Ethnomethodology, literally meaning people’s methodology, is the method by which people study the social order in which they live. The term when broken down into three parts can be explained as ethno, which means a specific socio-cultural group, method, which refers to those methods, and techniques that this group uses to negotiate everyday life situations, and ology, which refers to the orderly account of those methods and techniques. It tries to identify the procedures through which the social order develops. It describes the strategies people use in their actual descriptions of the social settings.
Through this method of sociological analysis, a common-sense view of the world is produced by observing and studying the way in which individuals converse and behave in everyday life, providing an alternative to mainstream approaches of Sociology.
Ethnomethodologists often suspend their own common sense assumptions to study the way people use common sense in their everyday lives. It help is producing accounts of those methods which people use in their everyday situations. The way people rationalize or justify their everyday actions is taken into consideration.
According to ethno methodologists, by studying or examining the routine practices and activities of the everyday lives of people, the actor’s conception of objects or events can be understood. This is because; people take up different roles and different structure of meaning in varying situations. While doing this, they develop various rationalities for their actions.
The concept stemmed from the work of Harold Garfinkel in 1954 while he was examining the performance of jury members. Garfinkel was interested in the process through which social order is achieved. Garfinkel criticizes conventional sociology for using the same meanings as done by the ordinary people in the society in order to create social order and meaning.
While Talcott Parsons, with respect to his top-down structural approach believed that this is achieved through socialization, i.e. society is structured on the basis of some limited set of rules and values. However, for Garfinkel, it was achieved through a bottom-up process whereby people construct the social order through innumerable improvisations of their conduct adapted to particular situations.
Social anthropology, education studies, studies about science and technology, and various other fields took up ethnomethodology for their research. There are two main concepts in it; indexicality and reflexivity. Ethnomethodology views that meaning is always potentially unclear, that nothing has a fixed meaning and is primarily based upon context. Garfinkel calls this characteristic as indexicality. But indexicality threatens the social order because, without fixed and clear meanings, communication would not be possible. This problem is solved through the incorporation of the concept of reflexivity. By reflexivity, one can understand that our common sense of knowledge helps us to render meanings depending on the context of situations in everyday life.
Ethno methodologists conduct their research studies through various methods such as observation which is mostly nonparticipant observation, conversations, interviews, documentary method, ethnomethodological experiments, and so on.