Thursday, June 4, 2020

2020 Melvin Pollner Prize in Ethnomethodology

The committee for the 2020 Melvin Pollner Prize in Ethnomethodology, consisting of Götz Hoeppe (Chair), Alex Dennis and Nozomi Ikeya, is pleased to announce the recipient of this year’s award:

R.J. Anderson and W. W. Sharrock. Action at a Distance: Studies in the Practicalities of Executive Management. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.

Anderson and Sharrock’s Action at a Distance is a significant contribution to ethnomethodology and management studies. Drawing upon their own experiences as and with managers, the authors consider documents as ordering devices for the co-ordinated action of organizational work, through which managers influence the actions of others who are separated by time, physical and organizational space, thereby “creating the organization as a consociate social structure.” Their analysis demonstrates ethnomethodological studies can be fruitfully undertaken on actions without face to face interaction, i.e., “action at a distance.” This sophisticated analysis informs and exemplifies the reconceptualisation of ethnomethodology as a “first sociology” (disclosing what sociology presupposes), and introduces “third person phenomenology” as a study policy. Third person phenomenology provides a third person description of the internal configuration of first person experience without immersive fieldwork. Anderson and Sharrock thus formulate a thoughtfully argued response to Pollner’s late critique of ethnomethodology’s accommodation to conventional sociology, eradicating the distinction between members and analysts, and generating accounts that simply repeat what members say. This response is framed as a pair of problems. Firstly, how can one “bracket” the assumptions of the natural attitude when they are necessarily part and parcel of sociological work? Secondly, what is the status of ethnomethodological claims: are they objectivist findings or situated construals? Given the technical sophistication of Pollner’s critique, their creative response is useful both within and outside the EMCA community in advancing the understanding of ethnomethodology.

2020 EMCA Graduate Student Paper Award

The award committee—consisting of Sarah Hitzler (Chair), Christian Meier and Tanya Tyagunova—recommends

Joonas Råman’s paper “Budo Demonstrations as Shared Accomplishments: The modalities of guiding in the joint teaching of physical skills”, published in the Journal of Pragmatics in 2019,

for this year’s Best Student Paper Award of the ASA section Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis.

In his paper “Budo demonstrations as shared accomplishments: The modalities of guiding in the joint teaching of physical skills”, Joonas Råman aims to show how martial arts instructors rely on the knowledge, competence and compliance of assistants in order to make comprehensible physical skills to an audience. This very precise and levelled analysis opens up new perspectives on instruction and demonstration by conducting a shift away from instructors and making visible the work conducted by their partners. The work of instructing is practically accomplished via cooperative demonstration, so another shift is undertaken away from dyadic settings between teachers and students toward a triadic setting in which epistemic and deontic authority are unequally distributed, but flexibly so. In addition, Råman fruitfully calls into question the concept of ‘adjacency pairs’ and argues that rather than being necessarily adjacent, actions may be ‘paired’ and collaboratively geared towards the same end. Joonas Råman’s paper offers a detailed and rich empirical description of the phenomenon of “doing being a good uke”, by highlighting features of instructional work in budo demonstrations, which enable joint-teaching, i.e. the guiding demonstrations, in a way that substantively relies on displaying pedagogical competences on part of teacher’s assistants producing responses that might not necessarily be expected by their teachers. The study opens up avenues for further debate with regard to embodied cooperation, demonstrations, and the intertwinement of epistemics and authority in cooperative activities.

2020 EMCA Best Paper Award

The committee for the 2020 EMCA Best Paper Award, consisting of David Gibson (Chair), Jason Turowetz and Dirk vom Lehn, is pleased to announce the recipient of this year’s award: 

“A Not Quite Random Walk: Experimenting with the Ethnomethods of the Algorithm” (Big Data & Society, July-December 2017), by Malte Ziewitz of the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. 

The article uses the deceptively mundane exercise of a stroll around Oxford, guided by simple rules for choosing a way forward at each intersection, to provide an insider’s view of an algorithm. Ziewitz explores how the algorithm is used to make sense of unanticipated situations, how it is modified to maintain workability, and how seemingly neutral rules create ethical dilemmas while also relieving Ziewitz and his walking companion of the need (and opportunity) to communicate and reconcile their respective experiences and priorities. Thus, the article opens the black box of the algorithm and puts people inside, demystifying this central component of modern existence.

Timely, clever, and delicately formulated, the article is a pleasure to read as well as a spur to further research on the often opaque rules that govern expert systems, and, implicitly, a call to scrutinize algorithms in all areas for their alignment with human needs and experiences.