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Ethnographies of ordinary moments

Whittle, Eric (2010) Ethnographies of ordinary moments. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This exploration into social meanings packs along with it an assumption that social studies have yet to arrive at any ‘moment’ of potential in which they can confidently set about describing human behaviour in a way that makes the topic analytically familiar, and therefore warrants the analysis. Indeed, I take it for now that people’s actions are new and strange. There is a small band of the ‘self-disciplined’ who view the social landscapes around them with fresh eyes; the occasional philosopher, some of the historians, ethnomethodologists, and conversation analysts, plus a few of the anthropologists and ethnographers. But they are exceptions. The problem appears to be this: Because everyone, analyst and lay person, is a committed expert on social behaviour, very few have felt the need to attempt an agreement on the details; for example, the profoundly-social properties of the very language we all use to describe it. Practitioners of natural science are not simply observing reality but displaying also their astonishment, frustrations, equivocations, justifications, agreements, criticisms, occasional relief, and other tokens of it. If the early astronomers and chemists had an advantage, it was the lack of experts bending their ears.

Accumulating empirical descriptions of social events will not necessarily result in a progressive discipline, only the potential for a workable philosophy that leaves the landscape unchanged. After that, who knows? But the potential offers more towards a warrant than what currently stands as social science. In the following chapters, the reader will find descriptions of social objects that appear in a court of law, and in settings that involve what we like to gloss as humour, laughter, and play. The analytic logic of these descriptions stands before the action and knows how to do it (such logic is not a reference to something hidden behind or within). This type of understanding features in a growing canon of studies towards which the following project aspires.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Wickham, Gary
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