Problems and Methods
Chapter 4: Sociomaterial practices and technological environments
In this chapter we take a step forward in the empirical study of practices by considering the materiality of the relations which are woven together as a practice unfolds. In order to frame this way of looking at practices, we must take a step back and specify what is meant when practice is described as epistemological rather than as an ‘object’ or a privileged locus of learning and knowing. To gain better understanding of the epistemology of practice–and therefore move away from analysis that privileges action as the product of actors in a given context–it is useful to recall how Ira Cohen (1996) distinguishes between theories of action and theories of practice. We may say that whilst the theories of action privilege the intentionality of actors, from which derives meaningful action (in the tradition of Weber and Parsons), the thoeries of practice locate the source of significant patterns in how conduct is enacted, performed or produced (in the tradition of Schütz, Dewey, Mead, Garfinkel and Giddens). Hence theories of practice assume an ecological model in which agency is distributed between humans and non-humans and in which the relationality between the social world and materiality can be subjected to inquiry. Whilst theories of action start from individuals and from their intentionality in pursuing courses of action, theories of practice view actions as ‘taking place’ or ‘happening’, as being performed through a network of connections-in-action, as life-world and dwelling (as the phenomenological legacy calls them, see Chia and Holt, 2006; Sandberg and Dall’Alba, 2009).
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