Ethnomethodology is the study of how social order is produced in and through processes of social interaction.[1] It generally seeks to provide an alternative to mainstream sociological approaches.[2] In its most radical form, it poses a challenge to the social sciences as a whole.[3] Its early investigations led to the founding of conversation analysis, which has found its own place as an accepted discipline within the academy. According to Psathas, it is possible to distinguish five major approaches within the ethnomethodological family of disciplines (see § Varieties).[4]

Ethnomethodology provides methods which have been used in ethnographic studies to produce accounts of people's methods for negotiating everyday situations.[5] It is a fundamentally descriptive discipline which does not engage in the explanation or evaluation of the particular social order undertaken as a topic of study.[6] However, applications have been found within many applied disciplines, such as software design and management studies.[7]


The term's meaning can be broken down into its three constituent parts: ethnomethodology, for the purpose of explanation. Using an appropriate Southern California example: ethno refers to a particular socio-cultural group (for example, a particular, local community of surfers); method refers to the methods and practices this particular group employs in its everyday activities (for example, related to surfing); and ology refers to the systematic description of these methods and practices. The focus of the investigation used in our example is the social order of surfing, the ethnomethodological interest is in the "how" (the methods and practices) of the production and maintenance of this social order. In essence ethnomethodology attempts to create classifications of the social actions of individuals within groups through drawing on the experience of the groups directly, without imposing on the setting the opinions of the researcher with regards to social order, as is the case with sociological studies.[8]