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Practice Theory Methodologies

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Proposition 6

Susann Wagenknecht – Normative notions of practice: on rules, accountability and in-/formality

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.

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Franka Schäfer – Discourse → Event ← Practice

img_dr_schaefer_1By 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.

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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.

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Frank Hillebrandt – Body-Object-Associations and the Principles of Sociology of Practice

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.

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