The Constitution of Social Practices: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Constitution of Social Practices

1st Edition

By Kevin McMillan


198 pages | 7 B/W Illus.

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Practices – specific, recurrent types of human action and activity – are perhaps the most fundamental "building blocks" of social reality. This book argues that the detailed empirical study of practices is essential to effective social-scientific inquiry. It develops a philosophical infrastructure for understanding human practices, and argues that practice theory should be the analytical centrepiece of social theory and the philosophy of the social sciences.

What would social scientists’ research look like if they took these insights seriously? To answer this question, the book offers an analytical framework to guide empirical research on practices in different times and places. The author explores how practices can be identified, characterised and explained, how they function in concrete contexts and how they might change over time and space.

The Constitution of Social Practices lies at the intersection of philosophy, social theory, cultural theory and the social sciences. It is essential reading for scholars in social theory and the philosophy of social science, as well as the broad range of researchers and students across the social sciences and humanities whose work stands to benefit from serious consideration of practices.


"What constitutes "practice theory" is often bewildering. McMillan not only does an excellent job of sorting this out but presents a distinctive original argument for a cultural approach, based on a theory of human action and the philosophy of social science, which is applicable as an approach to empirical studies." - John G. Gunnell, Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, State University of New York, Albany, USA.

"A welcome antidote to the confusion that surrounds the use of the concept of practice in the social sciences today, The Constitution of Social Practices offers a fresh philosophical analysis of this concept and explores its implications across a broad range of empirical fields, thereby adding new clarity and rigor to the study of practices." - Jens Bartelson, Lund University, Sweden.

Table of Contents

List of Figures


1 A "Cultural" Approach to Social Science

2 Practice Theory Today

3 Core Ontological Commitments

4 Sketch of the Argument

5 Of Philosophy and Social Science

Chapter 1: What Are Practices?

1 Actions under a Description

2 Looping Effects

3 Historical Constitution

Chapter 2: Knowledge

1 Knowledgeable Practices

2 Conceptualising Knowledge

Chapter 3: Retroactive Redescription

1 The Validity of Retroactive Redescription

2 The Effects of Retroactive Redescription

3 Functional Concepts and Typological Classification;

4 What Is at Stake?

Chapter 4: Identification and Context

1 Identifying Practices "in All Their Specificity"

2 Relations and Relational Properties

3 Criteria of Identification

Chapter 5: Specificity and Generalisation

1 Functions

2 Implications for Generalisation, Explanation and Description

3 Patchwork Holism

Chapter 6: Possibility and Capacities

1 Possibility

2 Capacities

Chapter 7: Constitutive Relations and Constitutive Theory

1 Constitutive Theory

2 Constitutive Relations

3 Stability and Change


1 Culture and Action in the Social Sciences

2 Some Benefits of Studying Practices

Works Cited

About the Series

Philosophy and Method in the Social Sciences

Philosophy and Method in the Social Sciences
Engaging with the recent resurgence of interest in methodological and philosophical issues in the human and social sciences, this series provides an outlet for work that demonstrates both the intellectual import of philosophical and methodological debates within the social sciences and their direct relevance to questions of politics, ethics or policy. Philosophy and Method in the Social Sciences welcomes work from sociologists, geographers, philosophers, anthropologists, criminologists and political scientists with broad interest across academic disciplines, that scrutinises contemporary perspectives within the human and social sciences and explores their import for today's social questions.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General