, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 117-121
Date: 21 Apr 2010

Harold Garfinkel: Toward a Sociological Theory of Information. Ed. Anne Warfield Rawls

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How does a dead body become a suicide? Rule-breaking a crime? A product of the womb an abortion? Body troubles a disease? Data a fact? The answer, says Harold Garfinkel, is through communication. All of these are accomplished through talk. Not just by the contents of the words spoken, but by their inflection, rapidity, and loudness; and not just by what is said, but by what is not: silences.

Garfinkel’s life-work comprises a pivotal moment in what has come to be celebrated (or bemoaned) as the “Linguistic Turn” in social theory. This refers to a movement away from representational understandings of meaning toward a conviction that “language [is] constitutive of the objects it designates” (p. 114); that messages make the things they reference. Originally presented as a memo to a seminar on organizational behavior in 1952, this book documents Garfinkel’s first tentative engagement with the Linguistic Turn. It consists of the highly technical memo itself plus five lengthy appendices, inclu