Michael Mair

Michael Mair
University of Liverpool | UoL · Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology

PhD

About

58
Publications
12,322
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437
Citations
Citations since 2017
31 Research Items
286 Citations
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Introduction
I am an ethnomethodologist whose research falls into two main areas: politics, government and the state; and the methodology and philosophy of research. The focus of that work includes the politics of accountability in different settings and methodological practice in the social and natural sciences, including qualitative, quantitative and digital methods as well as experimentation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Additional affiliations
April 2010 - present
University of Liverpool
Position
  • Professor (Associate)

Publications

Publications (58)
Article
Harold Garfinkel's Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967) was published a little more than 50 years ago. Since then, there has been a substantial—although often subterranean—growth in ethnomethodological work and influence. Studies in and appreciation of ethnomethodological work continue to grow, but the breadth and penetration of his insights and insp...
Chapter
This chapter reviews Harold Garfinkel’s work on method in the social sciences, focusing specifically on research with numbers. Ethnomethodology has had a vexed relationship with the social sciences, and Garfinkel’s remarks on sociology’s methods have often been presented as a skeptical attack on the very possibility of social research. Ethnomethodo...
Book
Full-text available
This Innovation Collection on investigative methods brings together investigators working in different domains, sectors, and on different topics of interest to help capture the breadth, scope and relevance of investigative practices over 10 substantive chapters. Each of the papers presents a different investigative method or set of methods and, thr...
Chapter
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In our role as editors, in this introduction we draw on and extend the work of the historian Carlo Ginzburg (esp. 1980, 1989, 2013) to set out what we see as some of the main characteristics of investigative methods as a distinctive if heterogeneous field of research practices in their own right and explore their relevance in, to and for the social...
Chapter
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Using public domain video and/or audio-recordings, transcripts, internal reports and inquiries as data, the authors investigate specific and often highly controversial incidents in which Western militaries employ the use of force. Analysing the interactional organisation of such incidents as they unfold "ethnographically" (incorporating fieldnotes,...
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By comparing two distinct governmental organizations (the US military and NASA) this paper unpacks two main issues. On the one hand, the paper examines the transcripts that are produced as part of work activities in these worksites and what the transcripts reveal about the organizations themselves. Additionally, the paper analyses what the transcri...
Book
Full-text available
The Problem of the State provides a new perspective on what the social and political sciences can contribute to understandings of the state and the ambivalent place it occupies in our collective affairs. Distinguishing two broad conceptual and methodological approaches to addressing the problem of how to study the state empirically rather than theo...
Chapter
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Harvey Sacks suffers no want of authoritative interpreters, and reading, for example, the likes of Coulter (1976), Schegloff (1992a, 1992b), Lynch and Bogen (1994), Watson’s commentaries (1994; 2009) or Silverman’s introductions (1998) certainly deepens our understanding by revealing layers in Sacks’ work we might otherwise miss. Nonetheless, while...
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In a number of linked articles and monographs over the last decade (e.g. Love, 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017), literary scholar and critic Heather Love has called for a descriptive (re)turn in the humanities, repeatedly taking up examples of descriptive methods in the social sciences as exemplifying what that (re)turn might look like and achieve. Th...
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In dialogue with the work of Heather Love and colleagues, this article makes use of a peculiar 'descriptive assemblage' proposed by Harvey Sacks (1963) - that of the 'commentator machine' - to open up issues of 'descriptive politics' in the field of contemporary Artificial Intelligence (AI). We do so by reviewing the gameplay of Google DeepMind's A...
Conference Paper
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On the 21st and 22nd November at the University of Liverpool in London, NCRM held an innovation forum to explore the embryonic field of “investigative social research” and the methods that underpin it. A dynamic and frequently high impact contemporary field, investigative social research encompasses work by non-governmental organisation/civil socie...
Conference Paper
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In the age of data, non-governmental organisations, investigative journalists and independent researchers are producing studies, stories and reports reaching global public attention using open research techniques and methods. Geo-spatial analysis, forensic accountancy, discourse, corpus and image analysis and text mining are among the varied method...
Conference Paper
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We operate in a world in which, as Lewis notes, "non government organisation researchers, public interest activists, lawyers, government prosecutors and investigators, corporate investigators, forensic accountants, political scientists, computer and other scientists, investigative historians, public anthropologists, sociologists, and journalists ar...
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Algorithms are becoming interwoven with increasingly many aspects of our affairs. That process of interweaving has brought with it a language laden with anthropomorphic descriptions of the technologies involved, which variously hint at ‘humanesque’ or ‘conscious-like’ activity occurring within or behind their operations. Indeed, the term ‘Artificia...
Chapter
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The ‘pioneer’ entry for Harold Garfinkel in SAGE Research Methods Foundations.
Conference Paper
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Laboratory studies have played an important role in the shaping of STS. Yet, however initially promising, this analytical genre progressively dwindled, becoming the object of recurrent critiques (e.g., Doing 2008; Hess 2001). Those critiques in turn have contributed to an increasing fragmentation, virtually “blowing up” (Lynch 2018) the category of...
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Over the past 30 years, studies of culture have become increasingly prominent - some would say dominant (see, e.g., Alexander, Jacobs & Smith 2015) - within and across social science and arts and humanities disciplines in Europe and North America. Although largely unacknowledged, work in EMCA prefigured, acted as a driver for and continues to offer...
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In 2010 WikiLeaks released what has come to be known as the ‘Cablegate’ leak, a cache of more than 250,000 diplomatic communiqués or ‘cables’ exchanged between the US State Department and US Embassies, the bulk of which had been written in the 2000s. WikiLeaks had been passed the information by the whistleblower Chelsea Manning as part of a larger...
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In this article we present an ethnomethodological study of a controversial case of 'friendly fire' from the Iraq War in which leaked video footage, war on video, acquired particular significance. We examine testimony given during a United States Air Force (USAF) investigation of the incident alongside transcribed excerpts from the video to make vis...
Conference Paper
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The recent call for a descriptive (re)turn from Heather Love (2010, 2013, 2015) is the product of a meeting between - i.e. a coming together of – literary criticism, cultural studies, philosophy and sociological/STS research. Extending Love, description is a key methodological practice and, insofar as it is social and collaborative, descriptions th...
Conference Paper
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Heather Love and colleagues, in a series of much discussed papers, advocate an approach to analytical work that would focus on surface rather than hidden orders and 'build better descriptions' by drawing on particular kinds of sociological research as a source of proximate inspiration. Reflecting on Love and colleagues' proposals, we return to the...
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Drawing on and providing a synthesis of recent social, political and legal research including our own, in this article we argue that the armed drone should be seen as both a socio-technical and socio-legal system. Focusing on the United States (US) as one of the pioneers of drone warfare, the world’s primary state user of drones and the country who...
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Objective: The objective of this article is to outline an ethnomethodological approach to the study of professionalized violence or violence as work. It focuses primarily on violence in the context of military combat operations and the “situational” analyses and assessments military personnel themselves undertake when engaging in violent action. Me...
Conference Paper
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Visualisation is increasingly important within the social sciences and beyond. Disciplines are becoming more visual in character and more concerned with the visual as a topic and a medium. This expanding scope includes: (1) The growing body of research into the nature of visual fields, the visual and visualisations as subjects for study in their ow...
Conference Paper
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In the renaissance, there was a transformation in the representation of visual fields – new fields of possibility, visual fields, were opened up. Contemporary developments promise the same – the nature of visualisation today means we all find ourselves in fields that are becoming more visual: more interested in studying visual data, in analysing it...
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As the ease of collecting, handling and presenting video images has increased, so too has the opportunity to explore how video gets taken up and put to work in different areas of social life. One way ethnomethodologists and conversation analysts have incorporated video into studies is as a means of accessing (un/part-)witnessed scenes of social act...
Conference Paper
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There is a long tradition of video work in ethnomethodology. As far back as the Purdue Symposium (Hill & Stones-Crittenden 1968, Sudnow 1972), David Sudnow outlined a series of studies that aimed to see if the work undertaken by Sacks with audio recordings could be extended to a consideration of embodied forms of practical action and reasoning capt...
Preprint
In this article, we examine a controversial friendly fire incident that took place during the early stages of the Iraq war. Our focus is on how a cockpit video of the incident was used post facto in a military inquiry to arrive at an understanding of the actions of the pilots involved. We shall concentrate specifically on a series of interpretive d...
Article
The reform of urban and environmental planning in England since the election of the Coalition government in 2010 has resulted in the emergence of Neighbourhood Planning: a situation in which citizens can autonomously assemble, define the spatial extent of their neighbourhood and author a plan for it. In this paper, we argue that this radical policy...
Chapter
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In this chapter we examine supermarket growth in the UK. This phenomenon provides a particularly useful case, we argue, because developing an understanding of what has given it shape and direction underscores the point made in different ways by all contributors to this volume, namely that economic activities do not stand alone but are, simultaneous...
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In this chapter we discuss what ethnomethodology and conversation analysis can contribute to studies of the military, specifically understandings of ‘action-in-interaction’ in military settings. The chapter is methodologically focused and explores how work in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis provides an alternative way of approaching the...
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As a contribution to current debates on the ‘social life of methods’, in this article we present an ethnomethodological study of the role of understanding within statistical practice. After reviewing the empirical turn in the methods literature and the challenges to the qualitative-quantitative divide it has given rise to, we argue such case studie...
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Through the ongoing work of leak sites, public inquiries, criminal investigations, journalists, whistleblowers, researchers and others, the public has gained access to a growing number of videos of live military operations in recent years. Capturing such things as friendly fire attacks, civilian deaths and extrajudicial or illegal killings, these v...
Article
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Across the disciplinary frontiers of the social sciences, studies by social scientists treating their own investigative practices as sites of empirical inquiry have proliferated. Most of these studies have been retrospective, historical, after-the-fact reconstructions of social scientific studies mixing interview data with the (predominantly textua...
Conference Paper
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Contemporary social scientific writing on ‘the material’ provides a series of reminders about the confusions that arise when the concept is mishandled. In the hands of Law, Viveiros de Castro and others, the interest in ‘materialities’, along with the ‘ontological turn’ their study anchors, has become programmatic, if not messianic, a device for ap...
Chapter
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In this chapter we trace some of the ways in which the United Kingdom’s private finance initiative (PFI) – a species of ‘public private partnership’ (PPP) whose operations and effects we explore in what follows – can be treated as an example of ‘corruption’. Through an examination of associations between practice, process and context in the impleme...
Conference Paper
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The social sciences have been gripped by many ‘turns’ over the last 30 years: the interpretive turn, the linguistic turn, the practice turn, the ontological turn, the epistemic turn, and many more. The ‘turn’ to matter, materiality and the material – or ‘materialities’ (Law 2004) – is just one of the more recent. While ethnomethodology has long bee...
Data
Full-text available
A corrected version of the transcript that accompanied the video of the 190th Fighter Squadron/Blues and Royals fratricide incident released to the public in 2007 - it has been modified to take into account, among other things, who was speaking to who at what point.
Article
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The social sciences are currently going through a reflexive phase, one marked by the appearance of a wave of studies which approach their disciplines’ own methods and research practices as their empirical subject matter. Driven partly by a growing interest in knowledge production and partly by a desire to make the social sciences ‘fit-for-purpose’...
Article
Full-text available
In this article, we examine a controversial friendly fire incident that took place during the early stages of the Iraq war. Our focus is on how a cockpit video of the incident was used post facto in a military inquiry to arrive at an understanding of the actions of the pilots involved. We shall concentrate specifically on a series of interpretive d...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Here we examine knowledge contests and focus on a specific empirical example - the notorious Fox News interview between the anchor, Lauren Green, and New Testament scholar, Reza Aslan - in order to orient to the issue of what might be at stake in disputed claims to knowledge.
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This panel explores the ways actors conceive of, address and so topicalize the issue of knowledge – the known and the knowable/what is or can be known and how – as part of the work of practical inquiry. In what ways can knowledge be established? What techniques are utilized to demonstrate knowledge? By what methods are claims to knowledge secured i...
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In this article we argue that research into information for patients has to extend beyond an evaluation of particular information resources to studies of how those resources are engaged with, made sense of and used in practice. We draw on empirical data collected in the course of a study of a patient information resource designed for breast cancer...
Article
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In this paper we analyse a 'friendly fire' incident from the second Gulf War and the controversy which came to envelop it during a coroner's inquest in 2007. Focusing on the cockpit video of the incident that was leaked to the media during that inquest, we examine what the military and civilian investigators were involved in reconstructing: the inc...
Article
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Despite the huge literature on the methodology of the social sciences, relatively little interest has been shown in sociological description of social science research methods in practice, i.e., in the application of sociology to sociological work. The overwhelming (if not exhaustive) interest in research methods is an evaluative and prescriptive o...
Conference Paper
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Based on a year-long observational study of the government of antisocial behaviour in a run-down English housing estate, this paper examines what it might mean to “situate” ordinary political and governmental practices by asking where government and politics “happen”. Rather than taking political and governmental practices for granted as just those...
Article
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In this article, I examine a defining feature of the ‘new public health’: the (re)construction of health-related phenomena in behavioural terms. While the ‘behavioural turn’ within epidemiology has had far-reaching implications for the way in which public health problems as a whole are conceptualised, including, significantly, obesity and alcohol (...
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This article reports on an observation-based evaluation of student–tutor interaction in first-year undergraduate tutorials. Using a single case analysis, the paper looks at how tutors and students built and maintained relationships through two different though interlinked forms of interaction – storytelling and the use of classroom space for commun...
Conference Paper
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This paper is based on materials from two ethnographic studies of local government settings. One study followed the work of backbench councillors and their dealings with local government officers, i.e. civil servants, in a large metropolitan council in the North of England. The other concentrated on the governance of antisocial behaviour in a multi...
Article
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BackgroundIncreasing concerns regarding the health of men – in particular, the rising prevalence of male-related conditions and men's suggested poor access and uptake of health services – has focused the minds of health practitioners and policy makers on understanding the role of masculinity in shaping men's health and on promoting greater gender-s...
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This article examines some general issues around the use of data in social research by taking an extended look at how drawings and text have been used in 'draw and write' research. With reference to a split between positivist and interpretivist studies, the authors argue that the problems generated by draw and write research reflect what has been d...
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In recent years, tobacco research, as a field of investigative practices, has come to be seen as a major contributor to broader tobacco control efforts and a ‘significant component of the global health agenda’ (World Health Organization (1999). Confronting the epidemic: A Global Agenda For Tobacco Control Research. Geneva: WHO, p. 14; Warner, K. E....
Article
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Smoking remains a major problem among young people in Europe. However, within the research community examining the issue, debate continues about the best way of assessing the extent of that problem. Questions have been raised about the extent to which existing techniques for generating statistical representations of patterns of youth smoking can ad...

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Projects (4)
Project
To provide a new perspective on what the social and political sciences can contribute to understandings of the state and the ambivalent place it occupies in our collective affairs. Distinguishing two broad conceptual and methodological approaches to addressing the problem of how to study the state empirically rather than theoretically - the constitutionalist and constructionist positions – this book reviews the grounds and limits of both to reveal their common assumption: that it is up to the social and political sciences to define what the problem of the state is. Building on insights from Marx, Wittgenstein and Ethnomethodology, this book seeks to free the study of the state from the limiting assumptions of these approaches and advocates a return of the problem to its proper environment, in social and political practice.
Project
Ethnographic Studies (ISSN 1366-4964) focuses on work in ethnography and ethnomethodology but it also provides a forum for sympathetic research in other human sciences, such as psychology and history. The policy of the journal is to publish empirical studies but also theoretical and philosophical work which relates to current issues and debates in the human sciences. The journal's homepage is here: https://www.zhbluzern.ch/seiten/ethnographic-studies/.
Project
https://ischool.uni-siegen.de/en/workshop-call-for-participation/ This workshop is aimed at bringing together a multidisciplinary group to discuss Machine Learning and its application in the workplace as a practical, everyday work matter. It’s our hope this is a step toward helping us design better technology and user experiences to support the accomplishment of that work, while paying attention to workplace context. Despite advancement and investment in ML business applications, understanding workers in these work contexts have received little attention. As this category experiences dramatic growth, it’s important to better understand the role that workers play, both individually and collaboratively, in a workplace where the output of prediction and machine learning is becoming pervasive. There is a closing window of opportunity to investigate this topic as it proceeds toward ubiquity. CSCW and HCI offer concepts, tools and methodologies to better understand and build for this future.