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The Affordance of practice

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Theories of practice are not characterized by the phenomenon they study but rather by the approach they take to the study of organizational behavior. Specifically, theories of practice are those that negotiate-or rather, reject-two dualisms that organize our field. First, voluntarism and determinism. Practice, in its performance, requires agency and permits discretion, but is patterned and constrained by social and physical forces. Second, subjectivism and objectivism. People are not cultural dupes, their understanding of the practices they enact are consequential, but that understanding is incomplete because practice is powerfully shaped by factors that are taken for granted or misrecognized. The avoidance of the simplistic extremes of these two familiar dualisms is exemplified by the writing of Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu's work, especially Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977) and The Logic of Practice (1990), has been influential in the study of organizational practice. Bourdieu's theorizing, however, especially as cited in organization theory, takes as its focus the social and the symbolic. The result Working Papers 11 is that we have a better understanding of how social and symbolic structures shape practice than we do of how the material environment, as it is socially and physically constructed, does so.Bourdieu has taught us how to talk about the influence of structure, but we must turn elsewhere to better understand how to describe the influence of setting on practice. The work of the ecological psychologist, James Gibson (1986), and his theory of affordances, offers a useful way of thinking about how practice is patterned by a setting that neatly complements Bourdieu's theory of habitus.

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