Harold Garfinkel, who was regarded by his colleagues as one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century, died April 21 at age 93 in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure.
Garfinkel, an emeritus professor with the Department of Sociology and author of a groundbreaking book, "Studies in Ethnomethodology," was an expert in the field, the study of the actual way people live their lives. "Instead of looking at society in the abstract, he slowly built up a language that would allow him to study what was going on in the here-and-now, the way people actually made sense of their world as they went along in the business of living," wrote a former student Iddo Tavory, assistant professor of sociology in the New School for Social Research, for "Deliberately Considered," an online publication of news and commentary.
During his academic career, he was invited to present many papers and participate in seminars and colloquia on ethnomethodology and related topics at universities across the country, Canada and Europe.
Garfinkel taught his UCLA students to focus on the details of people’s actions. He assigned them to conduct "breaching experiments," such as ignoring the rules of a game or bargaining over prices in a grocery store, in order to see how fragile our world is and how much effort it takes for people to sustain order.
"Harold Garfinkel had a profound influence on world sociology," said Tavory. "The call to pay attention to actual action, to the ongoing production of order, is seen everywhere today — from the field of Conversation Analysis that attempts to perform an ethnomethodology of everyday conversations to the study of organizations and the relationships between myths and practicalities of bureaucracy in the new institutionalism."
Garfinkel received a B.S. degree in economics from the University of Newark in 1939, followed by an M.A. in sociology in 1942 from the University of North Carolina. He earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard in 1952. After appointments at Princeton, Ohio State University and the University of Chicago, he came to UCLA as an assistant professor of sociology in 1954. He retired in 1988. He was a member of the American Sociological Association, the American Society for the Advancement of Science and the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, among others.
He is survived by his wife, Arlene; daughter, Leah Hertz of Glen Echo, Md.; a son, Mark Garfinkel of Goleta, Calif.; and three grandsons.
The department will be holding a memorial reception, most likely in the fall. Details will be available at this departmental website.