the trouble with garfinkel
John Levi Martin’s new book, The Explanation of Social Action, is a riot, meaning I’m thoroughly entertained and intellectually provoked at the same time. The ultimate aim of the book is to provide a new basis for judging the quality of social theory. I’ll say more later about how well he accomplishes this goal. For now I just want to draw attention to one of my favorite footnotes of all time. It appears early in the book when John is talking about theorists he is going to discuss and those he dismisses by their absence:
I might reasonably also be asked why no use is made here of the work of Garfinkel (e.g., 2002), which had many of the same influences and made many of the same critiques of conventional sociological explanation. The answer is simple: Garfinkel chose to write in gobbledy-gook, and although I do not begrudge him the enjoyment he so obviously received from this activity, I also see no reason to wade through the results to extract arguments that were made previously and more clearly by others. Finally, rather than indicate to his sociological readers that there was a wide range of inspiring and dissenting traditions from which they could draw (the approach of the current work), Garfinkel instead attempted to put his own formalizations in between his students and the phenomenological tradition, acting more like a cult leader than a scholar. Even did I not find this somewhat disappointing on a human level, it would make little scientific sense to reward such behavior.
This gives you a taste for the kind of book he has written. You may not agree with everything John writes in this book, but he certainly knows how to make punchy points.