So as you can tell if you’ve been following along with my reading of Nicolini’s Practice theory, work, and organization I’ve been trying to survey the field that is practice theory. The goal however isn’t just to increase my knowledge, but to apply it, and hopefully learn if it can be useful for my PhD work and beyond.

As I described in my proposal for the independent study, I’m interested to see if practice theory offers a useful conceptual lens for studying the ways in which archivists do appraisal on the Web. Earlier this year I interviewed 30 archivists about their appraisal work in web archives. I recorded the interviews but never had time to transcribe them all. I did use my interview notes and summaries as data for a paper, Bots, Seeds and People that I will be presenting with my co-author (and adivsor) Ricky Punzalan at the next CSCW. Fortunately Ricky had some extra money to get the interviews transcribed which sets the stage for my independent study this semester.

My goal is to take another pass through the interviews using what I learned from my previous analysis and also some ideas from practice theory. Andrea Wiggins (who is kind enough to be guiding me through this independent study) advised me to write down initial ideas about the schema because they are likely to change as the schema is tested, and it can be difficult to remember why initial decisions were made. Being able to contrast what was learned through coding, with what was expected/assumed at the beginning can provide valuable insights.

So here are the high level themes, and some of the parts that emerged in my previous analysis of appraisal in web archives:

Crawl Modalities

  • domain
  • website
  • individual document

Information Structures

  • directories
  • social networks (social filtering)
  • streams / feeds
  • url patterns

Time/Money (Resources)

  • grants
  • testing
  • storage (sampling / fidelity)
  • quotas
  • vendors


  • volunteers
  • technicians
  • archivists
  • software developers
  • organizational groups
  • (actual) social networks
  • partnerships
  • competitions
  • environmental scanning


  • seed lists
  • crawlers
  • indexers
  • viewers
  • nomination tools
  • spreadsheets
  • email
  • social bookmarking


  • storage
  • dynamic web content
  • staffing
  • timeliness
  • coordination

Design Components

  • explicit
  • implicit

To these I think I will add some ideas from practice theory. I will start out by trying to code for them, but it may be that they are concepts that help me interpret the data later instead. It would be useful to be able to coordinate these concepts with the ones I uncovered in the previous study to see if practice theory is useful here.

  • goals (purpose of practices)
  • effects (who/what is effected by practices)
  • history (how did we get here)
  • training/mentorship
  • artifacts/objects (not just tools)
  • work (specific actions & activities)
  • products (work outcomes)
  • professions/communities (groups of practitioners)
  • rules (norms, behaviors)
  • temporal features
  • spatial features

I think Nicolini’s metaphor of zooming in and zooming out could also provide a useful method for me as I take another look at my interviews. He recommends cycling between close attention to practices and then zooming out to identify relationships between practices. As I examine appraisal in web archives as a practice I think it will be useful to consider it in relation to other practices–perhaps appraisal in other domains. Also I suspect that appraisal itself will contain multiple practices within it.

The attention to breakdown as a cross-cutting concern could also be really useful in helping make some of these practices visible. Breakdown itself figures directly into practice theory, because of the connection to Heidegger. So maybe it is conceptual glue for connecting my previous sand is a conceptual

My goal for the next two weeks is to try out these codes on 2 or 3 transcripts and see how well they work. This will involve getting the transcripts loaded up (probably in MAXQDA) and entering in my initial schema. Given the results of that test I’ll adjust the schema as needed and be set up to take a full pass through the transcripts.

I’m going to be deviating from my original reading list to follow up on a few leads from my reading of Nicolini (2012):

Engeström, Y., Engeström, R., and Vähäaho, T. (1999). Activity Theory and Social Practice: Cultural-Historical Approaches, chapter When the center does not hold: The importance of knotworking. Aarhus University Press Aarhus, Denmark.

Kuutti, K. (1996). Activity theory as a potential framework for human-computer interaction research. Context and consciousness: Activity theory and human-computer interaction, pages 17–44.

Law, J. (2009). The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory, chapter Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotic, pages 141–158. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.

Law, J. and Mol, A. (1995). Notes on materiality and sociality. The Sociological Review, 43(2):274–294.

Miettinen, R. and Virkkunen, J. (2005). Epistemic objects, artefacts and organizational change. Organization, 12(3):437–456.

Miettinen, R. (2006). Epistemology of transformative material activity: John Dewey’s pragmatism and cultural-historical activity theory. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 36(4):389–408.

A few things more related things that came up during my meeting this week:

  • thinking about effects of distributed/virtual organizations (Winter, Berente, Howison, & Butler, 2014) and units/layers of organizational analysis (Scott, Davis, & others, 2015)
  • infrastructural inversion: a name for the technique of looking at breakdowns for insight into infrastructure
  • critical incident technique as a research method
  • Stigmergy - social filtering as appraisal technique?
  • pay attention to things vs qualities (nouns vs adverbs) when coding


Nicolini, D. (2012). Practice theory, work, and organization: An introduction. Oxford University Press.

Scott, W. R., Davis, G. F., & others. (2015). Organizations and organizing: Rational, natural and open systems perspectives. Routledge.

Winter, S., Berente, N., Howison, J., & Butler, B. (2014). Beyond the organizational ‘container’: Conceptualizing 21st century sociotechnical work. Information and Organization, 24(4), 250–269.