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Trusting oneself: An anthropology of digital things and personal competence

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Several of the prior chapters in this book allude to the work of Harold Garfinkel and his seminal Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967). One of the great lessons that one can take from that book is the idea that society is made up of people who “do” sociological theory or, rather, people who construct and deploy “lay-sociological theorizing” to both interpret and organize the world around them. Their everyday reasoning is a form of sociology Garfinkel would have us believe. Today, of course, the idea that people theorize in this sense, that they reason sociologically, has suffused itself throughout the discipline of sociology and its cognates. Take Michel De Certeau (1984), for example, or another sociologist of the quotidian, Henri Lefebrve (2004). Both argue that the social world is constructed, “enacted” through the deployment of interpretative skills and agency – through people's capacity to reason in particular ways. And consider other social sciences, such as anthropology. Here Tim Ingold (2011) argues that people construct their places of dwelling through conscious acts of “dialogic engagement”: they attend to, work with, and reflect on the things and persons around in ways that directs them in new trajectories, lines of action. All of this is a form of reasoning, Ingold claims. The subtle differences between these various views notwithstanding, that people reason in a way that can be characterized as sociological, and that, as a result, the thing called society has the shape it has, is virtually commonplace in contemporary thinking. The word “theorizing,” however, has been ameliorated with alternate formulas by these (and other) authors. We have just listed some of the alternative words and phrases used: people enact their reasoning and they rationally engage their reasoning as part of how they produce dwellings. These and other formula stand as proxy for theorizing. One of the motivations for using alternatives is that many commentators, including those just mentioned, would appear to prefer keeping the term “theory” as a label for their own thinking rather than as one applicable to the non-professional arena. To put it directly, this move allows them to valorize what they do while giving lay persons’ actions a more prosaic, less consequential air. © Richard H.R. Harper 2014.