Paul Chan

Chan_PaulPaper (56): Putting theories to practice or practicing theory?  How theories of practice can be practically useful in the management of projects.

Abstract: In this contribution, we question the knowledge-practice divide by drawing inspiration from contemporary interest in theories of practice. We focus especially on recent renewed interest in the Aristotelian notions of phroenesisandpraxis(or, to put simply, the doing of practical wisdom). Rather than to turn knowledge into practice – as the theme of this symposium suggests – we argue that knowledge is practice. We stress that practical knowledge is not just what practitioners do, but simultaneously a condition and consequence of the recursive interplay between matter and meaning. That is, to fully comprehend what practical knowledge means for project management practitioners, one must become more attentive to the material and bodily artifacts (e.g. project documentation, symbols of project performances, use of space), and more sensitive to social processes of meaning-making, meaning-breaking and meaning-hiding. We apply our thinking to a case of managing change in a construction business to show how practical wisdom creates and is created by the recursive interplay of matter and meaning. This reflection has significant implications for the ways we know about project management, and calls for deeper, more engaged forms of practical scholarship. Our contribution closes with a few suggestions. These include a call to move away from ‘grab-and-go’ methods of knowledge creation to consider the power of ethnography and ethnomethodology in co-creating practical wisdom in project management. We offer the model of the Professional Doctorate in the University of Manchester as a possible means of inviting practitioners to become co-researchers in putting practical wisdom to work.

Biography:  Paul Chan is Lecturer in Project Management in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at The University of Manchester. He has a track record of studying human relations in project-based contexts with a focus on researching how people respond to socio-technical change. He has written on a range of topics concerning organizational change and human resource development across organizational boundaries, and more recently on employee perspectives of transitional practices of business model transformation. He is Editor of Construction Management and Economics, a leading journal on built environment matters. He has authored over 70 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers.