Staff Profile: Eric Livingston

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Eric Livingston

Nucleus has discovered that UNE has its own ethnomethodologist, Eric Livingston. Dr Livingston was a student of Harold Garfinkel at UCLA for over 10 years, writing his dissertation on the work of mathematical theorem proving. “By the time I graduated,” Eric says, “the dissertation committee included seven people, among them Manny Schegloff [co-founder with Harvey Sacks of the field of Conversation Analysis], Mef Seeman [a distinguished sociologist] and Herbert Enderton [a distinguished logician who, for over 20 years, was an editor for the Journal of Symbolic Logic].”

Dr Livingston is known to generations of UNE students for teaching SOCY101 Understanding Everyday Life. The unit had one reading of about 10 pages and sets of homework exercises (such as describing the ‘organizational lived-work’ of a setting and writing captions for magazine photographs).

Reactions to the unit seem to have been somewhat polar, some finding it a challenging unit and one of best they had at UNE, others disliking the exercises and the lecture format, wanting a textbook, standard assignments, and a more typical final examination.

After 13 years, Eric ended teaching ‘Understanding Everyday Life’ last year. “I had a very high workload for years and was burned out. But there was another reason. I think of teaching—especially teaching a subject in which you’re an active researcher—as a type of conversation where one group of conversationists is silent a lot of the time. I was working through different ways of engaging the sociological project, both for myself and for the students. I needed to move on. At the same time, some members of sociology wanted a different type of second trimester first-year unit.”

Although Dr Livingston’s publications have centered on mathematicians’ work, he has also written an introduction to ‘ethnomethodology’, a book on the lay and professional practices of reading (using Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ as a central example), and an ethnographic study of reasoning.

Recently Eric became a member of the new discipline of Criminology at UNE. ‘I was very happy the criminologists let me come along’. Starting in 2014, he’ll be teaching Researching Crime (subject to APC approval) and plans a further unit on Analyzing Crime Data. “It’s great being part of a group working together to develop something new, all of its members actively pursuing their own research, and all of them, I’m afraid to admit, better teachers than myself. Criminology is a wide-open field; official statistics tell you very little. It’s easy to see why sociologists and students, tired of labouring in worked out mines, are excited by new possibilities and socially-engaged, empirically-driven theorizing.”

Dr Livingston concedes that he’ll probably never be a ‘real’ criminologist. “I’ll stay an ‘ethnomethodologist’. Criminology, however, has made academic life at UNE more interesting, at least for myself.”

- Rory Mayberry

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