Practice Theory Methodologies


Proposition 5

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”

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”

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”

Stefan Hirschauer – Monistic praxeontology? A modest grand plea for ontological heterogeneity

personen_shirschauerTed 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?

Continue reading “Stefan Hirschauer – Monistic praxeontology? A modest grand plea for ontological heterogeneity”

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?”

Ted Schatzki – A Practice Theoretical Epistemology of Large Phenomena

picture-1616-1306338230On 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.

Continue reading “Ted Schatzki – A Practice Theoretical Epistemology of Large Phenomena”

Allison Hui – ‘Configuring what comes next’: sampling

A Hui by H AlterIn their introduction to an edited collection on Inventive Methods, Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford acknowledge that inventive methods “are methods or means by which the social world is not only investigated, but may also be engaged” – that is, they are involved in “configuring what comes next” (2012, p6). While this is true of all methods – whether seemingly ‘new’ or ‘old’ – it is not often explicitly discussed in the traces circulating through research communities. This is particularly the case when considering the relationship between methodological and theoretical invention. Though it is necessary to explain how one conducted empirical research when writing papers, the conceptual implications and assumptions of methodological plans can be more sparsely addressed. Continue reading “Allison Hui – ‘Configuring what comes next’: sampling”

Blog at

Up ↑