The Notion of Member is the Heart of the Matter: On the Role of Membership Knowledge in Ethnomethodological Inquiry


  • Paul Ten Have University of Amsterdam



ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, membership knowledge, subjectivity, reflexivity, Harold GARFINKEL, Harvey SACKS


In ethnomethodological inquiries, the tension between "subjectivity" and "objectivity" which is inherent in all qualitative social research, takes special meanings. In fact, those terms are rarely used in ethnomethodological research reports, or methodological writings. What is widely implied and often explicitly recognised, however, is that an ethnomethodologist has to "understand" the practices studied, before they can be analysed, and that this "understanding" involves the researcher using his or her "membership knowledge". In a way, this unavoidable use of membership knowledge for understanding what people are doing, is then turned from a implicit resource into an explicit topic for analysis. This can be illustrated by a consideration of the two research strategies for which ethnomethodology has become (ill-) famous, the "breaching experiments" initiated by its founder Harold GARFINKEL, and the use of recordings and transcripts of verbal interaction by ethnomethodology's most successful off-shoot, Conversation Analysis as initiated by Harvey SACKS. Varieties of a third strategy, ethnography, including the ethnography of specific (sub-) cultural practices, of technology use, and auto-ethnography, will also be discussed for its treatment of membership knowledge as resource and topic. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0203217


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Paul Ten Have, University of Amsterdam

Paul ten Have (, sociologist, published Doing Conversation Analysis: A Practical Guide (Sage, 1999) and is currently working on a book on qualitative research methods. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Amsterdam.




How to Cite

Ten Have, P. (2002). The Notion of Member is the Heart of the Matter: On the Role of Membership Knowledge in Ethnomethodological Inquiry. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(3).