Briefly, about practice theory and organizing.

Briefly, about practice theory and organizing.

Annette Markham


Reading about practice theory (or practice based studies) applied to organization studies. Nice overview of the path of practice based thinking by Silvia Gherardi, writing an Introduction to a special issue of Management Learning called “The Critical Power of the ‘Practice Lens’”

Notable in this introduction is the critique of Wenger’s Communities of Practice (I’ve long admired Wenger’s concepts because of the way they dismantle traditional top down notions of learning (and managerial authority, if one is thinking in terms of organizational learning). Here, the author discusses recent work to reverse the terms in ‘communities of practice’ to ‘practices of a community.’ This reversal, Gherardi contends, further dismantles the notion that authority (knowledge) resides in the community and that the community exists prior to the activities within it.

Knowledge is not an ‘asset’ of the community, but rather an activity (a ‘knowing’), and an activity that itself constitutes the practice (‘knowing-in-practice’) (p. 121)

Interesting shift: It refocuses attention on the activities rather than the agents. Of course, this is not so different from earlier notions of ‘organizing’ as a verb, whereby structures, objects, and agencies (agents, human or non human) function discursively to create patterns and habits that later become instantiated as things, concepts, or ‘organization’ as a noun (e.g., Karl Weick, among many others).  First question: would the use of the phrase ‘function discursively’ be apt or misguided within practice theory? Second question (and this question only displays my ignorance): Whence came practice theory and how does it connect to the very relevant and similar threads of thought emerging at the same time in organizational communication?  Ah, my shift to internet studies and subsequent tangents took me too far afield and now, I must catch up.

My initial question above is provoked by Gherardi’s mention of Stan Deetz, discourse, and the linguistic turn. I focus on this (rather than the main point Gherardi is making) because I’ve been thinking about Actor Network Theory, the seeming backlash against the study of the discursive in other fields associated with the study of technology, and most recently (earlier today, in fact) by the first sentence of Karan Barad’s (2003) article: “Language has been granted too much power.”  Why such a turn away from the discursive?  I can embrace a turn toward the non-human agent, or the decentering afforded by post humanism.  Yet in turning toward, there is a turning away, and in this case, away from discourse.  Of course, I could be creating a false binary and inventing a backlash that doesn’t really exist.

On to other things. I just needed to get this out of my brain and in some sort of note form.

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