Skip to main content Skip to navigation


Week 5 Tutor

Dr Michael Bycroft

Lecture recording

Lecture powerpoint

  • Foucault's radical ideas of power/knowledge began to fascinate Anglo-Amercian historians from the 1980s. But many remained sceptical and worried about the consequences of his approach. An option for such critics became the 'theories of practice' which had been developped in the 70s, mainly by French academics. The lecture will trace the 'turn' to practice and materiality in Anglo-Amercian history writing from the 1980s and discuss some key theories writers which continue to shape cultural history writing today. One may even say that much of cultural history history writing today does nothing else than tracing and describing 'practices' in the past. The question for us today is: So, what?
Core Reading
  • Bourdieu, Pierre, The Logic of Practice, chapter 3: structure, habitus, structure, pp. 52-63 (
  • de Certeau, Michel, The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. University of California Press. 1984, chapter: Walking the City (
  • Chartier, Roger, 'Discoursive and Social Practices', in ibid., On the Edge of the Cliff: History, Language and Practices (Baltimore, 1997) (
Seminar Questions
  1. What problems in history writing were the theorists of practice trying to solve?
  2. How does the history of practice differ from Foucault's concept of knowledge/power?
  3. 'The turn to practice was also a turn to a descriptive history writing, which, was a reflection of the neoliberal culture in which historians were living into during the 1980s and 1990s.' Discuss.
Further Reading
  • Chartier, Roger, On the Edge of the Cliff: History, Language and Practices (Baltimore, 1997) (
  • Daniels, Rodger, The Age of Fracture (Cambridge, MA, 2011).
  • Eley, Geoff, 'Is all the World a Text? From Social History to the History of Society. Two Decades Later,' in Spiegel, Gabrielle, Practicing History: New Directions in History Writing after the Linguistic Turn (Baltimore, 1997), pp. (many other useful articles in this volume), pp 35-65.
  • Lorenz, Chris, 'History Writing since 1945', in Oxford History of Historical Writing, vol. 5 (Oxford, 2011).