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Psychology and Formalisation

Phenomenology, Ethnomethodology and Statistics


Anita Williams

This book revisits psychology’s appropriation of natural scientific methods. The author argues that, in order to overcome ongoing methodological debates in psychology, it is necessary to confront the problem of formalisation contained in the appropriation of methods of natural science. By doing so, the subject matter of psychology – the human being – and questions about the meaning of human existence can be brought to the centre of the discipline. Drawing on Garfinkel, Sacks, Edwards and Potter, the author sees ethnomethodologically informed qualitative methods, which stem from phenomenology, as a possible alternative to statistical methods, but ultimately finds these methods to be just another method of formalisation.She returns to Husserlian phenomenology as a way to critique the centrality of method in psychology and shows that the adoption of natural scientific methods in psychology is part of the larger push to formalise and objectify all aspects of human existence.

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Chapter One: A Conversation Analytic Investigation of Therapy—Clinical Psychologists Use Members Methods to Present Their Interpretation as Objective


The purpose of the investigation presented in this chapter is to establish the interactional features that make clinical psychological talk both what it is and differentiate it from other forms of talk-in-interaction. Adopting ethnomethodology (EM) and conversation analysis (CA) means that a researcher must establish the context of any interaction as a relevant concern for the participants in that interaction. Assuming that a context—such as clinical psychological therapy—is relevant prior to investigating the talk-in-interaction that takes place in, for example therapy, is akin to bringing theoretical concepts to bear on the talk-in-interaction prior to analysis for conversation analysts. On the basis of my analyses presented in this chapter, I posit that there is an asymmetry between speakers’ rights and obligations in clinical psychological talk-in-interaction and this asymmetry demarcates therapeutic interaction from every day interaction.

The central argument of this chapter is that therapists break the conversational maxim to talk for oneself as their role requires them to talk about the client and not themselves. However, in order to achieve entitlement to talk about a client, therapists largely draw upon the same methods found in mundane conversations. In my analyses, I will show that therapists manage their right to talk on behalf of a client as well as pay attention to how therapists and clients collaboratively accomplish this task. From my analyses, I will argue that breaking the conversational maxim to talk for oneself is an organisational feature of therapeutic conversation. Furthermore, I draw the...

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