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 6: On rules, on knowing the rules and on ordinary prescription

Silvia Gherardi

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


A perspective of analysis proposed by practice-based studies–but which has a tradition within the sociology of work–is exploration of the gap between what organizational rules prescribe and what people actually do in their situated working practices. A classic study on this theme is the organizational ethnography carried out by Julien Orr (1996) on photocopier repair technicians and commented on by various authors in a special issue of Organization Studies celebrating the decennial of the publication of Orr’s book (Tsoukas, 2006). This chapter examines the normative infrastructure of practices: that is, how rules are resources for practical activities; and it does so by starting from the dual nature of rules. These, in fact, are stated in decontextualized and universal terms, but they are sustained and translated into practice in a situated manner so that they interweave with discursive and technological practices. To resume the metaphor of rock-climbing, rules are the handholds for the performance of practical activities, and they are practical accomplishments in the course of their application. The chapter also discusses the artefacts (protocols for instance) which give material form to rules, as well as the media–like speech or script–which mediate the maintenance and transmission of rules.

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