Mika Pantzar and Elizabeth Shove

The Choreography of Everyday Life:

Towards an Integrative Theory of Practice


These web-pages are part of an on going effort to merge concepts from social theory and studies of consumption, innovation, science and technology to produce an 'integrative' theory of practice.

In setting out the following framework we begin by considering the ingredients of which practices are made. We suggest that there are three basic elements: stuff, (by which we mean materials, technologies and tangible, physical entities); image (including the domain of symbols and meanings); and skill (which encompasses competence, know-how and technique). We go on to argue that practices come into existence, persist and disappear when links between these foundational elements are made, sustained or broken. We use this scheme to examine critical moments like those in which proto-practices become real (innovation), and in which established practices break down (fossilisation).

With these concepts in place, our second step is to conceptualise processes of reproduction, replication and transformation. How do practices 'capture' resources and recruits?

In considering the diffusion of practice, we recognise that there are numerous forms of inter- and path-dependence, that stuff, image and skill co-evolve, and that processes of configuring and domestication are important.

In analysing the relation between practice as performance and practice as entity we pay particular attention to spirals and circuits of reproduction. Practices have effect on each other and on the conditions of future practice. Our fourth step is to reflect on the extent to which the ingredients of practice are themselves formed through previous and simultaneous histories of association, integration and linkage.

This table elaborates on these ideas and provides links to a range of empirical examples including the invention and diffusion of Nordic Walking (a form of speed walking with two sticks), the development of digital photography, the evolution of the kitchen and the history of plastic.