Nicolini practice practice theory

Thoughts on: Davide Nicolini – The practice turn as an invitation to a common inquiry (2014 lecture)

Nicolini has been recommended to me for some time as someone with a practical grasp of “practice theory” (he makes the point that this isn’t really a theory at all) and this opening lecture from what appears to be a conference/symposium at Universiteit voor Humanistiek in 2014 offers a handy primer to some of the core ideas at the heart of all the various flavours of this way of thinking.

This is largely a transcription of my scrappy notes taken as I watched the video.

Also variously known as Practice Approach, Practice based studies, Praxeology or Practice theory

Focusing on ordinary actions to understand social and organisational phenomena (rather than focusing on individuals (psychology/economics), systems, class (Marxism) or structures)

A literary genre to re-present practice(s) in the text

A set of methods to interrogate the world according to this strategy

I really just need to keep writing about the things people are doing until I have adequately represented the practices

Schatzki and Shove sit in Post-Wittgensteinian theory of practice

Common main assumptions of practice approaches:
1) Ordinary actions are key to understanding and explaining social and organisational phenomena
2) Most ordinary actions are performed as part of conventionalised ways of doing. When ordinary activities become identifiable regimes of activity (collections of individual actions?) we (and practitioners) call them “practices”
3) Practices, their configurations and dynamics can be used to explain other phenomena such as meaning, knowledgeability, social change, sustainability, power, social inequality etc

Intelligibility – what it makes sense to do (also in relation to what other people do)

In thinking about a practice, we think about the process, the duration and the sequence – the “what do I do next?” which is also shaped by practices surrounding it

Practices can create power relationships (e.g. queueing)

Practices need a constituency – there have to be people involved and affected by it

Challenges of scholarship around practice

Embracing the practice approach is different to using practice theory. The latter can be stuck in semantics. It needs to be applied. Writing about practice needs to use tangible, meaningful examples.

Enumerating practices is not super helpful – doesn’t capture the complexity. (i.e. – you are doing nursing if you do these 11 things). Practice is more than what people do. We need to consider why the education technologist evaluates the new piece of technology, not just that they do.

“Ways of doing”

The big phenomena of edvising includes changing teaching, supporting teaching, advocacy

Work in this space needs to make a difference for practitioners – not just be academic voyeurism

Ways that practice approaches can help:
A vocabulary for design theory
A language for reflection

How can we change practices?
What practices can/should be changed?

Clearly in a one hour lecture, Nicolini covers much more than this and provides some meaningful examples. He also contrasts practice approaches with the work of Max Weber on the principles of bureaucracy, explaining that we don’t actually encounter bureaucracy, rather we experience offices, queues, admin staff, policies etc.