Russell Hitchings: “If you’re thinking about practice as a kind of invitation to explore the world or phenomena through a range of interesting ways, I like that. I think that’s probably a good way to go. But I think that could be communicated more effectively because I think often people have a tendency to think, “Ok, am I doing it right?” when they are applying it.
I think [practice theories] make even bigger methodological demands than sometimes realized. …
So people, institutions, and consequently archives, do not tend to speak of practices. … There is one exception, and that is Monty Python with the Ministry of Silly Walks. But I think that is telling that we have ministries that deal with housing – that is about the housing stock, not necessarily about housing practices …
we really have to think perhaps harder, more creatively about sideways methodological research techniques that allow us to get closer to the actual practice.
- Frank Trentmann at the DEMAND Conference panel, April 2016 (listen to all of Frank’s remarks, starting from 26:21)
For those curious about the intersection of practice theories and digital methodologies, this upcoming event that has been brought to our attention might be of interest:
Digital methodologies and domestic energy practices workshop
19-20th October 2016, Centre for Housing Research, University of St Andrews
If you are interested in the relationship between practice theories (broadly writ) and methodologies, we would be interested to hear your responses, reactions, and revisions to the Propositions for Discussion. Please get in touch with Hilmar (email@example.com) or Allison (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out more about contributing your own post to this blog.
We have discussed methodological issues of practice theory in a panel during the conference What Energy is For: The Making and Dynamics of Demand at Lancaster University, which was organised by the DEMAND Centre.
The panel members Ben Anderson, Alison Browne, Russell Hitchings, and Frank Trentmann engaged with the propositions presented in this blog in relation to their own work. The panel was organised by Allison Hui and Hilmar Schäfer.
You can listen to the audio recording of all panel presentations and the discussion.
In addition, the contribution by Alison Browne can be read here on the blog.
Asking questions of methodology is a vitally important project. Asking what practice theoretical research makes is also important (Law, 2009, Law and Urry, 2004). In setting up the critique of the ABC as a collective project, we often lambast not just theory but how particular ontological and epistemological assumptions about the nature of resource demand, consumption and sustainability are brought forth and made real in these research and policy traditions.
I am reflecting particularly on the use of mixed methodology and working across qualitative and quantitative data. This involves reflecting on what these different forms of data make. I am addressing two of the propositions of this blog, and linked DEMAND conference session:
Proposition 1. Established methods offer both opportunities and dangers for working with practice theories
Proposition 4. Inventive and multiple methods, units, samples etc are particularly useful for exploring practices at different scales, in relation to changing social patterns and variably interconnected actors.
I raise 4 arguments in the practice theory literature in regards to different types of methodologies – I only quickly address the first two as these are the most accounted for arguments to more deeply consider analytical and statistical generalisation of qualitative and quantitative methods.
My contribution is related to Theodore Shatzki. He says in his input: “On my view, perhaps the most important contribution that theory makes to social research is the provision of concepts with which researchers can describe, explain, and interpret social phenomena. “ In my view, there are some ideas in social theory that can be added to what Theodore pointed out in his contribution.
In my view, the interplay of the material body and material objects (body-object-associations) produces the observable praxis as a reality (Hillebrandt 2014). If the praxis is researched, in this way, as a materialistic and bodily constituting process, then one avoids the scholastic regulation of operative intentions as well as of structural properties. Instead of this, it becomes possible to determine the conditions for the origin of complex and variable practices, without thereby placing theoretical logics over the logic of practice. Only in this way does praxis become visible as a reality. Consequently, a sociological theory of praxis adheres to a definition of the body involved in praxis, in order then to relate this to a second, closely connected step for the definition of materialistic components of praxis.
On my view, perhaps the most important contribution that theory makes to social research is the provision of concepts with which researchers can describe, explain, and interpret social phenomena. The concepts I have in mind include the frameworks of categories and assumptions that Stefan Hirschauer mentions in his characterization of practice theory quoted on the blog website:
“Practice theories are a kind of ‘modest grand theories’ as they offer mere frameworks of categories and assumptions for developing substantial theories of specific practices.” (Hirschauer; quoted on the blog website)
Practice theories tend to provide concepts that specify the stuff, if you will, out of which social phenomena consist, namely, practices, including what composes practices — above all, actions and material entities — and the wider complexes and constellations formed by practices (the plenum of practices). Encompassing both the composition and wider plenum of practices, practice theoretical ontologies can be quite elaborate.
“Practice theories are a kind of ‘modest grand theories’ as they offer mere frameworks of categories and assumptions for developing substantial theories on specific practices.”
- Stefan Hirschauer (2008): “Die Empiriegeladenheit von Theorien und der Erfindungsreichtum der Praxis”, in: Herbert Kalthoff/Stefan Hirschauer/Gesa Lindemann (eds.), Theoretische Empirie. Zur Relevanz qualitativer Forschung, Frankfurt a. M., pp. 165–187, p. 172 (trans. Hilmar Schäfer)