We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is Ethnomethodology?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 21, 2024

Ethnomethodology is a branch of the social sciences which is concerned with exploring how people interact with the world and make sense of reality. It is not designed to provide people with judgments on human behavior or its causes, but rather to explain how people interact with each other and with society at large. Many people engage in a small degree of ethnomethodology every day, even though they aren't aware of it; for example, a parent explaining a concept to a child usually thinks about the way in which the child approaches the world and processes information to put the concept in terms the child will understand.

Researchers in this field are often interested in the conventions of society, and the rules which people use to place themselves and others in social contexts. An ethnomethodologist might, for example, look at social cues which people use to determine social class and occupation when interacting with someone for the first time. People in this field are also concerned with general social knowledge and concepts which are widely understood both in larger societies and smaller subsets of society.

This field of study owes much to Harold Garfinkel, the researcher who coined the term in 1967 and started to lay out some of the ground rules and concepts which continue to be used in ethnomethodology today. In addition to being a topic of general interest to sociologists and other social sciences, this field also has a number of very useful applications.

Communication problems between people and organizations, for example, can sometimes benefit from an ethnomethodology analysis. For example, the social conventions at a company which manufactures scientific instruments will likely be very different from those at a government agency which regulates laboratory chemicals. If a conflict arises between the two groups, an analysis of the way these microsocieties work might help both sides work together and reach a state of common understanding. Ethnomethodology can also be useful during cultural exchanges in which people have difficulty understanding the cultural norms of the people they are trying to work with.

People who are interested in studying this field can do so at several colleges and universities around the world. Some may opt to pursue graduate level work so that they have a chance to get involved in ongoing research and for the purpose of attaining a higher degree which will make them more employable. Ethnomethodologists can be employed in settings like government agencies, private consulting firms, and sociological research organizations.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By sherlock87 — On Nov 03, 2010

@watson42, it's true that many people who know a little about sociology will think that many observations they make are the equivalent of ethnomethology experiments.

By watson42 — On Nov 03, 2010

I appreciate thatin this article's ethnomethodology definition, it points out that this social theory does not necessarily find answers to the causes of human behavior, merely the ways in which we organize our social structures. I have known many sociology students who believe that they have mastered ethnomethodology, and therefore mastered the way to look at people.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.