Practice Theory Reading Rooms

Forthcoming Events

Management school seminar with Franck Cochoy, 2nd May 2023, at 2pm UK time. ‘Platforms or Flatforms? Insights from an Auto-Ethnographic Account of a Virtual Cycling App’

To join virtually, click here to join the session. In person, there is lunch available from 1pm for a 2pm start, in the Management School West Pavilion – LT19 (WPB002). (If you want to join for the lunch, please email:

Platform studies mostly approach their object from a rather general or macro perspective: platforms are described as matching engines (Evans and Schmalensee, 2016), large infrastructures (Plantin et al, 2018) or two-sided markets (Rochet and Tirole, 2003; Evans and Schmalensee, 2007); they are presented as a new form of organization, different from previous hierarchies, networks and markets (Vallas and Schor, 2020), or more precisely as a “programmable architecture designed to organize interactions between users” and to “commodify” all kinds of goods and services (Van Dijck et al, 2018, p. 9), but also to collect, process and monetize the digital traces obtained through market transactions or users’ participation in social media (Gerlitz and Helmond, 2013). In contrast, few studies look closely at how these platforms present themselves on our phones and computer screens. As Reuver et al. (2018, p. 129) note it, “research on digital platforms has so far not revealed much direct design knowledge.” The ambivalence of the word interface may explain this neglect.  To put it in Callonian terms (Callon, 2016), Platforms are both interfaces in the broad and abstract sense of large intermediaries aimed at connecting the two generic “blocks” of supply and demand, and interfaces as “agencements,” i.e. material screen settings designed to tailor specific goods and services to the desires of specific customers. This dualism is embedded in the etymology of the word platform: in English, a platform is a large “matching” infrastructure. But we should not forget that the word comes from the old French “platte fourme” or “plateforme,” meaning a “flat form,” a two-dimensional surface, just like that of a computer screen. In other words, platforms are both platforms and flatforms.

In this presentation, I will argue for this second and more neglected meaning. I intend to show that every platform, as a market infrastructure, relies on its interface, as a “flatform” agency designed to shape bilateral transactions. I propose to illustrate and explore these dimensions by taking the case of cycling platforms, i.e. web services that offer smart home trainers visual access to virtual or real roads, as well as the corresponding mechanical resistance and, for some of them, the possibility to ride with distant people while staying at home.

My account will be largely auto-ethnographic. After a first section presenting the history of home cycling trainers and the development of smart training platforms, I will focus on one of them, based on my personal experience. This auto-ethnographic account will lead me to refer to and discuss Natasha Schüll’s theory of “addiction by design” (Schüll, 2014). In the same way that casino gamblers become addicted to both the slot machine and the casino “zone,” home bikers’ addiction is based on both the features of the platform and the setting of their personal “pain cave.” That said, and as the last section will show, addiction is far from a given.

Franck Cochoy is Professor of Sociology at Toulouse Jean-Jaurès University/LISST-CNRS and senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France –

Practice Theory and the Digital – three day workshop, in person, Lancaster University 18th to 20th September 2023

Previous Events

2022 Practice Theory World Gathering

2021 Practice Theory World Gathering

Public Lecture by Ted Schatzki, at Lancaster University
10th June 2021
Spatial Troubles with Teaching under Covid-19.

This presentation explores the multifaceted underpinning that spaces provide to social affairs, in particular, educating.  It does this by examining a particular social episode, involving spaces of educating, that reveals this support through its undermining: the sudden rushes to home and online teaching that university instructors in the US underwent in the spring of 2020.  Part one of the discussion outlines a practice theoretical account of the spaces of social life—more specifically, of bundles of practices and material arrangements—according to which there are three principal spaces of sociality: material spaces, activity spatialities, and encompassing places.  Part Two then uses this account to diagnose the diverse spatial challenges that instructors faced that spring when they suddenly found themselves at home teaching.  The contrast between what happened then and normal educating at universities makes clear just how crucial spatial features of practice-arrangement bundles can be to successful educating.
All welcome.

Connecting practices:
15th-16th April 2019
Pictures from the connecting practices workshop at Lancaster University in which invited participants from different backgrounds and with different experience met to discuss connections between practices. If you want to learn more about the contributors or what they said, then get in touch.

Forming Alliances: 17th April 2019, 4.30-6.30, Bowland North Seminar Room 6
Open Lecture by Theodore R. Schatzki available on film.
This talk is based on an essay that attempts an alliance between my theory of practices and the theory of institutions due to Roger Friedland.  The essay begins by explaining the idea of a theoretical alliance, briefly discussing sorts of phenomena that practice theories are not likely to propitiously or exhaustively analyze.  The essay then develops the alliance.  It discusses how the two theories analyze institutions as practices and roots the alliance in the idea that the practice plenum (in my sense) evinces multiple institutional orders of variable spatial form that can hang together and coevolve in different combinations.  The discussion then zeroes in on a prominent feature of Friedland’s account: institutional logics and the fundamental principles-values (institutional substances) that organize them.  I suggest that these principles-values closely correspond to what I call “general understandings.”  I also argue that general understandings must be supplemented by ends (and rules) to do the work attributed to institutional substances, in particular, laying down the normative sens of enacting practices.  It follows that the institutional orders found in the plenum of practice are constellations of practices, participants, and objects organized by commanding general understandings and teleologies.  A final section discusses two further convergences between Friedland’s and my accounts: both promulgate flat ontologies and recognize the centrality of politics to institutional change.