Ethnomethodology/conversation analysis and practice

In thinking about this topic, I returned to some of the ethnomethodology (EM) and conversation analysis (CA) literature. This seemed like a good idea and opportunity because I am not really sure of how the term has been used nor how extensively and yet CA is a field where I have situated most of my work. I suspected that along with practice, I would find words like practical and praxiological -terms used in EM that I am more familiar with. This hunch turned out to be the case.

Initially I returned to the work of Harold Garfinkel who developed EM. Here I provide some quotes to illustrate Garfinkel’s use of the word “practice” or its variants in his early work.

“I use the term ethnomethodology to refer to various policies, methods, results, risks, and lunacies with which to locate and accomplish the study of the rational properties of practical actions as contingent ongoing accomplishments of organized artful practices of everyday life.” (1972, p. 309)


“That practical actions are problematic in ways not so far seen; how they are problematic; how to make them accessible to study; what we might learning about them – these are proposed tasks” (p. 321)

In ethnomethodological work generated by such concerns, the focus was and still is on the practices of members. As Arminen notes, it is in talk (and interaction) that we find practices because ethnomethodology:

“moves discoursive practices from resources to the topic of the study. Scientific ethnomethodology, such as conversation analysis, studies discoursive praxis as its topic and resource.” (p. 167)

So in CA, a variant of ethnomethodology, some researchers will refer specifically to conversational practices and they will examine how such practices are a resource in conversational exchanges and will seek to describe those practices in great detail. For example, Hutchby (2005) examines formulations employed during adult-child interactions in counselling sessions.


Arminen, I. (2008). From incompatible paradigms to ethnomethodological sociology. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 38(2), 167-191.

Garfinkel, H. (1972). Remarks on ethnmethodology. In J. J. Gumperz & D. Hymes (Eds.), The ethnography of communication (pp. 301-324). Holt, Rinehart & Winston Inc.

Hutchby, I. (2005). “Active listening”: Formulations and the elicitation of feelings-talk in child counselling. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 38(3), 303-329.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *