Intersections and meetings between practice theory and STS
Location Cavendish Colloquim (Faraday Complex)
Date and Start Time 28 Jul, 2018 at 11:30
Sessions 1


  • Stanley Blue (Lancaster University) email
  • Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster University) email
  • Torik Holmes (Lancaster University ) email
  • Allison Hui (Lancaster University) email

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Chair Mr Torik Holmes

Short abstract

This panel explores understandings and uses of the notion of practice within the field of Science and Technology Studies. Its purpose is to examine both confluences and challenges arising from working at the intersection of STS scholarship and social theories of practice.

Long abstract

Theories of practice are increasingly widely invoked across a range of fields, including within Science and Technology Studies. There are, for example, references to user practices (e.g. Schot et al.), to energy saving practices (e.g. Gram-Hanssen), to practices of consumption (e.g. Wallenborn and Wilhite), and to the value of approaching empirical topics through the 'lens' of practice. Within STS, there are also traditions of studying situated practices (e.g. Lave and Wenger; Star) and communities of practice (e.g. Suchman, Wenger), as well as STS-inspired organisational studies of management as practice (e.g. Orlikowski). In addition to a shared interest in practices, STS and practice theories have further been brought into dialogue around issues of materiality, spatiality, and methodology.

The purpose of this panel is to interrogate these meetings, probe different interpretations of practice, and develop questions and concepts that lie at the intersection of these various traditions. Put simply, we invite papers that contribute to exploring two questions: What does STS scholarship contribute to the understanding and analysis of social practice? And, conversely, how do social theories of practice (in all their forms) add to, or challenge, debates within STS?

Papers might include conceptual contributions based either on empirical investigation or innovative combinations or conjunctions of ideas from across 'practice theory' broadly defined. Whatever the angle or the approach, we are looking for contributors to engage with challenging and collaborative intersections, successful and failed meetings and innovative integrations and combinations between practice theory and STS.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Materialising demand: transforming resources and services

Authors: Jenny Rinkinen (Lancaster University) email
Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores how demand for resources and materials is derived from social practice. Re-introducing issues of demand to STS, it illustrates how increasing resource use can be addressed by seeing demand as dynamically constituted, actively made, and materially embedded.

Long abstract

Science studies and theories of social practice have made important contributions to the understanding of materials in use, showing how things, tools and technologies relate to, and constitute what people do. There is more to say, however, about how the demand for resources and materials is derived from social practice. This paper explores the value of conceptualizing demand as an outcome of social practices. It argues that understanding how demand - including demand for an array of consumer goods, for electricity, or for objects of collective consumption like buildings and infrastructures - evolves it is important to investigate how material arrangements are instituted, and how they change at different scales. This requires histories of material arrangements, and of how these are interwoven and interlinked with histories of social practice. Linking these ideas together, the paper re-introduces issues of demand to science and technology studies: not as in simple 'demand-pull approaches', but as part of processes that are dynamically constituted, actively made, and materially embedded. The result is to illustrate how social theory can address increasing resource use, and can do so at different scales, and without recourse to 'externalised' concepts as developed within fields like economics and marketing.

The urban food-water-energy nexus as an ecology of practices

Authors: Ralitsa Hiteva (University of Sussex) email
Fiona Marshall (University of Sussex) email
Saurabh Arora (University of Sussex) email
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Short abstract

An innovative approach to understanding the multiform (dis)connections between food, water and energy in the city by focusing on practices of sustenance, performed by heterogeneous assemblages (of human and nonhuman elements) and dis/entangled in ecologies through obligations and requirements.

Long abstract

This paper introduces an innovative approach to understanding the multiform connections and disconnections between food, water and energy in the city. It does so by developing and examining the concept of ecology of practices, as used to appreciate people's sustenance practices in Sofia, Bulgaria. Specific practices under focus include food conservation for the winter and urban gardening.

Building on work by Isabelle Stengers, the paper proposes an approach allowing for a more distributed understanding of agency inclusive of the contribution to agency made by the nonhuman environment and by the ecological relations between different practices. Emerging at the intersection of STS and practice theory, the term ecology here points to: 1) a milieu in the middle of which a practice comes into being, thrives or dies; and 2) multiform relations between practices which change over time. Practices of sustenance are performed by heterogeneous assemblages consisting of human and nonhuman (animate and inanimate) entities that are entangled into performing practices through a set of obligations and requirements.

Using qualitative data and case studies of practices of sustenance collected through shadowing, observation and semi-structured interviews between July 2017 and March 2018, the paper outlines the potential for influencing the provisioning of food, water and energy within urban environments towards more resilient assemblages and ecologies of practices through interventions which create new interfaces between nexus perspectives, policies and practices.

Coordinating arrays of practice or managing intermittent oligoptica? Reflections from the intersection of households and home heating, STS and practice theory

Author: Allison Hui (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

This paper contributes to understandings of the coordination of household practices by developing the concept of arrays of practices, extending the existing concept of oligoptica, and raising questions about the implications for methodologies and interventions that accompany each.

Long abstract

While STS research on user practices has contributed valuable insights regarding the social construction of technology and co-evolution of technologies and practices, they remain limited for understanding the intersection of multiple practices and technologies that shape services such as home heating. This paper therefore departs not from use but from coordination - focusing in particular upon the coordination of multiple practices within households. Its main contribution is to develop the concept of 'arrays of practice' as a means to bring together the heterogeneous materials recruited into household coordination - calendars, diaries, lists, mobile phones, central heating timers - and reflect upon how people's everyday practices hang together with particular spatiotemporal patterning. By considering this concept of 'arrays of practice' alongside the understanding of 'oligoptica' that has been deployed within STS work, the paper reflects upon key differences between Practice Theory and STS methodologies, and the implications of these for developing interventions or prefiguring change.

The texture of the terrain

Author: Stanley Blue (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

This paper develops the idea of the 'texture of the terrain' to explore how ways of thinking about materiality and practice matter for methods of conceptualising how social life hangs together and how it changes.

Long abstract

This paper develops the idea of the 'texture of the terrain' to explore how ways of thinking about materiality and practice matter for methods of conceptualising how social life hangs together and how it changes. The metaphors of texture and terrain are developed here to engage critically with recent arguments within practice-based studies that focus on the relationships between humans and non-humans. In taking this approach I contribute to two growing bodies of literature. The first is an emerging interest in 'new materialisms', including the performances and capabilities of previously 'left behind' actants such as animals, virtual assistants, plants, and volcanoes. The second seeks to develop an account of materiality in practice theory that is capable of analysing the material effect-features of social life and of using such ideas to explain social change. I borrow and modify the idea of 'terrain' from the philosophy of geography to describe the machinic assemblages of practices and their movements. I illustrate these ideas with a brief discussion of the changing organisation of practices that are involved in the provision of healthcare that are, have, and might result from processes of digitalisation. Considering the swarming machine of practice organisations in this way stresses the significance of understanding the emergence of 'new materialisms' and networks of non-humans more broadly as a fundamental effect-feature of practices and of the changing texture of the terrain of social life.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.