Human Studies

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 281–308 | Cite as

Fun in Go: The Timely Delivery of a Monkey Jump and its Lingering Relevance to Science Studies

  • Philippe SormaniEmail author
Empirical Study/Analysis


This paper offers an ethnomethodological exploration of fun in Go (the ancient board game), the timely delivery of a ‘Monkey Jump’ (a particular move in Go), and its lingering relevance to science studies (where Go has provided an early analogy for laboratory work). In Go terms, the paper makes a ‘pincer’ move: on the one hand, it explores the analytic potential of ‘fun’ for ethnographic purposes and, on the other hand, it questions its manifest abandonment in some quarters of science studies. In particular, the paper challenges their “curious seriousness” (Garfinkel in Réseaux Hors Sér 8(1):69–78, 1990) whenever grand ontological claims are mixed up with suspended empirical inquiry. That said, the latter criticism does not take the form of a scholarly exercise in conceptual clarification, but remains part and parcel of the author’s ethnography of playing amateur Go, including his dealing with and delivery of a Monkey Jump and reading of Go literature and replaying of professional games (as most amateurs do). The key point of the paper, then, is to demonstrate the heuristic interest of adopting a practitioner’s stance, not only for understanding a technical domain such as Go in its own terms (Livingston in Ethnographies of reason, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2008), but also for launching a phenomenological critique of analytic discretion in science studies. Therefore, the second part of the paper re-examines, from an amateur Go player’s stance, Latour and Woolgar’s Go analogy in and for Laboratory Life (1979, 1986a)—an early exemplar of science studies’ ontological bent.


Go Science studies Ontological claims Curious seriousness Phenomenological critique Ethnomethodology Fun 



Special acknowledgments are due to the Go club members whose game moves are studied in this paper, as well as to Jon Diamond from the BGA and to Princeton University Press for granting me permission to use visual illustrations under their copyright. A prior version of the paper was presented at the 2005 conference of the International Institute of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis at Bentley College, Waltham, MA. I would like to thank its participants for their comments, especially Larissa Schindler who also encouraged me to write up the paper. Two anonymous reviewers helped me to improve the manuscript. So did the comments and criticisms by Andrew P. Carlin, Anna Pichelstorfer, Leonidas Tsilipakos, and Rod Watson. I thank all of them. As ever, none of them can be held responsible for polemic points or remaining mistakes. Neither can André Sormani who first introduced me to Go and still beats me almost every time.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Science and Technology StudiesUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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