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Practice Theory Methodologies

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).

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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?

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Jenny Rinkinen & Mattijs Smits – What do you need to know about practices (in other countries)?

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)?”

Stefan Laube – The profusion of practices as a methodological challenge

“Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves.”

Fernando Pessoa

portrait_laube

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.

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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.

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The ‘right’ methods and conversations

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.

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Sideways techniques

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.

Digital methodologies and domestic energy practices workshop

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

Continue reading “Digital methodologies and domestic energy practices workshop”

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