Publication Title

Qualitative Sociology Review

Publication Date


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description, ethnomethodology, evaluation, Jeff Coulter, discrimination, labeling, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Peter Winch, schizophrenia, suicide


Other Sociology | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies | Sociology


Ethnomethodologists have emphasized the pragmatic and contextual nature of description as a variety of social practice, and have suggested the ramifications of this insight for the methodology and philosophy of the social sciences. However, ethnomethodologists have thereby invited difficult questions about the moral and analytic status of their own descriptions. Drawing on Atkinson’s study of suicide verdicts and Coulter’s writings on schizophrenia, ethnomethodological scholarship is shown to display the possibility and promise of disinterested description, even when the subject matter involves the evaluation of problematic actions and identities. The combination of Wittgensteinian logical grammar and empirical studies of natural language use, suggested by Coulter, is presented as especially relevant and remarkable for purposes of studying social practices including describing, naming, categorizing, classifying, labeling, diagnosing, reaching a verdict, and kindred practices of language use conceived as varieties of practical action.