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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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This book only truly began when a close friend, Ľubica Učník, began asking simple questions: ‘what do you mean by…?’ in regards to basically all the technical jargon I had learned to handle, yet could not explain, over the years of doing ethnomethodology, conversation analysis and discursive psychology. It was then I started to see that ethnomethodology and phenomenology were not compatible approaches and phenomenology had far more to offer than just another research method. I appreciate, more than words can say, our many discussions about, as well as her perceptive criticisms of, my work.

For their time spent in furthering my understanding of Edmund Husserl, I would particularly like to thank Steve Schofield and Mark Brown. Mark also provided invaluable feedback on early versions of chapter 4.

Over the years spent researching and writing for the book, the people who have helped shape it through discussion and criticism are too many to name. I would like to especially thank Bonnie Barber, Peta Bowden, Don Bysouth, Ngaire Donaghue, Martyn Hammersley, Kalle Jarvinen, Craig McGarty, Alec McHoul, Dermot Moran, Reece Plunkett, and Mark Rapley. For her outstanding editorial skills, I thank Urszula Dawkins. My gratitude also goes to the philosophy students who regularly attend our reading group, I couldn’t think of a better place to discuss and clarify ideas, and the Social Psychology Reading in Group (SPRiG) for critical discussions of the literature and my early work. I apologise to those I...

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