So as you can tell if you’ve been following along with my reading of Nicolini’s Practice theory, work, and organization I’ve been trying to survey the field that is practice theory. The goal however isn’t just to increase my knowledge, but to apply it, and hopefully learn if it can be useful for my PhD work and beyond.
In the final chapter of Practice theory, work, and organization Nicolini concludes by presenting his own approach to practice theory, which he calls a toolkit approach:
In chapter 8 Nicolini brings attention to the study of discourse in practice theory. Here’s how he situates this movement to looking at discourse in relation to the other practice theories that have been introduced so far:
Chapter 7 is largely about Theodore Schatzki’s theory of practice. At its simplest his idea of practice is comprised of tasks and projects. Tasks are things like opening a can which could be part of a project like cooking a meal. Assemblages of tasks and projects are practices. Actions can be linked together by rules. All practices involve goals or ends that the participants may or may not be fully aware of: a teleo-affective structure. Discussion, contestation and conflict around these goals are part of practice. Practices are continued through repeated performance and collective/social memory (Schatzki, 2006).
Schatzki, T. R. (2006). The time of activity. Continental Philosophy Review, 39(2), 155–182.
This chapter focuses on Ethno-Methodology (EM) which Nicolini characterizes as practice-oriented much like the earlier praxeology of Bourdieu, but more interested in description and less in theory building and particularly the correctness of the descriptions. Garfinkel (1967) is cited as codifying EM around the idea of accountability or making activities legible to others. It’s interesting that Garfinkel originally went to school to study accounting, at least according to Wikipedia. There are several characteristics of accountability:
Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Prentice Hall.
In Chapter 5 Nicolini takes a look at how practice theories have been informed by activity theory. Activity theory was pioneered by the psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the 1920s and 1930s. Since Vygotsky activity theory has grown and evolved in a variety of directions that are all characterized by the attention to the role of objects and an attention to the role of conflict or dialectic in human activity. Nicolini spends most of the chapter looking specifically at cultural and historical activity theory.
Chapter 4 focuses on the idea of practice as something that is tied to tradition and community, which is something Nicolini sees Giddens and Bourdieu departing from. Nicolini is presenting this chapter mostly in order to critique the idea, because its focus on people transmitting ideas to each other, when left unexamined, tends to give solidity to social actors and groups: