Studying Work Practices in Organizations: Theoretical Considerations and Empirical Guidelines

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Citation: Paul M. Leonardi (2015) Studying Work Practices in Organizations: Theoretical Considerations and Empirical Guidelines. Communication Yearbook (RSS)

doi: 10.1080/23808985.2015.11679177 Wikidata: Q58288224

Tagged: Sociology (RSS)


In this article, Leonardi offers a unifying view of the various approaches that have characterized studies of practices. He opens by identifying two problems: first, that studies of work as it is done in practice are often not directly tied to examination and description of actual work practices, and second, that studies of work practices do not always treat practices similarly which limits the cross-setting applicability of their findings. He chooses not to engage in passing judgment on the level of granularity at which these practices should be studied, and proceeds instead to characterize work practices as having five features: they are materially bound, recurrently enacted, temporally emergent, historically influenced, and goal oriented. He also identifies three roles for work practices in organizing: instrumental, communicative, and constitutive; he argues that scholars should attend to all three. He goes on to suggest strategies for making contributions to the subfield: work longitudinally, examine micro-macro links, and consider the use of alternative theories (other than ethnomethodology or structuration).

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Leonardi’s approach offers a useful framework for anyone seeking to study how work gets done. He offers both an overview of the key features of the field, pointers to important contributions, and practical suggestions for how to formulate research in this area.