Understanding health through social practices: performance and materiality in everyday life

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Abstract

The importance of recognising structure and agency in health research to move beyond methodological individualism is well documented. To progress incorporating social theory into health, researchers have used Giddens' and Bourdieu's conceptualisations of social practice to understand relationships between agency, structure and health. However, social practice theories have more to offer than has currently been capitalised upon. This article delves into contemporary theories of social practice as used in consumption and sustainability research to provide an alternative, and more contextualised means, of understanding and explaining human action in relation to health and wellbeing. Two key observations are made. Firstly, the latest formulations of social practice theory distinguish moments of practice performance from practices as persistent entities across time and space, allowing empirical application to explain practice histories and future trajectories. Secondly, they emphasise the materiality of everyday life, foregrounding things, technologies and other non-humans that cannot be ignored in a technologically dependent social world. In concluding, I argue the value of using contemporary social practice theories in health research is that they reframe the way in which health outcomes can be understood and could inform more effective interventions that move beyond attitudes, behaviour and choices.

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