Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 5, No. 1, 1991
Edited by Alec McHoul

The equivocal text and the objective world: an ethnomethodological analysis of a news report

Lena Jayyusi

Introduction: ethnomethodology

My purpose in this paper [1] is twofold. It is, first, to explicate a specific text (which initially troubled me as an ordinary reader) and analytically to uncover the ways that its reading is made possible, how its sense and intelligibility are generated, what that tells us about the properties of social praxis and about the details of the relationship between news texts and 'reality'. Second, it is to lay out the features of an ethnomethodological approach to the study of media texts; indeed of texts generally.

Ethnomethodology 2 is concerned with the study of the logic and organisation of cultural practices within their naturally occurring settings and circumstances - put another way, it seeks to understand the logic of practical actions and practical reasoning within the social world. 3 One way of describing a fundamental feature of the ethnomethodological analytic, therefore, is that it is concerned with the logic and organisation of intelligibility in practical life. The ethnomethodological approach to the study of mass media can be located under this rubric. It focuses on the explication of intelligibility in a media text, where 'intelligibility' is seen as both a feature and an outcome of a set of practices inscribed and evident in, and relied upon, by the text. The textual analysis that is involved is produced as part and parcel of the analysis of cultural and communicative practices more generally. The specific media text under scrutiny is not treated as one whose mode of intelligibility is unique to it and discreet from the logic and organisation of other (discursive or non-discursive) social practices but is rather seen as constituted from within the 'natural' organisation of practical life.

For the ethnomethodologist, the media text is a locus of a set of practices and understandings that are features of the routine organisation of social life, so that when we explicate a media text, we are explicating, in part, the intelligibility and organisation of a set of practical activities, co-located and inscribed in specific ways within a particular text. The intelligibility of the text partakes of the logic and intelligibility of an array of other practical activities. The analysis of a media text can thus investigatively draw on and illuminate a wide range of social organisational concerns, activities, domains of knowledge and communicative practices. It might involve, for example, the exploration of such matters as: the organisation of narrative coherence, implicative logic, persuasive strategies, the organisation of sighted practices, the warrantability of claims, characterological inferences, the social distribution of rights and obligations, the way verdicts are arrived at in murder cases, the weighing of conflicting testimony, the citation of evidence, the prediction of outcomes, procedures for ascribing actions, the scenic organisation of activities, methods for the construction of facticity, and so on. In the process there will be substantive matters that can become of interest and whose intersubjectively known properties may also become relevant for the analysis: the organisation of state institutions, the professions, marital discord, family bonding, ethnicity and discrimination, blindness, religious disputes, and so forth. In varying levels of abstraction, the knowledge and organisation of such diverse matters in practical social life may become a topic or resource in the explication of the intelligibility of a media text.

The point being emphasised here is that when we treat a media text analytically, we are looking at a text produced for practical purposes, pertaining to practical matters of interest or relevance, and interfacing with an array of other courses of practical activity. By 'practical' here I mean that it is deploying and interlocking with various other practices in the conduct of social life. The text, then, is made intelligible, accountable, and readable, by a variety of social practices. And it is the way that a specific set of such practices are co-located within that text and inscribed into it that provides the text, and the genre within which it falls, its particular character. The particularity of a media text, and of a media genre, is not then an absolute one. It is not one that sets it apart from other everyday social practices, but one given by the particular way in which it is a part of routine social practices, and by which it partakes of them.

In analysing and explicating a media text ethnomethodologically, one will be engaged in various orders of analysis at one and the same time: one will ask what sorts of cultural practices, what properties of the social world, and what kinds of socially available knowledge make this text intelligible and readable in the way that it is? How are these different properties of the social world organised within the text to constitute its local intelligibility and its character? What does this further tell us about the socio-logic of the practices of which the text is a constituent feature, and of the practices that are a constituent feature of the text? One will also be engaged, clearly, in asking how 'reality' is constructed within the text. Specifically, for a news or documentary text, one would investigate how it is that the text provides for its 'objective' character, by which it is encountered as an 'objective account of actual reality' rather than as just some subjective version of reality. How is that reality constructed within this text and with what practical import?

The constitution of an objective reality lies at the heart of mundane social praxis - both as premise and outcome. From within the natural attitude, 4 news reports (and various other documentary texts) are taken to stand in a particular relation of correspondence to an external reality that is independent of them: they either reflect it, report on it, relay it correctly, or they misrepresent it. In that respect, and from within the natural attitude, the 'objective world' as premise is marked and attended to routinely, and can provide an array of possible empirical and moral problematics for the ordinary person: the mundane actor/reasoner. 5 It is the objective world as 'outcome' of these and other practices that is the focus of the social constructionist turn in contemporary inquiry, and of the analytic scrutiny that arises from it. 6 For the ethnomethodological analyst, the news report is interesting for the ways that the premise (and premised properties) of an objective world is reflexively tied to its intersubjective constitution. In other words, the ethnomethodologist, seeking the explication of mundane social order, preserves within view the properties of the objective world as they are and in the way that they are encountered by the mundane actor/reasoner. The ethnomethodologist locates these as features of practices through which the 'objective world' is constituted so that the news report, or media text, is the nexus of both objectivity-as-premise and objectivity-as-outcome of social praxis. It is partly an interest in just these sorts of issues that animates the analysis of the news report which follows.

Before turning to the actual report and its explication, some further remarks concerning the character of the ethnomethodological analysis are pertinent. There are, of course, many other modes of and approaches to textual analysis, (and specifically media analysis) some of which, like the ethnomethodological approach, explicate a text in the context of wider cultural practices, codes or discourses. 7 What in particular characterises the ethnomethodological analysis, as should become clear, is the following: 8 it consists of a very close textual explication, where what is topicalised is the mundane knowledge and the properties of the relevant social practices that are constitutive of the text and its possible readings. Its object or point then, in the last instance, is not the reading of a specific text (unlike traditional literary criticism) but the readabilities of that text, and the social practices, the resources, that ground them: the conventionally available options for reading that are given in the specific contexture of practices which underpin and constitute the specificities of the text, and which the text reflexively reproduces. By contrast with a structuralist analysis, what emerges here is a praxiological one where the pragmatics of textual discourse are located within and as an outcome of a weave of other mundane social practices, including those of 'reading'. Thus, the analysis is not fundamentally an analysis of only or narrowly textual practices per se although these form a part of it. At the same time, the ethnomethodological exploration of various social practices is not addressed to a wider 'social context' treated as extrinsic to the text, linked to it in some explanatory mode. Rather these practices are first of a mundane order and second, they are treated as intrinsic to the text's intelligibility (and not merely to its point or significance). In this way the analysis becomes an investigation of mundane social 'order', and the properties of mundane knowledge and intelligibility.

An initial consideration of the data

The text I shall address is a written news account about Argentina that appeared in 1986 in one of the major U.S. daily papers: 9

Seizure of Leftist Guerrilla Chief in Argentina Remains a Mystery Amid Wave of Kidnappings and Murder.

Buenos Aires, Jan. 9 - Two weeks after the seizure by armed men of Roberto Quieto, a leftist Peronist guerrilla leader, his whereabouts and the identity of his captors remain a mystery.

Subway stations and vacant walls are covered with slogans from the outlawed Peronist guerrilla organisation called the Montoneros saying "We want Quieto to appear". European Marxists such as Francois Mitterand, the French Socialist Party Leader, have sent messages on Mr. Quieto's behalf to President Isabel Martinez de Peron.

The armed forces and the Federal Police are conducting an intensive campaign of arrests and investigations of suspected leftist subversives but spokesmen say that they know nothing about Mr. Quieto's seizure.

Armed men, usually identifying themselves as policemen, have been seizing leftist politicians, union activists, lawyers, doctors, students and teachers almost daily. In many cases, the bodies of the kidnapped persons are later found riddled with bullets. 10

One of the salient features of media texts is that they are addressed, not to a specific person or sets of persons with known properties, relevances and beliefs, but rather to a 'public at large' which could include a general distribution of professional affiliations, political and religious beliefs, skills and 'knowledge' of substantive matters, interests, and experiences. The text cannot necessarily be treated as one that is finely recipient-designed 11 , as might a letter to a particular person, or a description produced by a patient in a medical encounter, or the answers of an applicant in the context of a job interview, to mention a few examples. Rather, it is more often addressed to a general readership, and recipient design cannot be assumed, although it might be evidenced as an organisation by which the text can be seen to be addressed to a particular community: Republicans, blacks, sports fans, etc. Even then, however, the text is addressing itself to a 'public at large', for no community is assumed to be constituted of identical individuals with exactly prefigured relevances, beliefs and interests. Furthermore, those texts are still available to a wider readership whose response could, in principle, be consequential.

A second salient feature of media texts is that they are not dialogic: responses, problems, corrections, clarifications cannot be produced spatio-temporally to coincide with the text or with each other as in an ordinary conversation. One cannot instantly produce explanations, reformulations, further arguments, backdowns, 'face-savers', more evidence, or the like, in the face of queries, challenges or disagreements as one can in a two-way conversation. The text-as-given can be treated as self-contained, as all that its producer has to say on this subject here. Given the 'public' character of texts, this can turn out to be very consequential.

Thirdly, it is a routine expectation that, at least for some of the issues that any particular text has to deal with, readers have independent or alternative access. The fundamental presumption that underlies routine social practices, of which the production of a news text is an instance, is that there is an independent and objective known-in-common and knowable social world 'out there'. This presumption irremediably underlies all communicative praxis. It is an intrinsic and foundational feature of the 'natural attitude'. The text then has to be seen as genuinely being about an objective world, as a proper rendition of real persons, events and actions, not a subjective one. Yet the reality-as-made-available by the text is constructed in and through it.

Given the above features, the management of potentially perceivable seams within the news account - and of potential prospective challenges, queries, and contests, and the orientation to a discriminable objective reality that is merely reproduced within the text - can be expected to be an intrinsic feature of textual organisation and textual practice.

An initial consideration of the present segment seems to deliver two understandings at the same time. On the one hand, that the circumstances surrounding RQ's disappearance "remain a mystery", that the security forces say they know nothing of them and that various people presenting themselves as policemen have frequently engaged in similar actions. The gist of the headline and the conclusion of the first paragraph: that these circumstances "remain a mystery", seem to ratify the claim of the security forces - at least on first reading. On the other hand and at the same time, the text yields a reading that the 'facts' may point to something else - to the possible complicity of the security forces. At first glance, at least to this analyst, there appears to be a disjuncture between what the account seems to be saying-in-so-many-words, and what it seems to be telling-of-despite-itself. To this extent then a sense of documentary reality is preserved and projected, even if this reality is not encountered as having been fully or properly recovered by the text. Yet it is the account's organisation and selection of particulars that makes these 'facts' and this 'reality' available in the way that they are. And further, that being the case, one can find no warrant from the standpoint of the analyst (or of the ordinary reader) for deciding whether the text intendedly constituted these as simultaneous readings or not. What one can warrantably say about this text, therefore, is simply that its properties and organisation provide for an equivocal reading. How is this produced?

We will attend to two analytic issues for our explication. The first concerns the properties and organisation of membership categorisation devices 12 as they pertain to this text. The second is the issue of the relationship between 'knowledge' and 'responsibility'. Briefly, and to take the second issue first, the social distribution of 'knowledge' 13 seems to be co-located with the social distribution of 'responsibility'. This seems to operate conventionally in two ways. Firstly, different people, in specific ways, are seen as required to 'know' certain things, and if not, then it is their responsibility to find out: to get to know. Spouses, for example, are required to know about each other's needs and circumstances - and where that knowledge is not available to them through the routine course of daily life and interaction, then they are responsible to make it their business to know. Doctors are required to keep abreast of developments within their field, and also to endeavour genuinely to find out what ails a patient - not to be content simply with alleviating his pain. The examples ramify. One can see here, too, that the social distribution of knowledge and responsibility map on to different membership categories.

The other sense in which knowledge and responsibility are co-located is in that knowledge is seen as 'carrying its responsibilities'. Indeed this is an oft used maxim of everyday reasoning and interaction. Certain things, if known, place a person under a certain obligation to act in specific ways. If you know someone will be killed crossing a certain bridge at a certain time, then you are under a moral (and in our society possibly legal) obligation to warn them. 14

We can turn now to the notion of membership categorisation devices (MCDs). Categories organise our knowledge of the world, both social and natural. Membership categorisations organise our knowledge about and descriptions of persons in the world - they are collections of membership categories that 'go together'. 'Doctor', 'engineer', 'teacher', for example, are categories that belong in the device 'professions'. Sacks points out that some devices are duplicatively organised. This means that the categories that belong together in such a device are not equivalent or interchangeable, but rather they exhibit the character of team organisation. The different categories have a relationship to each other and can be seen to work together. 'Family' is such a device, comprising 'mother', 'father', and 'children'. A further and very important concept that Sacks developed with respect to categories is that of category-bound activities. Certain activities are conventionally seen to go with certain membership categories. 'Babies', for example, 'cry'. If an individual who is not a member of a category group is seen to engage in an activity that is bound to that category, then he may be seen to be 'borrowing' the properties of that category and becomes describable in terms of it. Thus, an older child who cries may, in some circumstances, be called 'a baby'. The notion of category-boundedness is, of course, not confined to actions but subsumes rights, obligations, knowledge, expectations, and various other features of the social world. Extending the logic of the notion of category-bound activities, we will see that with category-bound prerogatives (or category-exclusive features), if a person who does not belong in that category group is seen as 'borrowing' them, that can be treated as a 'violation'. With these initial considerations in mind, we are now ready to turn to the detailed explication of our news segment.

To know or not to know

The first paragraph of the report tells a brief story. This is narratologically complete, although the story it tells of is far from resolved. It leaves us with a set of questions and problems that are, in fact, the 'hub' of the report-story. Part of the 'story' of the report is that there is a real-world story 'out there' that is yet to be told or completed. The report-story is complete, and it turns on the fact that the 'real-world story' is yet to be uncovered in all its relevant details: Roberto Quieto was seized two weeks ago by armed men, but his whereabouts (therefore his ultimate 'fate') and the identity of the men who seized him (therefore the precise motive, and the issue of who is to be held responsible for the action, and its eventual outcome) are still undetermined. In fact, they are a "mystery". There are two stories then laminated together within the report: the story of what happened to Roberto Quieto (henceforth 'RQ'), and the story of the 'problem' surrounding the trajectory of this politically and morally significant event - that its precise nature and outcome is yet 'unknown'. Given the nature of this report, and its story-within-a-story, a set of questions become immediately relevant: who did it and/or why? What happened to RQ? These questions are, of course, already inscribed within the report. But there is another set of questions that are not so inscribed, but nevertheless might routinely arise as relevant next questions. Given that it is two weeks since the event, and the first set of questions are still unanswered, are a "mystery", how come that is the case? What have the authorities been doing and/or what are they doing now about it?

The report provides for the fact that the full trajectory of the events surrounding RQ's disappearance is unknown. But it does so in terms of a categorical conclusion that suggests a total lack of indicators as to what the answers might turn out to be. We are told, not that no-one yet knows RQ's whereabouts, or the identity of his captors; not that 'it is unclear yet', but that it "remains a mystery". This suggests that there is no more knowledge about these matters than there was at the inception of the story, and furthermore, that there are no significant pointers as to what the answers might look like. A "mystery" is just that - a puzzle out of whose particulars one has been unable to construct an open inferential track, a site where no 'clue' can be linked decisively with interpretive procedures that can solve it but where, instead, every 'clue' seems to turn back upon itself. It is a closed maze where speculation or query, every track, ends up in a blank or returns to itself for lack of any 'strong indicators' that point continuously in one direction or another, and so can become devices for 'gathering' further clues or items of 'evidence'. 15 So what the report is explicitly providing, as a summation for its own story, is that there is nothing to indicate what the answers look like - that there are simply no candidate solutions to the 'puzzle'. This then is the substance of the report's claim, of its own story-about-a-story.

But there is another property to the description of the status of the story-within-the-story, as a "mystery". This is that the implicit 'point-of-view' from which this description, or summation, has been articulated is not clear. For 'whom' is this a "mystery"? Clearly there are a number of significant persons for whom these matters are no mystery; namely the captors themselves, and further, perhaps, other persons or institutions that may be connected with them, albeit not directly involved in the action. Certainly the 'captors' know the full set of circumstances, and there may be others who might not know for sure, but who might not be completely in the dark. The equivocality does not lie here, however. It lies, rather, in relationship to that other category which is relevant for a story such as this: the authorities (however that might be refined, broken down or articulated in practice). Clearly, since this is a news report, a text directed to the public at large, these matters are being constituted reflexively as a "mystery" for the public at large. But are they also a "mystery" to the relevant authorities - those collectivities who, for this kind of circumstance, cannot be constituted as part of the 'public at large'? Such matters as are the subject of this report are practically and normatively constituted as matters for the authorities to deal with, as part of the routine discharge of their category-bound functions and responsibilities. Accordingly, the obligations, functions and resources of this social-structural/collectivity category (whether one orients to 'authorities', 'state', 'police', 'security forces', etc.), become relevant here and warrantably operative in projecting, assessing and formulating questions and problems about the story-as-told.

The significant point here is that questions of accountability can conventionally be generated around this report, accountability addressed to the relevant 'authorities'. And so, if we are to read the report as telling us that the "mystery" pertains also to the relevant authorities, then the question of their accountability for this state of affairs becomes relevant, and may be formulated around any of the features bound to that category. For example, was it negligence, incompetence, lack of resources, or perhaps genuine objective difficulties that would account for the affair's still being a "mystery"? If, on the other hand, the affair is only a "mystery" to the public at large, but not totally so for the police, then this is itself still an accountable matter. If the authorities have some 'clues', and are being 'tight-lipped', then that is something that is newsworthy in itself. I am suggesting that this is the case because 'knowledge' and its distribution is conventionally seen as co-located, in various ways, with the distribution of responsibility.

To begin with, if there is 'knowledge' on the part of the authorities, then the relevant next question would be: "What are they doing about it?" If they are doing nothing, then they may be seen to be complicit in some way. If they are to be seen as not being completely in the dark (and thus not subject to accountability for ineffectiveness, negligence, bad organisation, etc.) but at the same time as not being fully in the know and thus as not accountable for their response, or lack of it (a circumstance which could leave them open to the charge of complicity) then their modality of knowing, and their procedures become tellable and relevant. Note that within this report there are potentially three different 'points of view' or communities that could be constructed with regard to the issue of the knowledge of the whereabouts of RQ and the identity of his captors - the captors themselves (to whom 'full' knowledge is logically attributable or presumable), the public-at-large (constituted as having no knowledge whatsoever) and the 'authorities' - a category, so far, not used but programmatically relevant - who cannot be seen or presumed, unaccountably, to fall within either of the other two 'knowledge communities'. 16 Thus, given the headlines' formulation of the 'story' and given the way the opening 'story' of the report is constructed, a relevant next issue would concern the role of the authorities, and would expectably orient to it, and to the question as to why, or how, two weeks after the disappearance, there remains a "mystery".

The character of the succeeding paragraph further provides for the relevance of official response to the disappearance. We are told that many of the city's subway stations and walls are covered with slogans calling for Quieto's reappearance. More significantly, it becomes clear that his seizure has become an international issue, with European political leaders, one of whom is specifically named, contacting the Argentinian head of state on Quieto's behalf. In other words, official response (inquiry, action etc.) with respect to the disappearance is provided for, by the report, as having become a matter of public concern and attention. Thus its constitution by the report as a publicly accountable matter in the real world reflexively generates within the report the relevance of an accounting.

What we get in the next paragraph is, at best, a curious way of attending to this matter. We are told that both the armed forces and the police are conducting an "intensive campaign of arrests and investigations", not of persons deemed connected with, or suspected in, RQ's disappearance, but instead, of "suspected leftist subversives". This is a category that can be heard to include, in its rubric, the particular membership category with which RQ himself has been identified earlier: "leftist Peronist guerrilla leader". In other words, "suspected leftist subversives" can intelligibly work here as a device category which includes in its collection, "leftist Peronist guerrilla leader[s]", and can therefore be mapped on to the actual practical identity of the missing person.

Furthermore, the activities of the armed forces and the Federal police, described as "arrests", can be seen to belong to the same 'genus' or kind as the action of "seizure" by one specific set of criteria or features. Both provide that the recipient of the activity is removed from his normal or routine environment and, in the course of that, deprived of the exercise of sovereignty over his own circumstances. In terms of the outcome for the recipient then, the actions of the "armed men" in "seizing" RQ and the actions of the armed forces and Federal police in arresting leftist subversives may be seen to be of the same kind. In other words, the army and police may be seen to be engaged in the same kind of activity as that which prompted the news report in the first place. Or are they? We shall come back to this point presently.

Now, given that the device category "leftist subversives" can be seen to include, within its set, the categorisation "leftist Peronist guerrilla leader", its use in this context does not accord with what we would routinely expect to hear at this juncture, namely the investigation into the disappearance of RQ. It is at this point that, therefore, one retrospectively reconstitutes or 'reads' the activity description "campaign of arrests" in paragraph three as mapping on to the activity description in paragraph one. 17 This re-reading can be seen as operating a principle of consistency. 18 Furthermore, by the same principle, we now have the categories "armed forces and Federal police" standing, within the text, in a potentially inclusive relationship to the categorisation "armed men". Both the armed forces and the police can, in principle, be treated as real worldly collectivities that include, within their ranks, "armed men". Therefore, although conventionally we do not routinely talk of or describe individuals within these collectivities as "armed men", but rather as 'soldiers', 'cops', 'marksmen', etc., these can, nevertheless, correctly be described as "armed men" in a strictly logical sense. More often than not, however, even where strictly correct, this description is not usedand indeed is inappropriate. We shall return to this presently. 19 But here, it is in the text's organisation, and by virtue of the provision of a membership categorisation device ("leftist subversives" which hereably includes "leftist Peronist guerrilla leader") that now, retrospectively, "armed men" may be hearable as drawn from the armed forces and/or Federal police.

The final item of this paragraph visibly orients to this connection, and orients to it not simply as a textual connection, but as potentially a commonsensically available real-worldly connection. Indeed, in the real world, (in most countries and at least in Argentina) the army and police have arms. We have a disclaimer of knowledge regarding RQ's seizure, set up by way of a hearable contrast: "but spokesmen say they know nothing...". "Know nothing" can work on two levels. On the first level it would seem to indicate that they had nothing to do with the incident, and the disclaimer is hearable as a disclaimer of responsibility for the action. The contrast structure strongly provides for this hearing, coming as it does following the point at which the activity attributed to the army and police can be hearable as mapping on to that attributable to the "armed men" in the first paragraph. The second level on which this can work is to provide for the fact that the army and police (the 'authorities' in this case) simply have no knowledge at all of the circumstances at issue. The official avowal that they, army and police, "know nothing" in this sense, constitutes them as falling within the knowledge community of the 'public at large'; in other words that community for whom this affair "remains a mystery". But this is, of course, an accountable matter, for it is their business to 'find out' and 'investigate' such matters. Yet we are not told of any effort towards that end, only of investigations of "suspected leftist subversives". Here then we have a "noticeable absence" 20 of a significant and relevant activity, one that is category-bound to the collectivity categories "armed forces" and "police". In simply "know[ing] nothing", then, they may be held as at least accountable for indifference, negligence, incompetence, etc., especially given the kinds of activities they have been engaged in. We now come full circle - the text so far provides us with two options for constituting official knowledge of RQ's circumstances; either one that maps on to the knowledge community of 'public at large' for whom there is putatively only total "mystery", or one that maps on to that of the captors, an option strongly generated, paradoxically, by the disclaimer, which orients to a seeable connection between "armed forces and Federal police" on the one hand and "armed men" on the other, and in so doing, reflexively constitutes it, within the text, as a real option.

Here the organisational equivocality of the text surfaces: we have, as readers, been provided with the alternative that the "armed men" who seized RQ were members of the armed forces and/or police, an alternative denied by official spokesmen. Or we have the alternative that the authorities "know nothing" of the seizure (and therefore are not responsible for it). But it is here that the equivocality begins to operate - it is not simply that we have two mutually exclusive options given us within the text without a determinate way of resolving the choice. Rather, in the exclusion of the third option, the one normatively bound to the collectivity categories used here and which is made relevant by the circumstances reported on, the second alternative, that they know nothing, becomes accountable - it becomes suspect. And in this, it undermines itself as an 'innocent' option, one to be taken at 'face value'. This option then may be read as pointing back to the first one wherein culpability is more strongly and clearly provided for. Had the text read: 'have not been able to find anyhing out' or 'have no leads', it would have provided for a sense of appropriate procedure, proper involvement. The equivocality here is present as a reading by which two textually available mutually exclusive options are provided for in the same textual structure, and provide for each other, or lead from one to the other and vice versa. Whether one or the other option is weighted more or given greater credence by a reader, might depend on what extratextual 'knowledge' or 'belief' that reader might bring with her; knowledge or belief regarding the particular country and its institutions (the state; the security forces; etc.) for example. Given alternative beliefs or items of information that different readers might bring with them to the reading of this text, we can see how it is possible to read the text differently, to resolve the equivocality differently, yet still be giving a reading grounded in the organisation of the text itself, and presumptively addressing itself to 'real-worldly' issues.

Institution and individual: categorisational contrasts

If we look at paragraph four, we find that we are given a further news item, an item whose organisation goes some way, I suggest, to resolve the equivocality on one level and leave it intact or deepen it on another. We are told that: "Armed men, usually identifying themselves as policemen, have been seizing leftist politicians, union activists, lawyers, doctors, students and teachers almost daily". We now have a description that casts the action that prompted the report as part of a pattern of similar actions, in which a number of other persons have been victims. Both in terms of the description provided for the agents, for the recipients and for the character of the actions themselves, this paragraph maps on to the 'story-within-the-story' told in paragraph one and contrasts with the description given in paragraph three. Let us see how this works.

First, the description of the agents is given as: "armed men, usually identifying themselves as policemen". This description potentially sets up an equivocality of its own: on the one hand their self-identification may be oriented to seriously and accepted - why would anyone deny warrant for that self-avowal? On the other hand, this description provides for two things: first that these men are not in uniform, and do not carry any recognisable official insignia or identifiers to provide for their claimed identity. Given the absence of official identifying insignia, then, the question as to whether they are really policemen might warrantably arise. Mere self-avowal in this context might not be deemed enough, indeed may be deemed as possibly 'suspect', given the significance and consequentiality of the activities engaged in. Furthermore, in saying "identifying themselves as policemen", the account visibly withholds from describing them as policemen. In other words, it does not provide for a ratification of their identity avowal. The account might have said: 'recognised as policeman', 'identified as policemen', 'pretending to be policemen', 'masquerading as policemen', or any number of similar things, in which case a categorial identification of the agents would have been provided by the account - an identification that presupposes some third party ratification of the identity. Or the account might simply have said: 'armed men, mostly policemen...' which would have affiliated this news item to the item in paragraph three, instead of affiliating it more strongly to the item in paragraph one. The equivocality lies in this: the description "identifying themselves as policemen" is, in one aspect, a report of a self-identification, given in paraphrase, that simply presents the way these men identified themselves. The account maintains, at this point, a 'neutrality' as to the way they may be thought of as being properly describable, neither endorsing, presuming or countering the self-identification. And this can stand in implicit contrast to the unqualified use of the category 'policemen'. Thus the fundamental equivocality that remains here, and it is perceivable as both a textual equivocality and a practical real-worldly one, is whether the armed forces and the Federal police are complicit in these disappearances or not. Are they the perpetrators of these actions, do they bear some responsibility for them or do they have nothing to do with them?

If we further look at the rest of the items in paragraph four, we can begin to get a sense of a very strong contrast with the description provided in paragraph three, and can begin to answer the question which we posed at the beginning: are the activities described as engaged in by the armed forces and the Federal police really to be seen as the same kind of activity being engaged in by the "armed men"? If we look closely at the kinds of categories and categorisations used, of agents/persons, activities and action recipients, we will see the contrast working throughout, and it is a very significant contrast that 'proposes' (can provide a resource for) a particular resolution to the equivocality encountered in this text. Firstly, as we have already had occasion to mention, "armed forces and Federal police" can, in strictly logical terms, work as a duplicatively organised membership categorisation device which includes armed men (classically 'men at arms') as well as technical, support and clerical personnel. Therefore, in principle, "armed men", could be used as a description of members of the armed forces and police, and certainly, in real-worldly terms, one would orient, in a variety of ways, to individual members of the armed forces and police being "armed". Yet, as indicated above, "armed men" operates contrastively with both 'soldiers and policemen' as well as with 'armed forces and police', and the latter is not routinely hearable as a device category with respect to the former. The latter two categories are collectivity and institutional (social structural) categories, while the former is not. For the latter categories, therefore, the 'arms' are a feature of an 'institutional' framework that is a legally sanctioned, organisation of tasks and relevances with 'public' purposes and a centralised legally sanctioned 'public' authority, (whether or not one endows that public legally sanctioned authority and purpose with moral legitimacy). Herein lies the significant contrast. Whether the two kinds of categories are to be read as generative of each other in the manner of device to category, or as contrastive, may depend on other textual and/or circumstantial features.

The text provides us with some. The armed forces and the police are described as "conducting an intensive campaign of arrests and investigations". This stands in marked contrast with "seizing", "seizures", (later "kidnapping") - the one is an institutionally generated, legally sanctioned activity, bound to the very organisation of these collectivity categories. In Sacks' terms, it is a category-bound activity, and it is an activity these collectivities are almost exclusively empowered to engage in. 21 "Seizing", on the other hand, does not carry with it, as do "arrest and investigation", a legally sanctioned sense, nor, correspondingly, the implicit ascription to the recipient of a potential law-breaking, even criminal status. It does not carry an implicit 'charge' with it. So although, in principle, "seizing" someone can be predicated of the police, and that on the basis of some presumed 'guilt' of the recipient, it does not conventionally carry the sense of legal sanction with it, and is therefore used more often in contexts where "seizure" is not perceived to be 'lawful'. Indeed we come across the notion of 'lawful seizure' for that very reason, but do not usually speak of 'legal arrest'. 22 And, of course, 'arrest' could be done on the basis of flimsy and fabricated charges, but the category maintains and involves the sense of procedure. Thus, when "seize" is predicated of "armed men" and "arrest and investigation" is predicated of "armed forces and Federal police", it ramifies the differing features projected and widens the perceivable contrast between the one set of episodes and the other. In one instance we have an account of institutionally established lawful procedure engaged in by a publicly organised, legally authorised collectivity. And in the other instance we have an account of activities that provide for the use of force and constraint against others by a collection of "armed men", where the description "armed" provides clearly for a context of force and constraint. Since the categorisation "armed men" does not provide for a legal and institutional framework for the use of 'arms', the agent description and the activity category are co-selected, or co-located to project the 'force' and 'constraint' involved in the "seizure" as lacking known or perceivable institutional grounds, and therefore as potentially criminal. If these men are perceivable as self-organising in this activity, rather than publicly empowered and legally authorised, then, by virtue of the fact that the sanctioned use of force is a category-bound activity, indeed, in this society, a category-exclusive one, they may be perceivable as operating outside the law.

The set of contrasts does not end here: we have the contrast in the terms by which the recipients of these activities are described. On the one hand we have the description of those 'arrested' as being "suspected leftist subversives" - the police properly arrest 'suspects' and not just persons at large among the general population, and "subversives" carries with it the implication of potentially hostile, conspiratorial, even 'unlawful' activity. 'Subversion' could cover potentially or actually 'illegal' activity, although it does not have to. But this is appropriately provided for in the elaboration: "arrest and investigation" (my italics) - in other words there are no summary verdicts or sentences being meted out, but rather an orderly procedural attempt to find out if there is warrant for further action against these individuals. On the other hand, what we get in paragraph four is a description of the recipients of the reported activity by the "armed men" as: "leftist politicians, union activists, lawyers, doctors, students and teachers". This is a professional cross-section of the population. The categories used are not ones to which the notion "leftist" (nor for that matter "subversive") is endogenous. Rather, that description is hearably exogenous to them. Thus, given the nature of these categories, it would need to be provided explicitly, as it is here (and even then, it is hearable simply as a property of political opinion or belief). "Leftist politicians" are politicians who lean to the left, not prima facie, leftist "subversives", 'conspirators' or the like. Furthermore, these professional categories are ones which can routinely be taken to include women in their ranks - indeed the categories "students" and "teachers" provide for a population where the general distribution of gender and age can be taken to be operative - so that what is being described here is a cross-section of the general population.

Thus we have a provision in one case for the recipients of the named activity as being legitimate recipients of that activity - the warrant for the "arrest and investigation" is, after all, provided within the categorisation "suspected leftist subversives". It is in this categorisation that warrant is provided for the activity, an activity which is precisely organised to answer to such warrant, and which reflexively, therefore, constitutes its recipients in such manner. Again, what we have here is a co-selection of activity and recipient, so that there is a perceivable 'fit' between the two. Both can be seen to be intrinsically organised around each other, and each provides for the relevance of the other. This is a feature of our mundane social structural and categorial knowledge of the world. In the other case, we have a "seizing" of people who come from a wide cross-section of the general population, described in terms that provide no legally constituted warrant for that activity, an activity that does not, in itself, as described, provide for a collective or institutional framework endowing it with a putative legal sanction. The lack of provision for lawfully constituted sanction can be oriented to as an operative absense of 'legitimacy' - therefore as potential illegality. Where some activity can be oriented to as category-exclusive (here the initiation of force or constraint against other persons), then when someone who does not belong to that category group is seen to engage in it, that could be treated as a 'violation'. Furthermore, we are told that the ultimate 'outcome' of those activities are "bodies of kidnapped persons", 23 "riddled with bullets". Here we have the ultimate consequence: death by shooting, constituting the actions the "armed men" are engaged in to be actions that lead, at least in some cases, to "murder". Clearly, this is in marked contrast with the sense of 'due process' provided for by the description in paragraph three, where we do not have anything like, for example: 'the bodies of persons arrested are later found with signs of torture'. Rather the description "conducting an intensive campaign of arrests and investigations" could properly be read as providing for a series of arrests leading to investigations which lead to arrests (commonsensically arrests are followed by investigations, and investigations routinely lead to arrests). In a sense, therefore, this is all the 'outcome' provided for, and again, it is an outcome that constitutes itself as a feature of due process. The latter description then provides both for the action, its relevance, and its outcome all at once, where the activity descriptors "arrest" and "investigations" can be seen to be mutually upholding and sustaining each other. Each provides reflexively for the other.

In sum, what emerges is a distinctly different set of episodes and activities being provided for and projected in the different news items of this report. We have two different kinds of description given that are contrastively organised along a range of different features: agents, activity types and recipients. These contrasts strongly provide for a reading of an absence of direct involvement by the armed forces and police in the various disappearances, including, therefore, in the disappearance of RQ that was the subject of the report in the first place.

Textual equivocality and the intractability of the objective world

But our account does not end here. The report, in its detail, has as a first step (paragraphs 1 & 2) told us a story-about-a-story that is perceivable conventionally as an 'issue' or 'concern' or 'problem' that calls for an accounting. Then, instead of the routine accounting of what the authorities are doing with regard to this problem, we are provided with a further news item that makes room for an equivocal reading and could, in principle, subvert the original point of the report's story: that there is a "mystery". At this point, the equivocality is not resolvable out of the particulars of the text itself. Finally, the equivocality is textually undermined by a contrastively organised description of a further news item, in favor of seeing these as discrete and separable events carried out by separable groups. At this point, then, the overall reading of the text returns us to the story-about-the-story (that RQ's whereabouts and the identity of his captors remain a mystery) which works as the rubric under which the report was produced and is to be heard, a rubric already provided in the headline. And, on one level, it upholds it. For the only 'lead' provided by the text as to the possible identity of the "armed men" is subverted, and the summation that the circumstances of RQ's disappearance "remain a mystery" can retrospectively be seen as a proper description for the way things stand.

Yet, there are features of the descriptions and of the text's organisation that stubbornly remain to counteract this reading and reconstitute the sense of equivocality. If we are to take "mystery" in the sense originally understood, indicating no leads as to who the captors are and where RQ is, and reflexively affirming that the armed forces and police have no connection with this matter, then the text's silence regarding an irremediably relevant normative expectation resurfaces here as a problem, to undermine, in its own turn, this latter reading. This is the issue of category-tied responsibility - the police and other members of the security forces have a category-bound obligation to 'find out', they are required to 'acquire appropriate knowledge' in such circumstances, as a prelude and pre-requisite for appropriate action. Indeed, their performance in such a regard is taken to be morally significant, even at times constitutive of proper functioning. Where this is seen to be absent or lacking, then, a 'problem' of morally and politically serious dimension can get generated. Where the discharge of obligation to acquire appropriate knowledge regarding a matter within the proper domain of police activity, (especially if "kidnapping" or "murder" are perceived to be at issue) is noticeably absent, moral complicity becomes an intelligible charge or perception. And once 'moral complicity' becomes an issue, then the matter of 'practical complicity' can be seen to be in need of resolution, and indeed may, in certain contexts, be perceived as practically indeterminate. I suggest that the textual silence on this matter, given the perceivable 'co-incidence' of the activities of the security forces and of the "armed men", 24 raises the issue of police responsibility and culpability, and therefore reconstitutes the sense of equivocality as to their involvement. And it can now be seen to retrospectively undermine or modify the summation of "mystery", so that a reader might leave the text with a reading that "mystery" is a way of summing up the equivocality: were the police and armed forces, or were they not, involved in the seizure of RQ.

Furthermore, despite the contrastive organisation of the different news items given in the report, which would provide for a reading of difference and separability between the two sets of episodes, there is a feature of these different categories and categorisations used that remains intractably present. The relationship of logical inclusion between "armed forces and police" and "armed men", and the logical collectability of "leftist Peronist guerrilla leader", "leftist subversives" and "leftist politicians..." into one group with a relevant and significant feature in common: "leftist", and of "seizure" and "arrest" into a genre of actions that constitute forms of constraint, cannot be eliminated as practical considerations given the kind of text that this is. For these logical connections are encountered from within the natural attitude as intractable properties of a mundane, objective and known-in-common social world. Our category knowledge is used and drawn upon by members in the conduct of everyday social life inquiry, not in the first place as knowledge of language or linguistic categories, but as knowledge of the social world. It is in this sense that our social world is constituted through our natural language practices and our intersubjectively available knowledge. These properties are encountered as things we know-in-and-of-the-world, not in-and-through-the-text. If a text's organisation then, and the account it delivers-in-so-many-words, are not read as clearly and explicitly defeating their practical relevance, then that relevance can be preserved, at least for some readers, depending on the extra-textual knowledge or beliefs held. The overall organisation of this text is significant here - this is not a seamless text. It delivers a set of news items, consecutively, whose relationship to each other comes off as merely contingent. It does not provide a continuous narrative with a perceivedly consistent set of characters or agents. In one sense, it is this structure that upholds the sense of separability between the two sets of episodes addressed in paragraphs three and four, and therefore can be seen to uphold the sense that there is no connection between the police and the "armed men", and to uphold an indeterminate sense of the summation "mystery". Yet at the same time, in not providing any sure way of moving from one item to the other, it allows and contributes to the play of equivocalities and subversions that we have been addressing in this analysis, and indeed projects them as a play of practical relevancies and indeterminacies. In this way, equivocalities in the text can be perceived as features of the work of reading the text that orients to and reproduces a known social reality with intractably objective properties. And, in this way, the text itself can be read as an 'objective' account.

Concluding remarks

In conclusion, I would like to make a few brief points:

1. It is precisely in this hearable equivocality, constituted simultaneously (in part) by what the report says-in-so-many-words and by what it does not say, that the report produces itself as an 'objective' account of actual events. But its particular mode of objectivity (and I think that one can analytically locate other modes) resides in this listing of various events, in the manner in which they might have been encountered on the outside, by a member of the 'public at large', with no commitment displayed to making or determinately defeating the imputation of a connection between them. This mode of objectivity in a text, can, of course, be faulted in conventionally accountable ways, but this must be the subject of another paper.

2. The possibility of a text's providing for such equivocality in this manner, however, is located in the very properties of the categories by which we simultaneously organise our knowledge, descriptions and understandings of the world, and our various practices within the world. Categories are not fixed, bounded items with unitary features - they are open-textured, 25 and each has a multiplicity of features 26 that go with it. The possibility, for example, of orienting to the 'logical connection' between "armed men" and "armed forces", or, alternatively to the conventional difference between such characterisations, is made possible by the properties and organisation of these different categories, encountered, of course, from within the natural attitude as an objective organisation of the mundane social world. Agreements, disagreements, arguments and persuasion can all find their contextual and practical grounding in the organi~sation of the self-same category-knowledge of the world, and the various social activities constituted through our natural-language practices.

3. Ethnomethodological inquiry into media texts can, ultimately, be described as the explication of the socio-logic of knowledge-in-use, and of the procedures, understandings, and practices, by which a sense of objective reality is constructed. The notion of a socio-logic addresses itself to the ways that the normative, the conceptual and the practical are always concurrent and co-constitutive features of actual real-worldly contexts and of their mundane intelligibility. They need, therefore, to remain conjointly in focus within the analytic explication of everyday life, and the organisation of intelligibility within it.


1. An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Eastern Communication Association Annual Convention (Baltimore, April 1988).

2. Ethnomethodology was originated by Harold Garfinkel in his now classic Studies in Ethnomethodology (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967). It was developed by many in various directions. For an overview, see John Heritage, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology (Oxford: Polity Press, 1984).

3. As such, it has included the study of a manifold of activities and phenomena, among which one might mention the following (at the risk of seeming arbitrary). The study of the turn-taking system in conversation: see Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff & Gail Jefferson, "A Simplest Systematics for the Organisation of Turn-taking for Conversation", Language, v.50 (1974) pp.696-735. The analysis of record-keeping in welfare agencies: see Don Zimmerman, "Record Keeping and the Intake Process in a Public Welfare Agency" in Stanton Wheeler ed., On Record: Files and Dossiers in American Life (New York: Russel Sage, 1969), pp.319-354. The ascription of mental predictes: see Jeff Coulter, The Social Construction of Mind: Studies in Ethnomethodology and Linguistic Philosophy (London: Macmillan Press, 1979). Reality disjunctures: see Melvin Pollner, "'The Very Coinage of Your Brain': The Anatomy of Reality Disjunctures", Philosophy of the Social Sciences, v.5 (1975) pp.411-430; and Peter Eglin, "Resolving Reality Disjunctures on Telegraph Avenue: A Study of Practical Reasoning", Canadian Journal of Sociology, v.4 (1979) pp.359-377. Occasioned maps: see George Psathas, "Organisational Features of Direction Maps" in George Psathas ed., Everday Language: Studies in Ethnomethodology (New York: Irvington, 1979), pp.203-225. Scientific practices: see Michael Lynch, "Sacrifice and the Transformation of the Animal Body into a Scientific Object: Laboratory Culture and Ritual Practice in the Neurosciences", Social Studies of Science, v.18 (1988) pp.256-289. Reading practices: see Alec McHoul, Telling How Texts Talk: Essays on Readings and Ethnomethodology (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982. Classroom discourse: see James L. Heap, "Discourse in the Production of Classroom Knowledge: Reading Lessons", Curriculum Inquiry, v.15 (1985) pp.245-279. The construction of documentary reality: see Dorothy Smith, "The Social Construction of Documentary Reality", Sociological Inquiry, v.44 (1974), pp.257-268. For a comprehensive bibliography of ethnomethodologically grounded work, see B.J. Fehr & Jeff Stetson eds., "A Bibliography for Ethnomethodology" in Jeff Coulter ed., Ethnomethodological Sociology (London: Edward Elgar, 1990), pp.473-559.

4. The notion of the "natural attitude" was first introduced into sociological analysis by Alfred Schutz, who used it to describe the constitution of everyday commonsense knowledge. The term originated in Husserl's phenomenology. See Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers Vol.1 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962).

5. For a detailed explication of mundane reason, see Melvin Pollner, Mundane Reason: Reality in Everday and Sociological Discourse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

6. And here I include the linguistic turn in philosophy and the human sciences, as well as the ethnomethodological respecification of these that arose from within sociology. On the latter, see Graham Button ed., Ethnomethodology and the Human Sciences: An Ethnomethodological Respecification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 1991).

7. Indeed one would venture to say here that the present approach and British Cultural Studies (and its American counterpart), together with semiotics and contemporary modes of rhetorical analysis (despite their differences) all evidence a set of concerns and orientations grounded to a greater or lesser extent in the 'constructionist turn'.

8. This is not meant to suggest that these modes of analysis are necessarily contrastive or exclusive. Indeed, especially in the case of cultural studies, they often address different orders of question, and are organised at a different level of analysis, although they may stand initially on a common terrain: the details of the text.

9. The New York Times (1st January, 1976).

10. This extract constitutes the first section of a longer news report. To analyze the entire text ethnomethodologically would take up space well beyond what is available to us on this occasion. More importantly, given the character of this kind of analysis, and the nature of the full report, it would not add to our explication of the issues recovered from analysing the opening segment. A close reading of the full news report makes it evident to this analyst that the 'problematic' of the first section is not 'resolved' in what follows, but is rather ramified through the use and elaboration of further categories and descriptions that display, and partake of, the self-same socio-logic, and ramify the features already addressed. Given our basic interest, the practices which constitute the text's intelligibility, and through which it constitutes itself as a report of an objective world, extending our analysis is likely to generate other and further topics and themes of interest, which must await another analytic occasion. Furthermore, it is a convention of news writing, at least in this culture, to encapsulate the thrust of the news report in the headline and opening paragraph or two. The remainder of the text is used to elaborate, add detail or address related issues that turn on the central focus of the report. And, indeed, in this case, the headline does subsume and formulate the gist of the opening paragraph as well as the report as a whole. On formulations of 'gist', see John Heritage & Rod Watson "Formulations as Conversational Objects" in George Psathas ed., Everyday Language: Studies in Ethnomethodology, (New York: Irvington, 1979), pp.123-162.

11. The notion of "recipient design" is taken from Harvey Sacks and Emanuel Schegloff, "Two Preferences for the Organisation of Reference to Persons in Conversation and their Interaction" in Psathas ed., Everyday Language: Ethnomethodological Approaches (New York: Irvington, 1979), pp.15-21.

12. The notion of membership categorisation devices, which is central to the present analysis, is drawn from the seminal work of Harvey Sacks. See his "The Search for Help: No-One to Turn To" in E.S. Schneidman ed., Essays in Self-Destruction (New York: Science House, 1967), pp.203-223; also, "An Initial Investigation of the Usability of Conversational Data for Doing Sociology" in David Sudnow ed., Studies in Social Interaction (New York: Free Press, 1972) pp.3-74; and "On the Analysability of Stories by Children" in Roy Turner ed., Ethnomethodology (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974) pp.216-232. For work that uses and expands on Sacks' see, for example, Rod Watson, "Categorisation, Authorisation and Blame-negotiation in Conversation", Sociology, v.12 (1978) pp.105-113; Paul Drew, "Accusations: The Occasioned Use of Members' Knowledge of 'Religious Geography' in Describing Events", Sociology, v.12 (1978) pp.1-22; and Lena Jayyusi, Categorisation and the Moral Order (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984).

13. On the social distribution of knowledge, see Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers Vol.1; see also Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967). For an ethnomethodological treatment, see Wes Sharrock, "On Owning Knowledge" in Roy Turner ed., Ethnomethodology (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), pp.45-53.

14. Consider in this respect the conclusion of Daphne Du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel.

15. The notion of something in the world being a 'mystery', however, constitutes the world as having intractably objective properties that are not merely the objects of interpretive will or choice. They cannot, in other words, be bent to the will of the interpretor - they cannot be construed as infinitely plastic and malleable, but are viewed rather as recalcitrant and resistant, except to the 'appropriate' move. Only the right key will unlock the puzzle. The study of 'detection', and the way 'mysteries' are practically constituted and treated by members would form a rich ethnomethodological project of study.

16. In some ways, and for some issues, the 'press' (and news corps generally) can get constituted and construed as a similar 'knowledge community' where ignorance of certain matters becomes accountable, and 'knowledge' of them calls for their address and topicalisation. It is just this 'logic' of the distribution of (substantive) knowledge, known in common and oriented to, that provides the procedures and practical grounds for members complaints of 'bias', 'distortion', 'misinformation'. And, reflexively, it is this character of our mundane knowledge, that may be exhibited and displayed in the organisation of news reports, and in the 'procedures' by which news texts can be seen to display an orientation to potential problems, and potentially detectable seams, whether or not they are ultimately deemed, in practical terms, to be 'objective'. For the ethnomethodologist, then, the understanding and analysis of news texts, and news practices, is a central domain of an analytic sociology of knowledge, and what must lie at its heart: the explication of the socio-logic of knowledge.

17. Indeed, the "retrospective-prospective" constitution of the sense of talk and practical actions or "the documentary method of interpretation", both Garfinkel's terms, have been shown by him to be fundamental features of common understandings, that exhibit their essentially temporal organisation. See his "Studies of the Routine Grounds of Everyday Activities" and "Commonsense Knowledge of Social Structures: The Documentary Method of Interpretation in Lay and Professional Fact Finding', both in Studies in Ethnomethodology. Both notions have become fundamental ones for ethnomethodological inquiry.

18. The reliance on a "principle of consistency" is a routine feature of hearing/reading practices. See Harvey Sacks ("An Initial Investigation...") for his discussion of the Consistency Rule (and other related rules) in the use and understanding of membership categorisation devices.

19. The distinction between appropriate and correct description is another crucial distinction in ethnomethodological inquiry. It was one of the fundamental points that emerged from Sack's corpus of work on membership categorisation devices.

20. Harvey Sacks, unpublished lectures 1964-72.

21. It is necessary to note, however, that the legally-sanctioned and publicly accountable character of such categorisations, and the features bound up with them (for example, the exclusive empowerment to bear arms, and to 'detain' persons, etc.), is not one that is necessarily without 'problem' for members. For a start, members distinguish between 'legal' legitimacy and 'moral' legitimacy in routine ways that can generate, in particular settings, various disjunctures both in the use, application and sense of categorisations. For example, the 'state', the 'security forces', the 'police' may be constituted by members, precisely on the grounds of this public institutional sanctioning and organisation of their activities, as in fact legalised 'monopolies' that serve certain interests and therefore lack genuine moral force. But this clearly trades and relies on the recognition of the discourse of accountability that is bound up with them. Further, in some cases, the recognisable legal legitimacy of certain activities (arrests, investigations, detentions, trials, confessions) only provides for the legal framework itself, for the 'law', under whose auspices they might be considered 'due process', to be constituted as 'illegitimate', as violating another deeper, more appropriate, or more comprehensive law, indeed as violating the 'genuine foundations of law', as for example, the 'laws' under which Israel administers the Occupied Territories and dispenses judgement to their Palestinian population or the 'laws' by which South African apartheid has been maintained. For a relevant discussion of categorisational disjunctions, see my chapter on "Category-generated Problems and some Solutions" in Categorisation and the Moral Order. (See note 12 above).

22. Although one can speak of 'illegal arrest'.

23. The word 'kidnapped' emphasises the above-mentioned features, as well as the contrast with the activities described in paragraph three.

24. This silence is maintained throughout the full report and is indeed ramified, with the equivocality shifting from the level of the particular incident (RQ's seizure) to a more generic level. This is evident in the following segment of the report: "Until a few months ago, many of the killings by rightists were attributed to a so-called 'Argentine anti-Communist alliance' known as the 'Triple A'. This secret organisation was created by Jose Lopez Rega, who was minister of social welfare and Mrs. Peron's political mentor until he was forced to resign and fled the country in June under military pressure. But since the armed forces in October announced a drive to eradicate leftist subversion, a group calling iteself Liberators of America Command has emerged. It has claimed responsibility for mass killings in Tucuman, Cordoba and Mendoza. Military and police investigations have never led to the identification or arrest of any one in these cases". One could extend one's analysis of the report to explore the important relationship, for and within practical reasoning, of the 'single' case and its 'multiple' exemplars.

25. The term comes from Friedrich Waismann's discussion of language in his "Verifiability" in A.G.N. Flew ed., Logic and Language: First Series (Oxford: Blackwell, 1951), pp.117-144.

26. The view of language that informs the present discussion draws on Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1968). Both Waismann's discussion of 'open-texture' and the work of the ordinary language philosophers is congruent with Wittgenstein's thrust, and forms a corpus of investigation rich with resources for the ethnomethodological analyst.

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