Mundane reason, membership categorization practices and the everyday ontology of space and place in interview talk

William Housley & Robin James Smith

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Housley, W. & Smith, R. J. (1). Mundane reason, membership categorization practices and the everyday ontology of space and place in interview talk. Qualitative Research, 11(6), 698–715.

Cardiff Bay , commonsense geography , membership categorization analysis , mundane reason , place , regeneration , space

In this article we aim to utilise and apply ethnomethodological and interactionist principles to the analysis of members’ situated accounts of regenerated urban space. With reference to previous empirical studies we apply membership categorization analysis and the concept of mundane reason to data gathered from situated street level interviews carried out as part of a programme of ethnographic research into the regenerated setting of Cardiff Bay. The article demonstrates that these data yield sociological insight into social actors’ interpretive and interactional reasoning in relation to the negotiation, navigation and comprehension of space and place. Through this work the patterned signatures of the urban interactional order can be identified. Furthermore, we illustrate the forms of emic rationality associated with the everyday and ubiquitous constitution of urban space as a meaningful, and thence cultural, milieu. It is our claim that an appreciation of these urban forms of reasoning is important in the ethnographic, sociological and geographical analysis of space and place.

Main finding
The interpretive reasoning of social actors in relation to spatial and place settings has important sociological implications. The mundane reasoning and the different accounts of actions of different groups, types of people, thoughts, feelings, and recollected experiences are crucial in the development and adaptation of the practical methods that members use to navigate, constitute and account for the places and spatial settings they find themselves. Situated street-level interviews provide insight into the mundane reasoning of persons, which reflects categories, rules and reasoning attributed to the space or the setting in question. Spatial knowledge is critical in assigning definitions to space and place and is central in the coordination and elicitation of social action within space and place.

Description of method used in the article
This article draws from data that is generated from a situated street-level interview. The data is analyzed in two ethnographic studies of Cardiff Bay, Wales. The respondents discuss the new Welsh Assembly building known as the Senedd and touch on their mundane reasoning elicited by the space. The respondents are asked whether they find the location of the Senedd to be an issue. Other respondents are provided an account for their choices of representation of the Bay selected from a collection of photographs displaying different sites and aspects of the space. A photograph of the Bay that displays shops, bars, and restaurants in an area is selected as one of three representatives of the Bay area and is shown to the participants.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Physical types
Other Streets
Geographic locations