Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2019

Page updated 25 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY conversational experiment


Case 1
The subject was telling the experimenter, a member of the subject's car pool, about having had a flat tyre while going to work the previous day.

Subject: I had a flat tyre.

Experimenter: What do you mean, you had a flat tyre?

The subject appeared momentarily stunned. Then she answered in a hostile way: What do you mean, 'What do you mean?' A flat tyre is a flat tyre. That is what I meant. Nothing special. What a crazy question!

Case 2
Subject: Hi, Ray. How is your girlfriend feeling?

Experimenter: What do you mean, 'How is she feeling?' Do you mean physical or mental?

Subject: I mean how is she feeling? What's the matter with you? (He looked peeved.)

Experimenter: Nothing. Just explain a little clearer what do you mean?

Subject: Skip it. How are your Med. School applications coming?

Experimenter: What do you mean, 'How are they?'

Subject: You know what I mean.

Experimenter: I really don't.

Subject: What's the matter with you? Are you sick?

Case 3
The victim waved his hand cheerily.

Subject: How are you?

Experimenter: How am I in regard to what? My health, my finances, my school work, my peace of mind ....?

Subject: (Red in the face and suddenly out of control): Look! I was just trying to be polite. Frankly, I don't give a damn how you are.

Case 4
My friend and I were talking about a man whose overbearing attitude annoyed us.

Subject: I'm sick of him.

Experimenter: Would you explain what is wrong with you that you are sick?

Subject: Are you kidding me? You know what I mean.

Experimenter: Please explain your ailment.

Subject: (He listened to me with a puzzled look.): What came over you? We never talk this way, do we?

Adapted from Garfinkel (1967, pages 42–4).


Return to Ethnomethodological experiments (Section 9.3)