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.
In our work we have used theories of social practice (Reckwitz 2002; Schatzki 2002; Shove et al. 2012) to study a number of mundane practices common to everyday life, including laundering, bathing, cooking and cleaning (e.g. Maller & Strengers 2013, Strengers et al. 2016). Nearly all of our projects have involved empirical work with households in Australia. In researching practices in-situ we have relied on interviewing as a core method. This requires people to talk about, share and reflect on practices they have been recruited to. Although interviewing for studying practices has been successfully defended in a panel discussion at the 2016 DEMAND conference as well as in literature (e.g. Hitchings 2012), like any method, it has its limitations.
The limitations of interviewing are mainly associated with an oral format where participants provide a first- or second-hand spoken-word account of the practices they and others perform. We are therefore reliant on participants’ memories and descriptions of practice accounts, including all of the elements of interest. As readers of this blog will know, theories of practice emphasise the dynamics and agency of the material world, and in doing so decentre humans to varying degrees. Given this interest in materiality, relying solely on talk-based interviews in practice-based studies may miss important aspects of material agency—a point Alison Browne and Jenny Rinkinen and Mattijs Smits make in their posts on this blog. We have found two ways to resolve this issue. Continue reading “Cecily Maller & Yolande Strengers – Visual provocations: reflections on scrapbooking as a method for studying global practice change”
Although 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).
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)?”
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?”
Asking questions of methodology is a vitally important project. Asking what practice theoretical research makes is also important (Law, 2009, Law and Urry, 2004). In setting up the critique of the ABC as a collective project, we often lambast not just theory but how particular ontological and epistemological assumptions about the nature of resource demand, consumption and sustainability are brought forth and made real in these research and policy traditions.
I am reflecting particularly on the use of mixed methodology and working across qualitative and quantitative data. This involves reflecting on what these different forms of data make. I am addressing two of the propositions of this blog, and linked DEMAND conference session:
In their introduction to an edited collection on Inventive Methods, Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford acknowledge that inventive methods “are methods or means by which the social world is not only investigated, but may also be engaged” – that is, they are involved in “configuring what comes next” (2012, p6). While this is true of all methods – whether seemingly ‘new’ or ‘old’ – it is not often explicitly discussed in the traces circulating through research communities. This is particularly the case when considering the relationship between methodological and theoretical invention. Though it is necessary to explain how one conducted empirical research when writing papers, the conceptual implications and assumptions of methodological plans can be more sparsely addressed. Continue reading “Allison Hui – ‘Configuring what comes next’: sampling”