Social practices

From EcoliseWiki

The greatly diverse writings that adopt a practice approach have been instrumental as a social science response to climate change research as they provide analytical tools and explanations on how «new forms of living, working and playing» need to fundamentally change as a response to global problems such as climate change (p.1273) [1]. A variety of theoretical approaches to social practices were developed in Sociology and Philosophy over the last century, by scholars such as Giddens, Bourdieu, Lyotard, Charles Taylor, Foucault, among others. Over the turn of this century, the work of philosopher Theodore Schatzki [2] and the cultural sociologist Andreas Reckwitz [3] identified and contributed to a Practice Turn in Social Sciences research. These theories are centred on the analysis of what binds social and individual everyday life.

From Schatzki and Reckwitz systematization of these theories, practices were proposed as a core unit for analysis because they structure individual, social and institutional life. Given they are considered a meso-level theoretical perspective, they allow for both a micro and macro analyses, since their focus may be on individual activities or move on to consider individual interactions as a «field of practices», expanding to the analysis of groups, communities or nations [2]. Accordingly, Reckwitz defines practice as: «[…] a routinized type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one another: forms of bodily activities, forms of mental activities, ‘things’ and their use, a background knowledge in the form of understanding, know-how, states of emotion and motivational knowledge. » (p.202) [3]

Reckwitz’s definition of practice integrates the basic notion that there is a continuum of constellations of activities, which are interrelated and interdependent. Thus, practices exist because they are carried out by practitioners, and continuously reproduced over time and space, becoming practices-as-entities [2]. A continuous flow of activities – or a set of interconnected doings and sayings – forms collective clusters of activities that are interdependent and coordinated, thus appearing as entities. Practices-as-entities are interlinked by specific types of elements or the components of practices, which Schatzki refers to as: «action understandings»; «rules» and «teleoaffective structures» (p.89) [4]. This teleoaffective structure is a set of ends, means, doings, uses and emotions that govern practices within an existing context. Through practitioners’ performances, or the ways practices are carried out, new practices emerge. Practices-as-performance refer to the enactment of a practice by individuals, who are continuously reproducing practices-as-entities in the course of their activities in everyday life [2]. Thus, the continuous repetition and reproduction of practices-as-entities is accompanied by an ongoing transformation of practices.

Schatzki’s core distinction between practice as a recognizable entity across time and space, formed historically as a collective or entity, and the enactment of practices by individuals and groups who reproduce and transform entities, illustrates how the analysis of time and space is core to social practice theory. Henceforth, this theoretical approach introduces a new viewpoint to the study of societal transitions, which can be understood as transitions across time and space between different patterns of practices-as-entities.

  1. Shove, E. 2010. Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environment and Planning A, 42(6), 1273–1285. doi:10.1068/a42282.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Schatzki, T., Knorr-Cetina, K., von Savigny, E. (Eds.) 2001. The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory. London: Routledge
  3. 3.0 3.1 Reckwitz, A. (2002) Toward a theory of social practices. A development in culturalist theorizing. European Journal of Social Theory, 5, 243–263. doi: 10.1177/13684310222225432
  4. Schatzki, T. 1996. Social Practices: A Wittgensteinian Approach to Human Activity and the Social. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.