Social Practice Theories

Higher education is a complex social institution whose organisational and disciplinary forms, governance structures, employee values and economic integration each have long histories, are deeply contested, and are under constant pressure to change.

Our work on using social practice theories in higher education projects is an exceptional approach to grasping this complexity in a multifaceted way. Among other things, our scholarship is concerned with making visible the often-hidden productive and re-productive work that makes higher education function - rethinking the roles of different interests within the sector, emphasising the importance of different artefacts in knowledge production and discourse, and highlighting issues of power, interest and inclusion.

We pride ourselves on being a world-class Centre for developing and applying social practice theories in higher education research. We are well-known for our incisive and novel conceptualisations of such issues as the changing patterns of academic work, the nature of the student academic experience, research and scholarship practices within universities, and the history of higher education.

We look in depth at changing the subjectivities of individuals, organisations and institutions in higher education, their lived experiences and practices within the sector. We also understand higher education as an old sector with a long trajectory and are committed to placing our research in historical, social, cultural and economic contexts.

NASA photo of night cities from space
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Key research interests within this theme:

  • Paul Ashwin: social practice approaches to researching learning and teaching in higher education
  • Brett Bligh: Activity Theory; Change Laboratory research-interventions; roles of theories in research.
  • Natasa Lackovic: academic and research practices; research methods via the lenses of socio-materiality; semiotic theory of learning, multimodality, and relational ontologies.
  • Lynn McAlpine: career trajectories of post-PhD researchers in and outside the academy; research writing practices.
  • Jan McArthur: effecting socially-just change in higher education; the social practices of assessment.
  • Kayleigh Rosewell: Academics’ experiences of higher education, academic career trajectories and identities, work and family, gender and higher education.
  • Murray Saunders: evaluation as a social practice; effects and impact as practice change.
  • John Taylor: the history of higher education; history of academic practices.
  • Paul Trowler: applying a sensibility for practices to the management of change.