Knowing in action and the practice turn

“When we go about the spontaneous, intuitive performance of the actions of everyday life, we show ourselves to be knowledgeable in a special way,” wrote Donald Schön in 1983’s The Reflective Practitioner. “It seems right to say that our knowing is in our action.”

Re-reading Schön in relation to the “practice turn.”

Wikipedia on social practice:

Social practice is a theory within psychology that seeks to determine the link between practice and context within social situations. Emphasized as a commitment to change, social practice occurs in two forms: activity and inquiry. Most often applied within the context of human development, social practice involves knowledge production and the theorization and analysis of both institutional and intervention practices.

And a 2012 paper, (“Strategy-as-Practice: Taking Social Practices Seriously”), by Eero Vaara and Richard Whittington:

The origins of the practice perspective can be traced to Wittgenstein (1951) or Heidegger (1962), but the past few decades have seen a proliferation of theories of practice — to the extent that we can speak about a “practice turn” in the social sciences generally (Reckwitz, 2002; Rouse, 2007; Schatzki et al.,2001). This turn includes seminal and diverse contributions by philosophers (Foucault, 1980), sociologists (de Certeau, 1984; Giddens, 1984), anthropologists (Bourdieu, 1990), ethnomethodologists (Garfinkel, 1967), activity theorists (Engeström, Miettinen, & Punamäki, 1999; Vygotsky, 1978), discourse scholars (Fairclough, 2003), and many more. In short, “practice” implies more than simply practical; it links strategy research to deep traditions of theoretical and empirical work in other disciplines. We highlight here how this practice turn defines itself in opposition to methodological individualism and emphasizes instead the embedded nature of human agency, the importance of macro social institutions, emergence as well as design, the role of materiality, and the critical examination of the otherwise taken for granted.

  • Hilary 24 Jul 2013, 8:39 am

    I appreciate and share the focus on practice here, Schoen was quite the revolutionary in his way! I am struck, however, by the limited view of the world that Whittington seems to endorse – this quote only makes sense if we limit ourselves to consideration of a slim slice of Western thinking (starting with Heidegger?!, how about Aristotle’s concern with praxis and phroenesis?). But even if we stick with the modern era, why no mention of Rorty, of feminism who place practice at the very center of life-work? And not to forget that practice has always been seemlessly part of Asian ways of knowing. Indeed all indigenous knowing has always come from a desire to reach collaborative action together. Ergo, practice has always been central for most people throughout history. So more recently a few theory oriented Western gentlemen seem to be awakening to the obvious. 😉

    • Howard Silverman 24 Jul 2013, 9:24 am

      Thanks, Hilary!

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