Tensions in Garfinkel’s ethnomethodological studies of work programme discussed through Livingston’s studies of mathematics
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AbstractWhile Garfinkel's early work, captured in Studies in Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel 1967), has received a lot of attention and discussion, this has not been the case for his later work since the 1970s (e.g., Garfinkel 1986, 2002). In this paper, we critically examine the aims of Garfinkel's later ethnomethodological studies of work programme and evaluate key ideas such as the 'missing what' in the sociology of work, 'the unique adequacy requirements of methods', and the notion of 'hybrid studies'. We do so through a detailed engagement with a study that has frequently been singled out as exemplary by Garfinkel for his studies of work programme, namely Livingston's (1986) The Ethnomethodological Foundations of Mathematics. We show how Livingston uses the proof of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem as a way to exhibit the work involved in understanding mathematical proofs. We then discuss how Livingston uses this example to introduce a distinction between the written 'proof account' (or 'proof description') and the associated 'lived work' of working through that proof, which we argue allows Livingston to provide a powerful critique of a formalist understanding of the objectivity of mathematics. We then discuss three aspects that we find problematic in Livingston's and Garfinkel's claims about Livingston's study. Firstly, we question whether written proofs are best conceived of as descriptions or accounts. Secondly, we interrogate whether an ethnomethodological study could teach mathematicians how to make discoveries. Thirdly, we throw doubt on Garfinkel's claim that Livingston's results are results in mathematics. We conclude this paper with a discussion of how Livingston's study Godel's proof highlights key tensions in Garfinkel's later work. Firstly, we argue that there exists an ambiguity in Garfinkel's treatment of texts as 'incompetent'. Secondly, we show that Garfinkel's attempt to extend his idea of classical studies from sociology to other professions and disciplines is problematic. Finally, we question Garfinkel's proposals to reorient ethnomethodological studies away from sociological audiences and ask whether ethnomethodological studies promise the delivery of a 'large prize' or, rather, provide something like 'helpful therapy'.
All Author(s) ListChristian Greiffenhagen, Wes Sharrock
Journal nameHuman Studies
Volume Number42
Issue Number2
Pages253 - 279
LanguagesEnglish-United Kingdom

Last updated on 2020-15-11 at 23:04