Practice change

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Theories of social practice offer a new theoretical perspective to behaviour change, providing fresh insights and novel targets for intervention. Social practices become the central unit of analysis and intervention – rather than individuals or other analytical categories such as norms and values. This perspective re-frames the question, from “How do we change individuals’ behaviours?” to “How do we change social practices?” Understanding the configuration of the components that make up practices and the dynamic relations between practices thus becomes a core task of analysis.

Design thinking for practice-based intervention: Co-producing the change points toolkit to unlock (un)sustainable practices
ClaireHoolohan & Alison Browne (2020) Design Studies
This paper develops connections between design thinking and social practice theories, presenting a toolkit intended to support the development of sustainability interventions and policies capable of encouraging sustainable practices. Key developments in design thinking and social practice theories are critically examined, and a toolkit is presented that sensitively combines their conceptual and methodological insights.

Behavioural economics vs social practice theory: Perspectives from inside the United Kingdom government
SamHampton & Rob Adams (2018) Energy Research & Social Science
This paper presents exploratory evidence from interviews with a selection of UK Government Social Researchers (GSRs) working on energy and climate. It offers their perspectives on the intellectual standoff between behavioural economics and practice theory within energy research. These GSRs actively engage with social theory and there is an appetite for policy relevant energy research using practice theory.

Behaviour change and theories of practice: Contributions, limitations and developments
Daniel Welch (2017) Social Business
The paper argues that a social practice perspective offers more robust accounts of how social and behavioural change comes about than conventional approaches and offers novel insights and targets for interventions. Practice theories have made the most direct contribution to behaviour change in the context of sustainable consumption but offer insights to a range of empirical domains relevant to social business, including health promotion and organisational change.

How social practices generate, carry and require knowledge and know-how
This short 2016 comment by Stanley Blue and Elizabeth Shove has two starting points. One is an agreement that it is possible to focus on social practices as ‘the basic domain of study of the social sciences’ (Giddens 1984) and the ‘site of the social’ (Schatzki 2002). The second is an acknowledgement that social practices entail and are constituted through the active integration of a range of elements, among them embodied skills and competence (Shove, Pantzar, and Watson 2012), and ‘background knowledge in the form of understanding and know-how… and motivational knowledge’ (Reckwitz 2002, 249).

Theories of practice and public health: understanding (un)healthy practices
This 2014 article by Stanley Blue, Elizabeth Shove and colleagues highlights how psychological understandings and individualistic theories of human behaviour and behaviour change have dominated both academic research and interventions at the ‘coalface’ of public health. Meanwhile, efforts to understand persistent inequalities in health point to structural factors, but fail to show exactly how these translate into the daily lives (and hence health) of different sectors of the population. In this paper, they  suggest that social theories of practice provide an alternative paradigm to both approaches, informing significantly new ways of conceptualising and responding to some of the most pressing contemporary challenges in public health. They conclude by reflecting on the implications of taking social practices as the central focus of public health policy, commenting on the benefits of such a paradigmatic turn, and on the challenges that this presents for established methods, policies and programmes.


Practice-ing behaviour change: Applying social practice theory to pro-environmental behaviour change
This 2011 paper by Tom Hargreaves applies the insights of social practice theory to the study of proenvironmental behaviour change.  In contrast to conventional, individualistic and rationalist approaches to behaviour change, social practice theory de-centres individuals from analyses, and turns attention instead towards the social and collective organization of practices – broad cultural entities that shape individuals’ perceptions, interpretations and actions within the world. The article suggests that practice theory provides a more holistic and grounded perspective on behaviour change processes as they occur in situ. In so doing, it offers up a wide range of mundane footholds for behavioural change, over and above individuals’ attitudes or values. At the same time, it reveals the profound difficulties encountered in attempts to challenge and change practices, difficulties that extend far beyond the removal of contextual ‘barriers’ to change and instead implicate the organization of normal everyday life.