This thesis explores sociologists’ routine research activities, including observation, participant observation, interviewing, and transcription. It suggests that the constitutive activities of sociological research methods – writing field-notes, doing looking and categorising, and the endogenous structure of members’ ordinary language transactions are suffused with culturally methodic, i.e. ordinary language activities.
“Membership categories” are the ordinary organising practices of description that society-members – including sociologists – routinely use in assembling sense of settings. This thesis addresses the procedural bases of activities which are constituent features of the research: disguising identities of informants, reviewing literature, writing-up research outcomes, and compiling bibliographies. These activities are themselves loci of practical reasoning. Whilst these activities are assemblages of members’ cultural methods, they have not been recognised as “research practices” by methodologically ironic sociology.
The thesis presents a series of studies in Membership Categorisation Analysis. Using both sequential and membership categorisational aspects of Conversation Analysis, as well as textual analysis of published research, this thesis examines how members’ cultural practices coincide with research practices. Data are derived from a period of participant observation in an organisation, video-recordings of the organisation’s work; and interviews following the 1996 bombing in Manchester.
A major, cumulative theme within this thesis is confidentiality – within an organisation, within a research project and within sociology itself. Features of confidentiality are explored through ethnographic observation, textual analysis and Membership Categorisation Analysis. Membership Categorisation Analysis brings seen-but-unnoticed features of confidentiality into relief.
Central to the thesis are the works of Edward Rose, particularly his ethnographic inquiries of Skid Row, and Harvey Sacks, on the cultural logic shared by society-members. Rose and Sacks explicate the visibility and recognition of members’ activities to other members, and research activities as linguistic activities.