Our guest is Eric Laurier, Institute of Geography & the Lived Environment, Edinburgh University (whose own blog has the unimprovable title Ordinary Life As It Happens). Here he gives us a capsule account of the EM/CA culture wars in the social sciences as they’ve played out in Human Geography.
On joining the company of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, you are told war stories of the early history of incomprehension, misunderstanding and antipathy it met from prominent figures in Sociology. The Purdue Symposium in Ethnomethodology from 1968 provides a transcript of one of the skirmishes that illustrates very nicely all of these qualities. In other disciplines there are other histories that have lead to other sorts of relationships.
Human Geography from the 1960s until the 1980s was in large part in the grip of what it called a quantitative revolution and thus had no connection with either ethnomethodology nor conversation analysis (though someone may yet find one in the archives). Known by its members as the magpie discipline, Human Geography was nevertheless stealing shiny ideas from economics, demography, and behavioural psychology. Rejecting that former revolution, for the last twenty years Human Geography has been in a long ‘cultural turn’. Flying out of its nest it has been picking up jewels and silver from Marxism, post-structuralism, cultural studies, literary theory, gender studies and more.
When I say, then, that Human Geography has twigged the EMCA approach, it is the twig in the beak rather than the twig in the tree (of growing knowledge). It has been grasped in a certain way in order to fly with it. And it will be no surprise for me to grumble that it is held tight between the mandibles more as a methodology than as a distinctive approach to human action and reasoning.
What is interesting for me is how EMCA has become associated, as a methodology or as an approach, with the other knocked-off disciplinary goods that were woven into the nest during the same season. My work is then often situated in relation to Non-Representational Theory (NRT) and NRT is then the approach that I have then often found myself in dialogue with. Part of what one has to do in nesting EMCA within a new discipline is to try and understand what else was twigged when EMCA was and thus with what other approaches you will then need to differentiate yourself in dialogue with.