Practice-oriented Approaches to HCl

A Special Issue of ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM TOCHI)

Special issue editors: James Pierce (Carnegie Mellon University), Phoebe Sengers (Cornell University), Yolande Strengers (RMIT University), Susanne Bødker (University of Aarhus)

For questions, please contact

Important Dates

Deadline for Abstract Submissions: February 1, 2012 (submit via
Deadline for Full Submissions: April 15, 2012 (submit via Manuscript Central)
Reviews Due: July 1, 2012
Author Notification: July 15, 2012
Revised Papers Due: September 15, 2012
Special Issue Published: First or Second Quarter 2013


To date, sustainable HCI research has focused on changing individuals’ behavior in order to help address large-scale societal concerns such as climate change. In this special issue, we explore new research opportunities derived from redirecting emphasis from individual behavior to everyday social and cultural practices. This special issue will bring together works that use empirical case studies of everyday practices and/or develop theoretical perspectives on everyday practice to critically and creatively re-think how HCI researches and designs for sustainable HCI.

Much of the work in sustainable HCI has focused on changing individual attitudes and behaviors to be more sustainable, drawing predominantly on theories and concepts from psychology and behavioral economics. Outside of these areas, various theoretical and empirical works from fields including anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, philosophy and geography, have approached the routine and seemingly mundane activities of everyday life (e.g., cooking, laundering, moving about) with stronger consideration of the social, cultural and material contexts in which resource-consuming and environmentally-damaging activities are situated. Rather than seeking to abstract away the mental and behavioral activities of individuals, these works have variously approached everyday practices as complex bundles of activities (Schatzki, Reckwitz); sites for and modes of critique and resistance (de Certeau, Lefebvre); socially and materially structured and mediated (Bourdieu, Latour, Jelsma, Verbeek); and consisting of uses and meanings that are socially and technically constructed, appropriated, and dynamic (Shove, Silverstein et al., Miller, Jelsma). A critical difference between many of the understandings of human action drawn on in HCI and the practice perspective shared by these authors is an analytical focus on the organization and reorganization of shared activities and routines, rather than individual behaviors or broad-scale social norms. In other words, practices rather than people become the unit of enquiry and focus of analysis and critique.

In this special issue, we build on such works to broaden the scope of investigation for sustainable HCI from individual behaviors to everyday social and cultural practices. Consideration of the complex interweaving of social, cultural, material and mental components of everyday consumption activities has much to offer sustainable HCI and interrelated work addressing pressing social and environmental issues. In studying people’s everyday practices and how they relate to sustainability, it becomes clear that everyday life is not only a locus of intervention for sustainable HCI; it equally raises issues about and provides opportunities for how HCI can and should approach sustainability. For example,

  • Grounded studies of common everyday practices such as cooking, laundering and leisure activities raise questions over the appropriateness of “rational choice” approaches that target the conscious motivations and behaviors of individual consumers (e.g., Shove 2003; Pierce et al., 2010; Strengers, 2011).
  • Empirical and theoretical accounts of everyday practice offer challenges to psychologically- and economically-informed accounts of how social and behavioral change happens (e.g., Akrich, 1992; Schatzki, 1997; Shove, 2003).
  • Engagement with diverse communities—such as the homeless (Woelfer and Hendry, 2010), “everyday designers” (Wakkary and Tanenbaum, 2009), subsistence fishing communities (Brynjarsdóttir and Sengers, 2010), low-income communities (Dillahunt et al., 2009), and ecovillages and “bright greens” (Nathan, 2008; Woodruff et al., 2008), and wealthy, highly mobile individuals (Peterson, Lynggaard & Krogh, 2010)—raise issues of what exactly is considered sustainable or unsustainable, and who gets to decide.
  • Consideration of the various ways HCI aims to intervene in everyday consumption practices raises ethical issues about these approaches: are they empowering, persuading, or coercing? What are the ethical implications of considering “everyday practice”—as routinized ways of behaving and living—as a unit of intervention for HCI and design more broadly?
  • Examination of the ways in which technology shapes, mediates or structures everyday practices raises questions about how technology both moderates and contributes to unsustainability; where change should be targeted; and what harm may be introduced or sustained by well-intended design interventions over time.
  • Reflection on the areas of everyday practice that HCI does and does not target and the types of technologies that are studied and employed (e.g., interactive products, automated systems, services, infrastructures) raise issues of where HCI can, should and should not aim to effect change for sustainability.

This special issue will bring together both empirical and theoretical contributions regarding everyday practices to critically and creatively re-think how HCI researches and designs for sustainability. An overall goal of this issue is to bring together a collection of works that will cross-inform the areas of interpretive social science, critical reflection and design in the context of sustainable HCI. Contributions from multiple perspectives are welcome, including those that draw on and argue for individual behavior and choice approaches in order to help develop the topic of everyday practice and sustainable HCI. Contributions may, for example, do one or more of the following:

  • Examine everyday sustainable practices that inspire ideas for IT design
  • Explicate practices of non-mainstream communities such as dumpster divers, vintage car buffs, or urban farmers for concepts or orientations that sustainable HCI might usefully build on
  • Empirically analyze unsustainable practices to understand how they come about and what they tell us about processes of practice change and the role of design and IT in those processes.
  • Understand the varied conceptions of sustainability that are enacted in everyday practice and how they might usefully inform the ways sustainable HCI frames its research approach
  • Use reflection on specific everyday practices to rethink sustainable HCI research and professional practice
  • Offer new theoretical contributions and insights that assist HCI designers in broadening current understandings of human action towards a practice-oriented perspective

Contributions may also:

  • Reflect on and/or argue for individual behavior change approaches and their relation to everyday practice approaches, for example, by presenting case studies of “persuasive” or eco-feedback technologies, or discussions of epistemological differences in theoretical approaches. Contributions that adopt a behavioral perspective should be clearly identified as such, and defend their position against practice-based perspectives.

Deadline: 300-500-word abstracts are required for submission to the special issue, and are due February 1, 2012. Full manuscripts are due April 15, 2012, but early submissions are encouraged.

Please submit abstracts to

More info can be found at:

All contributions will be rigorously peer reviewed to the usual exacting standards of TOCHI. Further information, including TOCHI submission procedures and advice on formatting and preparing your manuscript, can be found at:

Full manuscripts are submitted via the ACM online manuscript system at:

To discuss a possible contribution, please contact the special issue editors at