Skip to main content Skip to navigation


Week 5 Tutor

Dr. Charles Walton


The word 'practice' is so much a part of historical jargon that it is easy to take for granted. When did practice become a buzzword for historians? Why was at stake, politically and intellectually, in the idea of thinking of the past in terms of 'practices'? And what value does the term have for historians today? This week we explore these questions by looking at some key French and English theorists from the 1980s and 1990s. We also look at how these ideas have been applied in recent work in the history of early modern science.

TSM Practice powerpoint (2021)
TSM 'Practice' slides Walton (2023)
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 (e-book library)
  • Chartier, Roger, 'Discoursive and Social Practices', in ibid., On the Edge of the Cliff: History, Language and Practices (Baltimore, 1997) (e-book library)
Seminar Questions
  1. What problems were the theorists of practice trying to solve?
  2. Do you think that approaching history from the perspective of human 'practices' is useful?
  3. Is the term 'practice' still meaningful for historians working today?
  4. „Practice has a logic which is not that of the logician.“ (Pierre Bourdieu, Logic of practice), Discuss.
  5. 'The theory of practice as practice insists, contrary to positivist materialism, that the objects of knowledge are constructed, not passively recorded, and, contrary to intellectualist idealism, that the principle of this construction is the system of structured, structuring dispositions, the habitus, which is constituted in practice and is always oriented towards practical functions.' (Bourdieu, Logic of Practice), Discuss.;
  6. 'The ordinary practitioners of the city live "down below," below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk-an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban "text" they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen... It is as though the practices organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness. The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other.' (Michel de Certeau, The Practices of Everyday Life, 1984). Discuss.
  7. 'History is the investigation of all human everyday practices not just human thinking.' Discuss.
Further Reading
  • Chartier, Roger, On the Edge of the Cliff: History, Language and Practices (Baltimore, 1997) (e-book library) Also read Chartier's excellent article on de Certeau in On the Edge of the Cliff.
  • Daniels, Rodger, The Age of Fracture (Cambridge, MA, 2011). (e-book library)
  • 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).