Practice Theory Methodologies


Proposition 4

Lenneke Kuijer & Ron Wakkary – Practices-oriented design: how theories of practice are shaping design (research) methodologies

We are both design researchers, working within the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). Design research is a fairly young discipline, the formalization of which is generally traced back to a series of essays published in Design Studies under the theme ‘Design as a Discipline’ [1, 3, 9]. The aim of these essays was to position ‘designerly ways of knowing’ as a distinct way of generating knowledge about the world. There is much debate around what design research is and does, but in our interpretation of it, we build on the idea that the making and deploying of new artefacts in the everyday world, in order to purposely inquire and ask questions, forms a distinct way of gaining knowledge about the world.

Encountering theories of practice in different ways, we have both drawn on it in our design research. We published separate articles in a special issue on ‘practice-oriented approaches to sustainable HCI’ [10] that can be said to be the first comprehensive introduction to theories of practice within HCI. In 2016, we found ourselves working in the same group at the Department of Industrial Design of Eindhoven University of Technology, where we aim to continue pursuing the relations between theories of practice and HCI. In this blog post, we reflect, from our own experiences, on how theories of practice have shaped methodologies in design research. We thereby engage with propositions 1, 4, 5 and 7. Continue reading “Lenneke Kuijer & Ron Wakkary – Practices-oriented design: how theories of practice are shaping design (research) methodologies”

Jo Mylan & Dale Southerton – Following the Action: An Approach for Studying the Coordination of Practice

A principle methodological challenge for any research is the identification of the core unit of analysis and the ‘entry point’ for empirical enquiry. Both depend on the research questions to hand. For the study of practices these challenges are particularly acute. Studies of practices can range from relatively discreet bundles of activities (such as showering or cycling) to compounds of practices as described by Warde (2013) in relation to eating, which, depending on the question being asked, might or might not encompass cooking, shopping, or entertaining. Where the practice begins and ends is both a theoretical and a methodological problem. Within the conceptual repertoire of practice theories the term ‘coordination’ is often evoked, as something representing the binding together of ‘entities’ (e.g. Shove et al, 2012), of people performing practices (Southerton, 2006), or of actions in time and space (Schatzki, 2010). Despite the critical conceptual role in theories and studies of practices, coordination raises sets of methodological conundrums: what exactly is being coordinated and over what spatial, temporal and societal scales is this coordination occurring?

Floordrobe by Leslie Marinelli of
Photo by Leslie Marinelli via

Continue reading “Jo Mylan & Dale Southerton – Following the Action: An Approach for Studying the Coordination of Practice”

Elizabeth Shove – Practice theory methodologies do not exist

eshovepicIf only I had got round to responding to these propositions earlier! If I had contributed in April 2016 – as was my plan – this task would have been so much easier: 4 lines and not 4 pages. In April, I knew what I wanted to write. Having read the blog and been part of discussions at the DEMAND conference, I simply wanted to add an 8th proposition which went as follows:

Taking “practice” as a central conceptual unit of enquiry generates a range of distinctive questions. The choice of methods depends on which of these questions you want to take up and pursue. Using practice theory is thus not directly tied to certain methods, but the choice of methods is – as always – dependent upon your specific research question.

At that point, that was all I had to say.

I still hold this view (with some qualifications… see below) – but in explaining what I mean and why, it is useful to back track a bit and also take stock of how this position fits (or doesn’t) with the contributions that others have made to this blog.

Continue reading “Elizabeth Shove – Practice theory methodologies do not exist”

Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs & Louise Reid – Digital/virtual/online methods and studying domestic energy practices


This blog reports on a workshop in St Andrews this October and the development of a network of researchers interested in using digital/virtual/online methods to study domestic energy practices. Our contribution is different from other posts on this site contributing to proposition 4 (i.e. 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). Others on this website have previously commented on the effectiveness of multiple and mixed methods (Browne, 2016), which may be dependent on shifting focus between local, contemporary performances and historical trends and wider populations (Morley, 2016), but we are pinning ourselves to articulating the utility (and challenges) of online methods for exploring practices. Continue reading “Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs & Louise Reid – Digital/virtual/online methods and studying domestic energy practices”

Tobias Röhl – From supra-structure to infra-structuring: Practice theory and transsituative order

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.

Continue reading “Tobias Röhl – From supra-structure to infra-structuring: Practice theory and transsituative order”

Sarah Royston – Researching the invisible: tracing policies’ effects on practices

sarah-royston-picAlthough my past work has focused on everyday performances of domestic practices, I’m currently part of a project that is rather more ambitious and unusual.  It aims to understand how policies and policy-making practices steer energy demand, often in unintended or unrecognised ways (see Royston, 2016, for details).  Tracking down these “invisible” effects has demanded a diverse and evolving set of methods.

Practices are steered in many ways, including through the policies of state and public sector actors.  If we want to understand changing practices, we need to consider (among other things) how these policies affect them, both intentionally and unintentionally, and how these effects might change in future.  These questions reflect the call made by other contributors (e.g. Browne, Schatzki, Trentmann) for practice theory to go beyond domestic daily life and consider larger issues (as expressed in Proposition 5).

Continue reading “Sarah Royston – Researching the invisible: tracing policies’ effects on practices”

Janine Morley – Zooming Out: In what sequence should methods be mixed?

Contributing to this blog gives me opportunity to reflect methodologically on my PhD research. Then, as now, I was interested in what a practice theory based understanding of energy demand might look like. My focus was domestic settings, specifically in three contrasting areas: cooking, thermal comfort and ICT. My current research in the DEMAND Centre continues similar interests and is entirely focused on ICT.

Here, I wish to reflect on the idea of ‘zooming in and zooming out’. This metaphor is used by Nicolini (2009) to outline a methodological approach for studying practices. It refers to a process of ‘selective re-positioning so that certain aspects of a practice are fore-grounded and others are temporarily sent to the back-ground’ (Nicolini, 2009: 1412). Continue reading “Janine Morley – Zooming Out: In what sequence should methods be mixed?”

Larissa Schindler – The Motile Dimension of the Social

larissa-schindler-135x180Practice theory clearly understands sociality as an emerging and motile phenomenon. In the practice of researching and arguing however, it seems to me that we should put more analytic emphasis on it. In this sense two questions deserve attention: (1) How do heterogenous body-object-associations emerge as such in an ongoing practice and (2) how do motile phenomena, like i. e. mobility, movement or transformation, characterize a specific practice. I take it that both of them are aspects of motility. Thus, in my contribution, I wish to follow what Frank Hillebrandt and Hilmar Schäfer have already elaborated on, focussing on the motile dimension of the social.

Continue reading “Larissa Schindler – The Motile Dimension of the Social”

Alison L. Browne – What do Mixed Methods Make? Practice theory, qualitative and quantitative data

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:

Continue reading “Alison L. Browne – What do Mixed Methods Make? Practice theory, qualitative and quantitative data”

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