Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2014

VII - Interpretive approaches (2): ethnomethodology


As we learned in the previous lecture, symbolic interactionism is not the only theoretical school to which the label ‘interpretive approach’ has been attached. The other is what is known as ethnomethodology, whose frighteningly complex name alone might be enough to scare one off. In fact, the name is less complicated than it looks: it consists of two components, each of which is perfectly understandable in itself. The first element, ‘ethnos’, alludes to sociology's neighbouring discipline of ethnology (also known as anthropology), while the second is the term ‘methodology’. This in itself helps us begin to grasp the agenda of this theoretical approach. Here, the methods of ethnology, a subject which investigates other ethnic groups, are deployed to examine one's own culture, in order to reveal its taken-for-granted and characteristic features, of which we are oft en entirely unaware – precisely because they are taken for granted.

Defamiliarizing one's own culture is intended to unveil its hidden structure. But ethnomethodologists had even more ambitious aims in mind. They not only sought to identify the unnoticed structural characteristics of their own culture; their aim was ultimately to uncover the fundamental universal, quasi-anthropological structures of everyday knowledge and action. How must this knowledge, the knowledge held by each member of each society, be structured to enable action to take place? This was the central issue which the ethnomethodologists wished to address – one which they believed had been utterly neglected by traditional sociology.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO