The sociological eye means looking at things for what they are, as best we can given the blinders of interest and ideology, of cliché and ritualized belief. It is not an individual enterprise. Chaining our efforts together as a long-term network of theorists and researchers improves one’s own sociological vision, provided we make the effort. The sociological eye holds up a periscope above the tides of political and intellectual partisanship, spying out the patterns of social life in every direction.

Sunday, October 20, 2013



Erving Goffman pioneered numerous intellectual trends in the close analysis of everyday life. Of course he didn't do it all by himself.  Intellectual life is prone to retrospective hero-worship; yet this can be defended, practically speaking, as a convenient simplification whereby a particular person becomes an emblem for a broad front of intellectual advance.  In talking about Goffman and his following, we are talking about an extended family, and a somewhat quarrelsome one at that. Goffman happens to be the most memorable representative of this family; his work abounds in crisp formulations: frontstage and backstage, facework, total institutions, interaction rituals, frames, and more. I will sketch a select few of the downstream channels opened up by Goffman's students and successors.

Micro and macro 
The terms were not used by Goffman and others of his generation. * But the theme was in the air. Already in the 1950s, George Homans was declaring-- against Talcott Parsons-- that society is no more than the actions of individual persons; ergo sociology reduces to the explanations of behaviorist psychology. Herbert Blumer was spearheading a militant version of symbolic interactionism: attacking  statistics and "the variable" because they do not actually do anything.  In class at Berkeley, he used to say things like: where is social class? Where do you see it? In another part of the battlefield,  Garfinkel developed his position (not yet called ethnomethodology) in the 1950s, but he was a shadowy figure until the mid-1960s, when he acquired creative followers such as Harvey Sacks, Emmanuel Schegloff, David Sudnow and others. But they were at Berkeley, not UCLA; Harold was notoriously difficult to work with, and the young radical ethnomethodologists were Goffman's PhD students, even though Goffman was teaching a different line.

* At any rate, not until the last year of Goffman's life.  I was among the first to use this pair of terms (in the sociological sense) in a 1981 article in Amer. J. Sociol. "The micro-foundations of macro-sociology." This has nothing to do with the economists' sense; micro-economics studies the behavior of the firm in a market; macro-economics studies the movement of entire economies over time. From a sociological point of view, both of these are macro. As Greg Smith pointed out (at the Cardiff University symposium, 2013) Goffman's comment in his 1982 ASA presidential address was a rejection of my claim about the micro-foundation of macro-sociology, published a year before. "...some... argue reductively that all macrosociological features of society, along with society itself, are an intermittently existing composite of what can be traced back to the reality of encounters-- a question of aggregating and extrapolating interactional effects. This position is sometimes reinforced by the argument that whatever we do know about social structures can be traced back to highly edited summaries of what was originally a stream of experience in social situations.... I find these claims uncongenial." [Goffman, 1983. "The Interaction Order." Amer. Sociol. Rev. 48: 9]

The common denominator of these figures is that all pointed to everyday life, where the action is. Having said this does not settle what the research program would be.  Homans and his followers said it's the actor's calculus of maximizing rewards over costs; at the time it was called exchange theory, later renamed rational choice, after economists got on board. Blumer's symbolic interactionism emphasized actors' definition of their situation, stressing the possibility of reinterpreting the situation, and thus giving volatility to social life. This line of analysis was brilliantly developed by Norbert Wiley in his 1994 book, The Semiotic Self, with its empirical elaboration of the process of internal dialogue (AKA verbal thinking) and internal rituals inside the mind.  Garfinkel's ethnomethodology locates the key in commonsense everyday reasoning. The model is conservative in just the opposite of the sense in which Blumer is radical; Garfinkel's famous breaching experiments show that persons do not like to have their taken-for-granted assumptions upset, and they try to restore order as quickly as possible.

Garfinkel raised a lot of hackles by declaring sociology does not exist, and should be replaced by ethnomethodology. A more acceptable development came from Sacks and Schegloff, who invented a new research method and field-- Conversation Analysis-- using tape recorders to capture exactly what people say to each other in real situations, getting at the local production of everything. And since the data are recorded and minutely inspectable, this led to discoveries such as the importance of rhythms in talk-- points not necessarily brought out by CA theorists themselves, but by the broader movement of micro-sociologists-- which show the micro-mechanisms by which solidarity is manifested, as well as alienation and conflict. This is the pattern no gap, no overlap (originally stated as a fundamental rule of conversation, by Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson, 1974); and the ways this can be violated: no gap/no overlap generates a strong rhythm which is the ultra-micro mechanism establishing solidarity; long gaps evince alienation; persistent overlap is conflict.

In this array of theoretical possibilities, Goffman took an ostensibly modest position. Society exists and is primary, he said; I'm just studying the social in everyday life, sideshow though it may be. What kind of intellectual impression management was this? In one his few explicit references to his own intellectual ancestry, in an early paper Goffman cited Durkheim on the point that society constructs the individual self and makes it a sacred object; hence minor rituals like saying hello, goodbye, handshakes and kisses, mirror the grand rituals of religion, but in this case they give obeisance to the self. More precisely, they give ritual respect to the other's self, in return for reciprocity in upholding one's own. Moreover, these everyday rituals are obeisance to the collective definition of the situation-- adding a touch of symbolic interaction, even though Goffman was generally critical of that theory.

Although Goffman said society is primary, he never studied it in the large. He shifted the center of gravity to the situation itself; social life becomes a string of situations. This is not an ontological claim: it is a research strategy. If you want to understand mental illness, go into the schizophrenic ward and see how people so labeled interact with each other and with their guards and medics. If you want to see social class, go in and out the kitchen doors of a resort hotel and see how the waiters put on a face for their upper-middle class clientele; and then see how these proper Brits dress for dinner in their own private backstage regions, putting on costume and manner to act out their frontstage identities. Goffman had such a powerful influence because he led by dramatic example; he provided both a research strategy and a theoretical mechanism for what causes what and with what consequences.

What is the value of reframing all this as micro and macro?  In my 1981 article, I argued it is not a matter of what kind of research people should do, or be prohibited from doing; if you want to study revolutions à la Marx and Skocpol, or world-systems à la Wallerstein, go ahead and do it; by their fruits you shall know them and if they come up with something important let's learn it. By the same token, the followers of Goffman, Garfinkel et al. were making discoveries and opening up frontiers. Pragmatically it is pointless to demand that we should all do this instead of that.  But many sociologists at the time said exactly that, the positivist methodologists on one side putting down researchers on everyday life as either unscientific or trivial; and Garfinkel at the other extreme saying society is nothing but a gloss on commonsense reasoning. Calling the choices of what to study micro-and-macro was a way of saying that all sociologists occupy the same empirical universe; some of us are looking at it up close, through ever-more-sharply-focused micro-scopes; others were widening the vision, to larger swaths of time and space.

Ontologically micro and macro are not distinct realms. The macro can be zoomed in on everywhere. A young ethnomethodologist at San Diego (Ken Jennings) once convinced me of this by saying: since you want to do historical sociology, if you could get in a time machine, exactly what would you want to see when you got there? This made me realize not only that you always enter the macro at some micro point; but that what macro-historical sociologists are doing is grappling with a scale where stretching out beyond every micro situation are other situations in the past and future; other situations spread out horizontally, contemporaneously populated by other interactions, as far out to the horizon as we have the methods to see. Macro is not different from micro, it is just more micro-situations, viewed as they are clumped together in larger slices of time, space, and number. 

Pragmatically there are always going to be different kinds of sociologists doing research at different scale, not to mention anthropologists, linguists, historians etc. So what is the point of saying that micro is the foundation of macro, while at the same time saying let everyone approach the micro-macro continuum from their own angle?   I proposed a bet on the micro-researchers: because macro-sociologists deal with things that they refer to by nouns-- states, world-systems, societies, organizations, classes-- they can be led astray when they write as if these are entities that don't depend on the people whose actions make them up. The more positivistic act as if statistics are more real than the actions that they summarize. In this respect, micro-sociologists have made a dent in how macro-sociology is now perceived. There has been a shift from looking at societies as entities, to viewing them as networks-- and networks of varied and changing shape and extent, with ties of differing strengths.*  It is not accidental that the era during which network sociology has risen in importance has also been the era of militant micro-sociology.

* Two representative works are Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, 1986-2013, demonstrating across world-history there are no such things as unitary societies, especially as conventionally glossed by the names of states or ethnicities, but a shifting and overlapping mesh of networks of economic, political, military, and cultural exchange and power; and John Levi Martin, Social Structures, 2009, which derives social change as well as dead-ends from the transformative possibilities of various kinds of networks. For a summary of the latter, see my June 2011 post, "Why Networks Change their Shape, or Not."

Macro-words such as "the government of France," or "the Wall Street stock exchange", may be convenient terms for referring to networks that tend to hang together and reproduce themselves from year to year; but if macro is really composed of the linkages of micro-situations in time and space, the dynamics of macro should be found in the micro. And this means, when government rise and fall, or markets go into booms and busts, we should zero in, get into the streets and palaces of Paris on February 23rd 1848, or the streets of Cairo on a sequence of notable days between 2011 and the present, and look for the mechanisms by which micro processes drive macro events.

Sociology of emotions

This becomes clearer with the theory of emotion work, developed by Arlie Hochschild, one of Goffman's students at Berkeley in the mid-60s. Emotions are often performed rather than simply experienced, Hochschild notes (The Managed Heart, 1983). There are professions whose chief skill is putting on a particular emotional tone; she studied airline flight attendants and bill-collectors; her students studied lawyers and strip-tease dancers. If one wants to take on the core dynamics of macro political and economic power, one could focus on those professional mood-spinners, politicians and investment counselors. Hochschild's inspiration is Goffmanian; people work on themselves to project emotions that fit the situation, or that serve to control other people in a situation. In short, emotions are performed on a frontstage, they are impression management, dramaturgy.

Hochschild has been criticized for ignoring emotions which are spontaneous, but not so; persons have to do emotion work precisely in situations where their spontaneous emotions don't fit what is expected of them. There is an emotional backstage, but here emotions are not just spontaneous, but scrutinized, strategized as to how they can be transformed into frontstage emotions. Arlie has a wonderful argument that, contrary to stereotype, men are more emotional then women. At least in their relations towards each other, where men are more powerful, they can express what they feel or at least what they lust, while women have more to lose if they let their romantic emotions carry them away. Women do more emotion work than men, precisely because they talk more about their emotions-- especially in backstage privacy with their girlfriends, trying to talk each other into calculating which man is a good choice to let one's emotions roam free with. Thus women are considered to be more emotional than men but this really means women talk about emotions more, in backstage situations; men talk less about their emotions, but simply act on them. The evidence is that men are more likely than women to fall in love at first sight. The whole question of who is more emotional is simplistic, unless one considers the front and backstage dimensions of emotion work.

From Hochschild and other contemporary researchers there developed the field of emotion research-- Tom Scheff  (another of Goffman's former protégés), Theodore Kemper, Jonathan Turner, Jack Barbalet and many others. What makes this more than just another subspecialty?  It has a driving theoretical significance because emotions are the glue of the social order, and the energy of social change. Perhaps the social change aspect is more visible, with the anger, enthusiasm, and exalted self-sacrifice found in political and religious movements; but there are also the quiet emotions that sustain the social structure when it does not change, i.e. when it repeats itself day after day and year after year. Garfinkel and the ethnomethodologists had a blind spot for emotions, but they are apparent in the breaching experiments: when commonsense assumptions are breached, the reaction is bewilderment, shock, even outrage. One can reformulate Garfinkel as holding that the merest glimmer of these negative emotions-- these breaching emotions-- cause people to recoil and put back normal social order as fast as they can.  Tony Giddens picked this up and turned it into the existentialist formulation, that ontological anxiety is what holds the social order together. How far can we go with this? Recall, Garfinkel has a conservative view of social institutions, where other micro-sociologists are more inclined to a volatile view.  Garfinkel's world, in my summary exposition, rests on a crude exaggeration, since people don't always succeed in putting social routine back together; and "as fast as they can" refers to just the temporal magnitude of the breaching experiments, more or less a few minutes or an hour at most. A frontier area of research now is time-dynamics, how long emotional sequences take, and what happens to the emotions after a few days, a few weeks, a few months. The shifting moods in Tahrir Square over 30 months give some indication of the kind of pattern we are trying to capture.

Here again a path looks more promising that comes via Goffman (and behind him, from a combination of Durkheim and Blumer)-- more promising in giving us the mechanism, the switch that shifts social situations between reproduction and change. This brings me to my third point, the micro-sociology of stratification.

Interaction Rituals as the mechanism of stratification
Let us go back to 1967.  Goffman had just published his book Interaction Rituals, composed of papers which he had published in the 1950s in relatively offbeat places. Goffman was the subject of much discussion and gossip among Berkeley graduate students; and not just for his quirky personality, such as why his wife committed suicide by jumping off the San Rafael Bridge.  Interaction rituals opened our eyes to what we now could see all around us: everything that people were doing, minute by minute, was not natural but socially constructed; it was all social rituals, and they all operated (more or less unconsciously) to enact a certain kind of social order. And that social order was power, it was class, it was organization and authority.  (This was a few years before it occurred to us that it was also gender and sexuality.) And we jumped to the conclusion-- not necessarily shared by Goffman himself-- that if social order was constructed it could also be de-constructed  (not that we used that term), it could be challenged, it could be torn down.  Whether something else would be put in its place was an open question, since this was the age of the cultural revolution, AKA the psychedelic revolution, and some in the counter-culture proclaimed that artificially constructed social order would be blown open just by turning in on how it is done, and dropping out from it. The utopian phase of this revelation was relatively short-lived.

Goffman and Garfinkel became intellectual heroes of a generation that had experience challenging the taken-for-granted institutions of macro-power. Some of us had taken part in campaigns against racial discrimination in the South, and in the North as well, and had found that institutions of deference and demeanor that supported white dominance could be broken. At Berkeley, and many other places, students found that the traditional authority of university administration could be successfully challenged, by collectively bringing the organization to a halt.  In the student movement of the 1960s, sociologists were prominent-- not because they were the most alienated, but because they had the intellectual tools to see what they were facing. Herbert Blumer took no part in the university demonstrations, but in his classes he would refer to students taking over the administration building as an example of his point: an organization does not exist just because it is a thing-like noun, but exists only to the extent that people act it out; when they stop interpreting it as existing it stops existing.  This is not idealist solipsism-- it's all in your mind-- but rather it is situationally real or not depending on how a group of persons act together to change a collective definition of a situation.

In the event, universities did pull themselves back together, although in ways that incorporated some of the newer definitions of what they should be doing. My purpose is not to trace the activist counter-culture politics of the 1960s and its permutations in following decades; but to note that many then-young sociologists saw Goffman and Garfinkel as having apocalyptic implications. Its political fate is not the crucial point for this intellectual development; the New Left did not win in the end; there were swings to the New Right, the Neo-Liberalism of the 1990s, the revival of religious activism, and so on. The fact that the counter-culture did not win in the long run is no disproof of Blumer's radical symbolic interactionism; the social order of any given time is the result of all the various groups of people who mobilize themselves to define what social institutions are.  The student Left had no monopoly on mobilization; religious mobilization shifted techniques for stirring up collective effervescence from Left to Right; political movements were mobilized not just in the name of oppressed races, ethnicities and sexual preferences but also in tax revolts by self-defined economically oppressed middle-class; Western techniques of revolt spread to the Soviet bloc and many other places, with results that may seem paradoxical in macro perspective but which show the power of micro-techniques to transform so-called big structures.

The story I am telling is about Goffman's downstream; the main point is that Goffman's theory of interaction rituals became radicalized, used in the service of stripping existing practices of their legitimation. And then, when politics settled down and it became apparent radical definitions were not going to go unchallenged by opposing definitions, Goffman's micro-analysis came to be seen as a tool for seeing how the dominant order makes itself dominant.

My take on it was as follows. What makes classes strong or weak happens in micro-situations. Some people get more out of their micro-interactions than others. Why? Goffman had already given some clues: polite rituals like introducing oneself, leaving calling cards, gentlemen taking off their hats to ladies, were means by which stratified groups constitute themselves; persons who didn't carry out these rituals properly were left outside their boundaries. Goffman's own examples were historically rather backward-looking, and it seemed ironic that he was taking them from old etiquette books at the time when a massive shift towards informalization was going on-- at the time I used to think of it as the "Goffmanian revolution". I attempted to generalize the model by expanding on its Durkheimian basis, the theory of religious rituals which constitute religious communities. I emphasized that rituals succeed or fail; some gods are deserted because their worshipers no longer find their ritual attractive, or because a rival ritual draws them away. The ingredients that go into rituals must be seen as varying in strength: bodily assembly (i.e. opportunities to mobilize as a group); techniques for generating a mutual focus of attention, and for stirring up a shared emotion; when these ingredients are favorable, they accelerate through mutual feedback, generating collective effervescence, which seen through a micro-sociological lens, is visible in rhythmic entrainment of people's bodies. Goffman helps us see that little micro-rituals are going on all the time, varying in strength.  Where these interaction rituals are strong, they generate feelings of group membership-- in this case, membership in a social class; feelings of moral solidarity-- the belief that their group is right, what Weber would call legitimate, and should be defended against rival ways of life. On the individual level, a successful interaction ritual gives what I called, modifying Durkheim, emotional energy: feelings of confidence, initiative, enthusiasm; conversely, failed rituals are emotionally depressing.

All these are elements in what makes some social classes dominate others. Dominant classes are better at rituals, or monopolize the successful rituals; dominated classes are weak in ritual resources, because they have no opportunity to assemble for rituals of their own. This fitted well Goffman's analysis of the British resort hotel (in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1959), where servants are underlings in higher class rituals. But ritual resources can shift; sometimes subordinated groups get more ingredients for themselves to mobilize; in the 50s and 60s there were vivid examples  before our eyes in the black mobilization for civil rights, turning themselves into a committed, energized, self-sacrificing group that gathered supporters by staging massive public rituals which swung legitimation to themselves and away from the segregationists.

One could go on with a histoire raisonnée of dramatic social movements,  analyzing their micro-techniques for successful interaction rituals; as well as the decline of movements as they are undercut by other ritual mobilizations  (e.g. the proliferation of gang rituals after the 1950s, which made black people appear threatening, at just the time the civil rights movement was making them respectable).  To drop to the level of spare analytical abstraction, let me list a number of ways in which researchers in Goffman's wake have explained who situationally dominates whom:

-- One version is that higher classes are frontstage personalities, while lower classes are backstage personalities.  Higher classes appear in the center of attention, on the stage of big organizations and networks, where they get to formulate the topics and set the emotional tone.  The lower classes are audiences for the higher. It does not necessarily follow that lower classes are taken in by upper class rituals; insofar as lower classes have enough privacy to gather on their own backstages, they can carry out little interaction rituals among themselves, complaining and satirizing their bosses. The result is a difference in class cultures: the higher classes portray themselves in lofty ideals, the lower classes are cynical.

-- Another version is higher classes have more refined manners, and spend more time policing their boundaries. They generate refined rankings, some persons being judged more polite or sophisticated than others; persons who might challenge class domination become drawn into elite tournaments of micro-interactional skill. Goffman wrote incisively about techniques like the aggressive use of face-work, coolly insulting others in ways that those of lesser sophistication cannot respond to except by losing emotional control and damning themselves by their own outbursts. Such techniques, Jennifer Pierce (Gender Trials: Emotional Lives in Contemporary Law Firms, 1995) has shown, are part of the interactional skill that make a successful courtroom lawyer.

--- A related argument is in research by Lauren Rivera (Northwestern University) on how some candidates become successfully chosen in job interviews for elite financial and consulting firms; the key is not so much how the interviewer rates the candidate's technical background or skills, but whether they have emotional resonance.  Manners, an easy flow of topics to talk about, all serve as ingredients that make for successful interaction rituals, which act as gatekeepers to the elite.

-- Another argument is that the higher classes have more emotional energy-- they have gone through a sequential chain of interaction rituals where they have been successful; this gives them a store of confidence and enthusiasm that enables them to dominate the next interactions in the chain. Conversely, the lower classes have less emotional energy; they are less confident of themselves, take less initiative, are poorer at impressing others with their emotional tone. Successful entrepreneurs and financial manipulators are not just cold calculators but energy centers with investors chasing at their heels. Careers of  successful politicians, seen through the microscope of interaction rituals, shows them developing the techniques that make others into followers; but the trajectory of the chain can shift; rising politicians can become overmatched, undergoing crises where they can no longer control the emotional tone of situations, and lose their charisma. (Instances to ponder include the rise and fall of Gorbachev, and the ongoing vicissitudes of Obama.)

These mechanisms of class domination are not mutually exclusive; together they may give an overwhelming impression that class domination is impregnable. Nevertheless, class orders do shift historically; individuals do move up and down in their lifetime; and in the very short run of daily situations, interactional dominance can fluctuate. I have referred to the latter as situational stratification. Without trying to summarize all the ways micro-mechanisms can change stratification, let me move to my fourth and last point, violent conflict.

Violence and conflict as impression management

Conflict is the main way the caked-on sediment of custom is broken; not that the challengers always win, but conflict is volatile, and can rearrange the resources that make stratification, if it is renewed in the aftermath, different than it was before. I will concentrate on violence, which is both the most extreme and perhaps the best studied form of conflict. To say that violence hinges on impression management is to say that the success or failure of violence is based on micro-mechanisms.

Elijah Anderson in Code of the Street (1999) gives an ethnography of the most violent zone of the inner-city black ghetto, in such cities as Philadelphia and Chicago. His most striking argument is that most people are faking it. The code of the street is a style of presenting oneself: tough, threatening, quick to take offense. But Anderson shows, by years of careful observation, that most people in the ghetto consider themselves to be "decent"-- pursuing normal middle-class goals of a job, education, family; but under conditions of the ghetto, where policing is non-existent or distrusted, decent people-- this is a folk term in Philadelphia--  have to be ready to defend themselves.  "I can go for street, too," they would say, referring to a different category of people who are called "street"-- people who are committed to violence and crime as a way of life.  These are two different styles of presenting oneself, and most people can code-switch. The switch is micro and patently visible: a young man walking on an empty street at the edge of the ghetto appears relaxed and happy, but at the sight of another male drops into a hard demeanour, muscles tensed, shoulders swinging and torso dancing with a nonverbal message emphasizing ownership of his personal space. 

This is situational impression management. Anderson developed his analysis under the influence of Goffman, who was his colleague at University of Pennsylvania. It is putting on a public face, don't mess with me.  Anderson goes on to argue that performing the street code is an attempt to avoid violence, and in two different ways. One is to protect oneself from being a victim by looking tough.  But this can backfire on occasion, since two men (or two women) can become locked into a contest of escalating face-work that leads to violence.*  Anderson gives a second technique: when both persons show that they know the street code, they can establish membership, and both can pass through the situation with honor without violence. 

* Shown also by research on homicides arising from escalated face contests. Luckenbill, David F. 1977. "Criminal Homicide as a Situated Transaction." Social Problems 25, pp. 176-186.

More detailed field observations on this point are given by Joe Krupnick's research on the streets of Chicago.** When gun-carrying gang members approach each other, their concern is generally to avoid violence, since they are experienced enough to know its cost. They use a micro-interactional technique when getting into hailing distance-- brief visual recognition, no prolonged stares, studied nonchalance, brief formulaic greeting, moving on past without looking back. Failing to play this particular interaction ritual can result in getting rolled on, with indignant charges-- "who he think he is, act like he rule the street!"  The proper performance of interaction rituals is fateful in the most violent neighbourhood.  Similarly detailed participant observation of Philadelphia street gangs has been done by Alice Goffman, Erving's daughter, in a dissertation rich with all the ways that performing the impression of violence is more important than the violence itself.

Krupnick, Joe, and Chris Winship. 2013.  "Keeping Up the Front: How Young Black Men Avoid Street Violence in the Inner City." In Orlando Patterson (ed.) Bringing Culture Back In: New Approaches to the Problems of Disadvantaged Black Youth.

In Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory, I argued that violence is difficult, not easy; the micro-details of a threatening confrontation show that persons come up against a barrier of confrontational tension and fear that makes them hesitant and incompetent even if they consciously want to commit violence. This shared emotion will inhibit violence from happening, unless one side or the other finds a way to get around the emotional barrier. Violence is successfully carried out when one side establishes emotional dominance over the other. And this is done chiefly by a dramatic performance; emotional dominance precedes physical dominance. A typical way to seek dominance is bluster: threatening, angry gestures, loud voice, an attempt to dominate the communicative space. If the two sides are in equilibrium, violence does not usually come off. The crucial technique of violent persons, then, is violent impression-management: subtle micro-moves in gesture and timing to get the other side into a passive, de-energized stance, thereby allowing them to be subjected to violent force. Violence is a learned skill, rather than merely a lack of self-control or an outburst of past resentments; and what is learned is a specific way to manage the micro-cues of self and other in violence-threatening situations.

Violence is an area where we can palpably demonstrate that the micro makes a difference. This is a counter to the position often taken in the micro-macro debate that micro merely reflects macro-- that micro behavior just reproduces the macro structure.  Several versions of the argument have been recently popular: the Bourdieu version is that habitus is the individual's disposition to act in accordance with their sense of position in the structural field. Another version is that people act out cultural scripts, that they know what to do in any particular micro-situation because they follow a cognitive script or schema. The trouble with both these types of argument is that they are static; nothing ever changes because the same habitus, the same script constantly operates; social structure simply reproduces itself. Against this is the dynamism of symbolic interactionism, bolstered by Goffman's tools for looking at the micro-details that determine what happens in interactional situations. It is not a matter of looking inside the individual for what habitus or script each happens to carry, but the interaction between those individuals in the emotions and rhythms of the situation itself.  We see this most clearly in the micro-contingencies that determine whether violence will break out or not.  And violence so often is a cutting point, spreading through escalations and reactions, a micro-point that gets dramatic attention and permeates the macro-space, sometimes setting off major structural changes.  At such times, micro really does causally determine the form of the macro.

Goffman, by Goffman

In conclusion, a few words about Goffman himself. I said at the outset that Goffman is an emblem, a figurehead for the moving front of researchers who explored the micro-sociology of everyday life. Can we turn a Goffman lens on Goffman himself? I once asked him what he thought would be the micro-sociology of the intellectual world, but he brushed it aside with a characteristically sarcastic remark.  Perhaps he did think about it, in his own backstage. He did seem to operate with a strategy as if designed to make himself the leader and emblem. He rarely cited any predecessors; he did not put himself in the lineage of those who went before-- whereas we ourselves rule out the possibility of claiming to be emblems, precisely because we talk so much about our predecessors. Goffman occasionally criticized his rivals, but only in dismissive footnotes: trashing Schutz and his followers (which is to say Garfinkel's movement, which Goffman never mentions) in a few lines appended to Frame Analysis; occasional lines about taking the role of the other that only the cognoscenti would recognize as a putdown of Blumer and Mead. Goffman never gave his rivals even the attention that comes from direct attack.  Some prominent micro researchers have complained that Goffman never cited them when it would have been appropriate, citing instead more obscure sources. No other intellectual loomed up on Goffman's pages.

To be sure, he himself did not loom up overtly; he affected a modest manner (in his writing, that is-- his behavior in everyday life is legendary for his aggressive face-work), but with an artfulness, indeed archness to his words. Goffman is difficult to connect from book to book because he never used the same terminology over again, nor explained how newer concepts might have improved from the older ones-- how frontstages related to rituals and then to frames. This may be part of the impression management that Goffman engaged in about his own intellectual career. He was always reincarnating himself as an innovator, covering his own tracks. As sociologists downstream from Goffman, we have learned to see some of the tricks. He rested more on a larger movement than he himself ever admitted. In that sense, he was an ordinary intellectual, closer to ourselves. But as a personality-- his life was a masterpiece of singularity.

Then again-- can't we say the same about Harold Garfinkel?


Harold Garfinkel’s work can be located in the two great waves of realignment that took place during the 20th century, the first in the 1920s and 30s, the second in the 1960s and 70s. Garfinkel, I am going to argue, was one of a very few sociologists who centered oneself on the realignment in philosophy in the 1920s-30s, when he was growing up. But his reputation did not take off until the 1960s and 70s, when a school-- indeed a cult-- formed of ethnomethodologists who made up the radical wing, in the Anglophone world, of the second big realignment to hit the human sciences.

The First Realignment: From Neo-Kantians and Idealists to Phenomenologists and Logical Positivists

Let us start with the realignment that took place in philosophy when the dominant positions at the turn of the 20th century gave way to a new set of oppositions in the 1920s and 30s. At the beginning of the century the major schools were the Neo-Kantians, along with vitalists and evolutionists (the latter two sometimes combined, as in Bergson). In the Anglophone world, the center of attention remained the Idealists:  the most famous philosopher in Britain was F.H. Bradley—who performed a dialectical dissolution of all concepts as incapable of grasping Absolute reality, with a capital A. Idealists included Bertrand Russell’s teacher McTaggart, and Whitehead, who published an Idealist system as late as the 1920s. In the US, Idealism as even more dominant, and was part of the worldview of persons we otherwise think of as pragmatists: William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, the early John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead on down to his death in 1931.  Earlier, the most famous Idealist was Josiah Royce, whose name is on Royce Hall next door to the sociology building at UCLA.  Idealism was partly a defense of religion in rationalized form--  one reason why Idealism was so important in the transition of American higher education from Bible schools to research universities. Idealism was also a sophisticated epistemology that holds that no one ever sees the so-called real world, but only through the eyeglasses of one’s categories. The only sure reality is the mind.

Neo-Kantianism dominated on the European Continent, led by such figures as Dilthey, Windelband, and Cassirer. Unlike the older Idealists, it was no longer concerned with defending religion and no longer built metaphysical systems, and had made its peace with natural science. Neo-Kantians took their topics from investigating the constitutive logics of the various disciplines; Dilthey distinguished Geisteswissenschaft from Naturwissenschaft, each valid in their own sphere, but using distinctive methods of hermeneutic interpretation or seeking causality. In Windelband’s view, they wore different eyeglasses, idiographic or nomothetic, seeing particulars or general laws.  The newly organized social sciences were especially good territory for Neo-Kantian meta-theorizing. Economics might seem naturally to be in the Naturwissenschaft camp, but in Germany, economics had been historical, not mathematical, and the so-called Methodenstreit-- the battle of methods that Max Weber took part in the early 1900s-- concerned what approach should govern economists’ work. Weber’s ideal types were a Neo-Kantian solution, designed to allow bifocal eyeglasses, so to speak. Psychology was a favorite Neo-Kantian hunting ground; sociology and anthropology also became targets. In the founding generation of sociologists, Weber, Simmel, and to a degree Durkheim were all Neo-Kantians.

Vienna Circle positivists of the following generation rejected the Neo-Kantian way of drawing borders, and launched an imperialist campaign for unification of all the sciences, including the social sciences. But for the moment we need to focus on the earlier positivists, figures like Ernst Mach in the late 19th century. In our own day, positivism has become a term of abuse, for number-crunchers, dogmatic materialists and naive objectivists who regard natural science as the only true reality. But positivism at the time of Mach meant almost the opposite. Mach held that scientists do not observe reality, but only construct it out of readings of laboratory instruments; hence the reality of science might as well be abolished, replaced by instrument readings, which are always provisional. Machian positivism was close to Neo-Kantianism, and a popular expression of the position was published by Vaihinger in 1911 as The Philosophy of As-If.   

The 1920s and 30s swept away the dominance of the Neo-Kantians and their allies, and replaced them with a new opposition: phenomenology, and the much more radical logical positivism of the Vienna Circle. At first glance, phenomenologists like Husserl and Scheler seem similar to Neo-Kantians: the same search for the conceptual eye-glasses through which we see the world. One difference is that the Neo-Kantians were much more concerned with academic disciplines, whereas the phenomenologists shifted towards everyday life. Was phenomenology, then, the stream of consciousness, just then in the early 1920s breaching the literary world in the novels of James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf? An interesting question, which I will pass by, with the remark that only Proust had much philosophical input, and that was from Bergson. Phenomenology seems closer to psychology, and one might be tempted to link it with the Freudian movement, or with the Gestalt psychology that was being developed in Germany in the teens and twenties. But no, phenomenology was militantly anti-psychological; psychology was merely the phenomenal level of experience, governed by causal laws on the level of the natural sciences; phenomenology was deeper-- in Husserl’s famous epochê, bracketing the phenomenal contents of consciousness in order to seek the deep structures, the forms in which consciousness necessarily presents itself.

The roots of phenomenology in the foundations of mathematics

The pathway into the phenomenology movement was not from psychology, but from elsewhere: its predecessors in the previous generation were in the foundational crisis in mathematics. (There is an echo of this in Husserl’s 1936 title  The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.) Issues had arisen in late 19th century because the new highly abstract mathematics had invented concepts with no counterpart in ordinary 3-dimensional reality, concepts impossible to grasp intuitively: imaginary numbers, non-Euclidean geometries and alternative algebras, higher orders of infinities called transfinite numbers, etc. Some mathematicians declared these monstrosities, products of illegitimate operations and lack of rigor; others held that higher mathematicians had broken into a Platonic paradise where they could create new objects at will. The dispute eventually would become organized, around 1900, into the camps of formalists and intuitionists, each with a program for how to logically carry through the foundations of all mathematics. The most important moves were made around the 1880s  and 90s by Gottlob Frege, a German mathematician who distinguished between sense and reference in the manipulation of symbols. In the verbal expression, “The morning star is the same as the evening star,” this is a mere tautology because the two stars are both the planet Venus; but the statement is not meaningless [Venus is Venus], because the two star-names are being used differently in the syntax of the sentence. Frege was concerned above all with mathematical symbolism, for instance the meaning of the equals sign [=] at the center of a mathematical equation, or the plus sign [+] used in addition, which is not simply the word “and” used in ordinary language. The various mathematical symbols are not on the same level, but are different kinds of operations, place-holders, and pointers. In short, mathematics is a multi-level enterprise; things we had thought were clear, such as numbers, have to be reanalyzed into a much more meticulous system of formal logic.

Husserl was in the network of Frege’s allies, and simultaneously connected with its most hostile critics; he eventually left mathematics for philosophy and generated the phenomenological program with an aim to provide secure foundations not only for mathematics and science but for all knowledge. This proved to be an endlessly receding finish line, as Husserl launched one program after another down to the 1930s; its chief results, as far as we are concerned, were offshoots such as Schutz and Heidegger. But for a moment, let us pursue Frege’s connections in a different direction. In 1903, Bertrand Russell, who had been working on a program deriving basic mathematics from a small number of concepts and axioms of symbolic logic, began to correspond with Frege over a paradox in his attempt to build a system of numbers out of the logic of sets. The conundrum is the set of all sets that are not members of themselves; is it a member of itself? If yes, no; if no, yes. The point is not trivial, on the turf of set theory, since this was Frege’s way of defining zero and beginning the ordered number series which is the basis of all mathematics. Frege threw up his hands, 20 years of work down the drain! -- but Russell worked out a solution, in the spirit of Frege’s distinctions between levels of operations, and what is allowable on each level.  Russell’s theory of types led to further controversy; and at this point, Ludwig Wittgenstein, a young German engineer who had interested himself in Frege’s work, arrived at Cambridge and took up Russell’s problem. Published in 1921 as the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein’s argument hinges on the distinction between what is sayable  and what is unsayable, which we can see as a widening of the kind of distinction among incommensurable operations such as Frege’s sense vs. reference, or later what linguistics would call use  vs. mention, and echoed still later in ethnomethodology as resource  vs. topic.

Within the realm of the sayable, however, Wittgenstein’s approach is like that of the mathematical formalists, building a system on a logically perfect language, starting with simple elements (proper names with purely internal properties, logical atoms unaffected by external connections), out of which all meaningful elementary sentences can be constructed, and so on until giving complete knowledge of the world. By the late 1920s, the Vienna Circle  logical positivists were welcoming Wittgenstein’s methods as a means of unifying all science on a secure basis. Not that the Vienna Circle’s leaders were followers of Wittgenstein; Schlick, Neurath and others were already well-launched, with their own networks coming from physicists like Planck and Einstein, from leading mathematicians of both the formalist and intutionist schools, from neo-Kantians like Dilthey, and late pupils of Frege such as Carnap. I will skip over the internal struggles of the Vienna Circle, including such explosive developments as Gödel’s undecidability proof and Popper’s falsifiability criterion, and only note that the outcome of the Vienna Circle for social science, above all in America, was a kind of militant positivism that declares meaningless anything that cannot be put into the strict methodology of empirical measurement, statistics, and derivation of testable observation statements from covering laws. (Carnap, the most militantly reductionist of the old-line logical positivists, become a professor at UCLA in the 1954 [and died at Santa Monica in 1970]—apparently he and Harold had nothing to do with each other.) The people who wrote sociology methods textbooks around 1950, like Hempel, laid it down that what sociology needed to become a true science was the guidance of Vienna Circle positivism.

Wittgenstein and Ordinary Language

This sounds like the triumph of the Evil Empire. But I can only expound one side of things at a time. The intellectual world operates by rivalries and conflicts; and I should mention here the movement in England of ordinary language philosophy. By the 1930s G.E. Moore was reacting against the tendency of mathematically-inspired philosophers to move further and further from the world of ordinary experience, into a realm of abstract sets and meta-rules about what is permissible or impermissible in operations upon them. Moore began to argue for simple statements of ordinary language as incontestable truths (“Here is one hand, and here is another...” 1939)-- and therefore as a better standard of epistemology than convoluted systems of logical axioms. Wittgenstein, distancing himself from his Vienna Circle admirers, switched over to the anti-formalist side, repudiating much of what he had written in the Tractatus-- but retaining the key distinction of sayable  vs. unsayable. His own later comments describe mathematics as an everyday practice that one can observe in detail, stressing that the key to all the foundational disputes are to by found by this method (that we now would call micro-observations of situated practices), rather than elaborating long hierarchical derivations from concepts of sets. This emphasis on the ordinary practice of language was made into an organized program by John Austin, whose 1956 book  How to Do Things with Words, resonates with Frege’s use vs. mention, now elaborated as speech acts and illocutionary forces. (And in fact Austin had begun by publishing, in 1950, a translation of Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic.)

Husserl's followers branch into everyday life

I need to fill in one more pathway, and we will have arrived at Garfinkel. This is the pathway of Husserl’s followers. I will single out two: Alfred Schutz and Martin Heidegger. Schutz set out to examine Max Weber’s notions of verstehen, and the ideal types of rational and non-rational action that Weber proposed as tools for the analyzing the social bases of modern capitalism. But Weber had operated as a typical Neo-Kantian, more or less inventing these ideal types out of his own head; whereas Schutz applied the more rigorous phenomenology of Husserl. The result was Schutz’s 1932 book, The Phenomenology of the Social World, which attempts to lay out some basic rules of the everyday construction of reality, such as the reciprocity of perspectives. Garfinkel encountered Schutz teaching at the New School for Social Research around 1950.

Heidegger was a pupil of Hussserl who had been given the task of making a phenomenological analysis of the experience of time. His Sein und Zeit, in 1927, is the first famous statement of what became existentialism. What is striking about Heidegger is the religious dimension, perhaps not surprising for a former Catholic seminary student, but one who had thrown off religion. In effect, Heidegger propounds a theology for atheists, where God is dead and there is no afterlife and no transcendence of the world. Nevertheless, the human individual is Dasein,  being-there, thrown into the world at a particular time and place, with no fundamental reason for the arbitrariness of why we are here; more broadly, in the background, no reason why anything should exist at all rather than nothing. This is like the sheer arbitrariness of why God created the world in the first place, a question that is no more answerable if one translates it into the naturalistic language of the Big Bang or some other scientific cosmology. Dasein is being-towards-death, the conscious being that projects itself towards the future but knows it is going to die. Hence the underlying motive, or at least deepest human experience, is existential angst.  Heidegger resonates with the most sophisticated positions of philosophical rivals: with the paradoxes plaguing the foundations of mathematical logic, with Gödel’s soon-to-be-discovered incompleteness theorem; with Wittgenstein’s unsayability and the inability of language to encompass practice. Heidegger well dramatizes the philosophical realignment: a long way from the comfortable world of the Neo-Kantians, as well as making the strongest possible opponent to the science-is-all viewpoint of the Vienna Circle positivists. Above all, Heidegger’s existential phenomenology holds that meaningfulness does not exist in any objective sense; it has to be created and posited, at every step of the way. He doesn’t say, created collectively, as an interactional accomplishment; Heidegger was not yet a sociologist. But the step was there to be taken.

Garfinkel as existentialist micro-sociological researcher

Garfinkel, in my view, is largely a combination of Schutz and existential phenomenology. Of course there are other strands: Garfinkel at Harvard was impressed with his teacher Talcott Parsons’ argument [in The Structure of Social Action, 1937] that the basic problem of sociology is how is society possible in the first place, given the Hobbesian problem of order, and Durkheim’s argument that society is held together not by conscious, rational contracts but by pre-contractual solidarity. But what is this tacit level and how does it operate? Garfinkel set out to discover this by phenomenological methods, just as Schutz had done for Weber’s categories of action. Moreover, by the 1950s, Garfinkel was operating in a milieu in which studies of everyday life were growing, with or without philosophical impetus: in France, Henri Lefebvre, a Marxist philosopher who published in 1947 a Critique of Everyday Life; Fernand Braudel and the Annales  School grounding history in the details of ordinary activities and things; Jean-Paul Sartre, doing phenomenology of everyday life with the eye of a naturalistic novelist; in America, Goffman’s early ethnographies, and those of Howie Becker and other symbolic interactionists; George Homans and others abjuring grand abstractions in favor of studying behavior in small groups. Some of this incipient micro-sociology was done in the laboratory, but so were a number of Garfinkel’s breaching experiments, under grants from the US Air Force office of research. One might say Garfinkel exploded the American research establishment from within, breaching the walls of the laboratory and making the entire world of everyday life a laboratory for experiment on the order-making and meaning-constructing methods of folk actors.

I was struck, visiting Harold’s home library in the 1980s, by how few sociology books he kept there-- mainly a few of Durkheim, but shelves full of the philosophy and literature of phenomenology and existentialism. Here I want to suggest how much Garfinkel resonated with Heidegger, even translating existentialist concepts into findings of ethnomethodology. All action is situational, arbitrarily thrown into a context. The human reality constructor projects towards the future, assuming that ambiguities will eventually be resolved in retrospect. But ambiguity lurks everywhere, as key aspects of communicative action, with others and with oneself, are indexical, not capable of translation into an objective system of references; Dasein is by definition indexical, inhabiting the thus-ness of the world in those exemplary indexicals, here and now. But actors avoid questioning what they tacitly feel, hiding from the unsayable. Human practical actors assume meaning, take it for granted, and interpret even the most contrived or accidental events as if they had meaning.

In Heidegger’s terms, persons strongly prefer to inhabit the world of the inauthentic, what Sartre called ‘bad faith’; the primary ethnomethods are all about keeping up comfortable appearances, a gloss of normalcy. Why? Breaches are highly uncomfortable; we rush to restore order, especially cognitive order, first by socially acceptable accounts, and if these fail, by labeling, exclusion, and attack. The most striking detail for me, reading Harold’s breaching experiments, is the reaction of the victims of the breach: bewilderment, shock, outrage. And not just because of momentary embarrassment, but because the arbitrary foundations of the social construction of reality have been temporarily revealed. What breaching reveals is Heidegger’s world of Dasein, thrown-ness, Being-towards-death, existential anxiety. Ethnomethods for finding and restoring order look like a way of pasting over Heidegger’s world lurking just below the surface.

If you want more evidence for the crucial important of Heidegger in opening the way for Garfinkel, bear in mind that Heidegger overturned the primacy given to mind by both Idealists and phenomenologists. Existential phenomenology is embodied, inhabiting the material world in the sense of the here-and-now Umwelt; this means physicality not as a theory or philosophy about matter—which Neo-Kantians could easily dissect as a dogmatically asserted Ding-an-sich—but as the primary existential experience of Dasein. This conception is central in Garfinkel’s repeated admonitions on how to do ethnomethodology, always focusing on “incarnate, embodied  activity—not the primacy of mind (the mistake of superficial critics who called ethnomethodology mere subjectivity) but the mind/body doing something practical in the lived bodily world. And “incarnate” also has a religious resonance, since Jesus is incarnated, not transcendental; and mystics—especially in many lines of Zen—emphasize that Enlightenment is not elsewhere but in grasping the here and now as such.

I am aware that my existentialist reading of Garfinkel is not the only one. There is also a Wittgensteinian reading, rather more optimistic in tone, which marvels at the ongoing creativity of human actors in creating order out of situations, again and again, “for another first time.” Here, the tacit, unsayable processes are all to the good. This has been ably argued by John Heritage, and may be more characteristic of the Conversation Analysis branch. Nevertheless, I am inclined to think an existentialist theme is more central to Harold himself, in his own intellectual biography, in the distinctive emotional quality of his work. This aspect of his personality struck those who encountered him personally, and made up an important part of his charisma.

The second realignment: from existentialism to language-centered structuralism and deconstruction
I am near the end of my account, and so far have arrived only at the doorstep of the second “great turn” in the human sciences, that of the 1960s and 70s. Harold, born in 1917, and spending a number of years in World War Two, is an intellectual product of the post-war years, beginning graduate work at Harvard in 1946.  The early 60s found him still crying in the wilderness.  What made Garfinkel famous was not merely the publication of Studies in Ethnomethodology  in 1967, and the emergence of a network of former students with a program of ethnomethodological research, but another great realignment in the larger intellectual world.

The shift of the 1960s and 70s is still too close to us for unpolemical analysis. It has no generally agreed-upon name. Most famously, it was the rise of the counter-culture, attacking the academic and every other Establishment, throwing off traditional manners, politics, and the hegemony of science. It was a time of political radicalism, spearheaded this time by student movements rather than workers or peasants. But although radicalism penetrated the intellectual world in a revival of Marxism and in other politically engagé stances, these had little direct influence on ethnomethodology, with its resolutely high-intellectual outlook. A major component of the reception of ethnomethodology comes from winds blowing from a very different direction. Above all was the rise of linguistics, as a formal discipline, harking back to earlier mathematical formalisms.

In America, the new-found prestige of linguistics centered on the program of Chomsky [1955 Univ. of Pennsylvania PhD; 1957 Syntactic Structures].  This had started by the late 1950s  (and got its first fame in polemical opposition to the behaviorist-reductionism program of B.F. Skinner), but the Chomskyian movement became a beacon for other disciplines only in the 60s and 70s. Anthropological linguists, of course, had long been cataloguing languages, but the field was dispersed and lacked widespread interest, until the Chomskyian program of generative grammar, proposing to unify all language studies around layers of deep structures and transformative rules. This resonated with the burgeoning of cognitive psychology and the incipient field of cognitive science fed by the computer revolution, and gave new prestige to anthropologists who took a linguistic-theory approach to their materials.

In Europe, above all in France, American developments were paralleled by movements that even more strongly gave the linguistic model a kind of hegemony over the human sciences. Structuralist linguistics had existed since the 1910s in Saussure’s work, although not recognized as widely important for another half-century. In 1949, Lévi-Strauss produced The Elementary Structures of Kinship, a formalist comparison of kinship structures as systems of rules that might be combined in various ways and result in distinctive sequences; an appendix by the mathematician André Weil tied this to mathematical theory of groups. In the 50s and 60s, Lévi-Strauss rose to fame as figurehead of a structuralist program; his method was to compare tribal myths for their underlying combinations, oppositions and sequences of formal elements, thereby proclaiming a universal code of the human mind.

The structuralist movement was widened by the influx of Russian Formalism into France in the 1950s. The origins of the Russian Formalists goes back to the early 1900s, among literary critics and folklorists; their accomplishments included Vladimir Propp showing the basic elements from which folk tales are produced, and Viktor Shklovsky’s analysis of literary texts as a combination of devices that migrate from one text to another. One result was to radically downplay the author: if Cervantes had not lived, nevertheless Don Quixote would have been written. This alliance of literary theorists and folklorists combined into a distinctive school of linguistics, migrated to Prague with Roman Jakobson, and eventually to Paris. By the 1960s, Foucault, Lacan, Barthes and others were using Formalist methods to decode texts of all kinds, focusing on the textuality of the entire world, and declaring the death of the author, now seen as mere conduit for a stream of intertextual rearrangements.

On the whole, the structuralists were rivals of the existentialists, attacking their subjectivism and focus upon the individual consciousness. But a tie-in with phenomenology was made by Derrida, whose earliest book, Edmund Husserl’s Origins of Geometry, in 1962, brought textually oriented structuralism into connection with the deep roots of the early 20th century intellectual transformation, the mathematical foundations crisis and the grappling between formalist and intuitionist programs. Derrida thus became the philosophical heavyweight of the late structuralist, or deconstructionist movement.  Derrida’s own texts are famously multi-leveled and self-ironicizing, but one could also say this is in keeping with the whole tendency of philosophy from Frege to Wittgenstein: having emphasized what is unsayable, then going on if not to say it, at least finding devices for talking around it.

The anti-positivist wars in America and the fame of ethnomethodology

Back in the USA, Garfinkel’s ship was finally floating on the crest of a flood tide.  A more adequate metaphor might be, a multiplicity of raging rivers overflowing their banks:  The relatively quiet stream from Husserl to Schutz, and the more dramatic one from Heidegger and the existentialists; the purely academic growth of Chomskyian linguistics, and the growing community of anthropologists and cognitive scientists who became the best audience for ethnomethodologically-inspired work in conversation analysis. Then also the raging flood of the academic political revolts, and the anti-establishment psychedelic revolution, with its slogans “It’s all in your mind” and “Blow their minds.” Back inside the serious work of scholarship, came a growing academic stream of micro-sociologists and ethnographers of daily life-- it is not coincidental that the first round of young ethnomethodological stars-- Sacks, Schegloff, Sudnow-- were Goffman’s protégés at Berkeley. (According to Manny Schegloff, they were all brought there by Philip Selznick to staff his new Institute for Law and Society, but quickly rebelled.) And finally, by the 1970s, all this was enveloped in the European tide, the prestige of structuralist/deconstructionist literary theory, although in America  largely confined to departments of literature and anthropology, and the institutionalized insurgencies of feminist theory and ethnic studies.

I have tried to contain this whirlwind tour of the 20th century in two metaphorical bags, a sequence of two big realignments in philosophy and the human sciences. It would be misleading to think of this as a shift from one gestalt to another, a simple Kuhnian paradigm revolution. One way this is inadequate is that there is never a single dominant Zeitgeist  or “turn”, but always rival positions; and each of these big camps is always a mixture and jockeying among various campaigns. The first big realignment, in the 1920s and 30s, replaced Neo-Kantians with the opposition between phenomenologists and logical positivists, plus an ordinary language movement revolting against both. Garfinkel combined much of the impetus in phenomenology, coming from the foundational crisis in mathematics and therefore in theory of symbolism and symbol-use, with an increasing micro-focus of research on the details of everyday life. The second big realignment, the 1960s and 70s, was in some respects an advance by a later generation of phenomenologists, with further support from literary formalists and code-seeking structuralists, in a fairly successful attack on the logical positivists. But of course other versions of positivism survive and prosper, in the worlds of statistics, biology, economics and rational choice, und so weiter.

A turn or realignment is not the end of history. All the other movements of the huge contemporary intellectual world do not go away; they are there is the absences I have not mentioned, in psychology and political science, in all the branches of sociology that go their own way, not very surprisingly, and maintain their own research programs. My title turns out to be merely rhetorical, if it is taken to imply one big triumphal turn in the later 20th century.  But even with all the caveats, it has been a big movement, a major part of the action. Unpacking Garfinkel’s trajectory and influences connects him to much of the most serious and profound intellectual life of the 20th century. Unlike so many others this side the Atlantic, Garfinkel was not merely transplanting Francophone influences. He got there first, in his own way. And he launched a research program, one that announced most dramatically the presence of militant micro-sociology under sail.

Downstream from Garfinkel and Goffman, we are beginning to appreciate the channels they ripped open, and the flood-plains on which we float today, towards the always approachable but never-attained sea.


 Napoleon Never Slept: How Great Leaders Leverage Social Energy  
 Micro-sociological secrets of charismatic leaders from Jesus to Steve Jobs
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For sources on movements of 20th century philosophy see: Randall Collins. 1998.  The Sociology of Philosophies. A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Harvard University Press.
To witness the continuing insights of ethnomethodological research: Kenneth Liberman, 2013. More Studies in Ethnomethodology.  SUNY Press.