The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory

The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory

The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory

The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory

Synopsis

This book provides an exciting and diverse philosophical exploration of the role of practice and practices in human activity. It contains original essays and critiques of this philosophical and sociological attempt to move beyond current problematic ways of thinking in the humanities and social sciences. It will be useful across many disciplines, including philosophy, sociology, science, cultural theory, history and anthropology.

Excerpt

References to shared practices or to agreement in practice have long figured in the discourse of sociologists, but in recent years they have taken on an enhanced importance. Social systems have been characterized as ongoing, self-reproducing arrays of shared practices, and structured dispositions to generate such practices have been made central to the understanding of social and cultural phenomena of every kind. in extreme extensions of approaches of this kind, it may even be argued that as far as the sociologist is concerned practice is all there is to study and describe. An unkind account of this development might regard 'practice' as part of the debris produced by the disintegration of Marxism, a concept carried by refugee theorists who have found new homes in various 'post-Marxist' forms of sociology and social theory. But a much kinder account of the basis of the current interest in practice can be given, and should indeed be accepted. Accounts of societies as practices may be regarded as attempts to remedy the technical deficiencies of the idealist forms of theory that hitherto were dominant in this context.

One of the central tasks of theory in the social sciences is to specify what distinguishes the members of a culture or a collective from outsiders, and on what basis they sustain orderly activities and relationships amongst themSelves. Often this is seen as equivalent to identifying what members have in common, or what they share with each other and not outsiders. One approach is to describe the shared theories, ideas, beliefs or abstractly specified rules or norms that allegedly 'govern' their behavior. Two major difficulties are routinely associated with this approach. One is that ideas, beliefs, norms, and so forth are conceived of as being internal to individuals, and hence as invisible entities, all descriptions of which are bound to be highly conjectural. the second is the fact that these entities almost invariably serve as the basis of questionable passive actor theories of order and agreement: the entities are presumed to have fixed and definite implications, which those who cleave to them are obliged to enact. in contrast, to insist that the bedrock of all order and agreement is agreement in practice is to cite something public and visible, something that is manifest in what members do. Moreover, accounts of order and agreement that refer to practice presume not passive actors but active members, members who reconstitute the system of shared practices by

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