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Phenomenology

Ethnomethodology And Family Discourse

Ethnomethodology, an approach developed by Harold Garfinkel, emerged out of social phenomenology as a reaction against Parsonian functionalism. Ethnomethodology refers to people's (ethno) methods for making sense of their world. Although building upon a phenomenological foundation, ethnomethodology extends the phenomenological concern for explicating what constitutes an experience to an analysis of how an experience is accomplished.

This subtle shift in focus moves ethnomethodology away from an analysis of experience per se to an analysis of how people make sense of their experience. The end result of such a shift is that ethnomethodologists focus on everyday language use and examine how everyday language in use both constitutes its context and is constituted by its context.

For ethnomethodologically inspired scholars, the study of familial experience becomes the study of how family is produced through language use or discourse (Gubrium and Holstein 1993). Family emerges whenever it is talked about, whenever the discourse constructs social relations as familial. Enacting family through talk does not mean one can make family any way she pleases. Rather, family discourse always depends on context and is sensitive to the situation. Therefore, scholars must carefully examine how the social organization of the context within which family discourse is evoked conditions the use of family discourse and also how family discourse serves to construct the context itself. Understanding family as a discursive production enables scholars to examine family as an organizationally embedded social reality. Family can be studied wherever family discourse occurs. Through this approach, family scholars have examined how family is enacted in family therapy clinics, nursing homes, the judicial system, and a wide variety of organizational settings (Gubrium and Holstein 1990; Holstein and Gubrium 1995).

Although future developments in phenomenological studies of family life are likely to occur, phenomenology remains an underutilized theoretical resource in the study of the family. It holds great promise for assisting scholars in understanding various aspects of familial experience and how family realities are constructed through language use in a wide variety of contexts. In particular, phenomenological approaches can facilitate a greater understanding of the cultural diversity of familial experience that characterizes social life at the beginning of the new millennium.

See also: FAMILY THEORY


Bibliography

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STAN J. KNAPP

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesPhenomenology - Mundane Phenomenology (everyday Life), Existential Phenomenology, Ethical Phenomenology, Social Phenomenology, Ethnomethodology And Family Discourse