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Scientific article


Practices as Models: A Methodology with an Illustration Concerning Wampum Diplomacy


The everyday meaning of ‘practice’ is something like concrete ‘doings’ or ‘what is being done’ in a social setting. Its everyday counter-concept is theory. Intuitively, this may lead us to think of practices as what is really going on in the world, as opposed to theories or models. This commonsensical meaning of practices reinforces the separation between theory and empirical reality. We argue that such an understanding has informed much of the ongoing ‘practice turn’ in International Relations. We also argue that this is not necessarily an efficient way of conceptualising ‘practices’, because practices might end up being too general a concept to be analytically useful. To counter this, we argue, one must be explicit about practices at the level of models, that is, in fictional representations of the world. This can help in studying them as endogenous phenomena, and not only as the practical counterpart of some other phenomena, or emanating from unspoken theoretical assumptions of, for example, conscious rule-following behaviour, interests, identities, structures and so on. As an illustration of what a model of practice might look like, we include a case study of Iroquois diplomacy as practice. Using a model, without relying on unstated assumptions exogenous to it, we represent this particular case through assuming that both the agents and their social environments emerge through practices.