Practice Theory Methodologies


multi-sited ethnography

Stefan Laube – The profusion of practices as a methodological challenge

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

Fernando Pessoa


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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Frank Hillebrandt – Body-Object-Associations and the Principles of Sociology of Practice

HillebrandtMy contribution is related to Theodore Shatzki. He says in his input: “On my view, perhaps the most important contribution that theory makes to social research is the provision of concepts with which researchers can describe, explain, and interpret social phenomena. “ In my view, there are some ideas in social theory that can be added to what Theodore pointed out in his contribution.

In my view, the interplay of the material body and material objects (body-object-associations) produces the observable praxis as a reality (Hillebrandt 2014). If the praxis is researched, in this way, as a materialistic and bodily constituting process, then one avoids the scholastic regulation of operative intentions as well as of structural properties. Instead of this, it becomes possible to determine the conditions for the origin of complex and variable practices, without thereby placing theoretical logics over the logic of practice. Only in this way does praxis become visible as a reality. Consequently, a sociological theory of praxis adheres to a definition of the body involved in praxis, in order then to relate this to a second, closely connected step for the definition of materialistic components of praxis.

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Hilmar Schäfer – The transitive methodology of practice theory

hschaeferIn this contribution, I would like to sketch out both my take on practice theory methodology and its relationship with my current research on cultural heritage. But first of all, I want to start with some remarks about how this blog came about.

My PhD thesis centred on the question of how practice theory can overcome its focus on stability and routine and instead open up its perspective for the dynamics of the social (Schäfer 2013). As Elizabeth Shove, Mika Pantzar and Matt Watson have dealt with similar issues in their book The Dynamics of Social Practice (2012), I engaged in a conversation with Elizabeth Shove, which led to a research visit at Lancaster University in 2015.

Amongst other things (like improving my floorball skills), my research visit highly benefited from conversations I had with members of the department of sociology and the people from the DEMAND Research Centre in particular. I had the opportunity to present my work in a seminar, which led to conversations with Allison Hui about the methodological aspects of practice theory. This blog is an outcome of our exchange, which we would now like to continue with other colleagues. It is also linked to a session at the DEMAND Research Centre 2016 International Conference in Lancaster, UK.

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