Ethnomethodology (EM) and practice theory (PT) should pay more attention to each other. This might sound like a strange, even preposterous claim. After all, both strands of scholarship currently have a respectable academic following and are in no need to expand their territory, so to speak. Moreover, a newcomer to either of these traditions might struggle to see any fundamental differences between them. Garfinkel, after all, contemplated the name “neo-praxeology” before eventually landing on the mouthful that is ethnomethodology. There are also many publications within the PT literature that discuss and praise the relevance of EM (e.g. Nicolini 2013). Experiences at recent conferences have, however, left me wondering about the relationship between EM and PT.Continue reading “Johannes Coughlan – Some newcomer’s observations on the relation of ethnomethodology to practice theory”
As a practice theorist, I engage with Heideggerian and Wittgensteinian arguments that practice is the source of meaning and human action (cf. Schatzki, 1996), broadly sustained by practical understanding and intelligibility, normativity, and teleo-affectivity. I am particularly fascinated by expertise as a form of social, normative, and relational mastery, as “skill, know-how and technique” (Shove, Pantzar, and Watson, 2012: 14) inscribed in bodies and minds, that practitioners must possess to competently engage in a certain practice.
In my research, I look at expertise in labour practices, to understandhow the internal organisation of different types of work shapes conditions of expert conduct, and how this conversely affects practitioners’ relations and engenders conflicts and inequality. I consider here the case of ‘conference interpreting’. This is an exceptionally complex professional practice, based on multilingual communication services performed in high-stake settings (e.g. supra-national organisations, business…), and positioned in labour markets as part of the language industry. (If you cannot visualise it, think about that film with Nicole Kidman doing headphones-and-microphones simultaneous ‘live’ translations for the UN…).
In response to the aims of a workshop on Connecting Practices in Lancaster during April 2019, this short experimental piece explores lines in Lancaster and their multiple relationships with and forms of connection to practice. It therefore addresses the theme of ‘processes of connection’ and explores line-making as such a process. The piece of thought has two starting points. The first is Ingold’s ‘comparative anthropology of the line’ (2016:1) in which he argues that the production and significance of lines should be a topic for anthropological study, and in which he provides some conceptual starting points for such a project. His focus on different forms and classes of line across practices including walking, weaving, storytelling, drawing and writing drew my attention to painted lines in the first place, and raised a question ‘how do painted lines do work in the world?’. In this paper I am interested in how practice theory might offer conceptual starting points for answering this question. Continue reading “Nicola Spurling – Lancaster Lines”
The charge that practice theories are only or perhaps especially good for studying small scale and typically bounded activities like showering, smoking, playing floorball or cooking dinner has been repeatedly and I would say effectively rebuffed. Behind the scenes, and sometimes up front, those who claim that practice theories are incapable of engaging with large and important questions about politics, economy, climate change, power and inequality make one or more mistakes about what practice theories offer, and about the core ideas on which they are based (Schatzki 2016; Nicolini 2017). Proponents of transitions theories (Geels et al. 2016; Schot et al. 2016)are, for instance unwilling to accept that practices exist on a single plane. Others adhere to incompatible forms of conceptualization, analysis and interpretation, hankering after big explanations and abstracted laws of markets and political, economic processes. Although related, these critiques are not of a piece and neither are the responses to them.
In collaboration with the ICI Berlin (Institute for Cultural Inquiry) the workshop “Sensing Collectives – Aesthetic and Political Practices Intertwined” will take place on November 14th–16th in Berlin. With keynotes by Antoine Hennion (Centre Sociologie d’innovation, Mines Tech) and Sophia Prinz (Berlin University of the Arts and the European University Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder). Call for contributions open until August 15th 2018.
The aim of this workshop is to reexamine the nexus between aesthetics and politics by turning away from their conception as institutionally or communicatively differentiated spheres and instead take a “practice turn” (Schatzki/Knorr Cetina/von Savigny 2001) to have a look at what is actually done, and how, and to what effect – both in art, design and aesthetics (e.g. Zembylas 2014) and in politics, policy-making and governance (e.g. Jonas/Littig 2016). Contributions by participants working in the field of practice theory are highly welcome.
The relation between aesthetics and politics has long been an issue of concern: often treated as opposites, sometimes connected perhaps, but essentially belonging to different spheres. Politics has been understood as the public questioning and shaping of collective orders, through power struggle or rational deliberation, mainly within the institutions of the nation state; while aesthetics has been considered either a private affair or a radical form of play contained in the eld of arts (Rebentisch 2012; Hoggett/Thompson 2012; Reckwitz/ Prinz/ Schäfer 2015a). Their mingling has been observed with skepticism (e.g. Horkheimer/Adorno 2006 ; Downs 1957; Debord 1996 . Yet this line of separation is undoubtedly less clear than some have claimed. For aesthetics and politics this is re ective of what can also be seen as a broader questioning of accounts based on social theories of functional differentiation.
The relation between practices and rules – as well as norms – keeps bothering me. Practice theories commonly refute the explanatory power of rules and norms and instead declare normativity as something to be explained, ultimately, in terms of Wittgensteinian rule-following. It seems to me, however, that while this approach is sound and elegant (and while much of my conceptual thinking is deeply committed to it), more reflection on the status of normativity within practices is needed.
Illustrative of this need is my own ongoing ethnographic work on mobility practices and urban traffic infrastructure (comp. Tobias Röhl). Specifically, I study how municipal traffic engineers care for a city’s traffic lights. While these traffic engineers are engaged in particular professional practices – designing traffic lights, repairing and maintaining them, also handling citizen complaints – they also deal with practices as their object of work when they seek to ‘tame’ and regulate urban traffic flows. Yet, crucially, their work concerns rules: engineering conventions, industry standards, and, above all, traffic laws. Municipal traffic engineers are obliged to follow rules, re-inforce rules and impose rules upon traffic participants. In fact, we all take part in enforcing (or, undermining) traffic rules. “Bei Rot bleibst du steh’n, bei Grün kannst du geh’n” (red says stop, green says go) is what we, time and again, tell small children. It is a rule we urgently seek to impart to them even though many of us, adult pedestrians, don’t stick to it when no child is around.
At the upcoming EASST Conference 2018 in Lancaster 25-28 July 2018, there is another panel which explicitly welcomes proposals from a practice theory perspective:
We invite submissions of abstracts to the panel A28 *Socio-technical encounters in the city: Urban spaces, data infrastructures and new modes of civic engagement* which is part of the stream on “Encounters between people, things and environments” at the EASST Conference 2018 in Lancaster 25-28 July 2018. The deadline is 14th of February 2018. For more information on the panel and submission of abstracts, please follow this link https://nomadit.co.uk/easst/easst2018/conferencesuite.php/panels/6218 or see below.
The 2018 EASST conference will be held in Lancaster 25-28 July 2018, and includes a call of relevance to this blog. The deadline for abstract submissions is 14th February 2018. For more information, visit: https://easst2018.easst.net/call-for-papers/
For those in the UK, there is an exciting British Sociological Association Regional Postgraduate Event on 26 March 2018 at Lancaster University that features many contributors to this blog and will hopefully develop some new posts as well. Please consider joining us and spread the word.