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Pragmatism, Mead, and the practice turn

Simpson, Barbara (2009) Pragmatism, Mead, and the practice turn. Organization Studies, 30 (12). pp. 1329-1347. ISSN 0170-8406

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'Practice' is a familiar term in everyday language but it also has a long history of scholarship. What then does it mean to 'turn' towards practice, and how would we know when a practice turn has occurred? To answer these questions, this paper develops a theoretical view of practice as a transactional social process involving experience and action as mutually informing aspects of human conduct. This perspective is elaborated in detail by drawing on the ideas of the pragmatist philosophers, especially George Herbert Mead. In particular, it is asserted that 'transactionality' and 'temporality', when taken together, offer a theoretical perspective on practice that is dynamic, emergent, and socially agentic. The utility of this pragmatist approach is illustrated using a published study of a strategizing episode. The paper concludes that a practice turn is indeed underway in organization studies, but there is still some distance to travel before the full potential of this turn is realized.