The Practices of Collective Action

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This paper develops theories of practice towards an appreciation of how collective action, particularly that of social movements and bureaucratic organisations, shapes large-scale social change or sustainability transitions. We begin by reviewing theories of practice as applied to specific instances of social or socio-technical change (e.g. Shove 2003; Shove and Pantzar 2005). We argue that work has tended to downplay the role of collective actors, strategic action and purposive collective projects. Work from social movements studies, organisation studies and transition studies, on the other hand, tends to take the category of the collective actor as unproblematic and presupposes their strategic activity as a primary motor of social change. We argue for a practice theoretical account of social change and transition dynamics which does not bracket out the roles of collective actors, strategic action and purposive collective projects. At the same time we suggest an account which: foregrounds social practices in the dynamics of collective agency itself, and the formation and reproduction of different kinds of networks, and the kinds of activity they enjoin beyond strategic action alone (Yates 2014; Yates and Warde 2015); and problematises the model of the “modern agentic actor” (Meyer and Jepperson 2000). Lastly, we address how collective action and the everyday performances of practices are articulated in relation to social change. Social movements studies offer evidence of everyday life as a ground for the formation of collective identities that give rise to social struggles (McAdam et al 2001), and sociology documents how the outcome of periods of contentious action are sedimented into everyday life, whether embedded in social institutions (Dobbin 2004, Bell 2014) or domestic life (Kaufmann, 1998). This account provides a more nuanced understanding of collective actors, and the complex dynamics between everyday life and collective action pertinent to the understanding of socio-technical change.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 16 Jun 2016

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  • Sustainable Consumption Institute


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