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 8: Ethnography for the practice-based design of information systems

Silvia Gherardi

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


It is undeniable that applicative interest is one of the main reasons for studying work as a situated set of practices. The development of new technologies (especially ICT), the increasing complexity of work environments and the dematerialization of work, have focused attention on the question of how to technologically and socially support cooperation in knowledgeintensive jobs. This question also concerns how an accurate description of work-in-situation and in natural settings can contribute to developing competence in collective work and to changing work practices in the spirit of action research. Finally, given that society does not consist of sealed compartments, working practices and social practices are closely bound up with each other. The effects of society on working practices, and of working practices on society, constitute a challenge and an opportunity to explore the continuity of the interweaving between the micro-level and the macrolevel of analysis of practices. There is a particular community of researchers, around information systems, which is interested in practices to develop and support technologies, since the developers of technologies to support practices need to understand the knowledge embedded and embodied in the practices. This is not the only applicative context for the description of working practices, but I want to refer to this body of studies because of their extended use of ethnography at the service of interventions in organizations (Anderson, 1997; Østerlund, 2003; 2004; Schultze, 2000; Schultze and Boland, 2000; Schultze and Orlikowski, 2004).

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