Saturday, December 1, 2012

Garfinkel - Reflexivity

Blog 4 – Reflexivity
Bloch (n.d.) notes that “accounts are reflexive, in the sense that the observations we make can alter the social meaning of what we are talking about as a conversation unfolds”. Anything an individual may talk about is always open and to redefinition.  The concept of “reflexivity” denotes an object’s relation to itself. For example people who wait in line for a bus, or to pay for goods, we can see a person is doing this; by the way they position their bodies. As well as this the individuals who are waiting in line will be able to answer and understand a question like “are you in this queue?” or “are you standing in line”? Garfinkel notes that the ability to express and understand any activity is an essential part of an action involved within a conversation.  Turner (1974) “in ordinary usage, reflexivity refers to the capacity of something to turn back upon itself”. Turner (1974) also noted that ethnomethodologists hold “that rules (again constructed widely) reflexively constitute the activities and unfolding circumstances to which they are applied”.

Heritage (1984: 242) notes “Reflexivity means that members shape their actions in relation to context, while context is being redefined through actions”. As an example, using coffee as a taste descriptor, the descriptors operate in a way to shape their actions, to find in the coffee what they mean.
One individual has meanings different to others, and the way they observe is usually very different, Bloch (n.d.) notes that Garfinkel argues that “anything is subject to redefinition”. For example, a sales person advertises a discounted food, of which the individual can reply “that sounds great, what a great deal”, or “why is this so cheap, is there something wrong with your food”?  In either case, the meaning of getting a good deal on food has changed – it is reflexive in nature, as it is dependent upon how people define it.
Tools such as video or tape recorders are used by ethnomethodologists because they are indispensable, the ethnomethodologist will be able to listen and observe the recorded content and explore the interactions that take place and the social meanings within the conversations.

The way people take pauses within conversations when interacting with one another can have very different meanings depending on the environment, and what’s being said between the individuals. When individuals say “um” a lot or “uhs” when making a speech about an important person to other people that has passed away, to the individual these pauses could be due to nervousness, or even to one extreme the individual didn't like the person. If we take it as being nervousness, the audience that is listening could interpret that meaning entirely different.

This reflexivity concept goes back to what was discussed in the first blog, of Garfinkel’s breaching experiment. In his most famous breaching experiment, it “involved instructing his students to behave more politely than would be expected toward their parents”, noted by Bloch (n.d.)Garfinkel found in his experiment that when individuals have been confronted with behavior unexpectedly, they would in most cases see what’s actually wrong with another individual. For example, if you were to say “hello” to a friend or family member, and they quickly respond with “good bye”, we would know that something was wrong with the other individual. Garfinkel argues that if an individual says something irrelevant or unexpected, the individual would try to get the conversation back on track. Bloch (n.d.) notes that “these efforts to realign conversation to the meanings that heretofore had seemed the emergent ones are called repair sequences”.

Reflexivity refers to the process where by individuals create social reality through actions and thoughts.  Garfinkel (2005) argues that “human interaction is reflexive in that humans interpret cues, gestures, words, and other information from one another in order to sustain reality”. Anything and everything is interpreted differently by every individual. As explained before the ways in which we say something can determine how a conversation will go on, be interrupted due to unexpected response, or finished. Ethnomethodologists look for ways in how conversations have meaning through interaction, as well as how people define the meanings and actions that take place. Referring to the breaching experiment, which looked in how breaking social norms can have an effect in society, it’s the same here, when we change the social norm, such as say “good bye” to someone after they have said “hello” because it is an unexpected response, it can be interpreted differently from the other individual. One may think there is something wrong, they don’t want to talk, or they are being rude.

Bloch, Jon P. (n.d.) “Harold Garfinkel”. Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Retrieved 28 November 2012. (
Garfinkel, Harold. 2005-2006. “World of Sociology on Harold Garfinkel”. Bookrags.  Retrieved 27 November 2012. (
Heritage, John. 1984, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Cambridge, U.K: Polity Press.
Turner, Roy 1974 (ed.), Ethnomethodology (Middlesex:  Penquin,). Retrieved 28 November 2012. (

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