Harold Garfinkel: lessons on emergent behaviours in complex organisations

Peter Nugus*, Jeffrey Braithwaite

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


In founding the research approach known as ethnomethodology, Harold Garfinkel contributed ground-breaking logic and strategies to illuminate the way people jointly construct and make sense of everyday social situations. The prevalence at the time of the search for over-arching theories to predict human behaviour underscores the novelty of Garfinkel’s principles and methods, such as his famous ‘breaching experiments’. Although Garfinkel himself was suspicious of grand theorising, this chapter argues for closer conceptual attention to the shared but hidden meanings that are implicit in social interactions, which are laboriously maintained in interaction, and which make ‘society’ work. Sociology has marginalised social action theories and ethnographic research. Coupling Garfinkel’s methods for analysing ‘real-life’ situations with social action theories, such as symbolic interactionism, actor-network theory and recent incarnations of complexity theory, help guide transferable lessons from empirical research into the way workers co-construct and manage their changing environments in complex organisations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave handbook of social theory in health, illness and medicine
EditorsFran Collyer
Place of PublicationBasingstoke, UK; New York, NY
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781137355621
ISBN (Print)9781137355614, 9781349470228
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes


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