Towards an integrative theory of practice




Proposition and assumptions


Cases and implications


What is a practice?

What are the constituent elements of a practice?

How do practices emerge, exist and die?


1. Practice is a process of integration resulting in a structured arrangement (i.e. resulting in a practice that exists as a recognisable entity).

Assumption a: Elements that are integrated consist of material, image and skill.

Assumption b: We can identify:
Proto-practices (pre-formation)
Practices ((re)formation)
Ex-practices (de-formation)
In which links between elements are not yet formed, formed, and broken.


Making and Breaking links

Nordic Walking as an innovation in practice


Shove, E. and Pantzar,M.(2006) ‘Fossilisation’, Ethnologia Europaea: Journal of European Ethnology, 35:1-2, 2005, p59-63.








How do practices attract and repel constituent elements (of material, image and skill)?
How are practitioners attached to practices?


2. To persist and survive, practices have to attract and and activate practitioners and other constituent elements.

Assumption: Human beings and their organizations have a dual role as activators of practice formations (i.e. as practitioners) and ingredients in that process (i.e. as elements)


Careers of carriers
Careers of practices

Recruitment and reproduction

Shove, E. and Pantzar, M. (2007) 'Recruitment and reproduction: the careers and carriers of digital photography and floorball' Journal of Human Affairs, 17: 154-167.

Manufacturing leisure





How do practices accumulate a) through an individual’s lifecycle, and b) within entire societies? How do individual histories and collective histories interact? How do new integrations generate patterns of path-dependency and/or path-independency?

What happens when practices are linked together into systems of practices? What happens when systems of practices break down?
What happens when systems of practice interact with others systems of practice?
How do systems of practices expand and contract?


3. Practices are formed through multiple circuits of reproduction.

Assumption a: Diachronic developments: Successive integrations (i.e. sequential orders) of materials, images and skills generate new configurations of irreversiblity and scale.
Disintegrations (breaking links) result in the ‘softening’or decay of practices and of links between them.

Assumption b: Synchronic developments include emerging forms of inter-dependence, co-requisite relationships, intermediary practices, supporting practices, etc.


The evolution of the modern kitchen

Orchestrating kitchens
Rushing around
Metering everyday life
Restless kitchens




How do materials, images and skills circulate between different practices? How do images such as ‘modern society’ or ‘fitness’ create the material elements on which these phenomena depend? And vice versa.


4. Elements of practices are generated, renewed and reproduced through practice.

Assumption a: Elements of practice (e.g. materials, images, skills) are partly autonomous in that they are created through multiple integrations (practices).
Assumption b: The elements of a practice are partly constituted by all other practices in which those same elements are integrated and thereby made.


Cases could deal with technologies of well being, plastics, brands … know-how.

Age of plastics
Evolution of lifestyle goods