When conducting qualitative research in a foreign country, practice researchers are faced with a number of methodological questions: How do we ‘get at’ practices in a different cultural context? How does our understanding of practices evolve in relation to knowledge of one’s own culture? Which kinds of methodologies are most appropriate? In sum, what you need to know to be able to write about practices in other countries? Continue reading “Jenny Rinkinen & Mattijs Smits – What do you need to know about practices (in other countries)?”
“Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves.”
Outsiders might conceive of the field of practice theories as suffering from multiple personality disorder. Each practice theory seems to frame the concept of practice slightly differently. Still, this kind of multiplicity is not a cause for suffering. In fact, as long as practice theories maintain basic ‘family resemblances’ (Reckwitz 2002) – like for instance a post-individualist decentering of ‘the actor’ – it is rather a resource for innovation (Laube and Schönian 2013). There is, however, something else. Each practice is several, is many, is a profusion of itself. Adapting the words of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) helps to shift our focus. It is not the field of practice theories that is suffering from an identity crisis, but rather its central research object. The empirical profusion and complexity of practices poses a common methodological challenge.
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?”
Practice 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.
Russell Hitchings: “If you’re thinking about practice as a kind of invitation to explore the world or phenomena through a range of interesting ways, I like that. I think that’s probably a good way to go. But I think that could be communicated more effectively because I think often people have a tendency to think, “Ok, am I doing it right?” when they are applying it.
I think [practice theories] make even bigger methodological demands than sometimes realized. …
So people, institutions, and consequently archives, do not tend to speak of practices. … There is one exception, and that is Monty Python with the Ministry of Silly Walks. But I think that is telling that we have ministries that deal with housing – that is about the housing stock, not necessarily about housing practices …
we really have to think perhaps harder, more creatively about sideways methodological research techniques that allow us to get closer to the actual practice.
- Frank Trentmann at the DEMAND Conference panel, April 2016 (listen to all of Frank’s remarks, starting from 26:21)
For those curious about the intersection of practice theories and digital methodologies, this upcoming event that has been brought to our attention might be of interest:
Digital methodologies and domestic energy practices workshop
19-20th October 2016, Centre for Housing Research, University of St Andrews
If you are interested in the relationship between practice theories (broadly writ) and methodologies, we would be interested to hear your responses, reactions, and revisions to the Propositions for Discussion. Please get in touch with Hilmar (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Allison (email@example.com) to find out more about contributing your own post to this blog.
We have discussed methodological issues of practice theory in a panel during the conference What Energy is For: The Making and Dynamics of Demand at Lancaster University, which was organised by the DEMAND Centre.
The panel members Ben Anderson, Alison Browne, Russell Hitchings, and Frank Trentmann engaged with the propositions presented in this blog in relation to their own work. The panel was organised by Allison Hui and Hilmar Schäfer.
You can listen to the audio recording of all panel presentations and the discussion.
In addition, the contribution by Alison Browne can be read here on the blog.