Tag Archives: phd research

How to make sure people care about your research

No-one cares about your research. Particularly if it’s your PhD (or any other kind of doctorate). In fact if someone knows it’s the latter, or you mention it, they probably care less, or at least have alarm bells ringing that you’re about to launch into a prolonged account of your scholarship woes, the fact your supervisor hasn’t replied to any emails for 17 hours now, the horrible ethics committee, and the impossibility of writing only 100,000 words when it’s taken you 7 years and you’ve just got so much to say…

Even more of concern is the journal reviewer, or assessor of your grant proposal who is put off and frustrated before they’ve finished reading the first paragraph.

Fear not, for help is at hand! Fortunately, there is a really easy and effective way to avoid all these problems. Admittedly, this assumes your research does actually matter in some way, in the sense that it connects with something wider and non-trivial.

My solution will cost you nothing: no hard currency, no bitcoins, and no sleepless nights. Probably not even any extra words. In fact you may end up telling and selling the story of your research in fewer words than before! All it takes is a bit of trust, and a few minutes of your time.

My solution is this: when introducing your research, use a sequence that follows a ‘so’ logic rather than a ‘why?’ logic. This may well involve reversing the order of your ideas and sentences. If so, rejoice! – because this means you’ve already had all the right ideas, made all the right connections. You just need to turn it all upside down.

So what on earth is a ‘so’ logic, or a ‘why?’ logic, and why do these matter?

A ‘why’ logic is based on a sequence of sentences where each sentence is followed by one that explains the first. Example:

My research is about improving generic skills of university graduates.

This is important because employers increasingly look for generic skills in recruiting new staff, and repeatedly report shortcomings among graduates.

This matters because generic skills are known to be crucial to successful business innovation.

This looks great, right? It’s clear, follows a nice logical order, and explains to the reader why your research is important. I’ll admit, it’s not bad. Just I think it could be better. What’s really going on in the sequence above is an unwritten conversation with the reader. Let’s look at it again, this time with the silent responses inserted:

My research is about improving generic skills of university graduates.

[So what?]

This is important because employers increasingly look for generic skills in recruiting new staff, and repeatedly report shortcomings among graduates.

[Yeah. And? Why should I care about that?]

This matters because generic skills are known to be crucial to successful business innovation.

[Oh! Now I get it!]

Look at it from the reader’s point of view. You first sentence left them unconvinced, and probably rang all the alarm bells of dread, foreboding the terrors I outlined at the beginning of this post. Only after pushing you twice for more information, are they rewarded with something that they actually ‘get’, and might even care about. To them your research, in only three sentences, has been an uphill slog, full of doubt, experienced as some kind of puzzle that leaves them guessing. After each sentence they are left asking themselves: “why?”. This is the reason I call this a ‘why?’ logic.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can swap ‘why?’ for ‘so’. And we barely have to change a word. In fact we delete quite a few!

Generic skills are known to be crucial to successful business innovation.

Employers increasingly look for generic skills in recruiting new staff, and repeatedly report shortcomings among graduates.

My research is about improving generic skills of university graduates.

In this logic, you start with the idea that the reader really ‘got’ in the first scenario. The thing that matters most universally, directly and immediately to your readers. The kind of thing that they will accept as obvious, perhaps even unquestionable. There’s nothing wrong with showing a reader that you are both on the same wavelength. Take a shared assumption about something that you know to be a common concern. Something you don’t have to convince them to care about. Exploit what’s already there between you!

Then simply follow up with a sentence that leads from that towards your research, in a gradually narrowing down. What’s happening this time, is something more like this:

Generic skills are known to be crucial to successful business innovation.

[Absolutely! You sound like a sensible sort of person who knows what I care about. I’m curious. Tell me more].

Employers increasingly look for generic skills in recruiting new staff, and repeatedly report shortcomings among graduates.

[Yes. That makes sense.]

My research is about improving generic skills of university graduates.

[Seriously?! Wow! That’s wonderful! It’s just what we need. And it sounds very focused too. Tell me all about it in intricate detail!]

At each step you carry the reader with you, and one sentence follows on from the next exploiting this. Sentence 1 [brilliant!] so…. sentence 2 [amazeballs!] so… sentence 3 [no way! Where’s that Novel prize nomination form?]

That’s it. It may take you more than 3 sentences (hopefully not too many more, though).

Give it a try. I dare you. What have you got to lose?


I would like to acknowledge the influence of Martyn Hammersley’s framework for reading ethnographic research (see my video and podcast), Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler’s miraculous ‘tiny texts’ approach to writing abstracts, the group of UTS Doctor of Education students based in Hong Kong, and Lee Williamson from UTS’ Research Office. Without you all this would never have come to fruition.come to fruition.


Top 10 ways to annoy your PhD supervisors


I should start this post by saying very clearly that what follows is by no means a comment on the many fantastic students I work with and have worked with. I should also be clear that this does not reflect official policy of UTS: it reflects my personal views and is deliberately provocative at times.

The title is a little flippant: this isn’t just about (not) annoying your supervisors, but about the broader and crucial issue of maintaining health supervisory relationships, and making the most out of what supervision has to offer. As you’ll see if you read on, successful doctoral candidature is also about being part of a wider institution and realising that doctoral education and support is much more than supervision.

This is written from the voice of your supervisor, and some points may be more relevant in social sciences and humanities, but most should be worth thinking about for all students.

1.   Disappear

This might sound obvious, but it happens quite a lot. Students, maybe because they are worried, or feel they haven’t been productive enough, can drop into radio silence. Chasing up disappearing doctoral students isn’t particularly pleasurable, and more importantly is a worrying sign. I’m not dismissing important and real issues around anxiety, and of course there are often good reasons why you might find it hard to keep up your work, or might lose confidence. Accessing counselling support services should never be discounted as an option. But going invisible / silent doesn’t do anything for your supervisory relationship and you should stay in regular communication with me.

2.   Mess me around with dates and deadlines

Yes, you might not always be able to meet when we planned, and yes sometimes your work will take longer than expected: unexpected other things in life can’t be ruled out. But as a rule, turn up when we agree to meet, and provide me with your work by the deadline we agree. If you are late, this can compromise my ability to give your work the time and attention it deserves. Equally: I have to make a firm commitment not to change meeting dates and to give feedback in a timely manner. It’s about mutual respect as much as anything else.

3.   Continue to work on texts that I’m reading for feedback

This really is annoying: you send in a piece of writing (draft chapter, etc) and we meet a week later. Meanwhile you’ve been working on the same text, and arrive by telling me that the text I’ve spent considerable time reading and preparing to discuss, is no longer the one you’re working on. Grrr! Make sure you have something else to work on while I’m reading particular pieces of writing.

4.   Assume I’m your default source of support

As your supervisor I’m an important port of call for many sorts of help, support, advice, and guidance. But NOT all sorts of help, support, advice and guidance. You have librarians, administrators, IT support, peers, friends, family, other academics etc as alternatives. Good students consider who is best to ask for help (I’ve published about this kind of relational agency). Asking me stuff that others could have helped you with is irritating and unproductive. Help keep our meetings focused on the stuff that I can bring most value to.

5.   Ask for help before trying to address something yourself

Related to point 4, but slightly different. This is doctoral study: high-level stuff where learning independence is a key factor. If you come to me with a ‘problem’ and want me to offer a solution before you’ve really tried out a number of things yourself, chances are I’ll say (yep, you guessed): “go and try out a few things yourself and reflect on how they go, then we can have a better discussion about how to proceed”.

6.   Agree to things that you know aren’t realistic

One of several points relating to clear, honest, shared expectations. If I say “when can you have a draft of your methodology written by?” and you say “one month”, then make sure that that is realistic. If you know you’ve got to look after the kids in school holidays, or have visits from demanding relatives, or a crazy month in your job, don’t be scared to tell me. I have to respect your other commitments just as I expect you to respect mine. I’d rather we negotiated a reasonable timeframe up front, than you agreeing to something unrealistic and then messing me around later (see point 2).

7.   Leave the supervision with no idea what I was talking about

Yes, I admit: I’m not always as clear as I’d like to be when giving suggestions to students I work with. I’m as guilty as the next person of being cryptic at times. I need you to help manage this. Don’t sit there nodding and writing notes in a supervision, as if you understand everything I’m saying, and then come back a month later and say “sorry, I didn’t do anything on that chapter because I didn’t really understand what you wanted me to do”. If say “It needs more voice” and you have no idea or are unsure what that means, then speak up! You’re not supposed to be psychic. But you are supposed to be an active partner in supervisions and to play an active role in reaching shared understandings of next steps.

8.   Agree with everything I say

One of my biggest fears is that as a supervisor I lead you into doing your doctorate the way I would have done it. I worry a lot if a consistent pattern emerges when you acquiesce to everything I suggest and don’t contest any of my ideas. This is your PhD, your name is going on the certificate. Show you’re becoming a scholar worthy of the title ‘Dr’ by being ready to disagree with me. You’re going to have to disagree with much scarier people in future, and stand up for your decisions, so get used to it.

9.   Talk to other academics without discussing with me first

As with any workplace, academic institutions are not free of politics. I very much encourage and support you to interact with and get support from as a wide a range of academic colleagues as is appropriate. But it’s much better to talk to me about this before going and knocking on others’ doors. I can then guide you as to who might be helpful (and guide you away from others who might throw a spanner in the works for whatever reason). I might also broker an introduction. Some supervisors might have, er, shall we say tense relations with some of their colleagues, so a bit of openness about reaching out isn’t a bad idea.

10.                 Expect me to know your field as well as you do

Simple truth: if I don’t know your field when we start, I certainly won’t by the time you’re getting close to finishing. I haven’t read everything you have. I don’t know your data as well as you do. You’re (becoming) the expert in that area. So think about what that means for how to make the most of your relationship with me as your supervisor.

Obviously, this isn’t the 10 commandments: they’re deliberately frank, flippant and perhaps provocative. These rules might not apply in your context, but I’m guessing the chances are something related to each point is relevant in some way to how you work with your supervisor.

Reference to the paper I published on wider relationships and relational agency:

Hopwood, N. (2010). A sociocultural view of doctoral students’ relationships and agency. Studies in Continuing Education, 33(2), 103-117.

How to keep up to date with research in your field (particularly in the social sciences)

I was asked recently by the lovely people at UTS Library (who happen to have an excellent blog), to speak to doctoral students and other early career researchers about what I do to keep up to date with research in my field. This provoked me into thinking…

What does it mean to be ‘up to date’?

Being a social scientist, my first instinct is to debunk the question, to challenge the assumptions underpinning it. Let’s begin with up-to-date-ness. I don’t regard knowledge in my field (education / social sciences) as being updated in the sense that what comes later replaces what came before. Old knowledge is rarely obsolete, and new does not necessarily mean better. Furthermore there are fashions and trends which have interesting relationships with temporal trajectories of knowledge: education, for example, is sometimes seen as developing obsessions with thinkers and writers who have long since been left behind or fallen from the limelight in other social science fields.

For me, being up to date includes the conventional sense of having my finger on the pulse in terms of what some of the most recent outcomes of research are (note I don’t use the term ‘findings’). But this also involves maintaining a sense of the changes in the landscape in terms of groups of researchers and what kinds of work they are doing. Not just a retrospective ‘what has come out in journals’, but a contemporary ‘what are the key people in my field up to’. Being up to date also involves anticipating what is coming: there’s an ace team in [insert your university of preference here] that are the ones to watch; what’s going to happen now [superstar Prof or ECR] has moved to [wherever they have gone]. Up-to-date-ness involves projecting what will be in vogue and novel in the coming months and years. For many of us this anticipation requires looking outside the field (to changes in policy, practice, social contexts), and within it (who’s emerging, who’s taken over influential editorships etc).

And what is ‘my field’?

Not as easy a question to answer as it might seem. I do work based on pedagogy and practice in child and family health settings. Is this my ‘field’? I publish in journals relating to continuing education and workplace learning: maybe this is my ‘field’? I draw on sociomaterial and practice theories? Do writings by researchers using these (in philosophy, organization studies, education etc) constitute my ‘field’? As an educational researcher, don’t I also have a professional responsibility to know what’s going on in other areas: school education, higher education. Isn’t this my ‘field’?

Well, I think the answer to all of those question is ‘yes’. One’s location or position in intellectual communities is not singular. Just as those communities have a texture created through questions of conceptual scale, disciplinary boundaries, and historical changes, so our position in those communities becomes a textured on: positions [plural], maybe.

And this means we must have a textured approach to keeping up to date. Not all dimensions of our field are as important as others. For me, I use Table of Contents (ToC) alerts to keep tabs on who is publishing on what topics in the general field of education, reading the odd abstract I find interesting. For specific areas where I’m publishing and contributing to advances in knowledge, the approach is much more in depth. But even then it’s not that simple. What if I want to publish in a very general journal like British Educational Research Journal? It’s no good just having a cursory sense of what’s going on in my field and in the broader conversations that ‘big’ journals like BERJ support and publish. If I’m going to take that conversation forward, or in new directions, I’ve got to be more than a (legitimate) peripheral participant in it [those of you who’ve come across Communities of Practice literature will get the poke here].

What is a field made of? Is it findings? I’ve already questioned that notion. Is it ideas? Concepts? Studies? People? Research centres? Theoretical ‘turns’? My answer [no surprises for guessing]: all of the above.

And now, some strategies I use for keeping up to date with my field (whatever that means)

Live on Ramsay Street

Forgive the reference to TV soap opera Neighbours but there’s an important point here, relating to the complexity and texture I discussed above. We have to know who our research ‘neighbours’ are: who is next door, doing the work that relates most closely to mine? Who is down the street, doing similar stuff, maybe in a slightly different way or with a different angle? Who comprises my suburb or neighbourhood – people with whom I share a broader affiliation, but who as a collective still mark ourselves as distinct from the field at large? And how much does my city sprawl – who are the people to watch in the broad discipline or field (for me, education)? And of course, we might be flying over to other cities (fields) from time to time, too: who are our best friends there?

Accrue air miles

Air miles rock (though I have to admit the environmental consequences of rewarding pollution with yet more pollution seem troubling). Not only because you get access to business lounges, free upgrades, and a sense of superiority when you tread the red carpet at check-in, beat the queues through security and immigration, and board before everybody else.

Air miles rock as an outcome of important ‘keeping up to date’ activity. Like it or not, intellectual work doesn’t happen in a single place (note how I’m deliberately upsetting the Ramsay Street metaphor I used above, bringing out the need to jump on a plane every now and then). This was true when I worked in the UK when there were dozens of universities I could visit easily by car or train within a day, and is more true now I’m in Australia where the density of higher education institutions is much lower.

But how many universities there are within 200km isn’t the issue. Chances are no matter where you are, some of the best people in your field are 1000s of km away. Being friends with them, knowing what they’re doing, what they’re about to do, and what they think is coming up next is crucial.

I admit I’ve been very fortunate in receiving generous support for international travel through the positions I’ve held, and I recognise not everyone will be flying often enough to get to gold status. The air miles thing is me being flippant. What’s important is not being parochial in the contacts we make (and twitter, skype, email etc are all useful). And being strategic in how we plan and make use of international travel. Tempting as it may be to find conferences in the more glamorous locations and to travel widely, I’m increasingly of the view that going back to the same place(s) again and again is of more value. This means choosing a couple of conferences that you’re going to make an ongoing commitment to. You want to be walking into the room and recognise, and be recognised by, a good proportion of the people there. It also means doing things like doubling up conferences with institutional visits. The Researching Work and Learning conference creates a temporary Ramsay Street for me, when most of my buddies from that part of my field actually do come together for a few days and inhabit the same (geographical as well as intellectual) space. It’s happening in Stirling in 2013, and I’ve arranged to spend a month there in the run-up to the conference. One air-ticket, but a whole new level of richness in terms of my engagement with overseas colleagues. I’m flying less and making each truckload of carbon dumped in the atmosphere worth more. Visiting institutions is becoming increasingly important to me, and sometimes even replacing conference attendance.

The oedipus technique

Obviously you all think your own work is brilliant, amazeballs, the best. Other researchers who think the same might be worth tracking down: they clearly are the wise ones who know what good research looks like and what the important issues are. Maybe your next door neighbour is a bit of a quiet, introverted type, and without you knowing they’ve been devouring your papers and citing you left, right and centre. Google scholar is a great way of finding out who is reading your stuff – just click on the number of citations and you get a list of where you’ve been cited. It’s also good to see which of your publications is the intellectual equivalent (in terms of popularity, not quality, of course) of Harry Potter, or Fifty Shades of Grey, and which is less widely read (you may wish to regard these as ‘niche’ or ‘challenging’).

In further egotistical adoration of seeing my reflection ripple across the pond that is my field (another metaphor? seriously?!), I also keep tabs of who has been contacting me and asking for papers etc. Not only is this useful when you have to demonstrate ‘impact’ but it’s another way of figuring out who to be friends with, and a way of instigating contact. By not putting papers online, but instead putting details and asking for people to contact you for a copy, you can encourage this. It’s particularly useful with papers published in journals with copyright restrictions. You can’t publish them freely on your own web page.

Old doesn’t (always) mean gold

No offence here to my more established readers, but you’re not going to be here forever. There is constant talk of demographic crises in social sciences: many fields are quite top heavy – lots of academics with decades of experience, not so many in the younger / earlier career ranks. At some point, our current profs will no longer be occupying those prime real-estate offices and editing the big journals. Someone else is going to have to take over. Anticipating who that’s going to be is crucial.

At conferences (particularly the big education conferences in the USA), I have seen well-published professors followed round with a flotilla of admiring doctoral students and early career researchers. Celebrity or guru academics pack out rooms. Great. Many of them probably deserve it and are doing brilliant stuff. But two caveats: sometimes the most established people in the field can also be the most conservative and resistant to change, policing values of the old school. These may be values worth policing (I have my own gurus who do such policing, and I thoroughly intend to continue it myself in some areas). But what happens when they’ve moved on?

Building relationships with other doctoral students, early career researchers, new lecturers etc not only brings different kinds of friendship and joy to research. It is also an investment in your future and the future of your field. Attempts to keep up to date might be well served by following the top professors; they might not. I’ve yet to meet a doctoral student who wasn’t shockingly up to date with what is going on.

Up to date 2.0

Nothing revolutionary here (nor surprising to you since you’re reading this on a blog): social media are great. Twitter, blogs, podcasts, academia.edu – all great. My advice: don’t lurk, be active. But don’t kid yourself into thinking you can tweet or blog yourself into thesis completion or that next journal paper. These are means to something else. But a valuable one.

Sit back, relax, and let others do the work for you

I have self-confessed to adopting a laziness-based approach to keeping up to date with my field. I’m exhausted after having written the above, let alone actually done it all (keeping logs, jet lag, making friends, predicting the future etc). Luckily there are lots of other people who (more or less intentionally) are willing to do some of this work for you. Read book reviews. Use automatic email lists for selected journals and authors. (BUT! And I learned this from a panel member at UTS last month: do this selectively. If you find yourself automatically deleting or ignoring the automatic emails, you’ve giving yourself information overload and need to cut it down). Join Special Interest Group (SIG) lists. Follow interesting and relevant people on twitter. Read blogs.

And double-up on your own work. Reviewing articles for journals is great. Not only do you develop your own writing skills, and make a contribution to your discipline (an ethical obligation in my view), but you also get an early scoop on what is coming out. I often ask to see the other reviews of papers I referee, so I can see if other reviewers identify literature or ideas that I’ve missed. See, other people are doing the work for me again! And like I said, I reckon doctoral students are some of the most up to date researchers there are around. Reading their lit reviews is great, and a bonus of being a supervisor. Laziness is not total work avoidance, but recognising the multiple benefits of work you already are doing. And avoiding work where it is distracting, irrelevant, or if other people are already doing it for you.

Schatzki’s practice theory: an annotated bibliography

Why post an annotated bibliography?

Well, I’ve been doing a bit of reading and I thought others might find it useful! Also, I’ve noticed that many people aren’t sure what annotated bibliographies are, and that they can be done in many different ways. This is not given here as an ideal model, just one approach.

Why Schatzki and practice theory?

Because I find him and his theory fascinating, and because there are very few summative reviews or accounts in the literature. Schatzki has written a huge amount, and his ideas have changed over time. I found it helpful for myself to recap my readings, sort them out chronologically, and kind of map what the key themes were.

Hang on, I’ve read some of that stuff and that’s not what I took from it!

Great! There’s no singular reading of any text. This bibliography reflects my focus, interests and purposes. There’s a lot more to Schatzki’s writing than I have summarised here. In a way what I’m hoping to show is how good annotations (at least in my view) are not neutral or objective, but focused and intentional. It is also partial (some may find I haven’t paid much attention to practice memory, for example).

Caveat emptor

So… beware before taking this as an objective summary of Schatzki’s work. Certainly don’t rely on it as a proxy for doing your own reading. But do see it as a chance to see how someone else has been engaging with his work.

Get involved!

I see this potentially as a collective work in progress, and if you are happy to share your sense of the key points, messages or value of the texts listed (or indeed others that I have missed), then we can grow the bibliography (and the authorship of it!). Please let me know what you think:

1. Do you do annotated bibliographies differently?

2. How could this be improved?

3. Do you read Schatzki? How do your impressions compare and contrast?

Schatzki T R (1987) Overdue analysis of Bourdieu’s theory of practice. Inquiry 30(1-2), 113-126.

As far as I can tell this is one of the earliest pieces he wrote on these issues. He begins the critique of Bourdieu – a thread that continues throughout much of his later work. Bourdieu (and Giddens) are primary reference points, and his project in creating a social theory / philosophy is framed alongside, as well as in distinction to these.

Schatzki T R (1990) Do social structures determine action? Midwest Studies of Philosophy 15(1), 280-295.

Addresses questions of individual/social, structure/agency. Early mentions of his idea of eschewing these binaries by examining human coexistence.

Schatzki T R (1991) Elements of a Wittgensteinian philosophy of the social sciences. Synthese 87(2), 311-329.


Schatzki T R (1993) Wittgenstein: mind, body, and society. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 23(3), 285-313.

These foreground the Wittgensteinian influence in his earlier work (particularly the 1996 book). In particular he uses LW’s notions of rule following, the urge to get back to the rough ground (practices); although TS seems less interested in language than LW. Later works retain a Wittgensteinian flavour but build more strongly on Heidegger. The 1993 paper highlights the themes of mind, body and society that are central pillars in his 1996 book (which gets into mind/body/action).

Schatzki T R (1996) Social practices: a Wittgensteinian approach to human activity and the social. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The first biggie! Chapter 1 outlines the move to practices as the fundamental unit of analysis of social phenomenon (escape structure/agency, totality/individual binaries). He claims a creative interpretation of Wittgenstein. Chapter 2 focuses on mind/body/action, definitions of these; being a body, having a body, instrumental body. Chapter 3 explores the social constitution of mind, action and body. Chapter 4 is about social practices, space and time, and introduces understandings, rules, and teleoaffective structures (note the split between practical and general understandings is not yet there); dispersed and integrated practices, co-evalness, relationality, time and space all make an appearance. Chapter 5 is about dimensions of practice theory and involves comparisons and contrasts with Bourdieu and Giddens; also talks about emergence. The final chapter is about practices and sociality – social order, hanging together (commonality, orchestration, same or different settings, chains of actions, X=object of Y practice); relationality is a big theme.

Schatzki T R & Natter W (1996) Sociocultural bodies, bodies sociopolitical. In T R Schatzki & W Natter (Eds), The social and political body. London: The Guildford Press, 1-25.

Joint editorial introduction to the volume explores the body-society complex: human bodies that incarnate and are transformed by sociocultural practices and phenomena. There is reference to Turner, Bourdieu, Foucault, Butler etc. And (unusually for Schatzki) quite a lot of reference to discourse. They write of four dimensions of human body in current discussions:

  1. Physicality, neurophysiological, hormonal, skeletal, muscular, prosthetic
  2. Bodily activity – bodies forth mental conditions
  3. Lived body – distinction between self and body – embodiment (Cartesian overtones)
  4. Surface of body –  clothed, decorated, punctured, done up.

A couple of key points out of what follows (for me at least) include:

  1. Practices, discourses, institutions – shape bodies and constitute individuals
  2. The physical body that is subjected to sociocultural molding is an always already causally socioculturally invested physical entity (even before birth) not a piece of pristine nature – a purely biological organism – lying outside of and opposable to the sociocultural.
  3. Putting forward a conception of the human body as a naturally expressive, socially invested, and biophysically formed and operative entity whose activities manifest and signify the various components of individuality such as personhood and subjecthood, gender and mind/action.

Schatzki T R (1996) Practiced bodies: subjects, genders, and minds. In T R Schatzki & W Natter (Eds) The social and political body. London: The Guildford Press, 49-77.

Schatzki’s own contribution to the book he edited with Natter. What seems different here from his writing on the body that came out at the same time (the 1996 book) is the explicit and detailed reference to Foucault and Butler. He gives an interpretation and critique of each. Foucault offers valuable insights, he writes, but there are three lacunae relating to bodies and practices:

1. Apparatuses are incompletely dissected – not just discourses but what governs them

2. Foucault’s three kinds of constitution do not exhaust range of possible types

3. The constitutive relation between body and persons/subjects is poorly theorized.

He then moves on to Butler and her performance rather than substance conception of gender. He appreciates Butlers’ highlighting of the bodily dimension that he sees as neglected in Foucault. It seems also that Schatzki appreciates the greater sense of materiality in Butler as compared to Foucault. His critique of Butler centres on her ‘overly linguistic notion of practice’ (p64), in which the role of nonverbal doings is not thematised. This is interesting as it leads on to some of Schatzki’s more explicit statements about the limits of language – ‘language’s impotence’ (p71) even.

He then discusses his Wittgensteinian view of mind/body/action – going over much of the same territory that is covered in early parts of the 1996 book. In conclusion he suggests that he, Foucault and Butler ‘share the central intuition that social life, in the form of practices, shapes individuals by moulding human bodies’ (p73), while suggesting on what grounds his practice-based account is superior.

Schatzki T R (1997) Practices and actions: a Wittgensteinian critique of Bourdieu and Giddens. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 27(3), 283-208.

This covers much of what is in chapter 5 of the 1996 book. Problems with individual as ontological point of departure; relations between practices and actions (though not as developed as by 2010 in terms of activities); actions not caused by representations but conditions of life – how things stand. Organised by practical understandings, rules, teleoaffective structures (still no general understandings).

Schatzki T R (2000) The social bearing of nature. Inquiry 43(1), 21-38.

This one is good for explaining the site ontology, and why his theory is close to but not the same as actor-network theory (because questions of nature get into questions of human/nonhuman and agency etc). There is quite a lot about materiality in this (perhaps the beginning of the shift that is stronger in the 2001 edited collection and explicitly noted and a thrust of the 2002 book). Practices and (material) arrangements posses huge, though not equal, ontological, causal and prefigurative significance. Society vs. nature does not map onto human vs. nonhuman. Artefacts and nature codetermine the fact of activity (almost as actors but not quite). Shape of human activity is tied to the body and the evolving practices of which it is a moment.

Schatzki T R (2000) Wittgenstein and the social context of an individual life. History of the Human Sciences 13(1), 93-107.

This is part of a special issue about philosopher Peter Winch, and the paper is really more about philosophical nuances rather than advancing new aspects of Schatzki’s theory. People are constitutively social beings; the social context of an individual is nexuses of practice(s). This may be important however as one of the earliest references to ‘practice theory’ as a kind of emerging turn or thrust: contemporary movement – practice theory – that develops the Wittgensteinian position and represents, perhaps, his [LW’s] most significant legacy for social thought.

Schatzki T R (2001) Introduction: practice theory. In T R Schatzki, K Knorr Cetina & E von Savigny (Eds) The practice turn in contemporary theory. London: Routledge, 1-14.

TS’s intro to the now much-cited edited collection. Contains the key definition of practice; foregrounds posthumanist and other (eg. his, which are nearly-posthumanist or moderate posthumanist) views; talks of practice theory as loose family; some ideas about embodiment.

Schatzki T R (2001) Practice mind-ed orders. In T R Schatzki, K Knorr Cetina & E von Savigny (Eds) The practice turn in contemporary theory. London: Routledge, 43-55.

Schatzki’s own take within the polyphony of the volume. Social orders as arrangements, including artefacts and things related to each other. Four kinds of relations – spatial, causal, intentional and prefigurative (enabling/ constraining). Practical intelligibility = guide as to what to do, we do what makes sense to do. This is in turn guided by (he elsewhere says practices are organised by) rules, understandings and teleoaffective structures. Points to moderate posthumanism in relation to artefacts; mind as states of affairs. A bit about emotions, telos/affect.

Schatzki T R (2001) Subject, body, place. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 91(4), 698-702.

A bit of a foray into specific questions of place, and a response to a paper by Edward Casey. Not really at the core an articulation of his major theory, but traces of it are there, and it also indicates his growing interest in Heidegger. The theme of the body is really taken up (perhaps in the most in depth way since 1996) – body mediates between self and place; body as enactive vehicle and subject – I am my body, I have my body. Body as living-lived not physical (post-Heideggarian phenomenology). Doesn’t agree with Casey’s use of habitus concepts.

Schatzki T R (2002) The site of the social: a philosophical account of the constitution of social life and change. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

The second big book. And some major developments in it! This is the book with concrete references / illustrations to Shaker communities and stockmarket traders. In the preface he admits he slighted the role of materiality in his previous work, and this is a correction to that. Chapter 1 talks about material arrangements, and his notion of prefiguring as come close to but not quite as extreme as posthumanist agency of objects. Quite a bit about orders, social orders (including 4 kinds of relation again: spatial, causal, intentional, prefiguring). He says meaning [that something is X-ing] = reality laid down through regimes of activity and intelligibility that are called practices. In chapter 2 we get the first mention of 4 organising features rules, and teleoaffective structures, plus now 2 kinds of understanding: practical and general. Quite a bit here about doings and sayings, and he defends a residual humanism (ie. not going as far as ANT); lots on intelligibility, and the idea that practices mediate causal relevance of materiality. Chapter 3 is mainly about site ontology, practice-order bundles (which he later calls practice-arrangement bundles; the latter is the term that seems to stick in the longer term). Chapter 4 is about agency, movement, change. Arrangements impute, prefigure and lead to agency; agency requires arrangements. Early development here of idea that human activity is fundamentally indeterminate.

Schatzki T R (2002) Social science in society. Inquiry 45(1), 119-138.

This is a review of Flyvbjerg’s book, about approaches to research, and the role of theory in research and society. TS questions F’s attachment to Foucault and power – what about gender? Space? Politics? This is symptomatic of his distancing from MF and power questions. Then gets into his own theory – human activity is indeterminate; supports getting close to reality; rejects simplicity and manipulability of map-like representations. Instead we should explore specific nuances and frequent complexity of particular situations or social phenomena. Better able to uncover richness of what happens there and through that in social life at large.

Schatzki T R (2003) A new societist social ontology. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 33(2), 174-202.

Site ontology (probably one of the best explanations); vs. individualist / societist versions. Site has 2 dimensions: practices and material arrangements. 4 steps in analysis: delimit activity episodes; uncover practice-arrangement bundle; uncover further meshes / confederation of nets; trace chains of human and nonhuman action. Good on enactment: actions that compose practices are performed by individuals, but their organisation is not a property of specific individuals – is expressed in the set of actions that compose practices, not in the sum of minds. Prefiguration = future-organising not causing/determining.

Schatzki T R (2005) Peripheral vision: the sites of organizations. Organization Studies 26(3), 465-484.

Again good on site ontology: site = practice and material arrangements as meshed not separate. Net of practice-arrangement bundles. There are confederations of nets. Practices overlap – same actions, share organisational elements. How to analyse organisation: identify actions, identify practice-arrangement bundles of which part, identify wider nets to which tied (through commonalities, orchestration, chains of action, conflicts, material connections). Human action = primary source of change in practice arrangement bundles and nets. Rules, goals, actions, intelligibility, teleology, normativity = inherent in practices that are bundled together in organisations. Must also consider material arrangements, (humans artefacts, organisms and things). Ontologically allied with (though not same as) other micro-oriented approaches eg ethnomethodology, ANT. Individuals differentially incorporate organisation into their minds. In learning to participate in a practice individuals acquire versions of many though not all the mental states that organise it.

Schatzki T R (2006) The time of activity. Continental Philosophy Review 39(2), 155-182.

Quite good on intentionality, purpose, fleeting references to body, embodiment. Motion vs. movement, time vs. temporality. Thrownness (being in the world, situated, responsive to conditions) and projection (putting possible ways of being before oneself) – building on Heidegger. Time of activity = past, present and future at a single stroke (an important idea that is carried through to 2010, 2012). Mind and body coincide in present conscious sensation-action. Action is indeterminate, but the pre facto indeterminacy of action does not imply that action is post facto undetermined (see 2010).

Schatzki T R (2006) On organizations as they happen. Organization Studies 27(12), 1863-1873.

This is one of the more detailed discussions of time – objective time and activity time. Close reference to Heidegger, thrownness (being amid, including materiality) and projection. Also discusses practice / organisational memory. General understandings make an explicit appearance alongside practical understandings, rules and teleoaffective structures. Aspects of PU, R, TAS, GU that do not pertain to a particular action can be carried in (wide) practice memory. Temporal features such as rhythm and patterning. Organisational memory as sum of its practices.

Schatzki T R (2007) Martin Heidegger: theorist of space. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

This book represents a bit of a tangent, but also articulates in detail some of the major directions that are taken up in his later work, particularly around space and time. The book includes a review of Heidegger’s work with particular emphasis on time, thrownness, projection (and the clearing). It also elaborates some of Schatzki’s own take on these things. Tretter’s review* of this book, from a geographer’s perspective, highlights how Schatzki is indebted to Heidegger’s phenomenology, as well as the continuing influence of Wittgenstein and Dreyfus.

*Tretter E M (2008) A review of: ‘Martin Heidegger: Theorist of Space’. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 98(4), 953-954.

Schatzki T R (2007) Introduction. Human Affairs 17(2), 97-100.

His guest editorial for a special issue. Describes practice theory as non unified, mentions Giddens, Bourdieu, Dreyfus. Activity as a core ontological category. Things that practice approach can be useful to understand: embodiment, nature of communication and learning, space and time as dimensions of human existence, structure and organisation of social order – all these can be and have been looked at from practice point of view.

Schatzki T R (2009) Timespace and the organization of social life. In F Trentmann & R Wilk (Eds) Time, consumption and everyday life: practice, materiality and culture. New York: Berg, 35-48.

This is a very complex paper, with a lot of concepts. Objective time and space are retained, but also human, lived, phenomenological timespace (action as temporalspatial). Lots about relations between timespaces: enjoining, overlapping, shared, common, orchestrated, idiosyncratic, interweaving, coordination, harmonization, aggregation (I wasn’t clear which lay at the core of the structure of concepts here, which refer to each other).

Schatzki T R (2010) The timespace of human activity: on performance, society, and history as indeterminate teleological events. Lanham, MD: Lexington.

This is the third of the main books on practice theory by Schatzki. By now, he has shifted his focus from practices to the activities that instantiate and uphold them. He incorporates much of his work on Heidegger about temporality and spatiality, and develops the theme of indeterminacy in much more detail. The body makes a significant appearance again. The links between practices and activities are not discussed in detail, but the few sentences about this can be taken seriously – they get picked up in his later work. The empirical example worked through this book is horse racing (and tours of their facilities) in Kentucky. Again this really only goes as far as giving a concrete example to his abstract concepts, and doesn’t show how apply his theory shows us something particularly different about the world. This argument remains at the ontological / philosophical level in his writing.

Schatzki T R (2010) Pippin’s Hegel on action. Inquiry 53(5), 490-505.

Here he is arguing that Heidegger and Wittgenstein (and his working of them) are better than Hegel as a basis for understanding action. He writes about indeterminacy of action, temporality (past, present future) and that determinacy comes from bodily action, context, and practices as carriers of understanding.

Schatzki T R (2010) Materiality and Social Life. Nature and Culture 5(2), 123-149.

This is both a very useful resource, particularly around materiality, but also potentially confusing given the shift in terminology (eg. he writes of social ontology rather than site ontology, and it’s not clear why). Whichever it is (social or site) it straddles the social-material boundary, with each not treated separately but as a dimension of the other. Critique of trend in social thought and sociology to theorise society as if materiality did not matter. He joins ANT, object-centred socialities (Knorr-Cetina), ontologies of science (Pickering) in attending to materiality – the chorus against its neglect. Human coexistence inherently transpires as part of nexuses or meshes (I don’t know why he’s changed the term from bundles, nor why he changes the term within this paper) of practices and material arrangements. He discusses his theory vs. ANT – his material arrangements resemble the networks of ANT, but practices (as he conceives them) have no pendent (equivalent) in ANT. Schatzki claims he is not ANT because of his constant attention to practices and to relations between practices and arrangements (ie. materiality). ‘Investigating social phenomena through my ontology directs attention to how practices and arrangements causally relate, how arrangements prefigure practices, how practices and arrangements constitute one another, and how the world is made intelligible through practices.’

This paper is really good on the role of materiality in social life, and relationships between practices and arrangements. Taking the role of the material first:

  1. Entities compose arrangements, that, with practices, compose social sites (artefacts = things shaped by human activity)
  2. Physical composition of things has significance for social affairs – uses, production = tied to physical properties; physical properties have bearing on existence of arrangements and practices – eg can make something easier or harder
  3. Flows  – stuff flows through practice arrangement bundles like viruses; materiality mediates – it is because of physical properties of hands, arms, eyes etc and handles, wheels etc that operates can dig holes.

Relations between practices and arrangements:

  1. Causality: both ways – in a leads to not brings about sense
  2. Prefiguration – present shapes the future – qualification of possible actions (makes easier/harder, obvious/ obscure, short/long)
  3. Co-constitution: either essential part (without which practice could not be carried out), or pervasively involved (non-essential but widespread, without which Practices would assume different shapes) – co-constitutive
  4. Material entities that make up arrangements are intelligible to humans who carry on practices amid them – ie. practical function or use is not inherent, stable property, but reflects the meanings or potential they present when taken up in practices. (My eg. A door handle can intelligible as a lever to open a door through the practices of door opening, but also as a rail from which to suspend a coat hanger through different practices.)

Schatzki T R (2012) A primer on practices. In J Higgs, R Barnett, S Billett, M Hutchings & F Trede (Eds) Practice-based education: perspectives and strategies. Rotterdam: Sense, 13-26.

This is a very useful overview of many key ideas, including the introduction to his practice theory and the broader practice theory family. He mentions learning as one of the key features of human life that is rooted in practices. Describes how practice theory is not individual ontology. Sayings are a subclass of doings, which also include thinking, imagining. The four organisers are there (practical understandings, rules, teleoaffective structures, general understandings). Nice description of relationships between activity/practice and materiality: causal, prefiguring, constitution, intention and intelligibility (this group of 5 is up from the group of 4 in 2005: constitution has been added). Can describe practice-materiality relations as thick, dense, spread out, compact. Time and space are essential features, what makes it activity not just occurrence. Past present future at single stroke (requirement and result of X being an activity and not an occurrence). Motivation is because of something already, and end or intention is towards something not yet. Spatiality is in terms of places and paths. Indeterminacy mentioned again. Hanging together through commonality (same ends, place-paths, enjoined in normative practice), shared (ditto but not enjoined), orchestrated (non-independent). Social development / change through emergence, persistence and dissolution of practice-arrangement bundles. Normative is powerful, we are sensitive to it. X only determines Y if (when, ie. in the moment) Y reacts to X. Novelty can burst forth at any time, but the norm is perpetuation. Establishing new practice arrangement bundles is big work – need new practical/general understandings, rules, teleoaffective structures, plus new relationships with (new) arrangements. Concludes by making explicit case for ethnography, or life history.

Schatzki T R (2012) Foreword. In P Hager, A Lee & A Reich (Eds) Practice, learning and change: practice-theory perspectives on professional learning. Dordrecht: Springer.

Practice theory been going for 3 decades now, abandoning concepts eg what is going on in people’s heads. Concepts that are deemed central to social life include materiality, knowledge, embodiment, learning change. The book construes learning as a process that continually transpires as practices are enacted. Also shows how social life exhibits considerable adaptation, innovation, new starts and emerging or dissipating configurations.

Schatzki T R (2013) The edge of change: on the emergence, persistence, and dissolution of practices. In E Shove & Spurling N (Eds) Sustainable practice: social theory and climate change. London: Routledge, 31-46.

NB. This chapter has been presented as a seminar paper at UTS Centre for Research in Learning and Change, Charles Sturt University Research Institute for Professional Practice Learning and Education.

Ontological description of activity as event, and rejection of continuous flow, but rather human life as continuous series of possibly overlapping activities (themselves discrete). Activity is temporalspatial, not because happens in time and space, but because of temporality (past present future at single stroke, motivation [past] and teleology [future]) and spatiality (arrays of places and paths anchored in material entities. Spatiality and materiality thus are closely related. Pertinence of materiality to activity: anchors places and paths, people react to materiality, negotiate material work, immediate settings connect to further ones, bodily performance (body as material). Then moves on to practice: open-ended spatial-temporal manifold of activities organized by practical and general understandings, rules, and teleoaffective structures. These organisations circumscribe and maintain activities, and shape timespaces of activity (enjoin commonality, underlie sharing, circumscribe orchestration etc). Practices and material arrangements link because activities composing practices can alter material arrangements, react to them, through causal relations, requirement of arrangements, people making sense of arrangements in specific ways in practices (intelligibility?), common, shared place-paths, dissemination of arrangements as practices spread. Then gets into emergence (by coalescence, new arrangements, bifurcation/hybridisation, lines of flight, new understandings etc), persistence (unity in difference, stability and evolution, storage, stabilisation of understandings and bodily repertoires, temporalspatial infrastructure, organisation, similar material arrangements etc) and dissolution (sudden/gradual, internal/external causes, bifurcation/hybridisation, new ends, irrelevance of practical understandings).

Other publications by Schatzki

Texts that have not been included in this bibliography (simply because I have not yet been able to read them):

  1. Natter J, Schatzki T R & Jones J P (Eds) (1995) Objectivity and its other. New York: Guildford Press.
    1. Natter J, Schatzki T R & Jones J P (1995) Contexts of objectivity. In Natter J, Schatzki T R & Jones J P (Eds) (1995) Objectivity and its other. New York: Guildford Press, chapter 1.
    2. Schatzki T R (1995) Objectivity and rationality. In Natter J, Schatzki T R & Jones J P (Eds) (1995) Objectivity and its other. New York: Guildford Press, chapter 8.
  2. Schatzki T R (2005) Early Heidegger on sociality. In H L Dreyfus & Wrathall M (Eds) A companion to Heidegger. Oxford: Blackwell, 233-247.
  3. Schatzki T R (2005) Book review: On interpretive social inquiry. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 35(2), 231-249.
  4. Schatzki T R (2006) On studying the past scientifically. Inquiry 49(4), 380-399.
  5. Schatzki T R (2009) Dimensions of social theory. In Vale P & Jacklin H (Eds) Reimagining the social in South Africa: critique and post-apartheid knowledge. Berea: University of KwaZulu Natal Press, 29-46.
  6. Schatzki T R (2011) Landscapes as timespace phenomena. In Malpas J (Ed) The place of landscape: concepts, contexts, studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 65-89.
  7. Schatzki T R (2012) Temporality and the causal account of action. In J Kiverstein & M Wheeler (Eds) Heidegger and cognitive science. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 343-364.
  8. Schatzki T R (forthcoming)”Practices, Governance, and Sustainability,”  in Social Practices, Intervention, Sustainability: Beyond Behavior Change, Yolande Strengers and Cecily Maller (eds), London, Routledge, 2014.
  9. Schatzki T R (2014)”Art Bundles,” Artistic Practices: Social Interactions and Cultural Dynamics, Tasos Zembylas (ed), London, Routledge, pp. 17-31.
  10. Schatzki T R (2013) “Activity as an Indeterminate Social Event,” in Wittgenstein and Heidegger: Pathways and Provocations,Stephen Reynolds, David Egan, and Aaron Weneland (eds), London, Routledge, 2013, pp. 179-94.
  11. Schatzki T R (forthcoming) “Practice Theory as Flat Ontology,”  in Praxistheorie. Ein Forschungsprogramm, Helmut Schaefer (ed), Bielefeld, transcript.
  12. Schatzki TR (2016) Keeping track of large phenomena. Geographische Zeitschrift, 104(1), 4-24.