Rawls, Anne W.; Turowetz, Jason (2021):
"Garfinkel’s Politics: Collaborating with Parsons to Document Taken-for-Granted Practices for Assembling Cultural Objects and their Grounding in Implicit Social Contract." Talcott Parsons: Politics, Economics and Morality. Special issue of The American Sociologist 52.1: 131-158.
Journal Article

From his 1940–1942 studies of Race, through his 1967 study of an “inter-sexed” person called Agnes, Garfinkel’s research was always politically engaged. When Garfinkel was Parsons’ PhD student at Harvard (1946–1952) and later during a period of collaboration with Parsons (1958–1964), both theorized culture as a domain of social interaction independent from social structure and resting on its own implicit social contract. This conception of culture grounded their respective “voluntaristic” and “reciprocity” based approaches to specifying assembly processes for making social categories in a way that put the empirical assembly of categories under a microscope and made social justice a scientific concern. Garfinkel emphasized the importance of social contract aspects of Parsons’ theory – adapted from Durkheim – and with his studies in ethnomethodology, planned to contribute an empirical foundation for aspects of Parsons’ position that were criticized for their abstraction. Nevertheless, important differences remained. Parsons’ model required assimilation and consensus, thus inadvertently enforcing existing inequalities. Garfinkel, by contrast, was deeply concerned with “structural problems” like inequality, and treated assimilationist positions as scientifically and ethically unsound. His research documented reciprocity as a pre-requisite for successful interaction, while treating “troubles” generated by inequality as an important key to understanding social order writ large.