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.
When you open the door and leave the house you are living in, you interact with architecture. Or take the example of the former Guinness brewery in Dublin’s inner city quarter The Liberties: When the building ceases to host a brewery and its industrial workers and is, instead, used as site for a technology park and for digital workers, it becomes visible how intimately architecture and the social are intertwined. But how can we approach architecture’s agency and its co-constitutive character for practices? How can something that is primarily bodily experienced be the subject of social scientific analysis? In this contribution, I am concerned with exactly these kinds of questions.
By contributing to this blog, I aim to boost the discussion surrounding the methodological consequences of an unsettled relation of practice and discourse theory. In addition I wish to link these consequences with the ongoing demand to continue the dialogue about appropriate methods of practice sociologies my colleagues and I started two years ago (Schäfer/Daniel/Hillebrandt 2015).
The following outline of practice theory shows why I engage with my object of research – protest – in the context of discourse and practice in the first place. This leads to a synergetic dialogue between practice and discourse theory in the form of post-structural materialism (Hillebrandt 2016) using the concept of serialized events from Foucault (cf. Foucault DeE III, no. 234, 2003). The general methodological consequence of this is a genealogy of the present and a sociology of practice of historical events compared to current ones. I conclude by answering the question of how current protest can be understood by building a bricolage of practices of protest starting from an unprecedented event with the potential for serialization.
The idea for this blog post evolved accidentally. It is based on biographic data I gathered in the context of research for my PhD thesis about intersexuality and a new perspective, which has opened up for me in relation to current sociological accounts of subjectivation. Accordingly, this contribution is the surprising output that arises when theoretical discussions suddenly open up a new perspective on »old« material.
In the tradition of poststructuralist theory, current works describe subjectivation primarily as an external impact on the individual, as a constant process of discursive and non-discursive practices of »doing subjects« (Reckwitz 2017, 125). It seems to me that a poststructural understanding of subjectivation mainly focuses on the practices of production and thereby neglects the empirical dimension of the resulting subjectivity, understood as a specific way of feeling and thinking as well as acting in the world of the subjects.
Researchers in the field of STS convincingly state that studying infrastructures also means to deal with questions of social order (see, for example, the very active blog Installing (Social) Order. Building on this, I propose to replace, or at least supplement, the classical concept of the (supra-)structure with that of infra-structuring. As with other ‘discoveries’ this one was rather coincidental and serendipitous: In April 2016 I became part of the newly founded Collaborative Research Center (SFB) Media of Cooperation. For the researchers gathered there, the concept of infrastructure is one of the central concepts employed to investigate how cooperation between various actors is made possible. In this context I soon began wondering whether the concept of infrastructure could not replace the classical sociological notion of structure and reconcile practice theory with phenomena usually considered to be macrosociological problems. This blog entry is a tentative attempt to discuss this idea.
Ted Schatzki’s differentiation between ‘modest grand’ and ‘grandiose’ theories certainly has some appeal, however, for my taste, his opening statement lays on the grandiosity a bit too thick.
Social theorists, especially those hailing from social philosophy, are like fish in water when speaking on matters of ontology. However, is it really helpful to deliberate and decide of what sociality ‘ultimately’ consists? The answer ‘of practices’ may be equally as fitting as ‘of communication’ (Luhmann), ‘of cognition’ (Brubaker/Cooper), etc. Sociality depends on many such ‘essential’ ingredients. And, thus, it seems to me that one of the most fecund impulses stemming from both Foucault and Latour is their insistence on ontological heterogeneity.
In my perspective as a sociologist, two issues appear of greater import than their ontological brethren: 1. the practical research question: as what can social processes be studied? 2. the question of theoretical wording: how they can be spoken about?