How practice breakdowns disclose existing structures and contribute to practice innovation

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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Practice breakdowns provide fertile ground for practice innovation because they demand a shift from structure to process. Practice breakdowns are fruitful subjects for research and practice because they disclose existing structures by prompting situated actors to become reflective on the otherwise pervasive structures underlying their business practices. Practice breakdowns typically occur whenever there is a confrontation between the goals that situated actors aim for and the practical circumstances which they are faced and that prevent an existing business practice from continuing. This research aims to improve our understanding of how the relationship between structure and process is mediated through various degrees of practice breakdowns. Empirically, we draw on two case studies. In the first case, we examined the occurrence of practice breakdowns during the implementation of a new business activity in the context of a long-standing business relationship. The second cases concentrates on the occurrence of practice breakdowns in the practices of six nonprofits responsible for landscape maintenance. Actors at these nonprofits struggled with forthcoming drastic changes in the subsidy regime which necessitated that they adopt entrepreneurial practices and enlarge the scope of their operations from the local to a regional scale through collaboration with other nonprofits. In the research approach taken, we applied four theoretical lenses with each having its own perspective-horizon. Each lens draws on distinct foundations regarding the compositional and ontological characteristics of structure and process, which are considered the triggers of change and human agency. We used a social system, a time-based, and a socio-material perspective, applying each of these separately to the first case study. A practice-driven approach was applied in the second case study to examine simultaneously aspects of the first three lenses in practice. We report the following key findings. Firstly, the occurrence of practice breakdowns in a business relationship is critical, especially when there is an absence of a shared breakdown experience. Secondly, major practice breakdowns imply that situated actors are engaged in an a building mode of agency that permits them to reflect, articulate, and implement effective changes to current practice. Thirdly, major practice breakdowns will only lead to practice innovation if and when actors are able to reconstruct both the past and future in relation to current practice. Finally, minor practice breakdowns simply lead to the perpetuation of ongoing practices in which situated actors remain routinely engaged. Therefore, it is only major practice breakdowns that have the potential to drive effective, worthwhile and sustainable improvement in business practices.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Groen, Aard, Supervisor
  • von Raesfeld Meijer, Ariane, Co-Supervisor
Award date12 Feb 2015
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-3842-8
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2015


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