Media Practices and literacies

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This double theme or composite theme is one of the major insights of my dissertation. I would like to bring together the "practice turn" in social sciences, especially in relation to media practices, and the sociocultural understanding of literacy, in particular the new literacies. Although I see clear intersection of both approaches, they have not been yet integrated. Perhaps it is not even necessary to expend so much effort mixing the two approaches. Maybe, it is enough to review the two paradigms and highlight points in common, their convergence. At the end, what I would like to do is to be able to study some of the media practices and literacies in action, happening in the everyday life.

One way to start doing so is by organizing here the two approaches:

Can the two paradigms intersect or are they completely different things? Yes, as a matter of fact it seems like the social turn in literacies, acknowledges the reading and writing as social practice. The difference with the general practice theory in social science is that they cover way more practices, they are no limited to the discursive ones. It would concentrate in the practices that are mainly discursive and material, the ones that are used for communicating with other people, as well as the practices of mainly communicating with computers and technological systems (devices, search engines, systems).

As a matter of fact it seems that both approaches look at social practices in order to understand social and cultural life. Both approaches also seem to value the ‘everyday’ and ‘life-world.’ However, literacies seems to focus very specifically on discourses, meanwhile the social practice has a wider scope that includes thinking, doing, happening. Both approaches are also influenced by the cultural turn in social theory.

Practice theory situates the social in a different realm from those of other cultural theories. The ‘place’ of the social here is different. Simultaneously, this means that the ‘smallest unit’ of social theory and social analysis in practice theory is conceptualized differently.

Can we think as literacies as site of the social? are communicative acts sites of the social? Since this acts are discoursive and textual are they too far from the "praxis"? is the concept of literacies too bias towards cultural textualism? Since literacies place the social in discourse, it is not possible to align them with the new theories of media practice?

And how about if we simply talk about the sociocultural practices that are literacies, and maybe just mention the existence of the media practice approach. They can address the same practice but from different ontological conceptions. Perhaps it could be better to stay just with the literacies as discursive, textual and communicative practices. As a matter of fact, I already have read the literature and can speak comfortable about them.

The Practice and Media Turn

Since the 1980s, the practice turn in social science have called attention the need to study the practices, the acts in where agents perform, exercise their power.

In the social sciences, researchers have made the call to study media practices.

In the linguistic and educational science, scholars have made the call to study literacies as sociocultural practices.

Sociological, cultural, and linguistic analysis of the practice of people using new digital technologies.

New practices mediated by digital technologies.

An array of activities, analyzed as social practices.

The practice turn in social science intersect as well with the new literacy studies.

The social turn in the studies of literacy, is a turn in where the framework of social sciences is brought to the study of language, reading and writing.

However, practices are not only discoursive, not only literate practices. They are also material, emotional, body. So the practice is way bigger.

I use the framework of the practice turn, and in particular the one of the media practice turn, because it allows us to understand the social life, the everyday life of the population I am studying, and how it affects their participation, identities, and literacies.

A variety of disciplines have done the turn: anthropology, sociology, linguistics, cultural studies.

The expression “practice theory” has gained currency in recent decades. I believe it has its origins in anthropology, in connection with the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1972, trans. 1976)

Perhaps the two leading exponents of practice theory are Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens (1979)

In the background of these theorists’ ideas stand the prominent philosophies of Heidegger and Wittgenstein.

According to Tchatski, three commonalities are particularly significant for practice theory:

  • The first is the idea that a practice is an organised constellation of different people’s activities. A practice is a social phenomenon in the sense that it embraces multiple people. The activities that compose it, moreover, are organised.
  • The second commonality is the idea that important features of human life must be understood as forms of, or as rooted in, human activity – not the activity of individuals, but in practices, that is, in the organised activities of multiple people. (...) matters such as reason, identity, learning, and communication. These features, too, so goes the intuition, are features of practices, or perhaps more precisely, features that come to characterise particular people by virtue of their participation in social practices.
  • The third common tenet is an account of human activity that, in emphasising that human activity rests on something that cannot be put into words, counters the subject-object split that has defined much philosophical thought in the modern era. Examples of the nonpropositional something are Ryle’s know-how, Merleau-Ponty’s habits/schemas, Dreyfus’ skills, Bourdieu’s habitus, and Giddens’ practical consciousness.

"In sum, the domain of “practice theory” is delimited by a conception of practices as organised activities, the conviction that both social phenomena and key “psychological” features of human life are tied to practices, and the idea that the basis of human activity is nonpropositional bodily abilities."

"Beyond practice theory, a wide variety of theorists today use the expressions “practices” or “social practices” in the absence of an elaborated or even explicit conception of practices. These expressions are also often used almost unreflectively, in a way that suggests that the writer or speaker believes that his/her subject matter is a form of, or rooted in, human activities. In this way, a vague, unarticulated sense of the first two commonalities that delimit practice theory has disseminated far beyond its imprecise shores and become commonplace in contemporary social thought."


According to Tchatski, "The central concept in practice theory is that of practices. A practice, on my understanding, is an open-ended, spatially-temporally dispersed nexus of doings and sayings. Practices are open-ended in the sense that they are not composed of any particular number of activities. (...)A practice is a nexus of doings and sayings. Sayings are a subclass of doings, namely, all doings that say something about something. At the base of a practice, furthermore, lie those doings and sayings that are basic activities.(...)As for organisation, a practice’s activities are organised by practical rules, understandings, teleoaffective structures, and general understandings. An action belongs to a practice if it expresses one of the understandings, rules or teleoaffective elements that organise that practice.

"This general conception of organisation is shared by Bourdieu and Giddens, though they diverge on what organises practices: habitus, stakes, and capitals (Bourdieu), sets of rules and resources (Giddens).

"The activities that compose practices are inevitably, and often essentially, bound up with material entities. Basic doings and sayings, for example, are carried out by embodied human beings. Just about every practice, moreover, deals with material entities (including human bodies) that people manipulate or react to. And most practices would not exist without materialities of the sorts they deal with, just as most material arrangements that practices deal with would not exist in the absence of these practices."

"Because the relationship between practices and material entities is so intimate, I believe that the notion of a bundle of practices and material arrangements is fundamental to analysing human life."

"Material arrangements ubiquitously prefigure the perpetuation of practices, that is, the repetition or redirection of the doings and sayings that compose particular practices."

"Practices are nexuses of activity. I have been using the word “activities” to denote doings and sayings, both basic activities and the further activities they constitute in the circumstances (e.g., typing on a keyboard, writing an essay)."

Activities are events. This means that they happen. (...) Activity events are distinguished from mere occurrences by virtue of being intentional and voluntary.

"Strictly speaking, timespace is a feature of each activity. It is, however, a social feature of individual activities. It is social because the timespaces of different people’s activities interweave under the aegis of social practices and the material arrangements with which practices are bundled."

"The interwovenness of the timespaces of different people’s activities consists in the existence of common, shared, and orchestrated elements. Elements of timespace – ends, purposes, motivations, places, paths – are common when participants in a practice act for the same ends, purposes, or motivations, or at the same places and paths anchored at the same or similar material entities, and do so because this is enjoined in the normative organisation of the practice."

"Via commonality, sharing, and orchestration, the timespaces of the activities of participants in a practice that is carried on amid particular arrangements interweave. This interwovenness is a joint product of the normative organisation of the practice involved, the arrangements in which it is carried on, and the many contingent events that inflect the progression of activity in that practice- arrangement bundle. Interwoven timespaces are a feature of this bundle."

"In sum, activities are indeterminate temporalspatial events, the interwovenness of whose temporal and spatial dimensions is a feature of the practice-arrangement bundles as part of which they occur."

"The world according to practice theory offers much to investigate. There are practices, arrangements, activities, bundles, and constellations. There are questions about which of these exist when and where, their details, how they work and unfold, how they can be designed or altered, and how to prepare people to enter them."

"Practices are more ethereal than are material entities. Whereas material entities and activities can be directly perceived (this requires knowledge of the bundles to which they belong and of teleology as well as motivation), practices must be uncovered. Not only are the constituent activities of practices spread out over space and time, but their organisations, as the organisation of spatially and temporally dispersed entities, are abstract phenomena. Other means than direct experience must be seized to uncover them."

"Language is an important clue as to which activities and practices exist. This is true regardless of how much or how little knowledge and experience an investigator has of the bundles under investigation. "

"To acquire this knowledge, the investigator has no choice but to do ethnography, that is, to practice interaction-observation. Under “ethnography” writ large I include focus groups and meetings of subjects, as well as videotaping practices. There is no formal or mathematical or computer-based method that can get at these matters. There is no alternative to hanging out with, joining in with, talking to and watching, and getting together the people concerned."

"Any accurate use of comparative methods, however, presupposes ethnography – else, one cannot know what and how to compare, what umbrella categories to use, and the significance of revealed commonalities and differences."

"High-level comparisons can, moreover, be revealing. But one will never understand the significance of what has been uncovered and its implications for change and design absent ethnography. This is why it is far more important for, say, government officials to read case histories, ethnographies, and histories than the comparative work of political scientists."

"Statistics provide overviews of the quantifiable features of large classes of phenomena and thereby contribute to the attainment of overviews of social affairs. As such, statistical information can make key contributions to, say, institutional choices and the conduct of life. They identify and confirm the existence of social problems and enable judgments of better and worse social arrangements."

"Statistics, accordingly, are ultimately useful only in conjunction with some combination of ethnography, oral history, history, and theory."