American Sociological Association

The Uses of Ambiguity in Sociological Theorizing: Three Ethnographic Approaches

Claims of causality and generalizability are the primary means through which sociologists triumph over ambiguity. Yet ambiguity also has significant uses in the process of theorizing. This article identifies and examines three ethnographic approaches: (1) Ambiguity in shared situations highlights how subjects create and resolve disruptions in face-to-face interactions, (2) ambiguity as a transitional social form addresses certain stages and spaces as persistently ambiguous types of situations and phenomena, and (3) ambiguity as separating means from ends identifies mechanisms that conceal from subjects the risks and limitations of their own behaviors and choices in their everyday lives. Each of these approaches presents patterns in how ethnographers use analytic techniques to make sense of where ambiguities come from and how they can be turned into sociological cases. By making these approaches explicit, researchers can become better equipped at using them as provocations for sociological theorizing.


Andrew Deener





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