Course:SOCI1110/Harold Garfinkle

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Harold Garfinkel

Harold Garfinkel

American Sociologist, Ethomethodologist, as well as a Professor at the University of California. (October 29,1917 - April 21, 2011)


Harold Garfkinel was born in Newmark, New Jersey on October 29, 1917. Growing up he lived in Newmark, where his father, Abraham, had a local business selling housewares. Instead of following in his father's footsteps and taking over the family business, he decided to go to the University of Newmark to study business and accounting. He later developed a deep interest in sociology, and moved on to study that instead. He then went to the University of North Carolina, and earned his master's degree in 1932. In the summer of 1942 Garfinkel started a field study of Bastrop, Texas, and started sociological research for the Army and Air force in Gulfport Field, Mississippi from 1942-1946. From 1951 - 1953 he held a high ranking position at Princeton University. By the time Garfinkel was 35 years old he had written more than twelve impressive manuscripts, all before he earned his PhD at Harvard in the summer of 1952. Garfinkel finally retired from in 1987, and became a professor emeritus in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Garfinkel died at the age of 93, in his home in Pacific Palisades, California, due to congestive heart failure. He was survived by his wife, Arlene, his daughter, Leah, and his son, Mark.


Garfinkel was influenced by Talcott Parsons, and Alfred Schütz. Parsons was a sociologist of the classical tradition, while Garfinkel was very fascinated by his research on social order. Schutz was a European scholar which started to introduce Garfinkel into newly important ideas in social theory, psychology and phenomenology. Many of Garfinkel's writings, and lectures have also influenced many people from around the world, such as Derek Edwards and Johnathan Potter. Garfinkel's work has influenced other fields of study as well. Some examples of subfields that he has influenced are: "computer-supported cooperative work, the sociology of work and occupations, sociology of education, sociology of medicine, deviance and law, and media."(Maynard, 2012) In short Garfinkel's work has influenced many people, from not only all over the world, but from many other disciplines as well.

The World Around Him

Harold Garfinkel lived through not only both world wars, but many other wars as well. This situates him in many interesting points in history. Even though Garfinkel could not participate in World War One because he was just a baby, by the time World War Two occurred he had become an adult. He enlisted in the military, and conducted sociological research for the Army and Air Force in Gulfport Field, Mississippi, from 1942-1946. As a Jewish man dedicated to racial justice, Garfinkel took his work for the military very seriously. Surprisingly, the Second World War actually ended up uniting social scientists. Since the study of social sciences was completely put on hold in occupied Europe, some of Europe's scientists had come to join the research in America. In 1939, the American Sociological Association and its higher ups started to aid the war and peace efforts in both institutional and substantive ways. This helped sociology become a "well-respected and unified science."(Rawls, 2013) The world Garfinkel grew up and lived in was full of uncertainty and fear. The fact that he had such a strong interest in sociology compared to business makes a lot of sense once a person considers the social chaos that was happening all around him during his life. To try to make sense and help change the social world Garfinkel probably realized that he had to study, and immerse himself in it.

Relevant World Events During Garfinkel's Life

  • 1917 - America enters WWI
  • 1918 - WWI ends
  • 1931 - Great Depression at its worst, more that 25% of Americans unemployed
  • 1939 - WWII begins in Europe
  • 1941 - Pearl Habour is attacked
  • America joins the WWII
  • 1945 - America drops first atomic bomb on Japan
  • WWII ends
  • 1949 - NATO is created
  • 1950 - Start of the Korean war
  • 1961 - Vietnam war begins
  • Berlin Wall is built
  • 1953 - Vietnam war ends
  • 1962 - Cuban Missile Crisis
  • 1963 - Present Kennedy is assassinated
  • 1965 - People begin protesting war
  • Malcom X is assassinated
  • 1966 - People rioting over race
  • 1967 - People are still rioting over race
  • Vietnam war becomes even more intense
  • 1973 - Vietnam war ends
  • 1986 - Space shuttle Challenger explodes
  • 1987 - Black Monday
  • 1989 - World Wide Web Invented
  • 1990 - Hubble Telescope Launched into Space
  • 1991 - Official end of the Cold War
  • 1995 - Oklahoma City Bombing
  • 1998 - Clinton Impeachment
  • 2001 - 9/11 Attack
  • 2003 - War Against Iraq
  • 2005 - Hurricane Katrina
  • 2008 - Obama Elected President

Major Contributions

A major contribution Harold Garfinkel has made to sociology is creating the term ethnomethodology. Ethnomethology is a way to try to study the methods that people create and put together the parts of everyday life in any real, and not hypothetical setting. He invented this term while he had been collaborating with the American Jury Project run by Fred Stodtbeck at the University of Chicago. While working with the American Jury Project were Garfinkel interviewed jurors and reviewed tape recordings, he found that the jurors were "often preoccupied with 'magnificent methodological things.'"(Maynard, 2012) He made ethnomethodology up while coming across terms such as "ethnobotany, ethnophysiology, and ethnophyscis."(Maynard, 2012) Garfinkel is well known for his published book called "Studies in Ethnomethodology" in 1967. His book is about his research in Ethnomethodology and discusses many fascinating and begins to introduce key like indexicality. Which was followed by unpublished articles in two volumes called "Seeing Sociologically" and "Ethnomethodology's Program."

Major Accomplishments

Once Harold Garfinkel retired from the University of California, Los Angeles, he was given the title of professor emeritus. This title recognizes his success during his time as a professor. In 1995, Harold Garfinkel won the Cooley-Mead Award for his "lifetime contributions to the intellectual and scientific advancement of sociological social psychology."(Maynard, 1996) The Cooley-Mead Award is only rewarded to the best of the best, showing that Garfinkel was not only dedicated to his field, but did amazing work in it as well.


Bradley, M. (2009). Vietnam at war. New York: Oxford University Press.

Emeritus - dictionary definition. Retrieved October 24, 2016, from

Garfinkel, H. (1964). Studies of the Routine Grounds of Everyday Activities. Social Problems, 11(3), 225-250. doi:1. Retrieved from doi:1

Harold Garfinkel, 1917-2011. (2011, April 22). Retrieved October 24, 2016, from (2009). Korean war - facts & summary. Retrieved from

Lynch, M. (2011, July 13). Harold Garfinkel obituary. The Guardian. Retrieved from obituary

Maynard, D. W. (1996). Introduction of Harold Garfinkel for the Cooley-Mead award. Social Psychology Quarterly, 59(1), 1–4. doi:10.2307/2787115

Maynard, D. W. (2012). Memorial essay: Harold Garfinkel (1917-2011): A sociologist for the ages. Symbolic Interaction, 35(1), 88–96. doi:10.1002/symb.4

Phenomenology online. (2011). Retrieved October 23, 2016, from

Terms, P. I. (2016). 1980-2015 important events Timeline. Retrieved October 24, 2016, from

US history Timeline: 1900 - 2000. (1950). Retrieved October 24, 2016, from

Rawls, A. W. (2013). The early years, 1939-1953: Garfinkel at north Caroline, Harvard and Princeton. Journal of Classical Sociology, 13(2). 303-312. doi:10.1177/146879x13477292

Rawls, A. (2015). Toward A sociological theory of information. Retrieved from In-line Citation: (Rawls, 2015)

Weber, B. (2014, September 8). Harold Garfinkel, a common-sense sociologist, dies at 93. U.S. Retrieved from