Practice-based research is emerging as a substantial field in organisational studies (for example, see Gherardi, 2008; Gherardi, 2009; Corradi, Gherardi & Verzelloni, 2010; Ros & Vermeulen, 2010).
Practice-based research has the potential for creating new knowledge or expanding existing knowledge of practice (Candy, 2006). Exploring practice enables the researcher to “investigate empirically how contextual elements shape knowledge and how competence is built around a contingent logic of action” (Corradi, Gherardi, & Verzelloni, 2010, p. 267).
Practice-based research is typically undertaken in collaboration with practitioners at their workplace, considers ad-hoc problems that they have to solve, and increases the potential of research findings to contribute to change as a result (Ros & Vermeulen, 2010).
While there is no generic theory of practice (Postill, 2010; Schatzki, 2012), and hence no generally agreed definition of it, practice can be interpreted as:
- The organised activities of multiple people
- Being rooted in human activity based on non-propositional bodily abilities
- Being a nexus of doings and sayings
- Counteracting the subject-object split that exists in social scientific thought (Schatzki, 2005, 2012)
It logically follows that practice-based research considers organised human activity such as that undertaken in the workplace. Practice-based research is here defined as the "analysis of knowing within a situated practice [and exploring] where knowledge is socially constructed and how it is socially constructed" (Gherardi, 2001, p. 137).
Focus on Communication
Practice, argues Schatzki (2012), is an abstract phenomenon that can only be explored through indirect means such as language.
However, as Fairclough (1992) notes, there is a tendency for the social sciences to view “language as transparent” (p. 2), with little focus on issues such as ideology and power. In fact, exploring discourse rather than language offers the researcher an entry point for revealing and explaining how practitioners’ worlds are produced (Deetz, 2003; see also Sarangi & Candlin, 2011). Discourse can be defined very broadly as language in use, i.e. language as it is actually used by real-life agents performing workplace activities in which they pursue various personal, professional and organisational goals. As Candlin (1987) argues, “it is the purpose of an explanatory mode of discourse analysis precisely to attempt to unpack what is naturalised and taken-for-granted in such discourse” (p. 414).
Ideally, practice-situated research is undertaken using an approach that takes into account multiple perspectives (Gherardi, 2001). One useful approach is offered by Kemmis (2010) who develops a multi-disciplinary and multi-perspectival practice framework. Importantly, he notes that his goal is to stress the dimensionality of practice rather than providing a definitive definition of it.
As such, a researcher may employ a range of methods to explore practice including ethnography and research interviews, and a multi-perspectival approach for informing interpretation and analysis (Crichton, 2003, 2010; Candlin and Crichton, 2011a, 2011b, 2012).
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