Ethnomethodology: How People Make Sense by Warren H. Handel

By Warren H. Handel

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If we think in terms of accountability, we can see that accounts establish what is accountable at the same time that they are the things that are accountable. Accounts are always in this reflexive relationship with themselves because they are the medium of definition and accountability and because they make up the defmed, accountable world at the same time. The theoretical importance of accounts and how they work is also clear. If social settings are made up entirely of accounts, then the processes by which accounts are offered and accepted are the fundamental social process.

However, these objects are the products of considerable human activity. Each serves as an account of the activity that produced it, just as words on a page serve as an account. A disposable butane lighter is, in its plastic convenience, an account of considerable invention, marketing, distributing, exploring (for fuel), chemical engineering, and our way of life. We do not usually make this much of butane lighters, but I am only treating them in the same way as archeologists routinely treat the fire-making tools 'f:hey uncover.

To understand how every account stands in a relationship with itself or acts upon itself, we must be very careful about the reference of an accountwhat it is about. I shall suggest that accounts do not more or less accurately describe things. Instead, they establish what is accountable in the setting in which they occur. Whether they are accurate or inaccurate by some other standard, accounts define reality for a situation in the sense that people act on the basis of what is accountable in the situation of their action.

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