How is the practice of participatory design embedded, adapted and shared in the studio?

Practice Theory in the Studio: The Dynamics of Change in Innovative Design Methodologies (Dorland, 2016) locates and maps the field of practice-based approaches, suggesting that the practice turn identified by Warde (2005) has moved into a third wave of empirical study. It then explores how three key scholars from the second wave of practice theory (Schatzki, Warde and Shove) conceptualize the emergence, reproduction and innovation of social practices, and examines case studies of specific situated design methodologies proposed by Simonsen et al. as examples of the mechanics of change in the practice of designing. It concludes with an application of Warde and Shove’s particular theories of practice change, proposing that both the collectively understood meaning of the ‘user’ in design practice and the adaptation of new institutionalised structures that normalize the competencies and conventions associated with ‘designing’ can together serve as points of leverage to guide design practice towards practice-oriented and situated methodological ends, suggesting that the use of change-oriented methods from sustainable policy design can be of value in this effort.

Practice Theory in the Studio: The Dynamics of Change in Innovative Design Methodologies

AnneMarie Dorland
April 21, 2016

Candidacy Examination
Supervisor: Dr. Brian Rusted
University of Calgary
Department of Communication, Media and Film


Theoretical considerations of practice have, of late, reached beyond the academy, finding root in a diversity of areas. Of particular note is the use of a practice-oriented and situated approach within design studies, marked by a growing body of work by theorists such as Scott, Bakker and Quist (2012) and Simonsen, Svabo, Strandvad, Samson, Hertzum and Hansen  (Simonsen et al., 2014). Situated and practice-oriented design methods propose an expanded definition of the integrative practice of design: abandoning the creator-centric professional model for one that involves “shaping and changing society” (Simonsen, Baerenholdt, Büscher, & Scheuer, 2010, p. 203) through collaborative and participatory acts that only hint at the desk-bound work of the designer of the past. Situated and practice-oriented design methods propose a redefinition of design practice to include the situated knowledges (Haraway, 1988) of a cast of participants including designers and users, making use of and generating new situated knowledge to, as Bjogvinsson, Ehn and Hillgren suggest, “move from designing things (objects) to designing Things (socio-material assemblies)” (Bjögvinsson, Ehn, & Hillgren, 2012, p. 102).

In Situated Methods in Design (2014) Simonsen et al. propose that the designed environment itself can be understood as an arena of change – one that “may be understood as a field of ongoing engagements and entanglements, in which design processes comprise a series of negotiations and rearrangements that introduce new designs and change established designs by combining them in new ways” (2014, p. 2). This stresses both the central role of participants in this design methodology and the adoption of key terminology from practice theory to describe both the role of designers and “users” as participants in the creation and actualization of socio-material assemblies.[1] In order to illustrate the potential of a situated design method, Simonsen et al. present a series of case studies or “ways of supporting the design process, not as recipes for conducting them”…  (p. 7), and suggests that these methods are currently acting as forms of knowledge embedded in the community of practice that is the design studio (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

This methodological proposal is echoed in the work of Scott, Bakker and Quist (2012) in which they propose a similar approach aimed at the creation and exploitation of situated knowledges developed in partnership and collaboration with user-participants. In Designing Change by Living Change (2012), Scott et al. propose the application of practice-theory to collaborative design processes, employing the vocabulary of the theoretical approach to sensitize practitioners to the creation of practices, not products, and to the influence of ‘user needs’ that are “tied to norms of existing practice, and which design can influence, and indeed already does” (Shove et al., 2008, p. 8, quoted in Scott et al., 2012, p. 283).

These two approaches to the design of interfaces, products, services and experiences combine to represent an exciting development within the field, providing new and innovative methods through which designers can collaborate with users as participants within the design process. However, in order to integrate these methodologies within the normalized and habituated practices of designers, we must relocate the methods of practice-oriented and situated design beyond the realm of individual performances, and into the practice of design itself. In order to do so, we must first understand how practices are reproduced and made durable, or changed and innovated. It is through the application of a practice-based theoretical approach that we are able to turn our attention to the way that practices are made, maintained and steered toward change and it is by employing key works of practice theory that we are able to identify the points of leverage that can be used to effect the desired shift in the everyday practices of designers.

This paper is structured in three parts. The first locates and defines the field of practice-based approaches, suggesting that the practice turn identified by Warde (2005) has moved into a third wave of empirical study. The second part of this paper explores how three key scholars from the second wave of practice theory (Schatzki, Warde and Shove) conceptualize the emergence, reproduction and innovation of social practices, and examines case studies of specific situated design methodologies proposed by Simonsen et al. as examples of the mechanics of change in the practice of designing. It concludes with an application of Warde and Shove’s particular theories of practice change, proposing that both the collectively understood meaning of the ‘user’ in design practice and the adaptation of new institutionalised structures that normalize the competencies and conventions associated with ‘designing’ can together serve as points of leverage to guide design practice towards practice-oriented and situated methodological ends, suggesting that the use of change-oriented methods from sustainable policy design can be of value in this effort.

The Possibilities of a Practice-Based Perspective

The adoption of practice as both a sensitizing and destabilizing perspective, and as a method of engagement within the field of design, is in keeping with the broader turn to studies of practice demonstrated within both empirical and philosophical studies of the contemporary social world (Shove, Pantzar, & Watson, 2012). As a function of the cyclical nature of any theoretical position (Warde, 2014, p. 280), the deployment of a practice-based approach in design processes can be seen as a reactionary move – a rejection of the dominance of the designer-audience dichotomy, and of theoretical approaches that prioritize the designer’s experience. Practice theories, made up of a diverse field which Postill calls “a body of work about the work of the body” (2010, p. 8), have been characterized as approaches, idioms, views, lenses, theories, and even standpoints, all of which “[describe] the important features of the world we inhabit as something that is routinely made and remade in practice using tools, discourse and our bodies” (Nicolini, 2012, p. 2).[2] Based on the premise “that social life is an ongoing production and thus emerges through people’s recurrent actions” (Feldman & Orlikowski, 2011, p. 1240), a practice-based approach invites questions regarding how the social world is constituted by material objects and social structures in engagement with bodies, representing a vocabulary that can be used to describe the world using a specific unit of analysis: that of a ‘practice’. A practice-based approach is, therefore, an “infra-language” which, as Latour suggests, does not “designate what is being mapped, but how it is possible to map anything from such a territory” (Latour, 2005, p. 172).

The history of practice theory can be understood as two waves, with the second gaining both terminology and force from the first. According to Postill (2010), the provenance of contemporary practice theory can be traced back to the works of cultural theorists such as Foucault and Lyotard, philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Dreyfus and Taylor, social theorists including Bourdieu and Giddens, and theorists of science and technology including Latour, Rouse and Pickering (p. 4). Schatzki divides these points of origin further into sub-categories of theoretical practice thinkers, social theoretical practice thinkers, cultural theorist practice thinkers and theorists of science and technology (2001a, p. 12), suggesting that a sole area of consensus is found in a focus on practice-entities which at once “underlie subjects and objects, highlight non-propositional knowledge, and illuminate the conditions of intelligibility” (p. 10). With these categorizations and re-categorizations in mind, Warde predicts that the third wave of practice theory will apply the approach to substantive explanations in diverse empirical settings (2014, p. 285) thus developing what Nicolini defines as a “strong programme” of practice theory focused on developing an explanation, rather than a catalogue, of social life (2012, p. 12).

A crucial point of departure for a practice-based understanding of stabilization and change is the work of Giddens, whose structuration theory proposed a recursive relationship between human activity and social structures. In The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (1984), Giddens introduced the notion that the structures of the social world, while shaping and enabling activity, were themselves shaped and reproduced by human action. This focus on the duality of agents and structures, and their intertwined constitution, privileged the social practice and its order across time and space, rather than either the actor or the social totality itself. This provided theorists like Shove, Pantzar and Watson the vocabulary required to “conceptualize change without agency and choice, and to conceptualize stability without treating it as the outcome of structures” (2012, p. 4). The key principles of the structuralist approach – contextual sensitivity, complexity of human intentionality, and the subtlety of social constraint (Giddens, 1984) – are echoed within the practice-based approach of theorists such as Schatzki, Shove et al., Warde and Reckwitz.[3]

The second wave of practice-based approaches to the study of the social adopted the key terms of social philosophy and empirical sociology, and used the momentum of the first wave of theoretical work to develop a practice-based approach focused to the study of action and performance (Warde, 2005, p. 285), retroactively adding Garfinkel (1984), Butler (1990) and Taylor (1985) to their pantheon. Theorists such as Ortner (2006), Schatzki (1996; 2001; 2001b; 2005; 2012), Reckwitz (2002), Shove et al. (2010a; 2003; 2005; 2007; 2012) and Warde (2005; 2007; 2014) extended theoretical debates regarding the construction of the social world and its organization to empirical and philosophical investigations into how the social world is stabilized, reproduced, changed and innovated. As Reckwitz suggests, this approach acts as a heuristic device and a destabilizing conceptual structure, providing a vocabulary to investigate the mental maps used by members of a community of practice, as well as the ways in which a community of practice is produced by a nexus of (discursive and non-discursive) practices as body/ knowledge/ thing complexes (2002). As Hui has noted,

“Using quite different vocabularies, these authors all suggest that it is our everyday practice that structure the world around us…Studying these practices is therefore important for understanding how social life works and changes” (2014, p. 1).

By creating a body of work that moved the field beyond dualisms of agency and structure, second wave practice theorists have created an approach to the study of the social that is unique because of its emphasis on the productive and reproductive work essential to the durable features of the world, the role of agents and individuals as carriers of practices, the importance of the material and the corporeal in sociality, the nature of knowledge and discourse, and the role of power in shaping action (Nicolini, 2012). The second wave of practice-based approaches also places an equal weight on the body, mind, material, knowledge, discourse, structure and agent, positioning practices as “doings and sayings” (Schatzki, 2012, p. 14) or examinations of “why do people do what they do” and “how do they do those things in the way that they do” (Warde, 2005, p. 140).[4]

In keeping with its grounding in phenomenology, practice-based approaches consider context to be constituted within and through social action and interaction and, as such, activity is not contextualized but instead possesses its own context. It follows that practice-based approaches focus attention on:

“Sayings and doings, timing and tempo, tools, artefacts, mediation work, processes of legitimation and stabilization, interactional order, bodily choreography, practical concerns, tension between creativity and normativity” (Nicolini, 2012, p. 220).

Such an approach situates the smallest unit of the social within social interaction and action and, as practice theorists such as Schatzki suggest, it is here that practices emerge, reproduce, change and expire (1996). As such, theorists locate practices within a variety of bonded social units (such as a communities or systems) and sociotechnical arrangements, taking either the partial closure of the social unit around a practice, or the role of the social unit in the performance of the practice itself, as the basis for their theoretical approach.

A practice-based approach offers the researcher the use of a relational, constructive, heterogeneous and situated ontology (Nicolini, 2012, p. 27) as well as a vocabulary sensitive to the ways in which practices become durable or subject to change and innovation, allowing the researcher to ask: “what kind of social dynamics have gone into making and sustaining a specific version of that [social] practice?” (Ortner, 2006, p. 13). By prioritizing the ‘practice’ as a unit of measurement, the aggregate effect of the decisions made by agents about “how best to act” within and upon a guiding and shaping structural context can be clarified and appreciated. Theorists interested in stability and change from a practice-based perspective are then able to examine the ways in which practices are constructed and shaped by beliefs, values, acts of consumption and personal taste, and to propose ways in which the relationships within a practice can be steered, manipulated or changed towards a more desirable outcome. In the next section of this paper, I will examine how three similar but distinct concepts of practice-entities proposed by Schatzki, Warde and Shove et al. allow for a clear understanding of the ways in which practices are composed and reproduced.

Bundles, Complexes and the Nexus: The Composite Nature of
Practice Entities and Their Reproduction

The proposal of practices as connected entities is key to examinations of how new practices are generated and made durable. In fact, it is the definitions of the connections between, and the components of, practices that establish the different ways of understanding the replication and innovation of the social world present in the theory today. Though practices are commonly understood by Schatzki, Warde and Shove et al. as distinct things made up of component pieces and reproduced and innovated in a variety of manners,[5] comparison between these theorists can prove challenging due to the wildly differing vocabulary and lack of agreement on the definition of the component elements themselves (Hui, 2014). This serves as a reflection of the contested nature of the field which, as many theorists have noted, presents a polyphonic tangle of theories and approaches.

Perhaps the most phenomenologically-informed understanding of practices as collections or composite units is advanced by Schatzki, who proposes that practices are made up of “doings and sayings”, assembled and bound together with the “linkages” of explicit rules, general understandings, practical understandings and teleoaffective structures (2012).

As Shove et al. have suggested, for Schatzki:

“The existence of a practice depends upon the specific inter-connectedness of many elements – forms of bodily activities, mental activities, things and their use, background knowledge in the form of understanding, know-how and notions of competence, states of emotion and motivational knowledge. In contrast to much innovation-led work, such an approach requires that we conceptualise materiality, conventionality and temporality in relational and potentially conflictual terms” (2005, p. 7).

These linkages, for Schatzki, ‘hang together’ in an arrangement of “open-ended, spatially-temporally dispersed nexus of doings and sayings”, a ‘hanging together’ that is organized and connected through causality and directness (p. 14). As he explains in A Primer on Practices (2012), an action belongs to a practice if it expresses one of the understandings, rules or teleoaffective structures that organize that practice, and as such, artefacts, activities, feelings, values and knowledge forms are not part of practices but rather form distinct “arrangements” generated alongside and as a result of the practice itself (p. 15). Schatzki positioned these practice-arrangements as the core of social order and personal conduct (2001a, p. 2), proposing that both the order of social life and notions of agency and individuality result from the linkages of practice-arrangements.

The connective nature of the Schatzkian practice-arrangements is visible in the way that they can be ‘bundled’ with materiality, for it is these bundles that give meaning to and facilitate the performance of the arrangements from which they are inseparable. Furthermore, Schatzki suggests that practices and their arrangements exhibit ‘thick’ causality, prefiguration, constitution, intentionality, and intelligibility within a bundle of which they are a part (Schatzki, 2012). This suggests that the linkages within a practice-arrangement are based on a shared understanding of how to do something – in essence, ‘what counts’ as the performance of the practice-arrangement. Within his proposal of the ‘bundled’ nature of practice-arrangements and the material world, Schatzki distinguishes between two autonomous and different practice forms: dispersed practices and integrated practices (1996, p. 98). In the case of dispersed practices such as explaining, arguing, apologizing or inquiring, a shared understanding of ‘what counts’ as the form is required, which then represents and recreates a bundled arrangement of specific acceptable practices. In contrast, integrative practice represents, for Schatzki, the use not only of ‘knowing how’, but also of the ‘knowing what’ – understanding the explicit and governing rules of a practice and its teleoaffective structures (1996, p. 98).

The question of how practices are reproduced and made durable is of key importance to Schatzki, who notes that “the mental structure of practices, practice-arrangement bundles, and the interactive patterns that emerge in these bundles is complex” (Schatzki, 2005, p. 481). His concept of ‘action intelligibility’ allows for an understanding of the individual as neither a decision-maker nor a dupe, but an agent who carries out the practice that makes sense for them to do (or perform) in a given setting (Schatzki, 1996, p. 188). Schatzki proposes that practices are reproduced as bodily doings and sayings through performance – albeit activities which ‘befall’ the performer or carrier of the practice, as the performance, for Schatzki, is a temporospatial event which pertains to the practice and not the individual (2012, p. 18). In this way, the performance is structured by a practice-arrangement, which determines whether the performance of a practice-arrangement is correct (in certain situations) and acceptable (Schatzki, 1996, p. 101).

In Schatzki’s proposal, the faithful reproduction of an existing practice is perpetuated “largely by individuals being incorporated into and carrying them forward” (Schatzki, 2005, p. 475). In order to carry on a practice successfully, individuals draw on practical knowing, acquire new information (or know-how) and become familiar with the rules and values of a practice-arrangement bundle. The reproduction of everyday practices and specifically of dispersed practice forms is then perpetuated using a common understanding or presupposed practice embodied in performance upon a “field of embodied, materially interwoven practices centrally organized around shared practical understandings” (Schatzki et al., 2001, p. 3) and the reproduction of practices by one carrier over time, or by a collection of carriers is dependent on “the successful inculcation of shared embodied know-how” (p. 3). However, as integrative practices can, and often do, include dispersed practice forms, they therefore require an amendment to Schatzki’s reproductive model. This is accomplished through Schatzki’s proposal that integrative practices are also reproduced through performance, but with the added components of adherence to pre-configured and understood governing rules and teleoaffective structures (1996, p. 98).

Warde provides a more applied proposal of the composition of practices, one aligned with Schatzki’s notion of practices as compositions or assemblies, but differing in the understanding of the boundaries and components of the practice itself. In contrast with Schatzki’s reliance on explicit rules, general understandings, practical understandings and teleoaffective structures as the composite elements of a practice-arrangement, Warde focuses his attention on ‘procedures’, ‘engagements’ and ‘understandings’ as the connected components of a practice “nexus” (2005). Like Schatzki, Warde suggests that practices have both a trajectory and a history, and that they are defined in substantive form by their arrangement within time, space and social context (p. 139). In his work on the functions of consumption within practice (2005; 2014), Warde suggests that the conventions generated by a nexus of procedures, engagements and understandings can vary the outcome or performance of a practice, affirming that multiple competences underpin the successful performance of any practice-entity (2014, p. 296). In addition, Warde suggests that practices can be nested, and that compound practice-entities draw simultaneously on several otherwise autonomous integrative or dispersed practice forms (p. 296). A Wardian understanding of the practice nexus suggests a composite entity unified and embodied through performance, one which is inclusive of the constitutive acts of consumption, appropriation and appreciation determined to be appropriate by the conventions of the practice entity, and which is reproduced in turn through its successful performance by agents or individuals.

The composite nature of practice-entities prompts Warde to suggest that the source of change in the performance of a practice lies in the ways that practice-entities are developed through understandings, procedures and engagements, and the way that they are reproduced lies in social learning and the acquisition of competence or expertise. His suggestion that practices are inherently differentiated and dynamic (2005, p. 131), and that they are created and reproduced through social performance, allows for an inquiry into how practices are developed “considering both their internal dynamics and the external conditions of their existence, especially with regard to changing criteria of effectiveness and excellence” (p. 149). For Warde, contexts are organized through the actions of individuals – agents who gain their individuality through their intersection, embodiment and performance of practices. By reframing appropriation as part of the engagement in a social practice Warde demonstrates how acts of consumption (while potentially symbolically and conspicuously communicative) underlie the accomplishment and replication of everyday tasks. And by positioning ‘procedures’, ‘engagements’, and ‘understandings’ as the component parts of a practice nexus, into which are  tethered acts of appropriation and consumption, Warde suggests that the outcome or the performance of a practice remains the property of the nexus itself, and not of the individual.

Warde suggests that the reproduction of a practice is based on the presence of formal and informal codifications that govern its conduct:

“…though often without much reflection or conscious awareness on the part of the bearers. This has the potential for the reproduction of that practice, which indeed transpires much of the time, for practices have some considerable inertia” (Warde, 2005, p. 140).

Though he does not go so far as to suggest habit as a replication device, Warde does allow for the role of habituation, embodied and mental procedures, and the efficient generation and use of routines in the faithful reproduction of performance.[6] In addition Warde contends that the reproduction of a practice is reliant on entrenched and embodied dispositions toward a form of action, as well as on the “established understanding of what courses of action are not inappropriate” (2005, p. 140).[7] This contention lies at the root of his inclusion of ‘procedures’ (referred to as conventions in his 2014 work) as a facet of a practice, and his suggestion that the performance of a practice is an act of reproduction that is neither fully conscious nor fully reflective. Warde attributes the reproduction of practices through performance to the stable dispositions “sedimented in prior experience of activities and environments, the coordination of activity in social life, exposure to experts, artefacts, learning, social control and restraint”, proposing that these dispositions result in consumption, regularity, repetition, habit, routine and convention (2005, p. 293).

Shove et al. present a third approach to understanding how elements of a practice are connected, and can therefore be reinforced and made durable, or changed and innovated (2012). Their understanding of a “linked” practice entity is dependent on a tripartite model of ‘material infrastructures’, ‘common understandings’ and ‘practical knowledge’ (2005), a list subsequently updated to ‘materials’, ‘meanings’ and ‘competences’ (2010b), and then further to ‘stuff’, ‘images’ and ‘skills’ (2012). In contrast to Schatzki and Warde, Shove et al. assign an equal value to the material element of practice, due to its role in creating affordances for practice forms (Warde, 2014, p. 287). Shove et al., in agreement with Warde and Schatzki, position practices as entities, but extend their understanding of practices to include both practices as performance, and practices as compound entities arranged in complexes that can draw simultaneously on several otherwise autonomous integrative or dispersed practice forms (Warde, 2014, p. 296). These arrangements, for Shove et al., are grouped in two ways: either as bundles of practices (loose knit patterns based on co-location and co-existence, defined as ‘loose associations’) or as complexes (representing stickier and more integrated arrangements including co-dependent forms of sequence and synchronization) (2012, p. 17). Shove et al. suggest that practices consist of “a specific arrangement of `elements’, the cohesion of which is both constitutive of, and a consequence of, the practice itself” (2005, p. 8). In their accounting of practices as formed of “stuff, images and skills” (2012) connected, or linked, through “forms of `know-how’, `competence’, and `ways of doing’ that represent and comprise what we currently understand [a practice] to be” (2005, p. 8), Shove et al. remind us that practices are held in place in a relational manner and are, at all times, constituted in performance (2005).

For Shove et al., the reproduction of practice is a function of both stability and change, which they argue are both inherent in all practice complexes at all times (2012), proposing that the social world, though always changing, is an inherently stable system, reproduced through performance as a provisionally recognizable entity when the relation of their elements of ‘stuff’, ‘image’ and ‘skills’ is configured through practice (2005, p. 9). However, in their particular understanding of the reproduction of social practices, Shove et al. move beyond the “context-specific processes involved in producing localized configurations of knowledge, meaning, materiality and action” (2012, p. 11), focusing their attention on the way that trajectories of practices are formed, rather than how the working configurations of the entities are reproduced. In their work Proposed Integrative Theory of Practice (Shove & Pantzar, 2016), they outline the reproduction of practices in a series of stages: noting that practice-entities can either be faithfully pre-formed as proto-practices, or re-formed as practice bundles and complexes. The persistence and survival of a practice in its existing form is thus dependent on the stability of its arrangement of material infrastructures, common understandings and practical knowledge (or stuff, images and skills), and its ability to recruit and retain active practitioners and other constituent elements.[8] As Shove et al. explain:

“In the account we develop, stabilization is not an inevitable result of an increasing density of interdependent arrangements, rather practices are provisionally stabilized when constitutive elements are consistently and persistently integrated through repeatedly similar performances” (2012, p. 13).

For Shove et al., the practice entity is replicated through performance and through the assembly of material infrastructures, common understandings and practical knowledge, reproduced as provisionally recognizable entities in a familiar and stable formation. This assembly then creates the conditions of future practices, thus rendering the reproduction of the practice form as a function of connectivity between practice elements. A further level of complexity is introduced by their suggestion that practices can be not only reproduced but multiplied and cross-referenced with each other in an effort to maintain replication and stability (2012, p. 17). It follows that if the connections between elements remain stable and consistent, then practices can be faithfully reproduced through performance. This allows for a definition of practice forms as continually ‘open’, a notion complicated by “specific configurations of materiality, conventionality and temporality” (2005, p. 8), or what Bijker calls ‘obdurate elements’ which introduce different measures of closure to a practice form and its plausible futures (Bijker, 1992).

In regards to the stable reproduction of a practice, Shove et al. differentiate between what they understand as two key components: the practice-as-performance, and the practice-as-entity (2012). In keeping with proposals put forward by Schatzki and Warde, the practice-performance is the observable behaviour of individuals, the performance or expression of a socially-shared practice (itself created of either loose or sticky linked complexes of material infrastructures, common understandings and practical knowledge). The performance of a practice is therefore a result of the latter element of a practice form: the practice-as-entity. Shove et al. argue that a performance can take the form of either a faithful or unfaithful repetition of the practice – it is a scripted event, yet it remains open for a participant to either reaffirm the script, or undo its enclosures and take a path of change. However, they suggest that the use (or abandonment) of the script is a function of the individual, a function which is not directly translated to change in the practice-as-entity (2012).

While demonstrating some consensus regarding the existence of practices as linked or connected arrangements of embodied knowledge, material form, and social values or ideologies, Schatzki, Warde and Shove et al. each differ slightly on how those connections can be strengthened or weakened, and the practice itself and its components made durable or changed.[9] Schatzki, Warde and Shove et al. each note that performance plays a critical role in the faithful reproduction of practices, and that in order to maintain stability within a practice form, the constituent structures of that practice must also remain stable – a perspective not unlike that held by first wave practice theorists such as Bourdieu (1977), Giddens (1984) and Taylor (1985). As Shove et al. note, “it is important to acknowledge and appreciate the reproductive qualities of practice – it is only through practice that ways of understanding and doing are shared and made real” (2005, p. 10). The on the reproductive qualities of practices in mind has shifted considerations of how practices change and are innovated within the second wave of practice theory towards inquiries into the mechanics and outcomes of change, recruitment and defection, demonstrating a new practice-based approach to understandings of human behaviour (Warde, 2014, p. 289). In the next section I will demonstrate how a practice-based approach can clarify the features and functions of change in practice entities, using the work of Schatzki, Warde and Shove et al. to examine the emergent practice of situated design (Simonsen et al., 2014).

Steering Change: The Emergence, Existence and Extinction of Practice Entities

Change is, for Schatzki, a matter of overlap and connection: a practice arrangement and material bundle undergoes change, innovation or expiration when its conditions of connection with other practice-arrangement bundles is altered (2005). As Schatzki points out in Peripheral Vision: The Sites of Organizations (2005), many of the practices in any arrangement are also part of other practice-arrangements, and many of the materials are part of other practice-arrangement material bundles as well (2005, p. 474). Using his proposed method of site ontology, Schatzki outlines how practices overlap and connect with other practices, and how actions from differing practices can form causal chains of dependencies.[10] For Schatzki, conflict within the interactions between practices is an instigator of practice change or innovation, and it exists when bundles are not mutually-sustaining or when practice-arrangement linkages (such as practical and general understandings, rules and teleoaffective structures) no longer exhibit thick causality within their arrangement (2005). This is largely an evolutionary model, where practice-arrangements change in reaction to variables in context.

For example, using a site ontology method to unpack the change from traditional to situated design practices in the studio setting illuminates the ways that, within a bundle of practice-arrangements and material items (such as, in this case, the design studio), specific practice arrangements are traditionally embraced (such as the practice of using a creative brief to guide decision-making) and material arrangements are engaged (such as desk formations, meeting rooms, computers and white boards). Change occurs, for Schatzki, in the dissolving of an eclipsed (or overlapped) practice due to its intersection with another practice bundle, such as the introduction of the MUST method, and its practices of participation, links to project management, ethnographic intervention, co-development and sustainability (Simonsen et al., 2014). By employing this new practice-arrangement bundle in the studio, the original practice-arrangements are undone and their linkages are broken. Their practical and general understandings, rules and teleoaffective structures are then re-connected in new bundle forms, and performed by the agents to which they befall.

The continually changing and dynamic nature of practices regulated by their own internal logic is also a matter of interest for Warde. Building on the notion of Schatzki’s connected and overlapped practice bundles, Warde proposes that parallel practices allow for borrowed and copied innovations (2005), suggesting that “understandings, conventions and aspirations will normally be differently distributed among and observed by its practitioners, representing a mix of the satisficing and the optimal…” (p. 141). For Warde, as for Schatzki, the act of performance is a key component of change – in fact, it is the performing of a ‘reconfigured’ or ‘beside normal’ practice that Warde refers to as acts of innovation within a practice or practice nexus. Change in a practice-entity is, for Warde, a performance of adaptation, improvisation or experimentation within the conventions of the practice nexus, and is based on the capabilities of the agent (2005). However, though change to a practice-entity is made visible through performance, these “forms of performances in themselves do not change the practice-as-entity” (Kuijer, 2014, p. 44). Only through the normalization of a performance within a practice’s conventions, itself a consequence of repetition and reiteration among participants, can a performative reconfiguration of a practice-entity be made durable. As Kuijer explains, “If successful, such a repeatedly performed reconfiguration can change what is considered correct and acceptable, and thus the practice-as-entity” (2014, p. 45).

Based on his proposal that practices are composed of actions linked by understandings, procedures and engagements, Warde suggests that it is through the acquisition of new understandings, the provision of new procedures and the normalization of new values of engagement that agents are able to adapt and improvise their performance of a practice, thus creating change in the practice-entity. As such, the normalization of new values of engagement is crucial to practice change, and Warde calls for more attention to “the creation of norms, standards and institutions which produce shared understandings and common procedures” (2014, p. 295) in order to examine how change is created and made visible. His contribution to empirical studies of practice that specifically investigate transformation, differentiation and decline as forms of change reflects his position that change within a practice is determined by the conditions of the possible (or “endogenous change in social circumstances”) rather than the behaviour of individuals (2014, p. 295).

Warde’s proposal of change through normalization of new ‘acceptable’ standards for the performance of a practice is clarified using the example of introducing a new practice – such as the PASIR method of serious play aimed at developing situated knowledge (Simonsen et al., 2014) – in the design studio. In order for the performance of designers to change in a durable fashion, and for the new method of play-as-learning to replace older practices of learning through consumption (Soar, 2000), Warde would suggest that the norms of the studio setting and the infrastructure available for the performance of practice must change as well. By providing the materials and space for the PASIR method, and by entrenching the use of play as a value of the organization, the performance of designers can be steered towards replicating the new practice form, thereby changing the larger practice nexus of designing. Warde’s model of change in practice is not one of evolution, but rather one of force fields – fields which themselves are constituted of practices that exert a shaping and structuring force on changing practices.

Shove et al.’s integrative theory of practice (2016) offers a unique way to represent practices as constantly changing and shifting through the cycles of recruitment and defection of agents and elements, presenting a new application of a practice-based approach to methods of behaviour intervention and modification (Warde, 2014, p. 289). Shove et al. suggest that change in practices-as-entities and practices-as-performances can be understood as the breaking, forming and reforming of links between elements:

“Practices emerge, persist, shift and disappear when connections between elements of these three types [material, image, skill] are made, sustained or broken. This provides a means of conceptualizing stability and change, and allows for a recognition of the recursive relation between practice-as-performance and practice-as-entity” (2012, p. 15).

In addition, Shove et al. propose that change and innovation occur in practices at moments of possible disruption, and as the result of moments of possible disjunction between “the dimensions of materiality, conventionality and temporality, all of which are mediated by the practice itself” (2005, p. 7).

Shove et al. are critical of the formulation of “practices [as] enduring entities reproduced through recurrent performance” (2012, p. 9), suggesting that the trajectory of a practice, or its career, is of greater importance in understanding social change. By suggesting that the elements within a practice can be changed, that new elements can be integrated into existing practices and that the links between elements can be strengthened or dissolved (2007), a shift in the trajectory of a practice form can be understood as a shift in the process of linking between stuff, images and skills, or a new combination of all three (2012, p. 15). In an attempt to explain the causes and mechanisms of change from a practice-based perspective, Shove et al. propose the existence of proto-practices, practices and ex-practices to indicate innovation through the emergence of potential links between elements that are not yet formed, the existence of the practice itself which is dependent on formed links, and then its de-formation, in which links between elements are broken (2016). In addition, they suggest that changes within the career of a practice occur in relation to changes within the ability of a practice to recruit carriers and the strength of the bond between practice components of material, meanings and competences – not an evolution of the practice, but a co-evolution of practice elements and the results of their connection and disconnection.[11] In addition, Shove et al. suggests that change and innovation can occur in practices when the configuration of practices is changed (in the case of diachronic developments) or expanded through interactions with other practices (in case of synchronic developments) (2016). Change is, for Shove et al., not only a move forward in the trajectory or career of a practice-entity, but can also be seen when practices dissolve or become ‘fossilized’ (2010b), or are resurrected from dormant elements (2010a).

Using the case study of the design studio, changes in existing and enduring design practices such as brainstorming on a whiteboard can be steered, according to Shove et al. through the integration of new materials, meanings and competences (or stuff, images and skills) in the practice itself. If a move to a situated design practice such as the use of the “wheel of rituals in design” (Simonsen et al., 2014) is desirable, Shove et al. suggest that current practices of design can be steered by integrating new materials (such as the proposed wheel, or a meeting space to accommodate the use of the wheel), new meanings (such as a new understanding of design as inclusive of emotional engagement) or new competencies (such as the ‘know how’ to use the wheel itself). Shove et al.’s practice-based approach illuminates the manner in which changing one aspect of the composition of a practice, or even strengthening and weakening the links between elements of a practice, can create change to both the practice-as-performance and the practice-as-entity. Rather than relying on the evolutionary influence of variables introduced to a practice, Shove et al. contribute a model of emergence and path dependency (Shove & Pantzar, 2007).

It is through the application of Warde and Shove’s particular theories of practice change that key points of leverage can be identified and used to guide the integration of practice-oriented and situated methodologies in the design studio. Next, this paper will outline how desirable situated and practice-oriented design approaches can be embedded into the everyday work of designers – creating a change to both the practice and the performance of designing. It will propose that by leveraging change within two key practice components  – that of the ‘image’ proposed by Shove et al. and the ‘conventions’ favoured by Warde – the practice of designing can be steered towards the adoption of collaborative and inclusive methods. Furthermore, it will suggest that the use of change-oriented methods from the field of sustainability policy and governance can be of value in this effort: notably, the adoption of Spurling, McMeekin, Shove, Southerton and Welch’s (2013) interventionist model of sustainable practice change serves as a demonstration of how the desirable methodologies of practice-oriented and situated design can be instituted and incorporated in an endurable and applicable manner within the trajectory of design practice.

Using a Practice Based Approach to Clarify and Demonstrate Change in the Design Studio

As Warde has suggested in reference to Abbott’s work, Time Matters (2001):

“…fluctuation, disorder and constant change are more likely features of social co-existence than orderliness and reproduction. Exercise of individual agency as a source of social change should be considered a rare occurrence, a privilege of the powerful and a distant horizon even in the context of collective mobilisation” (2005, p. 295).

Designing, and the assembled dispersed and integrative practices of which it is constituted, is not immune to these fluctuations, and as a discipline aimed at instituting change in the world, it is expected to embrace new forms of practice. As has been demonstrated, unlike the stable and faithful reproduction of practice-entities, the installation of an enduring and durable change in a practice is a function of a change to elements of the practice-entity itself. By focusing on changes to practices, rather than products, a practice-oriented design methodology is able to steer user behaviours towards “innovative and sustainable ways of living and doing” (Scott, Bakker, & Quist, 2012, p. 283). However, at this time, the methodology proposed by Scott et al. is reliant on the adherence of the designer themselves to a script or set of conventions, and on the capabilities possessed by the designer to engage in practice-oriented methods. Though the methodology proposed by Scott et al., and echoed by advocates of situated-design movements (Simonsen et al., 2014) provides compelling results as a form of design research, it does not address how these methods are to be integrated into the practice of designers in the studio setting in a durable and stable way. A focus on practices or on the situatedness of knowledge serves as a valuable goal for the design practitioner, but in order for the trajectory of designing to be steered to that end, a series of changes at the level of the practice elements are required.

A first way in which the adoption and use of situated and practice-oriented design methods could potentially be integrated into the everyday practices of designers is through a shift in one of the Shovian elements of practice: that of the ‘common understanding’ or ‘image’ of the user. The birth of the user has been traced back to human computer interface (Norman & Draper, 1986), architectural (Alexander, 1975) and ergonomic design (Henry Dreyfuss Associates, & Tilley, 2002) and since the 1960s the image of the ‘user’ has been held at the centre of design practice. Movements such as human-centered design and user-centered design have created a user-centric model of design solutions focused on obscuring the system created by the designer themselves, rendering the labour and the practice of designers, as well as service providers, invisible and hidden from view. This has become increasingly problematic because of the use of stereotyped or market-data driven conceptions of the “user” of a product, service or communication – conceptions often unrelated to the needs and desires created by the practice (Warde, 2005) of which the designed product will soon become a part, and one which only hints at the realities of the user’s experience. As Scott et al. outline, user-centric methods and movements such as universal, human-centered, participatory and interaction design often focus on “user needs to legitimize the conventional motive of design, which is of course to make and sell presumably better, but most definitely more stuff” (Shove et al., 2007, p. 137, quoted in Scott et al., 2012).

However, as Shove et al. have demonstrated, introducing a new ‘image’ within a practice’s triad of elements can change its trajectory, weakening the links between elements and rendering a practice porous and open to change. Therefore, introducing a new ‘image’ of the ‘participants’ rather than ‘users’ in the design process would decentre the user entirely and reposition them as co-creators of situated knowledge, working in collaboration with the designer in the creation of a sustainable service, product or communication (Scott et al., 2012). This would in effect create an innovation within the everyday practice of designers. By creating change in a key element of a practice form, designing can thereby be changed entirely at the level of the practice itself, and proto-practices of participation, collaboration and desirable practice-oriented and situated design methods can emerge and become entrenched in the design process.

Second, the practice of situated design methods in the studio could be made durable and normalized by the institutionalization of new ‘acceptable’ standards for the performance of design practice, a method suggested by Warde in his 2005 work Consumption and Theories of Practice. By adjusting the external conditions of a practice’s existence through the creation of infrastructural support for its performance and by adjusting the criteria of “effectiveness and excellence” used to evaluate the ‘appropriateness’ of the performance itself (Warde 2005), the internal dynamics of the practice of ‘designing’ can be changed, and situated design methods could be naturalized and integrated into the studio setting. However, this change would only be effected if the conventions and rewards related to what is acceptable, or at the least, not unacceptable, in the practice of design change as well – a change that is dependent on a complex of client relationships, award competitions and audit practices that form the conventions of the studio setting.

As Hui (2014) has noted, Shove et al.’s tripartite model has been used to discuss many forms of practice change, and their proposal of the ways that components of image, stuff and skills co-evolve, connect and disconnect, focusing attention on how processes of connection and re-connection can be encouraged among elements to create a desirable and sustainable practice form. Building from Shove et al.’s contention that “practices change when new elements are introduced or when existing elements are combined in new ways” (2012, p. 120), the model has been extended in Spurling, McMeekin, Shove, Southerton and Welch’s examination of sustainable practice and the use of a practice-based perspectives to manage and steer social change (2013). In their work, Spurling et al. suggest that change in social practice is the outcome of either ‘re-crafting’ practice, ‘substituting’ practices, or changing how practices ‘interlock’ (2013) – a model that serves to clarify how the proposed methods of practice and situated design can be effectively implemented in the studio setting.

First, they propose that innovation can be prompted in existing practices by ‘recrafting’ all the elements of the practice itself – adjusting the image, skill and material involved in a successful performance (2013, p. 10). Using our example of the design studio, this would take the form of unpacking an established practice such as sketching (constituted of the ability to sketch, a paper or digital surface, and the understanding of sketching as a valuable problem-solving process), and shifting all of its components to form a new practice, such as the situated method of affinity diagramming and diagnostic mapping (constituted of the ability to create an affinity diagram or diagnostic map, an appropriate space and tool set in which to do it, and a mental image of affinity diagraming as a valuable problem-solving method) (Simonsen et al., 2014). In this case, one practice of problem-solving is ‘re-crafted’ into a slightly different, and more desirable, practice of situated design through the swapping of skills, material and meanings.[12]

Second, Spurling et al. propose that change can be effected in practice through ‘substitution’, whereby a more desirable practice is introduced to substitute for the old, while at all times fulfilling the same needs and wants as a less desirable practice (2013, p. 11). Using our example of the design studio, this could mean identifying the need satisfied by traditional design practices such as the use of marketing research, and substituting the situated design practices of journey touch-points and pinball customer flow (Simonsen et al., 2014) thereby guiding the practice of “learning about customers” in a new direction.

Lastly, Spurling et al. propose the use of ‘interlocking’ to create innovation in existing practices (2013, p. 13). By identifying how different practices interlock spatially and temporally through sequence and synchronization, the complex interactions between practices can be adjusted to guide participants toward engagement with a more desirable practice-entity. In reference to the introduction of situated design practices in the studio setting, this could take the form of an awareness of the ways that practices of pre-packaged audience research use and a reliance on the “malcovich bias” (Glusman, 2010) (the assumption that everyone sees a design problem in the same way as a designer does, despite an awareness of diversity in audience groups) interlock with the audit practices of the studio. By adjusting the ‘interlocking’ of the practice of auditing with the use of routines in creative work, new space could be created for participation and collaboration and a new situated design practice based on phased and iterative hybrid design methods could emerge (Simonsen et al., 2014).


The emergence of practice-oriented and situated design methodologies indicates an appetite for change in the practice of designing, as well as a wider turn toward the use of practice-based approaches to address and clarify our social world. To best understand how new practices can be instituted, and to identify points of leverage that can be used incorporate and embed situated and practice-oriented design methods in the studio setting, we must understand how practices themselves are reproduced and innovated. If, as Warde contends, “the source of changed behaviour lies in the development of practices” (2005, p. 140), then further proposals toward sustainable and situated design must examine not only the performance of the design method, but also how the practices that come together to form the design studio can be steered and changed to integrate new practices of collaboration, cooperation and creativity. By using the theoretical perspectives advanced by Schatzki, Warde and Shove et al., change and innovation within practice-entities is clarified as a process of performance, conventions, and linkages. As Shove has noted,

“Theories of practice have yet untapped potential for understanding change. Realizing their potential depends on developing a means of systematically exploring processes of transformation and stability within social practices and between them” (2012, p. 1).

There remains much to be done in order to comprehensively understand how desirable social change can be leveraged and implemented, and as Scott et al. have noted, the field of sustainable design practices provides fertile ground for further investigations.


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[1] Notions of the “situatedness” of knowledges and actions were furthered by Suchman (1987, 2007) in her proposal of “situated action”, and by Lave and Wenger in their proposal of “situated learning” (1991). Both situated action and situated learning locate the practice in contextual application, and not as a resource.

[2] In keeping with Nicolini’s suggestion that a rhizomatic understanding of a plurality of approaches is required for a full conception of practice (2012), I will adopt the term ‘practice-based approach’ to describe a wide and contentious group of theoretical perspectives throughout this paper.

[3] Though Schatzki does respond to Giddens’s proposal, his theory of practice hews much more closely to Wittgenstein’s (1953) theoretical perspective.

[4] The second wave can be further divided into: theoretical approaches, including the work of Reckwitz and Schatzki; approaches which employ linguistic terms borrowed from science and technology studies such as Gherardi’s 1986 study of learning in organizations; and approaches which prioritize situated learning and communities of practice, such as Lave and Wenger’s 1991 proposal of legitimate peripheral participation as a form of learning (Nicolini, Gherardi, & Yannow, 2003, p. 7)

[5] Schatzki and Warde do not use the term elements to refer to the component parts of a practice, preferring “linkages” (Schatzki, 1996)  and “nexus components” (Warde, 2005). Shove et al. do use “elements”, as does Reckwitz whose work is not explicitly discussed here.

[6] The suggestion that routines play a role in the reproduction but not necessarily the innovation of a practice form is complicated by Feldman and Pentland’s understanding of routines as a source of social change (2000) and by Orlikowski’s proposal of genre conventions as a source of innovation in practice (1994).

[7] This is furthered by Brown and Duguid in their proposal of situated cognition as the method through which learning in practice is accomplished using narration, collaboration and social construction (2001) and by Lave and Wenger’s legitimated peripheral participation as a method of reproducing practice forms (1991).

[8] They also suggest that the more embedded a practice is within a technology, the more stable it becomes (Shove, Watson, Hand, & Ingram, 2007) .

[9] Additional agreement is found between the three approaches in their critique of individualized action as a generator of either reproduction or innovation of a practice: Schatzki, Warde and Shove et al. each outline the ways in which attributing change or reproduction to an individual’s choice is problematic.

[10] The role of organizational structures in changing and innovating practices is suggested by Orr to be accomplished through narrative and non-canonical practice (1996).

[11] Shove et al. note in their work on Nordic walking that practice forms are not transmitted and reproduced, but rather reformed when introduced in different contexts (2005).

[12] Spurling et al. note that in order for a ‘recrafting’ to be successfully integrated as an innovation in the career of a practice, a champion is required to promote the ‘recrafted’ iteration.

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