HillebrandtMy 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.

In this manifold nexus of conditions for practices, all components must be set variably in principle, in order to avoid reduction in the definition of practices that can chain themselves to praxis forms. Thus not only the forms of praxis, but also the conditions for the emergence of forms of praxis can be conceived dynamically in large measure. For this reason, praxis cannot be understood as an apparatus that is always reproduced in the same way, in other words deterministically. With this argument, praxis theory does not avoid the classic problem of sociology, which one could designate as the actor-structure problem, in which it is resolved structurally or actor-theoretically (to this end, see only Giddens 1979: 193ff.). The sociology of praxis shows itself exactly in this, placing this problem in the centre point of research of practices and praxis forms, in which it is reformulated as an association between socialized bodies and material artefacts and objects. Thus they are taken strictly as only relevant and existent if they are perceived bodily. To this extent, all objects are material artefacts. On the other hand, in the sense of Latour’s thesis of symmetry (Latour 2005), to which I expressively connect myself, the human bodies are also not conceivable without artefacts. They are only existent through the association with material objects. The material artefacts are accordingly no less involved with the product of praxis formations as with human bodies. In order to research praxis, the diverse aspects without which practice would not have emerged must be brought together. These include not only the human body, but also material artefacts and objects, without which practices could not be implemented. The way that this combination of physical bodies and material artefacts becomes a product with its own quality allows itself to be determined paradigmatically as follows: the sociology of praxis assesses practices in its research, which are determined as material events. They are the final elements from which praxis is formed, in which practices interlink themselves. They are not thinkable without presuppositions, thus they do not emerge from nothing, because the product of praxis only allows itself to be conceived if practices chain themselves together, if they thus connect themselves to the already produced practices. With this principle of events thus composed, sociological praxis theory is simultaneously debarred – that practices can be conceived as epiphenomena of a totality of the same nature as always (cf. also Brandom 1998), because they are not exclusively the expression, but rather primarily the point of departure for the formation of praxis. Because the praxis formations can only be established through practices, they are also not a timeless entity, but are instead “zones of intensity” of praxis generated through practices (Deleuze und Guattari 1992: 37). If practices indeed stand for something, and thus can be seen as the expression of praxis formations, they are always at the same time the events that form praxis. For this reason they cannot be conceived as a component of previously defined structure alone, because this would not be just in their character as events (cf. Laclau und Mouffe 2000: 151).

In connection with Wittgenstein’s argument of rule regression (cf. 1984: 345; 286-290), this very formally defined concept of praxis is given content, in which the material composition of practices is theoretically defined. This is because practices are always bodily and materialistic anchored, because every practice only emerges in this way and can be linked to other practices, so that the peculiar execution of reality of praxis emerges, which has not an abstract but rather a material quality. This paradigmatic theoretical decision, which can be defined as the principle of materiality of sociological praxis theory, has considerable consequences for the development of theory of sociology of praxis. It compels, as retraced here, a new concept of the human body as well as a new concept of material objects.

Acts of speech such as articulations, screams, talking and contributions to conversation are just as much practices as acts of movement – defined gestures, walking, driving a car or employing other means of transportation, movements in dance or also the use of technical devices etc. – always bodily, thus proceed from the physical body as a source of praxis, and simultaneously act upon the body, in that they are incorporated and thus a part of the objective bodily experience. Physical bodies, which are not only conceived as objects of communication or discourse, are always doubly relevant in sociological praxis theory: on the one hand as a source of praxis, because practices emerge from human bodies, which link and consolidate themselves to praxis forms and formations. On the other hand as a reservoir of sociality, because praxis inscribes itself in them, which then, as a result, becomes visible as an objective bodily experience – thus as habitus – expressive in a somewhat new way. Sociality and its symbols embody itself through the objective bodily experience, which is always with the connected to the expression and thus the performance, also and exactly then, whenever the expression and performance are actually not intended, if the body thus is deployed as a form of expression, as if in dance or with other stage appearances but also in the daily stylization of the body through clothing, tattoos or behaviors. The objective body experience, which engages us regularly – incidentally also with stage appearances in stage fright – and thereby defining our role in praxis, is always a product of sociality in the sociology of praxis. In other words, the manifold aspects of the human body, thus incorporation, habitual expression, embodiment, and objective body experience, are conditioned reciprocally in a sociology of praxis, so that the concepts of “Körper” (objective-body) and “Leib” (subjective-body) are not, as has often happened in the history of thought, opposed to one another. Even less tenable is a differentiation between body and sense in such a bodily principle. The poesies of actors always proceed from their totality; it is always a product of the socialized body. Cognitive and emotional aspects of the body are not separated from one another, because then the false impression is given that cognition could control emotion. The extent to which such a conception of the human body is unrealistic shows itself regularly in the performance of praxis, even if only in situations in which emotions should be restrained – thus somewhat in a scientific discussion of field –, they regularly provide subtle manner. This example illustrates the grounding paradigm of every sociological praxis theory, that practices are always bodily anchored. The poesies coming from actors is always connected to the socialized body (cf. Bourdieu 1992: 66), it is only to be understood cognitively, so that in no sense defines human intentions a-historically. It would be just as nonsensical to conceive of human bodies as ahistorical nature. They are always socialized, because without this socialization they are simply not capable of life. Also if, as anthropologists might object, this does not hold true for the vital scream of the newly born child, it is nonetheless necessary and sufficient for sociological praxis research to paradigmatically determine that the bodily components of practices are conceived as habitual skills of socialized bodies, which first are established in the confrontation with practice as manifold forms of expression and activity. Bodies are, in the post-structural materialism of sociological praxis theory, transforming products of praxis, impossible without practices because they emerge from them. Creative activities are not negated with this body principle, but rather conceived as the result of objective body experience, whose conditions are manifold and must be investigated by sociological praxis research in order to be able to investigate the creative aspect of praxis, thus the emergence of the new proportionally as a product of the implementation of practices. This dynamic process does not adequately capture praxis if it is not observed that all practices are anchored constitutively as materialistic. This is because a carrying out of praxis cannot be conceived in which only human bodies are only associated with one another. Practices are always, even in the consummation of love between two naked bodies on a lonely beach, connected to material objects and artefacts; without them they could not emerge. Just as these are respective to the human body, sociological praxis theory is post-structurally respective to the axiomatic grounding presumption: Material objects and artefacts are not timeless – they are products of praxis, which again returns to the emergence of practices. Also considered respective to this material object principle of social praxis theory is the notion that this sociological direction of research does not satisfy the immaterial defining of these things, in that they are merely conceived as constructions of discourse or themes of communication. Sociological praxis theories instead see the material constitution of all praxis as an important point of departure, conceived as a proper reality of performance. And this pertains self-evidently and also respectively to material objects and artefacts. These are products of the conditions for the emergence of practices, which only become a reality if socialized body and material artefacts are associated in specific ways. If these body-object associations are adjusted, then the question of how the associations are possible is an important question of praxis research. In order to answer this question it must be clarified, how artefacts come into association with socialized bodies, thus how they have been made into important products of praxis. The material object principle of sociological praxis theory thus compels research to follow the material objects of praxis, thus seeing them no longer as a given, but rather to inquire into their path in the new formation of praxis. In this way manifold impetuses of the emergence and performance of practices become visible. And only this identification of this manifoldness of sources of praxis allows it to shed light on the particular quality of the implementation of praxis.

In order to expand the theoretical means of sociology of performance of practices, it is necessary to have a concept, which is set at the level of practices and thus in connection to Bourdieu (cf. 1979) can only be understood as a practical sense that can only be implemented in praxis. The principle of sense of sociological praxis theory thus does not stand in opposition to material theory construction, but instead strengthens it. This is because sense can only be practically experienced, which also holds for the sociological observer of praxis. Sense is therefore not to be abstractly located in abstract in no transparent consciousness of actors. Sense is also just as little something ahistorical, which is already at hand before praxis. Sense emerges in praxis and enables the association between bodies and artefacts. Only once material objects are ascribed to the socialized body does the handle of things emerge, which generates body-thing associations. Sense thus manifests itself in the relationship between socialized bodies and material things. It is documented as incorporation and reification. Both of these modi of sense are made compatible in praxis through the accomplishment of practices. In this process cultural forms and symbols are the material concretions of sense, which make the association between bodies and objects things more perceivable. Thus the red flag is not seldom a demand to place defined, socialized bodies in movement. The promotional emblem also leads people to practice a certain mode of consumption. And the specific symbolization of leading positions in an organization has consequences for the practices, if these symbols are also inscribed as corresponding dispositions in the body. Cultural forms and symbols are thus important agents in the production of body-thing associations. This is the central meaning of the sense principle of sociological theory of praxis. This shows itself moreover, for example, in Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of social inequality (cf. 1979).

In the last step of development of the most important principles of a sociological praxis theory, the following factor must be emphasized: that practices also create formations of practices, which are conceived as zones of intensity of praxis in perpetuity and as always occurring anew. This formation principle does not oppose the event principle of social praxis theory, because a formation of practices is not conceivable without practices as events, through which it must always form itself anew. With this formation principle, sociological praxis theory emphasizes the notion that rules of praxis are only understood on a continuing basis, if they are investigated in their formations. Here, sociological praxis theory leaves behind the theory of functional differentiation, because praxis formations, which can arise from and around materialistic themes, are not conceived as pure spheres in which only a clearly definable – and discernible from other praxis forms – form of practices is constituted. In complete opposition to this, specific praxis forms and formations of praxis are only conceivable if the collection of different body-object associations is identified and investigated. Only then can it be seen that praxis formations, which in their practical discharge of involved socialized bodies regularly indicated through articulations such as medicine, rock music, education or scientific research. These consist of diverse bodily, materialistic, symbolic and discursive components, which cooperate in their rhizomatic ways, thus in deep and manifold rooted formations. This is just as plausible in medicine as in the praxis formations of rock and pop. Conceived in the long term, these dynamically forming zones of intensity of praxis are investigated without functionalistic or structuralistic connotations in their emergence, without prematurely ascribing non-historical or generalizing consequences that would establish a general function or structure of praxis formations. The sociology of praxis is thus completely different from a situationalism, which restricts itself to only the actual realization of practices in specific situations. Certainly, practices are, with good reason, not understood as forms of expression of overly situational structures. They can, however, actualise quite well as praxis formations. Entirely in this sense, then, the assignment of sociology of praxis is to find a reason why the actualization of defined formations of praxis as well the practical manifestation of more actual, very renitent unequal structures happens. Yet then it is just as obvious, that the apparatus of social praxis theory, here presented as conceptually bundled, seeks and succeeds in capturing the dynamic of formation of praxis. Sociological praxis theory is, in its form systematized by myself, a sociological theory of change and dynamics.

Thus the post-structural materialism of a sociology of praxis forms itself around the event-, materiality-, body-, object-, sense-, and formation principles as a sociological theory, which simultaneously justifies the dynamics and regularities of praxis, in which praxis is conceived of as a material reality of implementation, which always occurs anew as a real exception in hospitals, concert halls, universities, at kiosks and beaches, in forests or also on the street. That praxis occurs can be presupposed, as it takes place, is however a question of sociology of praxis that remains to be clarified. The systematically defined concepts here are to be understood just as the emerging theory containing its paradigms – as instruments whose implementation is to be conceived as a specific nexus of practices which are sociologically substantial. And these instruments must be constantly reflected and extended, so that sociology of praxis can also investigate actual performances of praxis. Here the sociological praxis theory, in my opinion, may not fall back upon the principles I have derived, because then they would not have just claim to the particular quality of uprising of praxis, and therefore could no longer be understood as sociological praxis theory.

And precisely this paradigmatic approach of sociological praxis theory for researching sociality is hence an important reason for the development of new empirical methods or, better yet, an entire ensemble of methods, with which the sensual-physical of the praxis can appropriately conceive of the principles of sociological praxis theory. For if the particular quality of performance of praxis is to be captured, it is necessary not only to have a precise determination of objects, as attempted here, but also a methodical instrument proper for the determination of objects. This cannot remain confined to the classical methods of qualitative social research; it requires at least an expansion to the inquiry of bodily and other materialistic elements of praxis, which are constitutive for practical realization. Here, the question of how dated practices of bodily and materialistic inquiry can be properly, empirically ascended, is first to be discussed, because a sociology of praxis self-evidently cannot be sufficient for researching practices only completed in the present, which can be comprehended in participating observers. This problematics compels a methodical discourse of the relationship between discourse and praxis, because discourse can relate to past practices, without depicting them as self-evidently congruent. Discourses are consequently always good sources for research of past practices. An analysis of discourse must, however, in the sense of praxis research, at least be expanded to the analysis of artefacts and socialized bodies. In order to exclusively analyse discursive formations, the object of sociology of praxis is not suitable. The formations must be placed in relation to the material aspects that praxis is concerned with, so that a manifold and variable picture of formation of praxis can appear. The point of departure of this empirical work is, ideally in praxis research, in historical events, which can be investigated in their emergence as performance of praxis, in which the diverse products of the event are identified and their cooperation traced. The ascertainment of necessary data is not confined by any border. It is only important to obtain the material formation of praxis with the help of respective methods in view. Situational analyses, multi-sited ethnography, actor-network research and habitus analysis are only four of the methods of approach, which should be evaluated and expanded (see first suggestions in Schäfer et al. 2015), in order to supply sociological praxis theory with empirical material, thereby bringing further development of this direction of theory. A separation of theory and empirical methods, as already made clear in the beginning of this paper, is strictly avoided in sociology of praxis. In praxis research a sociological theory is never possible without empirical work, and on the other hand the empirical work is only possible with the help of a theoretical instrument to determine what should be investigated. Research simply cannot be begun without having theoretically determined what should be investigated.

Frank Hillebrandt

Professor of General Sociology and Sociological Theory, Open University (FernUniversität) Hagen, Germany




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