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Practice theory (or Praxeology, Theory of Social Practices) is a theory (or 'family' of theories) which seeks to understand and explain the social and cultural world by analyzing the repetitive practices in daily life. Practice theory, as outlined by
Sherry Ortner Sherry Beth Ortner (born September 19, 1941) is an American cultural anthropologist Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology Anthropology is the Science, scientific study of humanity, concerned with human behavior, human biology, ...
, "seeks to explain the relationship(s) that obtain between human action, on the one hand, and some global entity which we call 'the system's on the other". The approach seeks to resolve the conflict in classical social theory between collectivist structuralist approaches and individualist approaches action theories which attempted to explain all social phenomena in terms of intentional individual actions. This is also referred to as the structure-agency debate.


Pierre Bourdieu

Practice theory is strongly associated with the French theorist and sociologist
Pierre Bourdieu Pierre Bourdieu (; 1 August 1930 – 23 January 2002) was a French sociologist and public intellectual An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking, research, and Human self-reflection, reflection to advance discussions of ...
. His concept of habitus represents an important formulation of the principles of practice theory. Bourdieu developed the notion of 'habitus' to capture 'the permanent internalisation of the social order in the human body'. His book, ''Outline of a Theory of Practice'', which is based on his work in
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Algeria
during the
Algerian War of Independence The Algerian War, also known as the Algerian Revolution or the Algerian War of Independence,( ar, الثورة الجزائرية '; '' ber, Tagrawla Tadzayrit''; french: Guerre d'Algérie or ') and sometimes in Algeria as the War of 1 November ...
is an example of Bourdieu's formulation of practice theory applied to empirical data gathered through
ethnography Ethnography (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is ap ...

ethnography
. Several works of his are considered classics, not only in sociology, but also in anthropology, education, international relations and cultural studies. '' Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (La Distinction)'' was named as one of the 20th century's ten most important works of sociology by the
International Sociological Association The International Sociological Association (ISA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to scientific purposes in the field of sociology and social sciences. It is an international sociological body, gathering both individuals and national sociolo ...
.


Anthony Giddens

Known for his theory of structuration and his holistic view of modern societies,
Anthony Giddens Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens (born 18 January 1938) is an English sociologist who is known for his theory of structuration and his holistic Holism (from Ancient Greek, Greek ''holos'' "all, whole, entire") is the idea that various systems ( ...
is considered to be one of the most prominent modern sociologists. His works, ''Central Problems in Social Theory'' (1979) and ''The Constitution of Society'' (1984), brought him international fame on the sociological arena. Giddens developed the theory of structuration, an analysis of agency and structure, in which primacy is granted to neither, to demonstrate 'how principles of order could both produce and be reproduced at the level of practice itself' and not through some 'ordering' society impinging upon individual actors from above.


Michel Foucault

A closely related notion to Bourdieu's habitus is
Michel Foucault Paul-Michel Foucault (, ; ; 15 October 192625 June 1984) was a French philosopher, History of ideas, historian of ideas, writer, political activist, and Literary criticism, literary critic. Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship ...

Michel Foucault
's concept of 'discipline'. Like habitus, discipline 'is structure and power that have been impressed on the body forming permanent dispositions'. In contrast to Bourdieu, though, Foucault laid particular emphasis on the violence through which modern regimes (e.g. prisons and asylums) are used as a form of
social control Social control is a concept Concepts are defined as abstract ideas A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind a ...
.


Theodore Schatzki

Theodore Schatzki developed an alternative theory of practice, primarily in his books ''Social Practices'' (1996) and ''The Site of the Social'' (2002). His basic premise, derived from
Martin Heidegger Martin Heidegger (; ; 26 September 188926 May 1976) was a key German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, ...
and
Ludwig Wittgenstein Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein ( ; ; 26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian Austrian may refer to: * Austrians, someone from Austria or of Austrian descent ** Someone who is considered an Austrian citizen, see Austrian nationali ...

Ludwig Wittgenstein
, is that people do what makes sense for them to do. Practices make up people's 'horizon of intelligibility'. In Schatzki's work, practices are defined as 'open-ended spatial-temporal manifolds of actions' (Schatzki, 2005, p. 471) and also as 'sets of hierarchally organized doings/sayings, tasks and projects' Moreover, practices consist of four main elements: (1) practical understanding – "knowing how to X, knowing how to identify X-ings, and knowing how to prompt as well as respond to X-ings" (idem, p. 77); (2) rules – "explicit formulations, principles, precepts, and instructions that enjoin, direct or remonstrate people to perform specific actions" (idem, p. 79); (3) teleo-affective structure – "a range of normativized and hierarchically ordered ends, projects and tasks, to varying degrees allied with normativized emotions and even mood" (idem, p. 80); and (4) general understanding.


Key terms

Agency Agency may refer to: * a governmental or other institution * the abstract principle that autonomous beings, agents, are capable of acting by themselves; see autonomy Abstract principle * Agency (law), a person acting on behalf of another perso ...
: An actor choosing to act, the human ability to act upon and change the world.
Field Field may refer to: Expanses of open ground * Field (agriculture), an area of land used for agricultural purposes * Airfield, an aerodrome that lacks the infrastructure of an airport * Battlefield * Lawn, an area of mowed grass * Meadow, a grassl ...
: A structured social space with its own rules, schemes of domination, legitimate opinions. Bourdieu uses the concept of field instead of analyzing societies solely in terms of classes. For example, fields in modern societies include arts, education, politics, law and economy. Habitus: Collective system of dispositions that individuals or groups have. Bourdieu uses habitus as a central idea in analyzing structure embodied within human practice. The notion captures 'the permanent internalization of the social order in the human body'.
Doxa Doxa (; from verb )Henry Liddell, Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott (philologist), Robert Scott. 1940.δοκέω" In ''A Greek–English Lexicon, A Greek-English Lexicon'', edited by Henry Stuart Jones, H. S. Jones and R. McKenzie. Oxford. ...

Doxa
: Those deeply internalised societal or field-specific presuppositions that 'go without saying' and are not up for negotiation. A constructed vision of reality so naturalized that it appears to be the only vision of reality learned, fundamental, deep-founded, unconscious beliefs, and values, taken as self-evident universals, that inform an agent's actions and thoughts within a particular field, e.g. 365 days, 24hrs, 60 seconds. Hexis: The way in which social agents 'carry themselves' in the world; their gait, gesture, postures, accent etc.
Cultural capital In the field of sociology, cultural capital comprises the social assets of a person (education, intellect, style of speech, style of dress, etc.) that promote social mobility Social mobility is the movement of individuals, families, househo ...
: Assets which enable holders to mobilize cultural authority e.g., competencies, education, intellect, style of speech, dress, or physical appearance.
Structuralism In sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those societies. The t ...
: A theoretical paradigm that privileges social structure over social action, Elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure. According to structural theory in anthropology and social anthropology, meaning is produced and reproduced within a culture through various practices, phenomena and activities that serve as systems of signification. A structuralist approach may study activities as diverse as food-preparation and serving rituals, religious rites, games, literary and non-literary texts, and other forms of entertainment to discover the deep structures (e.g. mythology, kinship) by which meaning is produced and reproduced within the culture.
Structuration The theory of structuration is a social theory of the creation and reproduction of social systems that is based on the analysis of both ''Social structure, structure'' and ''Agency (sociology), agents'' (see structure and agency), without giving pr ...
: Human agency and social structure are intertwined.
Praxis Praxis may refer to: Philosophy and religion *Praxis (process), the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realized *Models of Contextual Theology#Praxis model, Praxis model, a way of doing theology * Pr ...
is the repetition of the acts of individual agents which reproduces or subverts the social structure. Social life is more than random individual acts, but is not merely determined by social forces. There is a social structure – traditions, institutions, moral codes, and established ways of doing things; but it also means that these can be changed when people start to ignore them, replace them, or reproduce them differently.


Other important theorists

*
William Hanks William F. Hanks is an American linguist and anthropologist who has done influential work in linguistic anthropology describing the uses of deixis and indexicality in the Yucatec Maya language. He holds the Distinguished Chair in Linguistic Anthrop ...
*
Sherry Ortner Sherry Beth Ortner (born September 19, 1941) is an American cultural anthropologist Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology Anthropology is the Science, scientific study of humanity, concerned with human behavior, human biology, ...
*
Marshall Sahlins Marshall David Sahlins ( ; December 27, 1930April 5, 2021) was an American cultural anthropologist Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology Anthropology is the Science, scientific study of humanity, concerned with human behavior ...
* Andreas Reckwitz *
Jean Lave Jean Lave is a social anthropologist who theorizes learning as changing participation in on-going changing practice. Her lifework challenges conventional theories of learning and education. She completed her doctorate in Social Anthropology at ...

Theodore Schatzki
* Davide Nicolini * Elizabeth Shove


References

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Sociological terminology This category relates to sociological Sociology is the study of society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or s ...