Can people talk about their past practices? Challenges, opportunities, and practical applications of biographic inquiry for geographic research on consumption

M.F. Greene*, S. Royston

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Within human geography, there is increasing interest in the application of theories of practice for understanding resource consumption and for pursuing sustainability goals. In stressing the routine, performative, and contextual dimensions of action, research on geographies of practice is faced with particular methodological challenges. A lively debate concerns the utility of talk-based methods for investigating routine practices, such as those relating to everyday consumption. While it has been compellingly argued that people can talk individually or in groups about their practice, as of yet, these methodological debates have not been extended to the question of whether people can talk about past practices over the life course. This is despite the fact that attending to practice dynamics at the life-course scale can reveal important insights into the intersections of structure, agency, time, and space in consumption practices. Seeking to address this gap, this methodology-focused paper explores biographic inquiry as an empirical strategy for research on geographies of practice and consumption. After identifying significant challenges in representation associated with researching routine action in general, and past practices in particular, it outlines key learnings garnered during a biographic study on domestic consumption in Ireland. Central methodological features supporting talk-elicitation include zooming-in-and-out of temporal registers, multi-modality, and phased implementation. The paper concludes that people can talk about past practices in often very detailed, intricate ways and that retrospective talk is a valuable tool for understanding practice dynamics at the life-course scale.
Original languageEnglish
JournalArea
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Nov 2021

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