Published 17 Feb 2017
By using ethnomethodology as the approach in analyzing family life, it is presumed that the social order concerning family life is merely an illusion. Indeed, family life in reality can be chaotic with no definite direction or objective and no definite patterns are strictly observable. This leads us to the presumption that even the daily household chores and activities engaged into by the family members such as the children going to school and parents going to work are not entirely in an orderly and determined manner. That is, these things are actually randomly chaotic or have a strong tendency to end up in that way. Nevertheless, the order upon which the family life is conducted can still be orderly at some point in time although our primary concern here is to analyze the methods wherein this order is created or replicated and shared.
Let us start first with the family life revolving around the experiences of children. Young people, most of which go to school, experience quite a number of life experiences which come at random that no pattern or order can be immediately discerned or determined. Some of these instances include the point where a child asks his or her older siblings about their knowledge on academic subjects such as Science or English. Apparently, the child may receive inconsistent responses from the older siblings about the inquiries on the subjects. With constant repetition, the child may be bombarded with a variety of responses, most of which may have no direct relation with one another and may all the more be a chaos of raw data with no direct correlation to the child’s knowledge.
In effect, the child may begin to ascertain a form of comprehension regarding these messy and inconsistent bundles of responses in such a way that the child realizes, perhaps, that his or her older siblings are teaching him implicitly to find things out for himself or herself. The result will be an order from what appeared earlier as a chaotic and seemingly disarray of nonsense. To the point where the child firmly adheres with his or her belief that every time older members of the family share information, the child becomes aware that the responses he or she receives are not precisely meant to serve as the knowledge he or she has to immediately believe. Rather, the variety of responses now serve to the child as a form of reaffirmation that he or she should consider sorting things out by himself or herself.
Parents, too, have parallel experiences to the example given. For instance, every time their child makes innocent remarks on what they say may in the end amount to their belief or knowledge that these remarks are forms of endearment. The consistent repetition of a wide variety of childish remarks from their children turns out in the end as a concrete manifestation of endearment in the general sense of the concept. Thus, whenever children beg their parents to buy them candies, to help them with their homework, or perhaps take them to a walk in the park, the parent becomes fully aware that these are manifestations of endearment. A seemingly chaotic and unrelated series of behaviors manifested by their children may in the end prompt the parents to realize something orderly or something with a certain pattern.
In general, family life is so diverse that there is little room to immediately arrive at general conclusions. The context of family life may greatly vary from culture to culture. There is strong reason to believe that each family experiences a unique set of experiences entirely their own. Nevertheless, the deep and entirely diverse experiences encountered daily by families from all over the world may still be interpreted or analyzed in such a way that certain patterns or orders can be identified without the necessity of leaning towards a specific dogma or a dominant, existing theory to interpret these experiences confined within the limits of the theory.
Breakfast conversations are so typical that they become barely noticed as a regular occurrence in human affairs. In what appears to be a mundane activity (or passivity), there is yet another way of looking at this side of human affairs in which a large part of academic interest has labeled a natural occurrence strictly predetermined or explained by sociological theories. For the most part, breakfast conversations have been considered as a bland activity by others that the intricate aspects of these conversations have been taken for granted.
Ethnomethodology ascertains that the meaning of words significantly depend within the contextual framework in which these words are used, especially in terms of conversations. One individual may use a certain word or set of words in a way that befits the specific affairs at one moment and use the same word in another sense in another instance. And this may be observed during breakfast conversations especially among family members.
For instance, a child may begin the breakfast conversation by suggesting that he or she be allowed to play with his or her things. The parents may interpret this suggestion explicitly, comprehending that the child intends to merely ‘play’ with his or her things such as children’s toys. On the contrary, the child may have been taught at school that to ‘play with things’ meant ‘to complete the coloring books of figures such as animals’. In a certain way, the child may have been acquainted with the concept of studying as some sort of simply playing with school things. Hence, there appears to be a form of misreading of the words of the child. This goes to show that words may greatly vary according to context.
More importantly, breakfast conversations can be looked into in terms of the ‘turns’ in which every participant of the conversation takes. Taking turns in conversations are taken to mean as taking turns to speak or converse, such as the case where the speaker speaks and selects the next speaker, or when the next speaker selects himself or herself as the ‘next’ speaker, or when the current speaker decides to continue speaking in the conversation. In any case, it can be observed that these things do occur, and one of the many instances in which this is manifested is in breakfast conversation.
For example, the father may start the conversation at the table while eating by laying down the family activities for the day. The children or the mother may decide to respond to what the father has related through a form of a rejection or acceptance of what has been stated by the father. On the other hand, the father may also decide to continue speaking about the family activities throughout the day until he is done.
This is a classic example of a breakfast conversation. Nevertheless, it can be found out that breakfast conversations are not mundane as some may immediately perceive. It should be noted that breakfast conversations are not just typical and ordinary conversations with little or no significance in any way.
Further, breakfast conversations may also greatly vary from country to country, or culture to culture depending upon the specific context where these conversations are intended to be looked into. These variations also dictate the limitations and demarcations from one breakfast conversation in a certain family living in a distant community from another. These differences further indicate the idea that, indeed, these conversations contain profound assumptions if only one decides to look at them from a different perspective apart from well-established norms and theories. Everyday conversations, like breakfast conversations, are filled with great variations but with discernible patterns.
Perhaps one of the most common public activities shared by human beings with one another and with their environment is walking. From sidewalks to malls, people from almost all possible age and status walk. This makes walking one of the most familiar activities performed by mankind. It has become too familiar that, apparently, we may have already failed to notice our surroundings each time we take the routine of walking.
This leads us to the presumption that, being one of the most familiar yet barely noticed activities, walking as a public activity that has been taken for granted. Ethnomethodology prescribes the analysis on how interactions or activities are performed instead of concentrating on the information related during the interaction or activity.
With this in mind, the public activity of walking should be looked into in terms of how it is ‘performed’ not in terms of the physical movements but on how individuals actually perform it in relation to their environment in order to break away from the established rules of norms and theories. This will lead to a separate or an alternate way of looking at what appears to be a familiar yet ‘taken-for-granted’ public activity.
People walk for a wide variety of reasons such as going from the office to the nearest coffee shop, or going from one shopping mall to another. Nevertheless, people walk in order to transfer from one place to another. Transferring from one location to another has become so common that is has been done in numerous ways, most of the time involving vehicles and other modes of transportation. But this does not refute the observation that at a certain point in time an individual will have to walk with his feet.
For instance, a student may walk from his classroom to the nearest available restaurant in order to eat during lunch break. This becomes a routine throughout a stretch of time which makes walking a familiar activity for the student. The student may at first be able to notice certain events in his surroundings while walking. After a sort of ‘habituation’ for a stretch of time, the student may then become so acquainted with his surroundings while walking the same area day after day that his familiar environment then becomes unfamiliar to him.
The same may hold true for the millions of people who routinely walk the same path each day. The individuals from all over the world walking right now may barely notice their ‘familiar’ surroundings thus taking their surroundings for granted. They barely notice their surroundings so much that they have began to forget the essence of their surroundings while lost in their habit of walking. Note that walking is considered to be one of the most common public activities, and this idea corresponds to the larger sphere wherein the larger population forgets that they are walking in their surroundings.
When taken from a larger perspective, ‘walking’ as a widespread public human activity is chaotic. In the eyes of ethnomethodology, however, order can be created out of this chaos in the sense that the ‘taken-for-granted’ public activity is analyzed in terms of how it has become so unnoticed and null in the awareness of the ordinary individuals. This characteristic of being unnoticed and taken for granted gives ‘walking’ a new perception—there arises the pattern wherein ‘walking’ becomes absorbed into the basin of all that has become common, familiar, and barely noticed experiences of being human.
It is fascinating to note that the chaotic environment of a huge mass of people who have been walking the same route for several days, months, or even years can be looked as environment where the public activity of walking is contained as an indicator of the pattern of being unfamiliar with the familiar. It is this case wherein people create the reality of walking as an activity separate from what they may have earlier known.
- Poore, Simon. “Ethnomethodology: An Introduction”. 2000. The Hewett School. November 5 2007.