There are rich examples of practice theory-informed research that addresses bundles of professional/organisational practices, leisure practices, or everyday practices related to, for example, pressing concerns such as sustainability. Yet considerations of the nexus of practices invite researchers to continue creatively investigating links that may cross over different sub-disciplinary literatures or methodological discussions. In this interview, Allison Hui talks with Bhavna Middha about how her research, on topics such as eating and community engagement, has engaged with varied everyday and governance practices through a grounding in Schatzki’s site ontology. Our discussion highlights how digital and online methods can be integrated as forms of co-production.Continue reading “Interview with Bhavna Middha”
Ethnomethodology (EM) and practice theory (PT) should pay more attention to each other. This might sound like a strange, even preposterous claim. After all, both strands of scholarship currently have a respectable academic following and are in no need to expand their territory, so to speak. Moreover, a newcomer to either of these traditions might struggle to see any fundamental differences between them. Garfinkel, after all, contemplated the name “neo-praxeology” before eventually landing on the mouthful that is ethnomethodology. There are also many publications within the PT literature that discuss and praise the relevance of EM (e.g. Nicolini 2013). Experiences at recent conferences have, however, left me wondering about the relationship between EM and PT.Continue reading “Johannes Coughlan – Some newcomer’s observations on the relation of ethnomethodology to practice theory”
As a practice theorist, I engage with Heideggerian and Wittgensteinian arguments that practice is the source of meaning and human action (cf. Schatzki, 1996), broadly sustained by practical understanding and intelligibility, normativity, and teleo-affectivity. I am particularly fascinated by expertise as a form of social, normative, and relational mastery, as “skill, know-how and technique” (Shove, Pantzar, and Watson, 2012: 14) inscribed in bodies and minds, that practitioners must possess to competently engage in a certain practice.
In my research, I look at expertise in labour practices, to understandhow the internal organisation of different types of work shapes conditions of expert conduct, and how this conversely affects practitioners’ relations and engenders conflicts and inequality. I consider here the case of ‘conference interpreting’. This is an exceptionally complex professional practice, based on multilingual communication services performed in high-stake settings (e.g. supra-national organisations, business…), and positioned in labour markets as part of the language industry. (If you cannot visualise it, think about that film with Nicole Kidman doing headphones-and-microphones simultaneous ‘live’ translations for the UN…).
In response to the aims of a workshop on Connecting Practices in Lancaster during April 2019, this short experimental piece explores lines in Lancaster and their multiple relationships with and forms of connection to practice. It therefore addresses the theme of ‘processes of connection’ and explores line-making as such a process. The piece of thought has two starting points. The first is Ingold’s ‘comparative anthropology of the line’ (2016:1) in which he argues that the production and significance of lines should be a topic for anthropological study, and in which he provides some conceptual starting points for such a project. His focus on different forms and classes of line across practices including walking, weaving, storytelling, drawing and writing drew my attention to painted lines in the first place, and raised a question ‘how do painted lines do work in the world?’. In this paper I am interested in how practice theory might offer conceptual starting points for answering this question. Continue reading “Nicola Spurling – Lancaster Lines”
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.
When you open the door and leave the house you are living in, you interact with architecture. Or take the example of the former Guinness brewery in Dublin’s inner city quarter The Liberties: When the building ceases to host a brewery and its industrial workers and is, instead, used as site for a technology park and for digital workers, it becomes visible how intimately architecture and the social are intertwined. But how can we approach architecture’s agency and its co-constitutive character for practices? How can something that is primarily bodily experienced be the subject of social scientific analysis? In this contribution, I am concerned with exactly these kinds of questions.
The idea for this blog post evolved accidentally. It is based on biographic data I gathered in the context of research for my PhD thesis about intersexuality and a new perspective, which has opened up for me in relation to current sociological accounts of subjectivation. Accordingly, this contribution is the surprising output that arises when theoretical discussions suddenly open up a new perspective on »old« material.
In the tradition of poststructuralist theory, current works describe subjectivation primarily as an external impact on the individual, as a constant process of discursive and non-discursive practices of »doing subjects« (Reckwitz 2017, 125). It seems to me that a poststructural understanding of subjectivation mainly focuses on the practices of production and thereby neglects the empirical dimension of the resulting subjectivity, understood as a specific way of feeling and thinking as well as acting in the world of the subjects.
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.
“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.