How to Conduct a Practice-based Study
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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.
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Chapter 1: How ordinary work is practically accomplished

Silvia Gherardi


What do people do when they work? When they work is that all they do? How does work differ from non-work? The more traditional sociologists of work have preferred to consider it a ‘macro’ social phenomenon–as employment–leaving ‘micro’ analysis to other disciplines or to other sociological traditions. This is the so-called ‘missing what’ (Garfinkel and Wieder, 1992, p. 203) which escapes traditional studies on work. It is this perspective that has been resumed by the practice-based studies that continues the phenomenological and ethnomethodological tradition, and takes up Barley and Kunda’s (2001) invitation to ‘bring work back in’ organization studies. The study of situated working practices also responds to a need for better understanding of the difference between prescribed work and real work (Licoppe, 2008)–a problem long present in the European sociology of work. To understand this latter perspective, consider the phenomenological definition provided by Alfred Schütz (1962, p. 212), which treats work from another point of view ‘Working, then, is action in the outer world, based upon a project and characterized by the intension to bring about the projected state of affairs by bodily movements’. This defi nition places particular emphasis on work as an activity directed towards the world, that is intended to accomplish a project, and above all one that involves the human body. Too often, in fact, it is forgotten that work activities are performed by a body, by its psycho-physical capacities, and that bodies are differently sexed. Workers are not abstract labour but sociomaterial and symbolic bodies. Gender relations are therefore part of working practices. Jobs are connoted along gender lines, and interactions in workplaces are not so much work interactions as gender constructs.

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