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 5: Learning to talk in practice and about practice

Silvia Gherardi


People work with their hands, arms, heads and bodies, but they also work with words, language and communication situated in interactions. Indeed, one may say that the more manual work diminishes in quantity and becomes immaterial and mediated by ICTs, the more communicative competence is important for efficient work and the prevention of errors and accidents. Moreover, in contemporary society, the expansion of services makes communicative competence of crucial importance, in that talk is not merely a way to communicate but, on the contrary, the principal ingredient of a service. In work situations, talk is almost never talk for its own sake. Instead, as Boutet and Gardin write (2001, p. 97): Language is always directed towards an end, towards an action to be accomplished, a solution to be found, a damage to be mended, or a diagram to be understood. Moreover, language is rarely independent from the technical world of machines, utensils, and objects. This technical world shapes and even constrains the linguistic activities of operators. In this chapter, therefore, we will analyse work as a discursive practice, that is, as a ‘doing’ and a ‘knowing how to do’ with words. Just as the term ‘sociomateriality’ (without the hyphen) was used in Chapter 4 to make the entanglement between the social and the material graphically visible, so the aim in this chapter is to show that discursiveness is material (suffice it to consider that speaking requires a voice!). But it is also to argue that practices are ‘materialsemiotic’: I shall use this neologism with the hyphen between the two terms removed.

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