Health Care Analysis

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 372–389 | Cite as

For an Ethnomethodology of Healthcare Ethics

  • Nathan Emmerich
Original Article


This paper considers the utility of Ethnomethodology (EM) for the study of healthcare ethics as part of the empirical turn in Bioethics. I give a brief introduction to EM through its respecification of sociology, the specific view on the social world this generates and EM's posture of ‘indifference’. I then take a number of EM concepts and articulate each in the context of an EM study of healthcare ethics in professional practice. Having given an overview of the relationship and perspective EM might bring to the professional practice of healthcare ethics I consider whether and how such an approach could be deployed. Whilst an ethnographic study might be problematic I suggest a number of alternative methods through which such EM research could be accomplished. I conclude with the suggestion that, as a particular approach to sociological research, EM offers good deal of potential for the empirical study of healthcare ethics in practice which could result in an improved reflexive understanding of professional ethical practices in bioethics.


Ethical practice Empirical ethics Ethnomethodology Healthcare ethics Medical ethics Sociology 






This paper is a result of two presentations. The first was given at the Postgraduate Bioethics Conference held in January 2011 at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre, Euston Road, London and sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness, Cesagen, Wiley-Blackwell, Nuffield Bioethics and Queen’s University Belfast. The second at the Centre for Bioethics and Society (CBAS) at Kings College London in March 2011. I would like to thank both audiences for their comments and feedback as well as for the opportunity to present my work. I would also like to draw attention to Prof Sharrock’s podcast on ethnomethodology which I have found useful and is available from the Methods@Manchester website: Accessed March 2011.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social WorkQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK

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