RIP Harold Garfinkel

May 4, 2011

by Sarah Michele Ford

When you get on an elevator, what do you do? Chances are, you turn around and face the doors. But why? Social order demands that you do.

Harold Garfinkel, an influential American sociologist who died on April 21st, sought to study social order in part through “breaching experiments” in which the researcher deliberately breaks social norms to reveal how they relate to social order.  Garfinkel’s work arose out of the functionalist work of Talcott Parsons, with whom he studied at Harvard, and he developed the subdiscipline of ethnomethodology while teaching at UCLA.

Ethnomethodology, to be frank, is extremely difficult to follow.  It’s often referenced but rarely taught in detail in introductory sociology courses, but his intellectual contributions are important and he will be sorely missed.

New York Times obituary

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