Robert M. Emerson

Robert M. Emerson

Professor Emeritus

Office: 106C Haines Hall


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Many of my writings examine the processes of doing ethnographic research, beginning with how fieldworkers orient to and record written accounts of ongoing social interaction, ending with how researchers can produce empirically grounded analyses of ongoing social life from these accounts. Substantively I analyze how interpersonal troubles arise and take on specific forms as people try to deal with them.  Here I am concerned with both the informal micro-politics of everyday troubles, and with the decision-making of official control institutions whereby they transform messy indigenous troubles into known, processable, tidy cases.

Writings on Field Work, Ethnography and Ethnomethodology


Ph. D., Brandeis University



Judging Delinqents:  Context and Process in Juvenile Court.  Chicago: Aldine, 1969.  Paperback edition  Piiscataway, NJ:  Aldine Transaction, 2008.

Contemporary Field Research:  Perpectives and Formulations.  Long Grove IL: Waveland, 2001.

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. (with Rachel I. Fretz and Linda L. Shaw)  Second Edition.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2011.

Everyday Troubles: The Micro-Pollitics of Interpersonal Conflict.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.


“Participant Observation and Fieldnotes” (with Rachel I. Fretz and Linda L. Shaw). Pp. 352-68 in Atkinson, Coffey, Delalmont, Lyn Lofland, and John Lofland (eds.), Handbook of Ethnography. London: Sage Publications, 2001.

“Ethnomethodology and Ethnography” (with Melvin Pollner). Pp. 118-35 in Atkinson, Coffey, Delalmont, Lyn Lofland, and John Lofland (eds.), Handbook of Ethnography. London: Sage Publications, 2001.

“Naturalistic Perspectives in Analyzing Field Data: Working with ‘Key Incidents.'” Clive Seale, David Silverman, Jay Gubrium and Giampetro Gobo, eds., Inside Qualitative Research: Craft, Practice, Content. Sage Publications, 2003.

 “Reflections on the Study of Informal Social Control.”  Sociologisk Forskning, pp. 71-76, 2006.

“Responding to Roommate Troubles: Reconsidering Informal Dyadic Control.”  Law & Society Review 42:483-512, 2008.

“Ethnography, Interaction and Ordinary Trouble.”  Ethnography 10(4):535-48, 2009.

“From Normal Conflict to Normative Deviance: The Micro-Politics of Trouble in Close Relationships.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 40(1):3-38, 2011.

“Contingent Control and Wild Moments:  Conducting Psychiatric Evaluations in the Home.”  With Melvin Pollner.  Social Inclusion (ISSN: 2183-2803), v. 7, n. 1, 2019.