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.
If 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.