How to Conduct a Practice-based Study

How to Conduct a Practice-based Study

Problems and Methods

Silvia Gherardi

The practice-based approach to the study of work and organizing has been widely adopted in recent years, yet its theoretical and methodological systematization has only just begun. Silvia Gherardi expertly provides an overview on the topics and issues addressed by practice-based studies. By means of a series of examples drawn from the best-known analyses using this approach, the book provides methodological guidance on how to conduct empirical research on practices, and how to interpret them from three perspectives: practices ‘from outside’ practices ‘from inside’, and the social effects produced by practices.

Chapter 2: Working in coordination centres

Silvia Gherardi

Subjects: business and management, organisation studies, research methods in business and management, research methods, research methods in business and management


Just as the factory represented the ideal-typical workplace for the study of work in the industrial age, and just as the laboratory has been the locus in which science has been studied as the outcome of the working practices of scientists in flesh and blood (Latour and Woolgar, 1979), so coordination centres have become the main places of reference for studies on knowingin-practice. Coordination centres are airport control towers, the control rooms for railway or subway traffic, the call centres which handle emergency calls and deploy ambulances, as well as all those work situations characterized by information and communication technologies used to support cooperation at a distance. Coordination centres are representative of a set of situations which have to do with ‘working together’, where ‘together’ refers to the world of humans interacting with the world of non-humans and, mainly, with the information and communication technologies which support distance work. These places are interesting for the study of working and organizational practices because they make it possible to revise standard categories of analysis like cooperation and individual/collective work, as well as ‘organizing’ understood as an activity situated in practices (Czarniawska, 2008; Weick, 1979). They are also interesting because they allow analysis of the invisible work (Star and Strauss, 1999) required of communities of practice so that technological systems can operate.

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