The rationale of much of this chapter is located in the interpretive, ethnographic paradigm which strives to view situations through the eyes of participants, to catch their intentionality and their interpretations of frequently complex situations, their meaning systems and the dynamics of the interaction as it unfolds. This is akin to the notion of ‘thick description’ from Geertz (1973) and his predecessor Ryle (1949). The chapter proceeds in several stages: firstly, we set out the characteristics of the ethogenic approach; secondly, we set out procedures in eliciting, analysing and authenticating accounts; thirdly, we provide an introduction to handling qualitative accounts and their related fields of: (a) network analysis; (b) discourse analysis; fourthly, we provide an introduction to accounts; finally, we review the strengths and weaknesses of ethogenic approaches. We recognize that the field of language and language use is vast, and to try to do justice to it here is the ‘optimism of ignorance’ (Edwards, 1976). Rather, we attempt to indicate some important ways in which researchers can use accounts in collecting data for their research.
The field also owes a considerable amount to the communication theory and speech act theory of Austin (1962), Searle (1969) and, more recently, Habermas (e.g. 1979, 1984). In particular, the notion that there are three kinds of speech act (locutionary—saying something; illocutionary—doing something whilst saying something; and perlocutionary—achieving something by saying something) might commend itself for further study.
Although each of us sees the world from our own point of view, we have a way of speaking about our experiences which we share with those around us. Explaining our behaviour towards one another can be thought of as accounting for our actions in order to make them intelligible and justifiable to our fellows. Thus, saying ‘I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to bump into you’, is a simple case of the explication of social meaning, for by locating the bump outside any planned sequence and neutralizing it by making it intelligible in such a way that it is not warrantable, it ceases to be offensive in that situation (Harré, 1978).
Accounting for actions in those larger slices of life called social episodes is the central concern of a participatory psychology which focuses upon actors’ intentions, their beliefs about what sorts of behaviour will enable them to reach their goals, and their awareness of the rules that govern those behaviours. Studies carried out within this framework have been termed ‘ethogenic’, an adjective which expresses a view of the human being as a person, that is, a plan-making, self-monitoring agent, aware of goals and deliberately considering the best ways to achieve them. Ethogenic studies represent another approach to the study of social behaviour and their methods stand in bold contrast to those commonly employed in much of the educational research which we describe in Chapter 12. Before discussing the elicitation and analysis of accounts we need to outline the ethogenic approach in more detail. This we do by reference