Reijo’s response is helpful in moving the debate on and we begin to converge, I think. However, there are one or two places where I think that further clarification is necessary. First, Reijo notes, “the exact definition of the concepts of behaviour, action, activity and practice is very difficult, due to their generic nature.” However, to my understanding, these concepts are not generic. The generic concept is behaviour – hence, for example, the ‘behavioural sciences’ – we do not speak of the ‘action sciences’ or the ‘practice sciences’: the others are elements of behaviour – actions, activities – or a mode of behaviour – practice. Our behaviour in the world is composed of cognitive, physical and social activities, which, in terms of activity theory, are composed of actions. The lack of consensus to which Reijo refers seems to me to have more to do with ideological differences, fads and fashions, to which the human and social sciences are prone, rather than because of any intrinsic semantic problems.
Reijo also notes, “I do not focus on the limitations of behaviourism to undermine the credibility of the concept of ”information behaviour”, but, in his book, it is these limitations that are put forward as the main reason for rejecting the concept of behaviour in favour of practice. The section on pages 21 to 23 is concerned essentially with this argument, and my point was that this is a rather laboured argument because behaviourism does not have the strength of support it did in, say, the 1950s.
In referring to my comment about “triggers”, when I draw attention to the pervasive nature of behaviourist ideas, Reijo comments: “However, I would like to understand the ”triggers” here more broadly, not merely as stimuli since this view reminds us of the behaviourist approach. For example, consumption issues (as triggers of information seeking) are not reducible to immediate stimuli experienced and reacted to in the supermarket. The triggering factors may also incorporate values, interests and norms that orient habitual ways to prefer individual products, for example.” There is a problem here: I am no behaviourist (in spite of the fact that some commentators (not Reijo) appear to align me with that school) but “stimulus” is much more widely understood within behaviourism than Reijo suggests. For example, within behaviourist learning theory, values and social norms, play a key role – there is no suggestion within behaviourism that the individual is some kind of isolated organism, unaffected by the surrounding society. Rather, it is understood that learning is a social process as much as it is a cognitive process. What Reijo calls “triggering factors” would be understood in behaviourism as stimuli and values and other elements would be understood to be part of those stimuli. However, I drew attention to the statement, to point out that, whatever one’s position vis-à-vis behaviourism, the fact is that the concepts have become deeply embedded in our discourse.
Again, Rejio comments, “Behaviour draws more strongly on the tradition of psychology (or social psychology) while the conceptualizations of practice draw more on sociology (Bourdieu, Giddens) and social philosophy (Schutz, Schatzki, Wittgenstein). From this perspective, information behaviour and information practice complement each other.” This may be the opinion of the practice theorists mentioned by the Reijo in his text, but I think it would be rejected by many sociologists, political scientists and social anthropologists today, who do not limit their understanding of ‘behaviour’ to the psychological use of the term. The sociological literature is full of references to behaviour, without limiting the concept to a psychological context. Indeed, sociology could not study social behaviour as a purely psychological phenomenon without being charged with reductionism. This leads me to the belief that the practice theorists themselves are setting up the straw man argument, simply to bolster their own positions – and, given the era in which practice theory emerged (Bourdieu’s Outline of a theory of practice was published in 1972), it was, perhaps, understandable, since Bourdieu, Schutz, Schatzki and others were reacting against what had been until then, a prevailing orthodoxy.
The difficulty that practice theorists have is that by deliberately opposing the concept of behaviour, they lose all possibility of developing a distinctive, coherent theory. As Reijo notes, practice theory has its own problems of confusing and conflicting definitions and, rather than clarifying, its application appears to further confuse. Quite significant differences exist among the main protagonists of practice theory – perhaps Bourdieu can be credited with its invention, and he wrote of social practices and from his early work on a theory of practice derived his possibly better-known concepts of habitus and social capital. Giddens also sees society as being the result of structured practices, while both Bourdieu and Foucault are also interested in the embodiment of practice – that is, how the body is used in the performance of a practice and how the practice shapes the use of the body. Needless to say, there are other practice theorists who would hold different views of what ‘practice’ may be.
This leaves us with a problem – if we are to adopt ‘practice’ in place of ‘behaviour’ – which theory of practice will we use, and how will we use it to explore what I call ‘information behaviour? We cannot tell this from Reijo’s work at this stage of its development, since his empirical work was conducted within the framework of phenomenological sociology – a move I’m very happy to see – and use of the term ‘practice’ does not seem to perform any analytical purpose. As Reijo notes, his results provide further support for previous work – virtually all of which was carried out as explorations of information behaviour.
Reijo concludes that, “To clarify the meaning of key concepts, it is important to continue the analysis of conceptual issues by scrutinizing how information behaviour and information practice are related and how they may be understood as diverse (complementary) aspects of a common phenomenon.” Clearly, I have ideas on how that might be achieved. However, although I would conceive of the concepts as related, I would not see them as aspects of a common phenomenon.
In my understanding the common phenomenon is human behaviour, which is composed of cognitive, physical and social actions, which constitute activities. For example, “information searching” is an activity which includes a variety of actions to accomplish the task or operation – actions such as logging on to a computer, launching a Web browser, entering a search term and so on. Before the introduction of the Web, the actions would have been different: visiting the library, locating an abstracting journal, searching the subject index, noting item numbers on paper, searching for those item numbers, recording potentially relevant items, and so on. Bourdieu sees things similarly when he talks of the ‘elementary units of behaviour... in the unity of an organized activity’. In fact, examining some representations of practice theory, there is a very close resemblance to activity theory. Of course, Bourdieu could not acknowledge this as he was presenting an anti-Marxist view of relationships in society.
I would define a practice, on the other hand, as a customary activity and, in Bourdieu and others this formulation is limited to socially determined and/or socially sanctioned activities – where the social aspect may be explicit (as in legally sanctioned activity) or implicit, as in social mores.
In other writings on practice theory, practices are seen as characteristic routines and habits. I would associate routines with work tasks, and habits with personally constructed behaviour. On this definition, work practices would be associated with routines and everyday practices with habits.
Reijo notes: “However, as I suggest in Fig. 3.3. (p. 65), practices may also incorporate non-routine elements (actions). Practices are not necessarily composed of frozen habits since habituated actions evolve, too. From this perspective, defining practice as habituated behaviour may narrow its meaning.”
I do not see this as a significant issue: like all aspects of human behaviour routines and habits are malleable, the adoption of the terms does not imply that the actions incorporated are never subject to change. Circumstances alter cases, as the saying goes and there are many City of London bankers and traders whose eating and drinking ‘habits’ will have changed significantly in recent months.
With this model there is no opposition of practice and behaviour: behaviour is the totality of human activity in society, while, on the individual level, practices are aggregations of routines and/or habits towards the accomplishment of some goal. Social practices, on the other hand are discussed in terms of how the structures of society result from practice. If we wish to incorporate the notion of social determination or sanction, we are probably looking at a higher level of aggregation with the aim of understanding how our relationships with information are constructed in society and what role they play in society. Some practice theory at this level is concerned with power distributions and there might be fruitful areas to explore in the relationship of information and power.
It will be obvious that I do not view behaviour and practice as being in opposition, but neither do I view them as having equal theoretical status. If we are to use practice as an analytical concept we need to define it rigorously – not for all time, of course, but at least for the purposes of any given investigation. If we wish to emphasise the social dimension of practice, it would give rise to different questions than if we chose to explore routines or habits and, as I hinted in my review, by introducing practice as an analytical concept we can begin to ask interesting questions, such as: How does habitual behaviour in respect of information develop? What role does information play in the development of work routines? How do changes in habitual information seeking occur? And so on. However, those questions cannot arise if we simply propose that the word practice should replace the word behaviour in our discourse.
I shall now give Reijo the last word: we publicized the discussion in the hope that others might join in and comment. But that appears to have been a vain hope, but I imagine that someone is making a note of the URL for future reference in a paper ☺