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How to Conduct a Practice-based Study

Problems and Methods, Second Edition

Silvia Gherardi

Practice-based approaches to knowing, learning, innovating, and managing have thrived in recent years. Calling upon numerous narratives from a range of research fields, the author offers insight into the many possibilities of practice research, highlighting the inextricable links between humans and technology as the key emergent trend in management studies. Developing an innovative posthumanist approach, this novel book offers a useful and insightful compass for the navigation of practice-based studies through the lens of exemplar vignettes from internationally acclaimed researchers.
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Acknowledgements, second edition

Silvia Gherardi

Since the first edition of How to Conduct a Practice-based Study: Problems and Methods was written, theorizing on practice has matured significantly. Practice-based approaches are now well-established, offering a pluralistic way to look at practices as an empirical object of social research. However, the field is still in its infancy.

What sparked my desire for this significantly revised and extended edition was first, to include many of the great practice theoretical and empirical works published in recent years. Secondly, I was delighted to see that the first edition was received as an accessible entrance point to the practice debate in the studies of working, learning and organizing.

In this new version, my aim is to add clarity and to elaborate more fully on some of the intricate theoretical and practical challenges of the practice of ‘doing practice research’. It is a continuation of my methodology in the first edition of the book. Given that ‘practice theory’ is a multiple object done differently within different epistemic practices, this book offers an ongoing narrative of how the practice of ‘doing research on practice’ has been done, can be done and can be creatively innovated. Storytelling is my guiding principle.

An important goal of the book is to open up the debate and seek connections between practice theories, so as to ensure a fruitful dialogue and a clearer articulation of differences between practice theoretical accounts. In this second edition I emphasize the difference between a humanist approach focused on humans and their practices and a posthumanist approach focused on the process of connecting all the practice elements that achieve agency through their connection. Bodies – humans, nonhumans, more-than-humans – materialities, knowledge and discourses are inside a practice and constitutive of it.

I am entirely responsible for this methodological journey across the practice turn in organization studies. However, it would not have been possible without the collaboration and the fertile cultural environment provided by the Research Unit on Communication, Organizational Learning and Aesthetics (www.unitn.it/rucola), and by the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Trento. I therefore extend particular thanks to all my colleagues, and especially to Antonio Strati who has been influential in approaching organizational aesthetics to practice-based studies of learning and working. I was lucky enough to share many years of common work and experimentation with Barbara Poggio and Attila Bruni around the theme of gender as social practice (but not only) and with Davide Nicolini with whom I initiated this journey before our roads diverged. I developed a strong bond with many other scholars who went through the doctoral programme in Information Systems and Organizations and who on particular occasions were also my co-authors: Elisa Bellé, Anna Carreri, Gessica Corradi, Michela Cozza, Francesca Gennai, Francesco Miele, Annalisa Murgia, Laura Lucia Parolin, Manuela Perrotta, Enrico Piras, Giulia Rodeschini, Paolo Rossi, Anna Scalfi Eghenter, Giulia Selmi, Cristiano Storni, Luca Verzelloni and Alberto Zanutto. I have also had numerous travel mates with whom I have shared long talks and intense intellectual exchanges and with whom I wish to continue this journey: Angelo Benozzo, Howard Becker, Marcelo Bispo, Anni Borzeix, Barbara Czarniawska, Gloria Dall’Alba, Eduardo Davel, Bente Elkjaer, Pasquale Gagliardi, Paolo Landri, Philippe Lorino, Marie Manidis, Poul Bitch Olsen, Oriana Price, Alison Pullen, Roberta Raffaetà and Jorgen Sandberg.

I am grateful to all the colleagues and doctoral students that I met in the Department of Education of the University of Oslo and the Department of Management Studies of Aalto University. I spent many years with them as a professor II and I was inspired by the stimulating discussions and insightful comments they offered to my presentations.

I would like to further thank Attila Bruni, with whom I shared the experience of teaching and preparing a first version of this book (Bruni and Gherardi, 2007), which we tested with students at the University of Trento.

I am also deeply indebted to all my colleagues and friends who have allowed me to describe their works and present them in the form of short stories from the field. I hope that I have been respectful of their thoughts, and I apologize for any errors or omissions.

Every book is a collective undertaking, and a plethora of people have contributed. To name them all would be an impossible task, nevertheless to all of them I extend my gratitude.