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.
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?”
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)