Thinking, saying and doing in collaborative projects: what can we learn from theories of practice?

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Reflecting the practice turn across the social sciences more generally, there has been a recent upsurge of interest in practice theories for the study of engineering, architecture, and construction and research on the management of projects. This is a welcome addition to the theorization of projects. With their emphasis on the emergent and ongoing constitution of social orders and change through situated practices, practice theories offer a potentially powerful and sensitive way of understanding the complex unfolding of project work. However, this paper argues that they also bring with them a number of assumptions that may limit their potential unless addressed. In particular, I suggest that there is an anti-cognitivism in practice theories, which means that they tend to avoid important questions about the knowledgeability of practice. In an attempt to redress the balance, this paper proposes a view of thinking, saying and doing as qualitatively different practices, the differing configurations of which have implications for how fields of practice emerge and develop. The implications of this conceptual vocabulary are explored using an illustration from a two-year ethnographic study of a collaborative programme in the water industry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-122
Number of pages16
JournalEngineering Project Organization Journal
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2014


  • Ethnography
  • organizational boundaries
  • organizational knowledge
  • practice theories
  • project work


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