Occam’s Razor and the Challenges of Generalization in Ethnomethodology

Iddo Tavory

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    This chapter addresses the relationship between ethnomethodology and the attempts to generalize observations in sociology. Garfinkel’s original program was sharply opposed to sociological generalization, precluding any simple inclusion of ethnomethodology into the sociological canon. However, as the author shows, conversation analysis (CA), institutional CA, and ethnomethodology-inspired ethnography provide different routes to generalize findings, while still inspired by Garfinkel’s original position. CA does so by suspending the grounds for generalization while de facto claiming extremely wide generalizability; institutional CA does so by focusing on recurring “institutional fingerprints” that mesh CA patterns with institutionally predefined structures and local pragmatics, and ethnomethodology-inspired ethnography does so by either focusing on institutions, or generalizing what the author calls a space of legibility. The author argues that although ethnomethodology deliberately loses the battle for parsimony in its insistence on the detailed production of orderliness, it is actually much closer to the original notion of Occam’s razor. Instead of assuming that generalizations-whether the researchers’ or the subjects’-have a reality beyond their instantiations, it treats the social world as built of its moments of production.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationThe Ethnomethodology Program
    Subtitle of host publicationLegacies and Prospects
    PublisherOxford University Press
    Number of pages22
    ISBN (Electronic)9780190854409
    ISBN (Print)9780190854416
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


    • conversation analysis
    • ethnography
    • ethnomethodology
    • generalization
    • Harold Garfinkel
    • inference

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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