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Fredrik Barth, practice theory and Danish teleworkers

July 13, 2008

blogging on peer-reviewed research white.pngKjaerulff, J. (forthcoming) A Barthian approach to practice and media: internet engagements among teleworkers in rural Denmark. In Bräuchler, B. and J. Postill (eds) Theorising Media and Practice. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

This chapter by Jens Kjaerulff builds on the work of the anthropologist Fredrik Barth to argue for a ‘radical’, post-structuralist empirical** approach to media practice theory partially in line with Mark Hobart’s proposal (this volume). The ethnographic case study is based on Kjaerulff’s own field research among teleworkers in rural Denmark. His analytical starting point is a naturalistic definition of social practice as ‘what people actually do’ – a deliberately broad definition that seeks to capture the open-endedness of people’s (media-related) practices. Like Barth, Kjaerulff is more interested in how people attempt – but often fail – to order their lives than in the classic social scientific problem of social order. ‘Ordering’ is a neverending human quest, always a partial and untidy process. In the case of the rural teleworkers, for instance, their best efforts at separating ‘work’ from ‘family life’ were often undermined by events beyond their control. Kjaerulff regards work as a ‘cultural stream’ (Barth) that partly structured teleworkers’ practices, e.g. a weekly lunch that brought together local teleworkers was framed as ‘work’ and this shaped the timing of the event, the food and beverages consumed, the topics of conversation deemed appropriate, etc. (cf. Postill 2008 on ‘residential socialities’)

NB To read other chapter summaries, see under “Media and Practice book” category

** I thank Jens Kjaerulff for the correction

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