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What do we do Wednesday? On beginning the class as university-specific work: a preliminary study.


Whether thought to be "in chains" (Giroux 2007), "in ruins" (Readings 1996), "for sale" (Tudiver 1999), or "no place to learn" (Pocklington and Tupper 2002), the university is once again in question (e.g., Drakich, Grant and Stewart 2002; Eglin (forthcoming); Fallis 2007; Kelly, n.d.; Mason 2007; Rae Report 2005). I wish to contribute to the discussion by providing what has been missing in work to date, namely a description of just what about a university makes it a university. I wish to take up, that is, Edward Shils's question about juries, made famous in Harold Garfinkel's (1967a, 1967b) jury study, and apply it to universities. With respect to juries and in contradistinction to the Balesian question--what is it about juries that makes them small groups?--Shils proposed that the primary and relevant question was "what about [jurors'] deliberations makes them a jury?" (Garfinkel 2002:96). I wish to pose the same question about universities: just what is it about the operations of universities that makes them universities?

The question is an ethnomethodological one. It may be put otherwise in these terms: just how do its members produce a university as such "from the inside" (Sharrock and Watson 1988)? Put differently again, what is the university as a "members' phenomenon" and not a theoretical one (Eglin and Hester 2003:4, 8-9)? Or, what is it about university activities that is "university-specific?" What is it about lectures and seminars and student study sessions and department meetings and so on that makes them, for members, observably and reportably, from the inside, university-specific activities? The study reported here is founded on Garfinkel's beginning.

Garfinkel (2002) described his "study of the work of teaching undergraduate chemistry in lecture format" as an acknowledged "first step" in investigating "an ignored, content-specific, massive orderliness of lectures as university-specific work" (p. 219). It is a first step because, being based on ethnographic materials, that is field notes, recall, and discussion between the two observers (Garfinkel and Sudnow), it can offer no more than "documented conjecture" as analysis, "whereas the need is for analyzable audio and video documents" (p. 220). To this end I am engaged in videotaping cases of classes, meetings, and other sites of university activity to capture reviewable records of the detailed happenings of university life. These records are being subjected to established methods of ethnomethodological analysis. The goal is to describe and analyze the embodied methods of practical reasoning and action by means of which parties engaged in the life of the university render their activities accountable--that is, observable and reportable--as university-specific activities. Indeed, if university-specific activities were not made reflexively available to others by parties to them, neither I nor any other university teacher, student, or administrator would be able to locate an instance of a university, a class, a meeting, or other university-specific activity in the first place (Sharrock and Button 1991:159).

As a quick, and no more than merely instructive, pointer to the meaning of what is being said here, consider one of the reported descriptions made by students upon the entry of the visibly armed Marc Lepine into one of the classrooms of l'Ecole polytechnique in Montreal in which, on December 6, 1989, he subsequently shot dead 13 women engineering students (and a female member of the administrative staff): "we thought it was a joke." These students attempted, that is, "to normalize his appearance by invoking an available feature of the context, namely that this was the last class of the term in this course and someone was exploiting the occasion to stage a prank or joke" (Eglin and Hester 2003:36). That is, they invoked a collection of social-organizational features of the institution of which they were part, namely a university with its courses, assigned rooms, timetable, course organization (with such things as "first" and "last" class meetings and what may conventionally occur in them) and so on, in order to render what they were witnessing as an intelligible part of the setting, that is as a university event. This involved attributing to the interloper a setting-relevant identity, namely "student." Wrong though they were on this occasion, the accomplishment of the university as a university rests in just such interpretive practices. The disjuncture and thus the horror occasioned by Lepine's actions would not be accountable without such recourse to where, when, how, what, and why "we" are, here, and now.

Studies of the University and the Distinctiveness of Ethnomethodology's (EM's) Approach

It is an understatement to say that the university is much studied. Academics of all persuasions have written extensively about it. Their accounts include descriptions of all sorts. When I refer to "what has been missing in work to date" I do not mean to be dismissive of such work, but to highlight what is distinctive about EM's approach by invoking Garfinkel's "ignored, content-specific, massive orderliness of [university activities] as university-specific work." According to Garfinkel, EM has discovered a previously missed, vast domain of social phenomena in need of investigation. Indeed the scale of the significance of this "missing what" is truly awesome.

In his Ethnomethodology's Program: Working Out Durkheim's Aphorism (Garfinkel 2002), from which the quotations in this and the following paragraph are taken, he puts it like this: "the objective reality of social facts [as] sociology's fundamental phenomenon ... is an astronomically massive domain of phenomena of social order." Insofar as this "absence," this "missing what," can be seen to apply to the whole edifice of Cartesian reason, then one could be forgiven for assuming that the underlying prime imperative of EM was to bring this whole edifice down. But this is not what Garfinkel says. First, "In its central tasks Ethnomethodology is directed to the reform of technical reason," but this is construed, as it were, positively, not negatively, as adding something more alongside received accounts, not replacing or criticizing them. Thus, secondly, the quote continues, "and doing so with the premier aim of specifying the work of the social sciences and the natural sciences as naturally accountable sciences of practical action and practical reason." That is, "Ethnomethodology is NOT a corrective enterprise. It is NOT a rival science in the worldwide social science movement." After all, the edifice of Cartesian reason stands. That it is the remarkable thing! The implied critique is then not of the edifice itself but of the standard (philosophy of science) accounts of what holds it up, the pretensions of formal rationality. The point, to adopt Wittgenstein's phrase (Sharrock and Anderson 1991:62), is to assemble reminders, in the form of perspicuous demonstrations, of just what does hold it up. Garfinkel asks, "What are some consequences [of ethnomethodology (EM)] for the worldwide social science movement? What's in it for sociology as a science in the social sciences?" He answers as follows:
 What's in it is this: EM is opening an argument on the curious
 massively absent probativeness of professionally refereed analytic
 studies of everyday activities of ordinary society that are done
 with formal analytic policies, methods, and the corpus status of
 literatures of the social science movement.

Saving a community from philosophical error, "giving [the missing] proof or evidence" (my dictionary's definition of "probative"), bringing inquirers back to a realization and appreciation of "the miracles of the familiar society as the local work consisting of this: persons living the ordinary lives they do are therein achieving everything that the magnificent topics of logic, meaning, method, order, world, real, and evidence have ever purported to be about," (1) this is the point.

Applied to my topic this point means that whether constructed for practical-administrative or social scientifically theoretical purposes, non-EM descriptions of the university necessarily take for granted that what a university is is known already. Such descriptions presuppose presumed shared knowledge of the character of universities in order to pursue some practical or theoretical agenda in relation to universities.

This is so, moreover, for those descriptions that are based on some form of empirical account of one or other university's operations, or are grounded in philosophical inquiry into "university first principles." I have in mind descriptions that range from the type of annual official statistical summary done by magazines like Maclean's in Canada, to equivalent if somewhat more systematic sociological surveys or abstracted empiricist accounts (Porter, Porter, and Blishen 1979), to theorized structural-functionalist accounts (Cole 1975:170-71; Parsons and Platt 1973), to participant-observational ethnographic accounts (Becker, Geer, and Hughes 1968), to frame-analytic accounts (Goffman 1981), to phenomenologically inspired, theorized accounts (Blum 1991), to postmodernist deconstructions (Derrida 2004; Lyotard 1984; Readings 1996), to political-economic critiques (Giroux 2007; Noble 2002; Tudiver 1999; Turk 2000) to mainstream, liberal or conservative, historically informed diagnoses (innumerable, but see, e.g., Axelrod 2002; Nisbet 1971; Pocklington and Tupper 2002). I include too those programmatic descriptions produced by would-be university founders and commentators (Kant, Humboldt, Fichte, Newman, Kerr, Bourdieu, Habermas, etc.) and the mundane self-descriptions produced by university administrators and other personnel as a routine part of university functioning. These descriptions are essentially practical or theorized accounts, written for practical or theoretical purposes.

Such descriptions may indeed, as a contingent matter, reveal much that is telling, germane, and interesting about universities--as a public relations fact sheet, abstracted set of social relations, system of action, form of symbolic interaction, site of systemic conflict, economy, tradition, text, ideal type, cultural ideal, mode of existence or being, high school, corporation, church (of reason), bearer and transmitter of culture, place for "thought," trainer of the professions, former of state administrations, educator of a democratic citizenry, excellent agent of economic growth--"the knowledge factory as it were, at the centre of the knowledge economy" (The Economist 1997, cited in Pocklington and Tupper 2002:5).

Moreover, such descriptions are unavoidable and essential means by which the university as a real-worldly institution is "realized." That is, by invoking the concept of the university, they make the university real. The university is, as it were written (or talked, or "languaged" as Rod Watson puts it) into being through such descriptions. But insofar as such descriptions are done for practical or theoretical purposes, then the concept of university used in them stands in for, or is a place-holder for, whatever set of features is afforded by the practical or theoretical language-game informing the description in question. This is so, moreover, whether there is in the particular description a concerted attempt actually to specify the relevant features or whether the concept is simply used as a gloss for whatever presumed understanding of those features recipients of the description are thought to have. None of them, from an EM point of view, describe the university as a university; rather they reflexively incarnate the university in their language use. None of them describe what it is about a university that makes it a university and not a system of action, small group, mode of existence, high school, corporation, church, knowledge factory, and so on. Furthermore, each of these modes of describing what a university is, whether as an economy, civilizing agent or whatever, presuppose and utterly depend on their users' tacit members' knowledge of that collection of methodical practices that make the university observably and reportably--that is, accountably--just what it is. Until this is appreciated and understood, it seems to me, debates about the character, meaning, utility, future, and so on of the university will continue to pass the actual thing by.

Research Materials

In this first, preliminary, analytic effort at addressing the ethnomethodological question, I wish to do no more than examine one case of the achievement of the beginning of a university class. I am indebted to Sara Dyment and John Maier, two students who audiotaped the data in the course of an assignment for my course in Ethnomethodology at Wilfrid Laurier University in the winter session of 2005. My analysis builds on that of Francis and Hester (2004:115-21), which itself builds on the classic work on school lessons by George Payne (1976) and Payne and Hustler (1980). As this brief biography of my inquiry implies, the choice of topic--the beginning of a university class--is not theoretically motivated but methodologically adventitious: it is what I found a useable study of as I was contemplating the overall project. The teaching of that study showed me what more there might be to investigate and gave me a first analysis to work with.

Data Extract: Start of a Class in a Course on Global Studies at a University, February 2005

P: [Professor passes out sheets]

P: [background noise--random chatter] [professor adjusts the podium] I uh (.2) for (.2) for Wednesday [random chatter stops] I've decided to pass around uh (.5) question sheet for the discussion uh just to give you a little more (.2) guidance for the Sudan discussion on Wednesday = and = I'll say a few words about that uh once those sheets are around uh while they're going around (.5) uh the essays I should be able to have them back for Wednesday thats my goal anyways I still have a few to grade um so hopefully I'll be able to get through them by Wednesday? and then uh have them available for you to pick up during uh the discussion class [class continues for 90 minutes uninterrupted]. (2)


For the didactic purposes of their textbook, Francis and Hester set out a three-step model of ethnomethodological procedure. They write: "Accordingly, doing EM involves taking three methodological steps:

1. Notice something that is observably-the-case about some talk, activity, or setting.

2. Pose the question "How is it that this observable feature has been produced such that it is recognizable for what it is?"

3. Consider, analyze, and describe the methods used in the production and recognition of the observable feature (Francis and Hester 2004:25-26). (3)

Following the three-step model we can, in accordance with Step 1, notice that the talk-in-interaction is, observably, a class, given by a professor (or lecturer or instructor) to students. It is, moreover, observably the beginning of a class, where the lecture proper has not yet started. That is, as members, especially as members long accustomed to such settings, we can readily recognize the nature of the actions being performed here, the identity of the actors, the likely setting of the interaction, indeed the institutionalized character of the interaction. We can infer that the "sheets" being distributed are handouts, that is materials relevant to the organization of the course of which this class is, we take it, a part. We can "repair the indexicality" (4) of such expressions as "Wednesday," "essays," and "few" to mean the meeting of the class next Wednesday, with "essays" being the essays the students in this course have written as an assignment for this course and have handed in to the professor to be marked, a few of which essays he (in this case) has not yet finished grading. The "random chatter" the transcriber reports we readily observe to be the sort of casual conversation students engage in at the beginning of a meeting of a class before the class proper begins. We may particularly notice that the random chatter stops just after the speaker says "Wednesday." From that point on it is observable that only the professor speaks.

Following Step 2 in the procedural model I then ask how these observable features of the scene have been produced such that they are recognizable for what they are. Given that the persons I have referred to as students and professor may also be correctly described as, say, men and women, educated people, rational actors or in terms of any of an indefinitely large collection of identity descriptors, what makes these terms the appropriate and relevant ones? How do members, whether participant-observers in the interaction or overhearing-observers scrutinizing the transcript, figure they know, for example, to which of all the possible Wednesdays there could be, this uttering of "Wednesday" is referring to? More especially, how is it that the random chatter stops after "Wednesday" and the professor continues to speak without interruption from then on, without having overtly arranged in advance with the students present to distribute their interaction in just this way? In coming to answer these questions EM's position is that the methods by which participant and overhearing observers come to see these things as socially factual instances of the institutionalized operation of a university lecture (in a course in a disciplinary or interdisciplinary program) at this university are identical to the methods by which the parties themselves produce their actions, identities and setting as just these social facts.

In the class beginning analyzed by Francis and Hester, the lecturer's first words are "Good afternoon." They observe (Step 1) that what is other wise conventionally taken as a greeting that occasions a return greeting is not so treated by the students present, who do not return the greeting but instead cease to talk among themselves and start attending to the lecturer. Francis and Hester characterize this opening exchange as a presequence to the lecture proper consisting of an instruction/compliance adjacency pair (or, perhaps, an announcement/acknowledgement pair). They then ask (Step 2), "If the 'Good afternoon' is hearable as an announcement or an instruction [that the class is about to begin so that students should stop talking and start attending], the question is, how?" Following George Payne's classic analysis of the beginning of a school lesson they then start their analysis (Step 3) by proposing that,

for talk to be understandable as the start of an educational event such as a lecture, then it has to display certain features that constitute it as the start of a lecture and it has to be recognized as such by the participants to it. As with lessons, the two features that have to be present are: co-presence of lecturer and students(s) ...; and talk that can be recognized as, in our case, lecture talk (Francis and Hester 2004:117).

To return to my data I can rephrase my principal Step 2 question as follows: how is "I uh (.2) for (.2) for Wednesday" hearable as an announcement or instruction that the class is beginning, such that students should cease talking and start attending, which they do ("[random chatter stops]")? Following the example of Francis and Hester, I embark on Step 3 in the analysis of these data by considering how, for "I uh (.2) for (.2) for Wednesday" to be "understood as the start of a [a class] it must be understandable as having been spoken by someone identifiable as a lecturer to people recognizable as students" (Francis and Hester 2004:117). This turns, first, let us say, on the observability, to the parties present and overhearing, of the guy-at-the-front's actions as category-bound activities of the category "professor (or lecturer or teacher)." That is,

Walking to the front, standing at the podium, looking at the assembled students, cleaning the blackboard and so on are examples of category-bound activities in terms of which we may see at a glance that this person is a lecturer ... Accordingly, we assume that this person is a lecturer because [...] he is doing something that is predicated of the category "lecturer." Our assumption, furthermore, entails the use of the viewer's maxim ..., namely if an activity can be seen as being done by an incumbent of a category to which it is bound, then: see it that way (Francis and Hester 2004:117-18).

In the data at hand, we have the guy at the front standing at the front, passing out sheets, adjusting the podium and starting to address the rest of those present. Notice he does not address any of those present specifically, for example by name, and in that way does not select a next speaker. But in that way he can be heard by those there to be addressing all of them at once. But who is it that gets addressed all at once by a guy who is otherwise behaving as teachers of classes do? It is the "class" that is so addressed. And who comprises a class? Students comprise a class. It would, then, not be unreasonable for those present to assume that a class is about to begin, insofar as the guy at the front is behaving as teachers who are about to give classes do behave. But if he is the teacher, and this a class about to begin, then the rest of us present must be for this occasion "students." The activity "giving a class" as a category-bound activity of the category "teacher" invokes the standardized relational pair of categories "teacher/student," thereby providing a resource by means of which the parties present can identify themselves and each other for this occasion.

As Francis and Hester go on to point out, categorical and sequential considerations are intertwined here. For not only does the activity of giving a class presuppose the relevance of the categories "teacher" and "student" for distributing identities to the persons present, it distributes actions between them as well. Just as teachers give classes, so students listen (attentively, and take notes, and sometimes ask questions, or answer questions put to them by the teacher). Moreover, the teacher gives classes to the students, and the students listen to the teacher. And in that ethnomethodologically familiar way, we see again the reflexive relation between the occasioned identity of persons and the identifiability of their actions.

Francis and Hester go on to speak of a particular speech exchange system for lecturing, marked by that special pre-allocation of rights to speak in which the lecturer gets to speak one long, uninterrupted turn across multiple turn transition relevant places. (5) If students are to speak they must seek permission, typically by means of the raised hand, unless spoken to first. The lecturer's talk, that is, is further made observable as giving a class by virtue of the concerted accomplishment by him and the students of the suspension of the turn-transition rules for conversation. Moreover, because of the absence of overt requests or commands for silence, the class can be seen to be designed for university students and not, say, primary or secondary school students. Participants can find that the opening remarks are recipient-designed for them as university students by invoking the stage-of-life device in which a predicate of adulthood is the inappropriateness of commands to be silent. The relevant identities for the parties present are, then, not simply teacher/student but professor/student.

But in the case at hand we do not yet have the beginning of the lecture as such. That is why I speak of the beginning of a class (not a lecture), because a class or class meeting may comprise activities other than, and in addition to, lecturing. Students may well be talking among themselves when the professor enters the classroom. The professor may then begin the class but occupy the beginning with distributing handouts and making announcements, before turning to begin the lecture proper. As Francis and Hester (2004:119-20) point out, beginning the class is a matter of accomplishing the transition from the "assembling" activities (Turner 1972) of students (and professor) to the focusing of attention by the students on the professor's words.


I am struck by the ceasing of student talk ("[random chatter]") immediately following the word "Wednesday" in the pause-marked, twice self-repaired phrase "I uh (.2) for (.2) for Wednesday." Insofar as the ceasing of student talk marks compliance with the implicit instruction to do so conveyed somehow by the utterance in question, the question is, how? (There is clearly something to be said about the "over-its-course" character of this utterance with its pauses and repairs, but I leave that for another occasion.) That is, how do the hearers find in what has been said to this point that this yet-to-be-completed utterance is something they should collectively listen to because it is addressed to them? That Francis and Hester allow for "Good afternoon" being either an announcement or an instruction is perhaps because to hear the instruction one must hear the announcement (first?). What I would like to say is that to hear the talk as an announcement in the making is to hear that the class is beginning, because announcements provide a resource to hear that a proper beginning is being made (although, "it need not be the case that an authorized starter must make an announcement" [Turner 1972:395]). Announcements can do this insofar as it is the proper business of announcements to go at the beginning of events. Hearing that an announcement is in the making can provide one with the means to hear that an event beginning is being made.

But how can the phrase in question be heard as an announcement in the first place? The analyzability of the phrase in question as an announcement is, to be sure, partly achievable by reflexively hearing that a beginning is in process (because, if announcements are going to be located anywhere, they should properly go at the beginning). And a beginning is putatively hearable, as has been said, on the basis of the identifiability of the speaker as acting, just here and now, in the capacity of professor for the course by virtue of the other activities category-bound to professor with which he has been observably engaged. We may add here Turner's point from his study of the beginning of group therapy sessions that the professor (equivalent to Turner's therapist) is the "authorized starter" (Turner 1972:395: "Now with respect to authorized starters, I suggested that an issue could be to see that some event properly constituted a 'start.'"). Moreover, there is the sequential consideration of a first utterance unaddressed to any particular next speaker, as also mentioned previously. Nevertheless, what, in my view, may be of crucial significance here is "Wednesday."

There is much that might be said about "Wednesday" as uttered here. For semioticians or logicians of formal languages it may be said to be an "indexical symbol." That is, it is a symbol insofar as it designates an (abstract) object--Wednesday is not, after all, Tuesday or Saturday. But it is indexical insofar as any use of it does not stipulate which Wednesday is being referred to, or what about Wednesday is being referred to here; for formal logic it would need to be replaced by the date in order to be an "objective expression." (6) But for the speaker and hearers in the case at hand it appears to pose no problems of understanding whatsoever. Indeed, as Sacks has so brilliantly argued, far from being ambiguous and problematic, indexical expressions ("indicators") are an invaluable resource for sense-making in talk-in-interaction.

What I want to be able to say is, there can be ways of invoking the fact of a setting, and a bunch of its features, whatever the features are of settings, without having to do a formulation of a setting, and specifically without using an omni-relevant formulation of a setting ... I've gone through this so as to say that when I talk about the "indicator" usages, I am not talking about omni-relevant formulations. I'm talking specifically about no formulations being made. I'm not proposing the occurrence of "indicators" as a "sign" of omni-relevance; what I'm proposing is that it's a means of invoking the fact of the "settinged" character of what we're doing without any specification of which formulation of the setting, which formulation of participants, being involved ... One of the things that I expect to happen is, it's not simply that you invoke a setting, but one of the ways that you make a setting out of some course of activities is by beginning to develop things like times for it, time in it ... (Sacks 1976:G4-G7).

This captures, I believe, how the indexical character of "Wednesday" contributes to the "making" of the setting of this utterance, which I will come to.

On the same pages Sacks also says, in a version of the idea of category-bound activities:

What you get is, there are actions which for them to be effective, need to be formulated via some particular Device. And then those actions invoke that Device(Sacks 1976:G6).

In this case, it may be said that the device that "Wednesday" invokes is the calendrical organization of the course of which this class is a part. The device is, if you like, this course's timetable. Like other university courses, this course has a specific schedule of class meeting times. Nearly all courses at this university have either a "Tuesday-Thursday" timetable or a "Monday-Wednesday-Friday" timetable. A few meet on Mondays and Wednesdays only in 90-minute classes; such classes meet twice a week at the same scheduled time on the specified days in question. Some courses meet once a week in a 3-hour slot. When the putative professor in his opening utterance refers to a day of the week that can be heard as one of the days on which this class is held, that is that hearably invokes the timetable, his utterance provides a resource for hearers to see that he is addressing them, about matters that are relevant to them, for just this moment of this occasion of their being assembled together for this class in this course on this day. That is, he is doing a course housekeeping announcement and therefore and thereby hearably instructing them to pay attention because this is the beginning of the class.

How so? His utterance invokes an order of business, a plenum of things that the students qua students in this course cannot but attend. It invokes the bureaucratic organization of the course as part of a university program of studies that cages the students and him in its temporal bars of iron (Bittner 1965; Weber 1958:181). Students' and professors' institutional lives are mapped out in the terms of scheduled events over a skein of multiple timetables. These are, moreover, not simply orders of events contingently arranged by time but sequences of demands and requirements, tied to the university-legislated requisites of assignments, courses and programs. Timetables in this sense are normative instruments. In a sense not unlike how everyone has to lie (Sacks 1975:74) students have to attend the timetable. This is not a matter of clock and calendar time per se, but of course time, the normative, temporal order of this course. One, perhaps foremost, item of temporal business in any organized course of activities is the matter of "what's next," in the sense here of "what's coming up next that I will have to attend to." And routine announcements concern themselves routinely with such "what's nexts."

Indeed, whereas the unanticipated occasion of a "resumed" relationship may provide as a first order of business catching up with what has happened because the previous encounter (Turner 1970, following Goffman), scheduled courses of meetings provide, for any meeting in the course after the first, for both reviewing the previous meeting(s) and foretelling the one(s) to follow. "What's next" is then an expectable topic of talk for such course-organized meetings and may properly be announced at the beginning. That being so, "Wednesday" may then be heard as "the next meeting of the class (on a Wednesday)." The professor's further talk on this topic--"I've decided to pass around uh (.5) question sheet for the discussion uh just to give you a little more (.2) guidance for the Sudan discussion on Wednesday"--is, moreover, hearable as resuming talk on a matter that has been introduced in an earlier class. Here we may see the professor's talk providing for the continuity of this course as an entity across the occasions of its class meetings, by sustaining a topic of talk across these occasions. Students are, furthermore, required to invoke their course-organizational knowledge to see that the second topic comprising these opening announcements concerns just their essays, presumably submitted as a scheduled assignment for handing in at an earlier point in the course.


In coming to the particular burden of this paper I want to focus on two points, which take the analysis beyond that provided by Francis and Hester for their case. The one is the matter of the relevance of the documentary method of interpretation to the analyzability for members of the connections between an (occasioned) category and its category-bound predicates. The second matter is the question of just what the membership categories are that members are orienting to in this episode of interaction.

Following Francis and Hester I said above that for "I uh (.2) for (.2) for Wednesday" to be "understood as the start of a [a class] it must be understandable as having been spoken by someone identifiable as a lecturer to people recognizable as students" (Francis and Hester 2004:117). This turns, I said, on the observability, to the parties present and overhearing, of the guy-at-the-front's actions as category-bound activities of the category "professor (or lecturer or teacher)." That is,

Walking to the front, standing at the podium, looking at the assembled students, cleaning the blackboard and so on are examples of category-bound activities in terms of which we may see at a glance that this person is a lecturer ... Accordingly, we assume that this person is a lecturer because she is doing something that is predicated of the category "lecturer" (Francis and Hester 2004:117).

What I am wondering about in the first place is how tightly the individual activities said to be category-bound to the category "lecturer" are indeed bound to it. (7) For a class assistant may properly distribute handouts, a student may properly walk to the front of the classroom (to ask the instructor a question "before the class starts"), a member of the administrative staff may properly stand at the podium to, say, test or adjust the microphone, the same class assistant may properly clean the blackboard or whiteboard, and a student in the capacity of, say, student club representative may properly make an announcement at the beginning of the class (though not, perhaps, before seeking the instructor's permission to do so). If we then say, as we might be inclined to do, that it is the collection (Jayyusi, "cluster") of these activities, rather than each of them taken individually, that binds them to "professor" in a way that they are not together bound to any other category from the relevant membership categorization device (occupation? parties to a university campus?), we come close to saying that their observability as category-bound activities rests on the mutual determination of the meaning of them as particulars in relation to each other and to the underlying pattern, which is the identity of the professor qua professor. (His recognizability as "Professor so-and-so" is another such particular.) And if this is so, it affords two further observations. The number and character of such activities may well vary from one class of "the same course" to another. Not every class will have handouts distributed; some will have the overhead projector put in place and overhead transparencies assembled; others will involve opening up, starting up, and setting up the multimedia console for, say, a PowerPoint presentation, and so on. In accordance with the precepts of the documentary method of interpretation, parties present must actively assemble just these activities being enacted today as a collection of particulars determining an underlying pattern comprising the identity of the person doing them as their professor for this class-in-this-course (and vice versa). In short, what "is situatedly invoked as category-bound is, of course, an occasioned matter and a methodic achievement on the part of members" (see Drew 1978; Hester and Eglin 1997; Jayyusi 1984:35; McHoul and Watson 1984).

My second observation relates to that last phrase, the "professor for this class-in-this-course," and, in so doing, raises the second of the two points I want to make here. This is that the unmodified or unqualified categories "professor" and "student" do not seem to capture the sense of the actual categories being employed or invoked as sense-making devices in this talk-in-interaction. (8) As Rod Watson points out, Ted Cuff ([1980] 1994) expressed reservations about both (i) the tightness of the link between category and activity in Sacks's idea of "category-bound activities" and (ii) "the apparatus surrounding membership categories ... [being] too abstract to provide for members a practically-adequate specification of identities in particular settings" (see Eglin and Hester 1992:261-62; Watson 1986:99, 103).

Attentive readers will have noticed that I have come to refer to "students in this course" and "professor for this class-in-this-course" as the paper's analysis has proceeded. The identities implicated, in Jayyusi's phrase, by the activities making up the production of the beginning of the class in question are not the generic identities "teacher" and "student," nor even those of "professor" and "student" but the course-specific identities "student-in-this-course" and "professor-for-this-class-in-this-course." (I opt for the phrase "class-in-this-course" to allow for the presence of guest lecturers and other professors in team-taught courses.) For students to hear themselves being addressed by "I uh (.2) for (.2) for Wednesday" as an announcement intended for them, they must invoke the identity "student-of-this-course" to find what it is that is being said, what is being done in those words being said, and what is required of them as a next action. One can readily suppose that a student from another course who had stumbled into this class would not only find upon hearing "I uh (.2) for (.2) for Wednesday" that this utterance was not addressed to them, but that they were indeed in the wrong classroom and would be well-advised to leave.


By requiring recipients to invoke their identity as not only students but students-in-this-course, and to invoke their common-sense knowledge of the social structure of a university course on this campus with its particular course timetables, in order to hear what the indexical symbol "Wednesday" is both referring to and doing on this occasion of its use, the speaker's utterance accomplishes the hearability of his talk as a course-relevant announcement designed for just the students in this course. And insofar as announcements properly go at the beginning of classes, and he is the authorized starter, he provides said students with a means to find that this class is indeed beginning. They demonstrate their recognition of his actions by stopping talking at just that point, and thereby accomplish the start of the class. Announcements of what I am calling course housekeeping issues can then signal that the lecture itself, the main business of the class, is about to begin. (9)

What can such a "praxiological" description of one familiar setting of university life contribute to contemporary angst, discussion, and debate about the current condition and fate of the university? In considering this question, recall especially the remarkable variety of viewpoints that have afforded diagnoses of its condition--Marxist, social-democratic, neo-liberal/ neo-conservative, mainstream liberal/conservative, feminist, neo-colonialist, poststructuralist, postmodernist, phenomenological, existential and so on. To slightly modify an insight of one of the anonymous reviewers of this paper, engaging in debate and discussion in these terms about the fate of the university is itself a perspicuous method of "doing the university." For example, consider just the following title, "What universities must do to shape our democracy" (Fallis 2007). Such talk itself inscribes the university in the life of the "society." It constitutes the university as a societal institution, reproducing it as one "on which great expectations are placed for society's future" (reviewer). (This is certainly a topic that falls under the general question informing the larger project of which the study reported here is just a first part.) To point this out, however, can hardly be said to make any practical difference to the task of deciding that fate. It has no practical purchase on the hard political and ethical choices of vision, purpose, and policy. Indeed, in Wittgenstein's famous dictum, like philosophy it "leaves everything as it is" (Sharrock and Anderson 1991:62). Why, then, do I suppose that an EM account can make a contribution?

To be reminded of the interactional accomplishment of social facts, of how phenomena are constituted as what they observably are as social things, is to be brought back, perhaps for the first time, to just what it is to be engaged in an activity as a course of action with others. Wittgenstein is again illuminating beyond the ordinary. He writes, "That the world is, is the amazing thing." (10) To give this a specifically sociological translation we might say, "that the world is social is the amazing thing." The outcome of the insight is amazement. The result is awe. We are inclined, perhaps, to see this formulation as informed by Wittgenstein's religious sense, to see it as a noumenal utterance. But stay with it phenomenally here. What is its import? It means, I think, that when contemplating the fate of the university we should do so in a spirit or attitude of awe or amazement at what in the most mundane, everyday, prosaic way we produce together as the ordinary miracle of university education. Do not misunderstand me as making an elitist claim. I would say the same about tool-making, shot-making in basketball or changing diapers. Noumenon is incarnated in phenomenon (cf. Janik and Toulmin 1973:195). Whatever the resources at hand--the size and shape of the room, the disposition of the seats and desks, the temperature, noise level and lighting, the audio-visual media and lecterns, the time available, the physical abilities of those present, their ascribed and achieved characteristics, their knowledge and experience, the local history and geography of their institutional lives together, the subject to be taught and learned, the course and program organization, the events of the day and so on--through the complex logistics of concerted, settinged activities, for another first time, people together produce the beginning of another university class. What it is that makes of this class a class in a course in Global Studies (rather than Sociology or Chemistry) remains to be investigated. I have said nothing here about the subject character of the educational interaction considered in this paper, and that clearly is a vital component of my overall question. At this point I would say of such studies as the present one that they remind us of what it is we do together that makes of what we do university teaching and learning. When those of us, who wish to intervene in the conduct of university affairs in pursuit of whatever educational goals we have, do so intervene, we are well advised never for one moment to forget the mutually accomplished character of what we do in any actual case.


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PETER EGLIN Wilfrid Laurier University

Peter Eglin, Department of Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3C5. E-mail:

* Revised from paper originally presented at the International Institute of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis Conference, "International Perspectives," Bentley College, Waltham, MA, August 6-9, 2005.

(1) Garfinkel (2002), Ethnomethodology's Program, p. 119 (also p. 104), p. 93, p. 121 (also p. 114), p. 279, p. 218.

(2) Transcript symbols: the numbers in parentheses are pauses in tenths of seconds; = indicates "latching," that is rapid, gapless delivery of the latched words; the question mark (?) indicates question intonation; the square brackets contain the transcriber's observations. "P" stands for Professor.

(3) For the roots of this three-step model see Hester and Eglin (1997:14-15l, Schegloff (1992:xl-xli), and Sacks (1972).

(4) By "repairing the indexicality" is meant finding in the context of the use of these expressions just what they here and now mean. "Indexical" means context-dependent.

(5) "Speech exchange system," "pre-allocation of rights to speak," and "turn transition relevant places" are part of the technical vocabulary of conversation analysis, in use now for the last 40 years. Their definition and explication can be found in such textbooks as Schegloff (2007), Ten Have (2007), and Francis and Hester (2004). "Turn transition relevant places," for example, are those structurally-provided-for sequential locations where, for a given speech exchange system such as conversation, speaker change may properly occur.

(6.) But see Garfinkel (1967a:4-7); and also Garfinkel and Sacks (1970) for the "unsatisfied programmatic distinction between and substitutability of objective for indexical expressions."

(7.) For a thorough discussion of "category-constitutive," "category-bound (or tied)," and "category-generated" features or predicates of categories, see Jayyusi (1984:chapter 1; also Eglin and Hester 1992).

(8.) Just as the possible relevance here of the documentary method of interpretation was touched off by Doug Maynard's analysis of public defenders' use of defendant attributes in the course of plea bargaining (see Hester and Eglin 1992:220-22; Maynard 1984), so the possible relevance of "occasioned categories" was touched off by Ted Cuff's analysis of morally specified categories ("bad husband," "good wife") in his Problems of Versions in Everyday Situations (1994).

(9.) For another analysis of an announcement, see Eglin and Hester (2003:53-57).

(10.) I cannot now locate this particular translation, but see Wittgenstein (1974:6.44), Malcolm (1962:70), Janik and Toulmin (1973:194, citing Waissman), and Barrett (1979:57).
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