Wednesday, June 3, 2020

2020 Garfinkel-Sacks Award for Distinguished Scholarship

The award committeeDušan Bjelić (Chair), Kenneth Liberman and Douglas MacBethand section officers would like to congratulate Michael Lynch on the Garfinkel-Sacks Award for Distinguished Scholarship.

Michael Lynch’s body of work, publication, inquiries, clarifications and commentaries on the history and conceptual coherence of EM & CA is unmatched in the contemporary literature. Anyone coming to it now or later will discover the weight and worth of his work. No one has written so clearly of the lived history and conceptual compass of EMCA in the last 40 years, or perhaps before. His work is penetrating and revealing of the practical, circumstantial reasonings found in laboratory science, studies of scientific and vernacular representation, studies of ‘evidence’ and forensic–evidentiary histories and disputes, alongside the public discourses of accusation and denial in political and legal scandal, the foundations of conceptual fashion in social science, the conceptual ties of EM to CA and back again, and the demonstrable relevance of EMCA for every next domain of study he has engaged. He has been an observer and commentator extraordinaire of our shared conceptual history in these last 50 years. And a good deal of those observations and commentaries have been ‘on the ground’, telling us of his witnessings of the parties and their work, their urgencies and differences, the sense of importance and risk, and in these ways the lived histories that have birthed this section.
If pressed to offer a single virtue that describes Lynch’s opus we would say, “tireless.” Tireless in field research, tireless in his writing and contributions to conferences (we cannot think of anyone who has given more papers in more places), tireless in editing, in professional service, and tireless in offering constructive criticism. No student of Garfinkel’s has lived the model career as a research scholar in the way that Michael Lynch has. Furthermore, Lynch has observed, participated in, considered and re–presented to us this formative matrix called EMCA, and showed us the sensible directions he has found and set to use. There are few, if any, of us who have been more discerning and instructive in their assessments of the meaning and promises of EMCA than Michael Lynch. 

Remarks from the Award Presentation, ASA 2020


Remarks by Doug Macbeth on behalf of the Committee:


Thank you Anne, Thank you Morana.

As Morana noted, Dusan, Ken and I were the Committee for this Award.  Dusan was the Chair, and he and Ken have sent their heartfelt congratulations to Mike, and their regrets to the rest of us.

So that leaves me to speak on behalf of the Committee, which is actually a bit easier.  But before I do, we want to hear from two invited guests who have agreed to join us in marking this occasion:  Graham Button and Wes Sharrock.  They and Michael have shared a good deal of their professional lives together, and I’ve come to think of them as the “Three Caballeros”.

They need no introduction.

Graham, I think you’re first up. 


Remarks by Graham Button:

I first met Mike in 1980 when I was on a sabbatical year at UCLA from the University of Plymouth where I was working. I had gone to UCLA to work with Manny Schegloff;  Mike was working with Harold Garfinkel and our paths didn’t cross very frequently, but when they did it was obvious that Mike had an impressive intellect, one that Schegloff also acknowledged on occasions when Mike’s name cropped up in conversation.

Over the decades since then we have become friends and colleagues and I’ve enjoyed his company on many adventures we’ve embarked upon, together with Nancy, Mike’s partner and Elaine, my partner. I always look forward to the inevitable and stimulating work arguments and tussles that crop up

The decades have also witnessed Mike’s development as a formidable researcher. The list of Mike’s contributions to our understanding of what Harvey Sacks described as “the methods persons use to do every-day life” is immense, and he and Wes Sharrock are, without doubt, the pre-eminent intellectual voices of EMCA.

But it is not just within this community that his voice is acknowledged and honoured. He also ranks as one of the most influential and original contributors to the field of Social Studies of Science and Technology. He has held the highest office within its formal organisation, and edited its house journal for many years, with many of us benefitting from his careful and thoughtful editorship and penetrating comments and advice.

With respect to his teaching and student supervision, I have met a number of his former students and all speak of his generosity with his time, the insights he has given them, and the support he has provided.

Amongst many things I admire about Mike is his dogged pursuit of detail in analysis, explication, and argument. He’s like a terrier who won’t let go once he’s sunk his teeth into something. He does not suffer fools gladly, and he does not suffer shoddy work irrespective of who it is that may have undertaken it. It’s a joy to hear or read his dismembering of a grass argument or analysis.

One of the regrets I have in life was walking in on a discussion between Mike, Harold Garfinkel and Manny Schegloff where they were examining the Pulsar paper. Manny was maintaining that many of the moments in ‘the discovery’ were being organised in organising the conversation, Mike and Harold were arguing that it was necessary to bring in matters beyond the talk. I don’t regret walking in on the discussion; I regret not being part of it. It must have been a very interesting afternoon.

Apparently, Mike has retired. But you would not know that. When he visits or we go on trips together, whenever there’s a spare moment out comes his laptop. Wherever there is an important meeting, there’s a paper by Mike. When working together and organising how to do that, it is necessary to bear in mind that he is working, at the same time, on many other things with numerous other people within the EMCA community.

Mike is the true heir of Garfinkel and in bequeathing Mike with an endowment to support and foster ethnomethodology, Garfinkel was obviously acknowledging that, consequently it is very fitting that an award with Garfinkel’s name attached to it should be presented to Mike. Congratulations Mike.


Doug Macbeth:

Thank you Graham.  And now Wes, who—as you know—cultivated & instructed the Eastern Church of EMCA: the Manchester School.  I often think of Harold Garfinkel’s extraordinary cohort of Graduate Students.  And then I think of Wes Sharrock’s.


Remarks by Wes Sharrock:

I cannot think of a more deserving recipient of this award, and it is a pleasure of speak briefly, respectfully and honestly about his main, and very substantial intellectual virtues. In many ways his ever expanding body of work speaks for itself, and does so through its manifest scholarly care and precision, its basis in a deep and scrupulous familiarity with a wide variety of domains of thought and inquiry, both intellectual and practical, and, to finally mention without completing the list, the increased clarity and structure it brings to issues and data that he presents, keeping in touch with emerging debates over fundamental social science matters, connecting those to the details of very concrete and densely documented occurrences from remote crannies of the legal system or one of the sciences (among others).

These, anyway, are some of the things I find in Mike’s work, but they are general virtues that justify a very generous recognition of the weight of his work as a, contribution, thought a commonly dissenting one, to social studies, whatever view you take of the aims, state and achievements of any or all of them and I barely need mention its importance in our own area and science studies too. Personally, I feel very close to his thinking, getting education, stimulation and relish from reading his writings, but even worse, I am often left with no more to do than endorse his persuasive assessments. I know, too, that I am voicing the opinion of probably everyone in my UK, for whom Mike is always an enthusiastically received visitor (when he finally ends up there, having visited almost everywhere else on the way).

If there is time, a mention of my most favourite contributions by Mike and his many collaborators:

I was always very fond of his work on the judge as a scenic feature in plea bargaining, which enabled an easy exit from some problems I was caught up in at the time, the metaphor of ‘the potter’s object’ was a highlight of the path breaking optically discovered pulsar paper, giving a vivid and deepening crystallisation of the idea of “emergence” in work (and social action more generally) aspects of which are often brought out in studies, but seldom crisply articulated; his discussion of ‘reflexivity’ involved level headed treatment of a dense site of tangles in social thought which are made, in my opinion, the focus of much unnecessary over-excitement. Mike there shows, I think, that bringing matters down to earth does not detract from their interest or utility though it does perhaps diminish the sense of great importance that attaches to them. Which last allusion brings me to the penultimate item from a much longer list, the debate over ‘extending Wittgenstein’ with David Bloor which is such an fascinating exchange. Finally finally:  much wit and subtlety is often to be found in the footnotes, the book on science and ordinary action being a case in point. This remark is not made at the expense of the bold proposals those footnotes support.

Congratulations Mike.


Remarks by Doug Macbeth:

Thank you both for helping us mark this occasion.

Because I’m leery of speaking ‘off the cuff’, I have some notes I want to stay close to.  Should I begin looking like Trump with a teleprompter, it’s actually something very much like that.  I’ve been practicing, and it’s a very odd thing to look up and try to connect with your lap top.  In fact, I was thinking we might just put our heads down on our desks, close our eyes for these few minutes, and treat my remarks as a kind of ‘story time’.

I want to frame just how deserving Michael Lynch is of this Award with some remarks through Garfinkel and Sacks, centrally, and how EMCA may be the most productive and instructive heresy of modern social science, producing in Garfinkel’s phrase an “incommensurate alternate”, and in Sacks’ corpus some of the alternate’s most stunning extensions and demonstrations[i], through his ‘Lectures’, edited by Gail Jefferson, his collaborations with Garfinkel[ii], and of course his transformative collaborations with Schegloff and Jefferson, transformative for the study of natural language.

But it’s their heresies that I want to work from, and that they were heretical—without enumerating just how—and ask the question:  what becomes of such things?

Heresies, of course, are risky business, the principle risks being to incur the wrath of others, on the one hand, and to yield to it on the other.  Such that if you were party to a heresy that held great promise of conceptual clarity, new ways of conceptualizing familiar grounds and still other ways of dissolving them, you might want to find a 3rd path, and this leads to the question:  How does a community preserve its heresies?

Of course, the question presumes a community that aims to do so, and in the particulars here, a community that, roughly, aims to preserve the promise of a sociology of everyday life in its constitutive detail, relieved of scientism and taxonomic renderings.  But I don’t say that to send around a sign–up sheet. Rather, I’m asking:  how has EMCA done so, so far?  In whatever measure it has, how has it made its way?

I want to offer a couple of lines of consideration:

One was of course by producing the venues whereby EMCA could find its way into the disciplinary discourses, for which George Psathas did yeoman’s work, in the founding—with Larry Wieder and others—and God rest them all—of the Society for Phenomenology and the Human Sciences and then the journal Human Studies, the production of anthologies through the University Press of America, the organization of national and international conference venues like the IIEMCA, and also the creation of a critical mass in Boston University’s Sociology Department, for which the arrival of Michael Lynch in 1987 seemed to have been the keystone, or better, the Lynch pin. 

There were the prior Summer Institutes, the development of a remarkable cohort of graduate students, some of whom are with us today, and the sense that a new center of EMCA studies was clearly underway, until, of course, the heresy was discovered by a stunningly reactionary University Administration, and the bridge was dismantled.  Mike knows the story as well as George did, and more closely.  As Garfinkel was given to saying, to pursue ethnomethodological studies is to suffer “wound stripes”.

But heresy’s most familiar tip of the spear is of course publication, as it has been for a couple of millennia.  And the hostile receptions of Garfinkel’s Studies, as a kind of quirky irreverence and irrelevance for the disciplines, on the one hand, but also a threat–to–be–dismissed, on the other, are well known. 

Garfinkel had some acquaintance with ‘Ritual Degradation Ceremonies[iii], and one can hear those tensions in the Purdue Symposium, or in Moerman and Sacks’ brief 1971 conference paper, “On understanding in the Analysis of Natural Conversation”, read to a Symposium on the Relations between Anthropology and Linguistics.  In each, there’s a kind of tension reserved for upstarts.

It can also be heard in Richard Fitzgerald’s recent work (2019; Mannheim) in the Garfinkel archive where he recovered a letter from the editor of the journal Language in response to the submission of the Turn Taking paper where he—the editor—advised the authors to dispense with their curious transcripts and unconventional orthography; they would only lose the readers they hoped to reach.[iv]

But, perhaps the real threat—the real heresy of these early works—but also their good fortune—was programmatic, in ways that, though sensed in the early texts, was largely missed in their reading, as it often is today.

The threat, the heresy, was a feature of the text, meaning that in the confidence of a professional–analytic world in which formal structures were the prize, and anecdotal accounts the hand–maidens—“fetched in to provide [as Goffman says in his preface to Relations in Public (ix)], “…vivid evidence and, incidentally, a little obeisance to the fact that there are people out there moving about”—Garfinkel’s Studies weren’t annotations to formal arguments at all.  They weren’t the ‘closer’ to an argument. They were instead exhibits of EMCA’s ‘incommensurate alternate’, demonstrably. 

Each study was on behalf of a radical sociological conceptualization of a local gang engaged in the on–going analytic work of under–writing the achievements of the recurrence, and thus structure, of their local affairs, and—the kicker—with no need for academic credentials.

Garfinkel’s Studies, and every next collection of studies, wasn’t simply a report on this and that… about coders, or chit chat between parents about a child who puts a coin in the parking meter, or the curiosities of Agnes’ life world.   They weren’t simply ‘cases’:  they were evidentiary, and at once the pedagogy of EMCA studies. 

Garfinkel was clear about this alternate pedagogy, and for a time he was speaking of “the catalog”, a collection of EM studies that would be available for answers to the question he memorialized in his exchange with a colleague, when—on entering the elevator at a professional meeting, with just the time allowed—he hears: “Hey Hal, just what IS Ethnomethodology?”[v]  The catalog would be the rejoinder, but one requiring its own study; an alternate to the synoptic landscapes  & formalisms of received social science.  

All to the point, and you might be wondering:

Perhaps the most coherent, extensive and instructive catalog in our possession since Studies, coherent in its stunning diversity, in the acumen of its direct address to the heresies of EMCA, its figure/ground relations to formal–analytic orthodoxies—iterated time and again—and also its excavations of the heresy’s lacunae, will be found in the corpus of studies Michael Lynch has assembled for us.

Their cogency and range—the connective tissues across them—in the immediacy and economy of expression he brings to them, gives evidence of the heresy and the promise of EMCA like no other catalog the Committee is aware of.  A good deal of it, of course, has to do with science studies.  His international leadership in the field over the last 30 years, both conceptually, and professionally, is well known to all.

But there is a fuller accounting of his work.  While Scientific Practice and Ordinary Action is, in my experience, singularly instructive, there is this larger corpus of diverse studies that—each and every one—engages the idea of a social science, and in so doing patiently articulates EMCA’s “alternate”.


There is almost a sense of ‘itinerancy’ to the Lynch catalog, a traveling to different territories, setting up shop for a time, and thereby producing a bibliography that shows a disciplined conceptual coherence across topics and settings, alongside an on-going critical engagement with the horizons of Garfinkel’s and Sacks’ ‘programs’. 

His work takes up the practical, circumstantial reckonings found in laboratory science, alongside studies of scientific, legal, vernacular, and social science representation [as in his treatment of undergraduate sociology textbook graphics, which yielded one of my favorite titles, “Pictures of nothing”], and also studies of ‘evidence’ and evidentiary histories and disputes, the ways of measurement, counting, the play of ‘action according to a rule’, the ‘logic of practice’, public discourses of accusation and denial, the recurrence of conceptual fashion in social science [as in his ‘Idylls of the academy’; or ‘Let a thousand plastic flowers bloom’], the curious play of ‘theory’ in EMCA, and how EMCA has been ‘easy pickins’ for ambitions elsewhere [as in his ‘Against reflexivity’], the conceptual ties of EM to CA, and back again, and, most recently, the demise of the estate of conceptual critique. 

His catalog offers for our instruction the demonstrable relevance of EMCA for every next domain of study he has engaged, often without saying so, in so many words. 



Michael Lynch has observed, participated in, considered and re–presented for us this heretical matrix.  He has been an observer and commentator on our shared conceptual history, and a good deal of those observations and commentaries have been ‘on the ground’, telling us of his witnessings and impressions of the parties, their work, and the lived histories of our received literatures.[vi]

We recommended Michael Lynch for this award because he has given us a body of studies, clarifications, and also puzzlements on the history and coherence of EMCA that we think is unmatched in the literature, and has done so with a generosity of spirit—and, on occasion, a pugnacity— that all who know him, know well.  Anyone coming to his body of work, now or later, will discover its weight and worth.  He is richly deserving of this award, if only for showing us how this heresy just–might–be–sustained.

So, head’s up, eyes open, Story–Time’s over.

And Michael, congratulations, all best wishes, tight lines, and thank you.


[i] See his treatments of things like the ‘inference making machine’, ‘members’ measurement’, ‘on doing being ordinary’, ‘the analyzability of stories by children’ and his “Notes on Methodology”, also edited by Jefferson (his lecture 33, Spring 1966 [v. 1] is a principle resource).

[ii] I have in mind the ‘Formal structures’ paper (1970), the ‘Purdue Symposium’ (1968), and what more has been and will be discovered in the Garfinkel Archive.

[iii] An example in passing is Kac’s review (1975) of Gumperz and Hymes (1972) in Language, 51:1, 231–234:

In a number of cases, fascinating conjectures about the mechanisms underlying particular patters of behavior nonetheless fail to be fully convincing… There are in addition, two papers that, in my opinion, should not have been included at all:  ‘Remarks on ethnomethodology, by Harold Garfinkel and ‘A kinesic–linguistic exercise: the cigarette scene’, by Ray Birdwhistle.  Neither is intelligible which renders the papers beyond criticism if not beneath it. (231)

[iv]  Fitzgerald, R. (2019) Drafting the Simplest Systematics: lessons from the archive.  Paper presented to IIEMCA, Mannheim University, Mannheim, GR., July 2019.

[v]  “Ethnomethodology’s program” (1996), Social Psychology Quarterly. 59:1. 5–21].  For a time, our colleague and Chair, Dusan Bjelic spoke of the “praxiotium”, no doubt with his material studies of Galileo’s physics and Goethe’s prismatic studies in mind as prime candidates, and perhaps also Garfinkel’s early discussion of his enterprise as a ‘neopraxiology’ (see Gumperz and Hymes, 1972; Hill and Crittenden, 1968; and Turner, 1974).

[vi]  See for example his “Silence in context: EM and social theory”, published in Human Studies, 1999, and presented to the first International Conference on EMCA, Waseda University/Tokyo, 1997, organized by Hisashi Nasu and George Psathas.


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