Tag Archives: ethnomethodology

Ethnomatters’ ‘Openness Edition’

Below is a full list of the posts for our first edition of a monthly collection. Thank you so much to our amazing guest contributors and to contributing editors who helped out!


‘Open window’ by Sharon Hall Shipp. CC-BY-NC on Flickr

Editorial by Heather Ford, 7 February, 2013

The ethics of openness: How informed is “informed consent”? by Rachelle Annechino, 1 March, 2013

#GoOpenAccess for the Ethnography Matters Community by Jenna Burrell, 27 January, 2013

Designing for Stories: Working with Homeless Youth in Boyle Heights by Jeff Hall, Elizabeth Gin and An Xiao Mina, 27 February, 2013

On Legitimacy, Place and the Anthropology of the Internet by Sarah Kendzior, 13 February, 2013

YouTube “video tags” as an open survey tool by Juliano Spyer, 21 February, 2013

Beyond reliability: An ethnographic study of Wikipedia sources

Almost a year ago, I was hired by Ushahidi to work as an ethnographic researcher on a project to understand how Wikipedians managed sources during breaking news events. Ushahidi cares a great deal about this kind of work because of a new project called SwiftRiver that seeks to collect and enable the collaborative curation of streams of data from the real time web about a particular issue or event. If another Haiti earthquake happened, for example, would there be a way for us to filter out the irrelevant, the misinformation and build a stream of relevant, meaningful and accurate content about what was happening for those who needed it? And on Wikipedia’s side, could the same tools be used to help editors curate a stream of relevant sources as a team rather than individuals?

Original designs for voting a source up or down in order to determine “veracity”

When we first started thinking about the problem of filtering the web, we naturally thought of a ranking system which would rank sources according to their reliability or veracity. The algorithm would consider a variety of variables involved in determining accuracy as well as whether sources have been chosen, voted up or down by users in the past, and eventually be able to suggest sources according to the subject at hand. My job would be to determine what those variables are i.e. what were editors looking at when deciding whether to use a source or not?

I started the research by talking to as many people as possible. Originally I was expecting that I would be able to conduct 10-20 interviews as the focus of the research, finding out how those editors went about managing sources individually and collaboratively. The initial interviews enabled me to hone my interview guide. One of my key informants urged me to ask questions about sources not cited as well as those cited, leading me to one of the key findings of the report (that the citation is often not the actual source of information and is often provided in order to appease editors who may complain about sources located outside the accepted Western media sphere). But I soon realized that the editors with whom I spoke came from such a wide variety of experience, work areas and subjects that I needed to restrict my focus to a particular article in order to get a comprehensive picture of how editors were working. I chose the 2011 Egyptian revolution article because I wanted a globally relevant breaking news event that would have editors from different parts of the world working together on an issue with local expertise located in a language other than English.

Read More… Beyond reliability: An ethnographic study of Wikipedia sources

The god in small things: Ethnomethodology takes ethnography to the details [Syllabus as Essay Series] [guest contributor]

Our June guest contributor is an inter-disciplinary ethnographer, Barry Brown, who is well known for his work in Human-Computer-Interaction, Sociology, and Communications. He pioneered the study of leisure and entertainment in social computing and has applied it to research on augmented reality video games, mixed-reality museum visiting, mobile collaborative tourism, and transportation.  Barry recently joined Mobile Life at University of Stockholm as the center Co-Director.

We’ll do an interview with Barry in another post about his career as an ethnographer who has worked in many  industrial and academic settings. For today, we asked Barry to talk to us about something that very few ethnographers talk about – ethnomethodology.

When I first heard of the word,  I cringed because it just sounded boring and unsexy. It’s hard enough to explain to people what ethnography is. Luckily, Barry was the first person to not only introduce me to ethnomethodology, but mentor me in the techniques of and wonders of ethnomethodology.

So what’s the best best way we can do our  first post on ethnomethodology at Ethnography Matters? A curated reading list!

We asked Barry to curate the first post in our Syllabus as Essay reading series.  In this post, Barry explains how ethnomethodology helps us answer questions that sociological theories just can’t. He also suggests reading Mike Lynch, an author I blogged about a while back on Cultural Bytes. Barry covers Garfinkel and  guides us through Harvey Sack’s writing by recommending specific chapters in his oeuvre. He then ends with the  philosopher, Wittgenstein, who inspired thinkers across multiple disciplines. 

If you would like to contribute to the Syllabus as Essay series, please reach out ethnography matters [at] gmail [dot] com.

Enjoy! Tricia and team.

I work with ethnography and the design of technology – a not uncommon role for contributors to this blog.  It’s something of a truism to say that, when working with computer systems, the details matter.  Not just in the case of a semi colon versus a full stop, your ‘p’s and ‘q’s all in the right place, but in the ways in which the right font here or a well designed feature can turn a computer system from useless to must have.  This attention to detail – ‘sweating the small stuff’ is based on the assumption that what we see as ‘big things’ naturally and unavoidably rest upon the small.

For that reason I’ve always thought there’s something of a natural affinity between computer science – or the design of technology more broadly – and my particular favourite flavour of ethnography.  “Ethnomethodology” is a particularly odd branch of sociology, obsessed to a quite unhealthily degree with ‘the details’ of social life and social interaction.  It is an ‘-ology’ that looks at the methods whereby people live their lives – how we interact (Sacks 1995), talk (Atkinson and Heritage 1984), walk (Ryave and Schenkein 1974), work (Button 1993), travel (McHugh, et al. 1974), break the law (Sacks 1972) or cry (Beach and LeBaron 2002). So, for example, when we converse we do not usually all talk at once – there is structure in our turn taking activity (Sacks, et al. 1974). When we offer an invitation there are certain ways of refusing that avoid rudeness (Sacks 1995).

Our activities are structured yet not simply determined by these structures. Rather structures are seen and used in the everyday organization of this activity. These are the structures that ethnomethodology has studied – something of an inversion of the notion of ‘structure’ as it is commonly deployed in the social sciences (Garfinkel 2002).Read More… The god in small things: Ethnomethodology takes ethnography to the details [Syllabus as Essay Series] [guest contributor]