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Situation Analysis: Wittgenstein & Interactive Research for Social Scientists


Course Information

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Ludwig Wittgenstein is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential philosophers of the 20th century who in his later work produced a radical and distinctive approach to philosophical analysis, which had far-reaching ramifications for research in the social and human sciences. What does Wittgenstein and Witgensteinian philosophy have to say to Social Scientists and Psychologists in the 21st century?

Wittgenstein’s impact on the social sciences can be divided into a number of phases, some of which (2 & 3) spawned distinctive research programmes:

1. Via reception of the work of the Wittgensteinian philosopher Peter Winch and his influential book The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, published in the mid-20th Century.

2. The combining of Wittgensteinian insights with Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis (EMCA) beginning in the early 1970s and found in the work of the ‘Manchester School’ of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis in the work of authors such as Wes Sharrock, Rod Watson and Bob Anderson in addition to associated figures such as Mike Lynch (Cornell) and Jeff Coulter (Boston).

3. The combining of Wittgensteinian insights with Michael Billig’s Rhetorical Analysis, Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis to form Discursive Psychology, initiated by Johnathan Potter, Derek Edwards and Margaret Wetherell, beginning in the 1980s at Loughborough University and being developed by others in the decades that have followed.

Run across two afternoons, this course will revisit the philosophical sources that inform a Wittgensteinian approach to questions in the social and human sciences and explore these alongside the approach to interaction found in Ethnomethodology.

Course Code


Course Leader

Dr Phil Hutchinson
Course Description

Day One
Welcome and Introductions

Historical Introduction:
Gestalt Psychology & Phenomenology
Garfinkel, Ethnomethodology and Praxiological Gestalts

Wittgenstein & Post-Phenomenology: Grammar, Grammatical Investigation and Language Games.

A Wittgensteinian Respecification of Gestalt Phenomena and Praxiological Gestalts.

17.00 end of Day One – Participants will take away with them a short primer paper on Situation Analysis and some data to analyse for the next session

Day Two
Welcome and questions

Brief recap of Day One and outline of Situation Analysis

Using SA: Analysing Data and Exploring Imaginary Scenarios

Case Study: We will finish by putting what we have learned to work, with particular focus on Interactional Discord and Divergent Contextures as tools for understanding enacted degradation, discreditation and discrimination (aka: stigma)


We will take a ‘reverse engineering approach’ and look closely at both the sources of the approach to interaction developed in Ethnomethodology and the sources of Wittgenstein’s approach, as found in his later philosophy. In both, we see that they are developed through critical engagement with and inventive “misreadings” of Gestalt Psychology and early Phenomenology.

Having noted this shared heritage, we shall begin by looking at how dialogue between philosophers and psychologists in the early to mid 20th century provided a set of resources for overcoming dualisms of action & social fact, agency & structure, and mind & body. We will see how Wittgenstein’s unique contribution to this dialogue is still to be fully appreciated and harnessed in the social and human sciences. And finally, we will introduce a new form of analysis which draws on this new appreciation of the Wittgenstein-EMCA nexus which foregrounds Gestalt Psychology. We call this new form of analysis Situation Analysis.

Situation Analysis is a method of analysis which draws on Wittgenstein’s later philosophy and core insights of Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis and the linguistic philosophy of Frank Ebersole.

The course begins with a brief discussion of the origins of a certain approach to interaction, which has its roots in phenomenological dialogues with Gestalt Psychology in the early to mid 20th century and which, through the development of Praxiological Gestalts, forms the core of the Ethnomethodological approach. We shall discuss how understanding the roots of this approach to interaction in phenomenological engagements with Gestalt Psychology both differentiates this version of interactionism from Symbolic Interactionism and also serves to guard against the depiction of it as microsociology and as a form of inductive analysis.

We will then progress to show how Wittgenstein made a distinctive, post-phenomenological, contribution to the dialogue between Gestalt Psychology and Phenomenology on which Ethnomethodology draws. We will see how Wittgenstein’s approach emphasised meaning over functional role, and exlore the consequences of this for a Wittgensteinian inflected version of interactionism.

In introducing Wittgenstein, we will introduce you to the Wittgensteinian notions of grammar, grammatical investigation and language-game.

We will see that the Wittgensteinian notion of grammatical investigation serves as a technique for disclosing the possibilities for meaning found in a situation. In turn, this provides us with the resources we need to conduct grammatical investigations of interactional settings, what we might call praxiological Gestalts.

We will finish by putting what we have learned to work, with particular focus on Interactional Discord and Divergent Contextures as tools for understanding enacted degradation, discreditation and discrimination (aka: stigma).


StartEndPlaces LeftCourse Fee 
26/01/202202/02/20220[Read More]

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