Ethnomethodological Misreading of Aron Gurwitsch on the Phenomenal Field

Human Studies 44 (1):19-42 (2021)
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Abstract

During the 1992–1993 academic year, Harold Garfinkel offered a graduate seminar on Ethnomethodology in the Sociology Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. One topic that was given extensive coverage in the seminar has not been discussed at much length in Garfinkel’s published works to date: Aron Gurwitsch’s treatment of Gestalt theory, and particularly the themes of “phenomenal field” and “praxeological description”. The edited transcript of Garfinkel’s seminar shows why he recommended that “for the serious initiatives of ethnomethodological investigations […] Gurwitsch is a theorist we can’t do without”. Garfinkel’s ethnomethodological “misreading” is not a mistaken reading, but is more a matter of taking Gurwitsch’s phenomenological demonstrations of Gestalt contextures in phenomenal fields and transposing them for making detailed, concrete observations and descriptions of organizationally achieved social phenomena. Where Gurwitsch addresses the organization of perception as an autochthonous achievement, inherent to the stream and field of individual consciousness, Garfinkel extends and elaborates this field into the social world of enacted practices. The April 1993 seminar also is rich with brief asides and digressions in which Garfinkel comments about his use of Alfred Schutz, his attitude toward publishing, his relationship with Erving Goffman, and many other matters.

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