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THE NEW LANGUAGE OF QUALITATIVE METHOD, Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, 244 pp., $54 (cloth), $24 (paper)
Jay Gubrium and Jim Holstein have aimed high with this book. Since they encourage us, in part, to reflect on the literary tropes of sociology, let us note the echoes of such classics as The Language of Social Research (Lazarsfeld 1965) and The Rules of Sociological Method (Durkheim 1964). Paradoxically, however, the authors may just be too nice to write a great book: they obviously know what they personally are for and against, but they lay out an invitation to join a party that excludes no one by adopting a fuzzy platform. If this review concentrates on my dissatisfactions, however, it reflects the editor's brief to engage in a dialogue with the authors and to raise points for their response. Let me stress that this book is one of the most important position statements to come out of U.S. qualitative sociology in recent years. Any graduate student doing a qualitative dissertation ought to become familiar with it as a key expression of what Mick Bloor(1) christened "ethnomethodological ethnography."
The authors set out their objectives in the first chapter. They note the diversity of method talk in sociology, the difficulty we have as a discipline in reaching an agreed account of what we are all here fur, what we should be doing, how we should do it, and how we should evaluate what we have done. Within this Babel, however, they suggest that there is evidence of an emerging cluster of co-conversationalists who are producing a new account of qualitative method. The most important of these are naturalist ethnography (broadly, the heirs of the Chicago School), ethnomethodology, emotionalism (their generic label for people interested in the sociological study of emotion), and postmodernism, at least in its affirmative versions. Their book does not propose a synthesis of these various idioms but does argue that they revolve around a common core of methodological procedures. Some individual scholars may take more radical positions within each idiom, but Gubrium and Holstein are more concerned to address men and …