in Ethnomethodology, SUNY Press, 2013, “The Reflexivity of Rules in Games” (Chapter 3) or “Following Sketch Maps” (Chapter 2).

Thursday: Analyzing Communication

The components of a model for analyzing communication intersubjectively will be presented. Special attention will be paid to the drift of the sense of words over the course of a naturally occurring conversation. Ethnomethodologists do not see equivocality in the meaning of words merely as a problem for members; instead, they recognize that it is a resource for parties in their efforts to organize the local interaction. Through the use of many concrete illustrations, an account of this pervasive phenomenon will make clear just how sense develops, evolves over the course of an interaction, and how that sense can be used to organize the local orderliness.

While many of the same structural features of communication used by persons who speak the same language and share the same culture are also used by persons who do not share the same language and culture, there is greater scope for misunderstanding in intercultural communication; these misunderstandings provide opportunities for studying intersubjective communication. The objective of ethnomethodological research is to gain access to the local work performed by other persons who collaborate in order to produce intelligible affairs. Our interest is in locating ands describing capture the origin of common understanding. We will examine some transcripts of Australian Aboriginal people giving testimony in Australian courts of law and look at situations in India, Micronesia, and elsewhere, where the meanings of words shifts over the course of a conversation.

Kenneth Liberman, “Some Competent Legal Methods for Incompetent Trials: Aboriginal Testimony in Australian Courts,” in Dupret & Berard (eds), Law at Work: Studies in Legal Ethnomethods, Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press. (17 pp)

Kenneth Liberman, “Semantic Drift in Conversation,” Human Studies 35, No. 2, pp. 263-277. (DOI) 10.1007/s10746-012-9225-1 (2014). (15 pp)

For a preview have a look at professor Liberman explaining two paragraphs by Harold Garfinkel “that no one can iunderstand”


Alsion is located directly at the train station in Sønderborg so getting there by train is easy. There is air travel again between Copenhagen Airport and Sønderborg. A travel agent will be able to help you.


The PhD program has rented a summer cottage on Kegnæs, close to Sønderborg. The house is equipped for 20 people and has Spa and Pool, table soccer, billard - and a lawn. Unfortunately, however, you will not have time to enjoy all these amenities since we are there for work ;–(
The cottage is paid by the PhD program at SDU and accommodation will be free of charge for all participants.


We will have lunch at the canteen on the Sønderborg campus and prepare breakfast and dinner in the cottage. The costs for food at the cottage will be shared between the participants who stay at the cottage and will amount to about 300 DKK

You will have to cover your own travel expenses to Sønderborg. The transport between Alsion and the cottage will be taken care of without any expenses for you.

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