Keynote at Practices and Space conference, Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

Nearing Halle centre

Where should Geographical research be going with practice theory? And how? Thinking on that was the challenge I set myself for an invited keynote talk in Halle yesterday.

The Summer School was organised by the Practice Theory and Space Group, funded by Germany’s national research council and led by Jonathan Everts, professor of Anthropogeography at Martin Luther University, Halle-Salle.

Students from around Germany and beyond attended, varying in practice theory background from being well immersed, to engaging for the first time. Jonathan got things off to a start with thinking on understanding social change with practice theory. From there, a tour of the Geology garden in the quadrangle of this bit of this expansive campus (originally a GDR army base, which might explain there being enough space to manoeuvre a few tanks).

the geology garden, from the top of the Geography and Geology building

The central path represents a timeline of geological epochs – how long before they add a new sliver for the Anthropocene?? A trip to the top of the building, a two metre hatch opening smoothly above us as we ascended, gave us a view, taking in the spires and roof tops of old town to the east, as well as the new city of the GDR period, a block of blocks of apartments to the south – built for 120,000 – now with around 50% occupancy.

Dr Allison Hui from Lancaster University (lead editor of The Nexus of Practices book) talked at the end of the first afternoon, focusing on fresh understanding of how individual practitioners end up doing one thing or another, an important question for the fate of practices, engaging with recent brain science to help reflect on this.

The full second day had streams of workshops on well-chosen topics, from questions of research method to debating Schatzki’s work, thinking on how practices travel over distances, and the role of non-humans. It was a bit daunting to present at the end of this day – with parallel streams, and a lot of discussion being in German, meant plenty of discussion passed me by.

In each section of my talk – on the analytical potential of practice theories, the value and potential of different ways of engaging practice theories in research and questions of method and methodology – delivered related messages adding up to a call for more research to move beyond exploration of situations of performance, or a focus on a specific practice, to explore inter-relations between practices in the constitution of large social phenomena across times and spaces. This underpinned reflection on the distinctive potential of Geography to engage these fronts in practice theory research, most apparently through the discipline’s continuing claims to epistemological priority on questions of space, place and scale; and of human and social relations with the rest of nature. 

Author: Matt Watson

A Human Geographer at the University of Sheffield, interested in how everyday human action and social orders make each other, with implications for sustainability and wellbeing.

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