- May
Posted By : Adrian Chan
Harold Garfinkel and social facts. Sociology for design.

“For Garfinkel, social ‘reality’ is not a feature of nature that the analyst is claiming to be able to observe ‘objectively.’ Social ‘facts’ are rather sounds and movements, witnessable actions on the part of participants in social gatherings, that must be recognizable to others as actions of a very particular sort, in order for social processes to have any coherence, or intelligibility, for participants. That persons perceive the movements of others at a level that is more fundamental than concepts, does not mean that those perceptions are not mediated by social expectations. That would be a positivist claim. What is being argued is that the coherence of movements is immediately recognizable, or not recognizable, in terms of taken for granted expectations, social expectations, that are yet so far prior to the level of concepts that it is difficult to even express them in conceptual terms after the fact.”  editor’s introduction to Ethnomethodology’s Program, Harold Garfinkel

Durkheim’s challenge to sociologists was to treat social facts as a concrete phenomenon. This is a very difficult philosophical problem, and is at the heart of any humanist approach to social meanings. But I find it appropriate, if not necessary, for an understanding of how we produce ourselves, and thus produce a socially mediated reality, online.

We can easily transpose the meaning of social facts (for people) into the concreteness of the facts captured and distributed on media. Our contributions become concrete, in digital form. But this concreteness may betray, or at least seems to obscure, the meaning that online participation has for actors (people). And I think that to fully understand how social media reshape not only the mediascape, but social realities also, requires us to approach them from a user-centric perspective. That is, with an interest in what it means to people.

There is a logic to the use of social media — it’s socio-logical.


  • Hello Adrian. It’s nice to find interest around how sociology helps to understand design challenges and all sort of UX implications. I want to share some thoughts with an example. “thumbs up” as a way of expressing agreement and support in social media and across digital world is a basic example of how digital social facts implies quantificable behaviours. But What is (are) the meaning(s) of thumbing up cultural-sociologically talking? At first sigth thumbs up mean agreement, support, a friendly nod, “hello I’m still here”, and maybe more. Very rapidly emojis have been inserted in the “digiscape” to “help” people express themselves. What we see as sociological phenomena is the rise of a image-text writting that has gotten unevitable in digital conversations. Are emojis solving communication problems in the digital world? or Are they impoverishing the written communications? Thumbing up has become a global symbol and emoji-communication a social fact. From this social reality designers can consider how to use emojis in very innovative ways, improving ux and creating new messages. Emojis field needs as well more UX research. DEvices agregate all sort of emojis but how people use them locally? Could be a local based design? anyways, I was just trying to share what came in to mi mind reading your post. Thank you. Regards. Julian

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