On Detail* and Its Conceptualisations


  • Douglas Macbeth




The ‘detail’ of social action was a founding preoccupation for ethnomethodology and conversational analysis [EMCA]. EMCA proceeded to write a critique of and alternate to the conceptual habits of normative social science, and each [EM and CA] addressed the play of ‘constitutive detail’ in the organizations of social action, structure, and common understanding. At the same time, ‘detail’ is among the perfectly ordinary words that social science relies upon for the familiarity and fluency of its professional discourse. Garfinkel assigned to it and other familiar natural–language borrowings an asterisk [detail*, order*, structure*, methods* reason*, etc.], to alert the reader that he intends a ‘tendentious’ usage (Garfinkel, 2002: 197; see especially 146n). As a covering account, he was pointing to the occasioned detail* of the temporal–material productions of ordinary actions and objects, an order of detail* that, while in plain view, had escaped the notice of social science. In the bargain, diverse grammars and laic methods of common understanding, and thus action, order and recurrence, were lost as well. EMCA studies began—and begin—with single settings and occasions, and yielded, for conversational analysis, collections of an array of sequential organizations. The alternate renderings of ‘detail’ that we find in this paper’s exhibits, and the relationships of those cases to the collections they join, are its central topics.







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