As I previously mentioned I’m taking a look at Practice Theory as part of my coursework this semester. First up is reading Davide Nicolini’s Practice Theory, Work, and Organization. This post is about chapter one, but I may cover multiple chapters in subsequent posts.
Even though Nicolini is writing a book about Practice Theory he resists the urge to try to establish a single, monolithic, unified practice theory, and has structured his book around six separate strands:
- social praxeology: Bourdieu and Giddens
- practice as tradition
- Activity Theory
- Schatzki’s work building on Heidegger and Wittgenstein
- critical discourse analysis
He cites Schatzki (2001) when mentioning this emphasis on practice theories rather than a unified practice theory. This same work is cited pretty heavily elsewhere in the first chapter, and seeing that he dedicates a whole chapter to him Schatzki is clearly important to Nicolini. If anyone is looking for a Wikipedia page to write, there appears to be no article for Schatzki, despite the fact that he is mentioned prominently in the article for Practice Theory. Maybe that can be something I can create a stub for when it comes to the chapter on Schatzki…
Nicolini also distinguishes between weak and strong practice theory. In weak practice theory the techniques of paying attention to the mundane details of activity are used in an effort to catalog and describe various practices in a particular domain or context. Hard practice theory does this as well but goes an extra step in trying to explain how the practices are generated in various contexts over time. Strong practice theory takes identified practices as the unit of analysis and build ontological analyses upon them.
It strikes me that in my own first tentative steps in using practice theory I’ve definitely been more in the weak camp. I’ve applied an attention to mundane details to identify practices, but haven’t done much analysis of how those practices are sustained over time–the ontological work. I’m hopeful that this book will give me the tools to help me shift towards trying more of that. While there is clearly an ordering to weak/strong I wonder if there may be hidden humanistic benefits to a weak approach–where letting the reader infer connections, rather than explicitly giving them could be useful. I can’t help but be reminded of Hard and Soft sci-fi.
Schatzki, T. R. (2001). The practice turn in contemporary theory. In T. R. Schatzki, K. K. Cetina, & E. von Savigny (Eds.). Routledge.