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Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management, Second Edition by MARJORIE A. LYLES, MARK EASTERBY-SMITH

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The Polysemy of Practice

In everyday language the term ‘practice’ has different meanings. For example, it expresses something ‘concrete’ or ‘real,’ often in opposition to something ‘abstract’ or ‘theoretical.’ The theory/practice dichotomy expresses the tension or the gap between decontextualized and universal knowledge and knowledge that is situated, pragmatic, and used in a temporally defined context of action. I shall not enter into the debate on this matter here. Instead, I merely point out that use of the term ‘practice’ in this sense has recently spread within management studies, provoking the accusation that the interests of practitioners are neglected. The theory/practice gap has led to this charge being brought especially against Critical Management Studies, followers of which have responded by studying the practices of middle managers and redefining them in terms of the ‘negotiation across interfaces of multiple rationalities’ (Hotho and Pollard, 2007: 599). However, the view of practice as antithetical to theory is not one which contributes greatly to knowledge about practice, although it may subvert the symbolic relationship which sets value on theory rather than practice and conceals a gender subtext in the devaluing of situated, local, and non-theorized knowledge (Gherardi, 2010). At least three further significations are comprised in the commonplace meaning of the term ‘practice.’

1. Practice as a learning method. People learn by ‘doing’ through constant repetition ...

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