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The Social Theory of Practices: Tradition, Tacit Knowledge and Presuppositions



The Social Theory of Practices: Tradition, Tacit Knowledge and Presuppositions

Stephen P. Turner

ISBN: 978-0-745-61372-7 March 1994 Polity 160 Pages


This book presents the first analysis and critique of the idea of practice as it has developed in the various theoretical traditions of the social sciences and the humanities. The concept of a practice, understood broadly as a tacit possession that is 'shared' by and the same for different people, has a fatal difficulty, the author argues. This object must in some way be transmitted, 'reproduced', in Bourdieu's famous phrase, in different persons. But there is no plausible mechanism by which such a process occurs. The historical uses of the concept, from Durkheim to Kripke's version of Wittgenstein, provide examples of the contortions that thinkers have been forced into by this problem, and show the ultimate implausibility of the idea of the interpersonal transmission of these supposed objects. Without the notion of 'sameness' the concept of practice collapses into the concept of habit.

The conclusion sketches a picture of what happens when we do without the notion of a shared practice, and how this bears on social theory and philosophy. It explains why social theory cannot get beyond the stage of constructing fuzzy analogies, and why the standard constructions of the contemporary philosophical problem of relativism depend upon this defective notion.

1. Practices and their Conceptual Kin.

2. Practices as Causes.

3. Practices as Presuppositions.

4. Transmission.

5. Change and History.

6. The Opacity of Practice.



'This is a fresh, highly intelligent and stimulating study that should be of considerable interest to philosophers and social and political scientists alike.' Stanley Rosen, Pennsylvania State University

'Turner's book offers a devastating critique of one of the central analytic tools of contemporary humanities scholarship. He shows how the notion of practices has become the postmodernist counterpart to traditional explanation- stoppers or first principles. More importantly, he drives home the principled inability of practice jargon to explain, or even to acknowledge,the phenomena of change of rules and concepts.'
Larry Laudan, University of Hawaii

'This is a wide-ranging, highly critical, indeed polemical book.'
Political Studies

'Provocative and intelligent book ... impressively wide in scope.'
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

* Discusses some of the most prominent questions in social theory today.
* Offers original analysis of the concept of social practice and its importance in social analysis.
* Provides a critique of Bourdieu and other leading thinkers.