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What Is Phenomenology and How Is Ethnomethodology an Example of Phenomenology?

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Conventional approaches to family studies typically begin with an understanding or definition of the family that specifies its characteristics as a particular kind of group

This seems eminently reasonable, both commonsensically and as a social scientific practice. We all believe families to inhabit everyday life as concrete entities, and to study them we must clearly designate what is being observed. But how is the student of the family to take his or her encounters with people in the “real world” whose images of family seem radically different from the academic definitions?

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Ethnomethodology is the second intellectual tradition linked to phenomenology. Ethnomethodology is also connected to the epoch, but most importantly to Schütz's commitment to the importance of the everyday life-world. However, unlike the prescientific and proscientific work of phenomenology, ethnomethodology as formulated by Garfinkel represents a radical break from the traditional models of social science with which Schütz had once tried to reconcile. Ethnomethodology seeks to understand the method by which individuals construct, negotiate, and agree upon reality, but questions the possibility of an objective science of the subjective human condition. As a radically subjective pursuit, ethnomethodology falls short of the objective science of the life-world Schütz envisioned. Concerning such radically subjective endeavors Schütz maintains ‘a method which would require that the individual scientific observer identify himself with the social agent observed in order to understand the motives of the later, or a method which would refer the selection of the facts observed and their interpretation to the private and subjective image in the mind of this particular observer, would merely lead to an uncontrollable private and subjective image in the mind of this particular student of human affairs, but never to a scientific theory.’ While ethnomethodology remains an important influence in sociology, as currently formulated it falls short of the phenomenological sociology Schütz envisioned. Without question, phenomenology has had a major impact upon modern sociology

Social constructionism and ethnomethodology each display a commitment to the epoch and the fundamental importance of the life-world, and therefore can directly be traced to phenomenological thinking. Both methods of analysis remain viable sociological traditions, and will no doubt continue to inform social research. Ethnomethodology is a mode of inquiry devoted to studying the practical methods of common sense reasoning used by members of society in the conduct of everyday life. It was developed by Harold Garfinkel in an effort to address certain fundamental problems posed by Talcott Parsons' theory of action. Parsons' motivational approach to the problem of order (emphasizing internalized values) implicates an analytically prior cognitive problem of order involving the process by which concrete actions are produced and rendered intelligible in relation to their circumstances. Garfinkel's classic studies were designed to expose the methods of common sense reasoning that actors employ in this process. Contemporary research initiatives within ethnomethodology have revitalized a wide range of social science subfields, including the study of language and social interaction, the inner workings of bureaucratic and people-processing institutions, and the construction of formal scientific knowledge.

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Husserl developed first eidetic, then transcendental phenomenology in an endeavor to clarify the foundations of the sciences, a project that was well underway in mathematics when he began his investigations

His realization in 1931 that ‘transcendental intersubjectivity… constitutes the world as an objective world, as a world that is identical for everyone’ (quoted in Moran 2000: 179) may be considered, at least honorifically, as the founding moment of phenomenological sociology. His most important contribution to the social sciences is the concept the lifeworld (Lebenswelt), the pregiven, unproblematicized, pretheoretical ground of shared language, familiar objects, and tacit meanings that the intending subject inhabits ‘prepredicatively.’ Ethnomethodology is a partial offshoot of phenomenological sociology with deep roots in classical social theory and sociolinguistics (Hilbert 1992). It is the descriptive study of the reporting and accounting practices (‘methods’) through which socially embedded actors come to attribute meaning and rationality to their own and others’ behavior. Ethnomethodologists study interactive, ad hoc sense making at the sites where social structures are produced and reproduced through talk and coordinated action. The central claim of ethnomethodology is that ‘[p]henomena of order are identical with the procedures for their local endogenous production and accountability’.

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In summary, the contribution of phenomenology is its ability to uncover and unravel the essence of lived experience that has the potential to understand the management phenomena as a practice and a process that the human dimension is central. The same observation of the author is valid for ethnomethodology. These methods can contribute to the evolution of the marketing field, especially in the service arena. The development of new perspectives for collection and analysis of qualitative data is a challenge to researchers

Even challenging, choosing of these alternatives is a methodological way to obtain information that can contribute to marketing.

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Moran, Dermot, Introduction to Phenomenology. London: Routledge, 2000.

Boettke, Peter and Koppl, Roger (eds.), Special Issue on the Alfred Schütz Centennial, 1899-1999. Review of Austrian Economics 14 (2001): 111-213.

Garfinkel, Harold, Ethnomethodology’s Program: Working Out Durkheim’s Apriorism.Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

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