The Practices of Collective Action: Practice Theory, Sustainability Transitions and Social Change

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Developing theory for understanding social transformation is essential for
environmental sustainability, yet mainstream accounts of collective action
neglect the dynamics of daily life. Theories of practice have proved
generative for the study of sustainable consumption but struggle to
accommodate the roles of collective actors, strategic action and purposive
collective projects in social change. In response, this paper develops a
practice theoretical account of collective action pertinent to processes of
large scale social change, with specific focus on transitions towards
sustainability. We consider three ideal types of collective—bureaucratic
organisations, groupings and latent networks—and, drawing on existing
social theoretical resources that are ontologically compatible with a practice
account, explore the kinds of practices and arrangements which compose
them. Processes concerning strategy, bureaucracy, management, social
worlds and collective identity are identified as important combinations of
practices and arrangements. We suggest a key contribution of practice
theory has been to identify a type of collective action we call dispersed
collective activity, and we suggest how this type of activity may give rise to
collectives. We conclude by suggesting further development for the
realisation of the project’s contribution to the analysis of sustainability

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalJournal for the Theory of Social Behaviour
Early online date11 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2018

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