On Literacy  I  On Language

On Perception  I  On Practices 

  On Knowledge  I  Alphabetically


(or suggest a new term to be added



At the very least, a practice is something people do, not just once, but on a regular basis. But it is more than just a disposition to behave in a certain way; the identity of a practice depends on not only on what people do, but also on the significance of those actions and the surroundings in which they occur. (Stern, 2004, p. 166)

PLEASE NOTE: Visitors will notice that the topic-specific glossaries are not organised alphabetically. In the following paragraphs I aim to explain the logic of the On Practices Glossary. The concepts of practice, of cultural practices, of communities of practice, of language games, of rules, and of rule following play particularly important roles in the Philosophical Investigations

It is important to draw a distinction between practices and activities. Activities are actions that we engage in and complete but without the expectation that they are significant or ongoing. Whereas a practice is something that is incorporated as meaningful actions/habits in our form of life which are to be valued. There is also a motivation to refine the practice, and there is a certain status attached to achieving a particular standard of excellence in the practice. For instance, art as an activity is a curious things to do; whereas art as a practice takes on a significance that becomes an expressive tool to make sense of lived experiences. Similarly, religion as a practice fulfils a purpose that is unknown to the uninitiated. The practice relies upon there being a community of practice. It also relies on there being individuals who become initiated into that practice and - quite honestly - to there being others who are excluded.

Think as well of economic practices and political practices and the degree to which individuals have access to the means of knowing and acting in order to participate and find a valued identity therein. Connected to any practice is a knowledge base of concepts, of histories, of states of affairs and of institutions. This is the basis - then - of what we should call formal and informal education. If we take all one's valued practices together, we should find a form of life that takes shape amongst the stream of living.

PRACTICES - A practice is an activity that one does regularly in the course of a form of life where certain standards of excellence exist and which involves a community of practitioners. Practices arise out of the lived necessity of a form of life and through the creative capacity of a culture. One must look to the cultural context of a practice to appreciate its role and its significance. For instance, Wittgenstein at different stages of his career asks the reader to see how religious, mathematical, economic and further practices arise out of the needs of communities and cultures to address and explain aspects of lived experience. 

Wittgenstein holds that our culture is not "based on knowledge but on practice.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 107) Consequently, there is something unjust if one passes judgement on a practice (or a system of beliefs) without appealing to the culture of which it is part.

ACTIVITIES - An activity is an action that one engages in, whether it is dancing, reading a book, doing math, speaking to a grandparent on the phone, etc. The difference between an activity and a practice is significant. Whilst an activity may be engaged in once or infrequently in a casual manner, a practice is something that one engages in regularly and to which an individual and/or group attaches a particular significance.

AFFORDANCES & EFFECTIVITIES - As defined by Gee (2008), "the term 'affordance' (coined by Gibson 1977, 1979) is used to describe the perceived action possibilities posed by objects or features in the environment ... Any environment in which an individual finds him or herself is filled with affordances." (p. 81)  In other words, an affordance contains the possibility of a successful practice, but it does not ensure success. "Even when an affordance is recognized, however, a human actor must also have the capacity to transform the affordance into an actual and effective action. Effectivities are the set of capacities for action that the individual has for transforming affordances into action. An effectivity means that a person can take advantage of what is offered by the objects or features in the environment." (p. 81)

RULES - Wittgenstein makes regular reference to practices, games, and systems. Rules, rule following and rule interpretation are central features to each of the concepts. There are explicit and implicit rules to social manners, to mathematics, to cooking, to professionalism, to ethical decisions and more. Consider something like the Ten Commandments as rules. Rules develop over time. The gives structure to an activity. People are brought into rules. 

Rules are challenged and develop. Some rules are considered sacrosanct. They cannot be broken. Other rules systems are meant to be challenged, renewed and redefined, such as the rules of art. One will encounter situations where past rules do not suffice, and new debates must occur to extend or introduce rules. In short, philosophy should be an activity that allows one to untangle the rules of a practice in given circumstances (rather than answer questions once and for all).

RULE FOLLOWING - Any practice operates off of certain rules that do develop over time. Sometimes the rules are explicit (such as the rules of chess). At other times, rules are implicit and acquired through experience and practice. Rules do not follow themselves. People follow rules. To follow a rule - implicitly or explicitly - requires (a) a familiarity with the rule and the practice of which it is part, (b) familiarity with examples of what it means to successfully follow / interpret a rule and participate in the practice, and (c) some appreciation of the value of correctly following the rule. The rule itself does not say how it should be followed. Many rules can be interpreted in ways not necessarily as intended. One is brought into the following of a rule through practice.

CONVENTIONS - Conventions are a type of rules that govern practices. Conventions arise out of common practices in which expectations are developed amongst participant as to how actions should be carried out. In many cases, conventions are rules that are implicit and are difficult to articulate, but which can be modeled and acquired tacitly.

YARDSTICKS (STANDARDS) - Experience and examples both teach us what the standards of excellence, decorum, or sustainability should be. They inform us what is too much and not enough. They allows us to become atuned to artistry. One comes to understand how to assess and compare through experience, reflection and some familiarity with what the ideal is. Standards (yardsticks) are specific to groups, and conflicts can arise when differing groups clash over values, expectations and conventions. As Wittgenstein writes, "the only way for us to guard our assertions against distortions - or avoid vacuity in our assertions, is to have a clear view in our reflections of what the ideal is, namely an object of comparison - a yardstick, as it were." (C&V)

EXPECTATIONS - In Zettel, Wittgenstein spends a significant portion of time on the concept "expectation". That is, he explores how our interpretations of events are influenced by our past encounters, which influence how we respond to what will or will not occur at present and in the future. For instance, we may anticipate that someone will walk through a door at a given time every day since our experience has informed us that this will likely occur. We "lean" to certain events taking place, even though we need to be prepared for the unexpected. "Expectation is a preparatory behaviour." (PG 93) Expectations are part of practices. We expect something to acquire because it is part of the practice and it is meaningful within that practice. There is the need to critically examine one’s expectations, though, since one’s expectations reveal something about one’s beliefs about the world and about people.

BOOTSTRAPPING - Bootstrapping occurs when an individual becomes aware of the patterns and rules governing a phenomenon, such as in language or in a practice. The learner develops an appreciation of and a template for meaningful/permittable combinations or actions. By becoming aware of allowable patterns, one can direct one's attention more efficiently since one is better able to anticipate what to expect or how to act. For instance, the first encounter of a new social situation may give one trepidation. However, regular practice allows one to accumulate the experience to be more confident in what to expect and how to act (to play the game). On the other hand, the experience may also limit creativity since one may develop a familiarity that limits (bootstraps) one's ability to imagine other possible ways of seeing or acting. In relation to language, experience teaches one the patterns of spelling, grammar, and discourse.  Therefore, one becomes more efficient at predicting or discriminating correct form and use.

INCLINATION - To be inclined to act or think in a particular way. Or rather, to have the urge, compulsion or tendency to act, respond, or interpret in an acquired manner. This phenomenon arises through habit, habitus, routine or learning and can be assumed into one's way of seeing, behaving or thinking. This can be acquired through one’s apprenticeship in context with others in a form of life or world picture, which can also be open to critique or challenge.

INTENTIONS - To intend something requires both a purpose and a concept of the expected or possible outcome of the action. In social practices, intention usually involves both parties being aware of the rules of discourse and the consequences of certain discourse. How is it that she knows to pick up the phone and hand me it to me when I call out "Phone, please!"? How is it that one knows the intention of a prayer upon hearing it and bowing one's head in a congregation? How is it that one knows that a person intends no offence when he stands much too closely? Reading and acting upon intention requires a certain level of familiarity with how to read the signs of a certain practice. It is also easy to misread an intention or to miss an intention altogether.

MOTIVATION - Motivation is strictly defined as "the general desire of someone to do something"; however, there are many different ways to achieve a motivated state. Someone may be motivated because certain actions receive praise. Or someone may be motivated because "a cool boy or girl" will be there. Or someone may be motivated by the pleasure and satisfaction of doing the activity once before. Others will be motivated because of the pride they received in the past; the practice has become part of the individual identity and self-worth. All of these factors combine to impact the extent to which one is motivated to engage in the practices. Nevertheless, other factors will determine whether that motivation is maintained (e.g motivation can diminish is goals are not realised, progress not perceived, relationships fracture, etc.).

SIGNIFICANCE - There is an importance difference between participating in a practice and participating with an understanding of the significance of a practice. For instance, one can participate in the actions associated with prayer, but not attach to it the level of significance (or meaningfulness) that others - followers - would do. In addition, one could participate in the physical practices of yoga with adhering to the spiritual undertones of the exercise. Or one might write a poem, but not necessarily appreciate the practice of poetry as a potentially meditative and/or reflective tool. Therefore, one may be brought into the activity of a practice relatively quickly, though it may take time for one to understand the full significance of the practice with a form of life. 

EXPERIENCE - Wittgenstein's writing is replete with language games and practices and aspect seeing and rule following. If we read between the lines, we see how knowledge and practices ate acquired through experience. We come to our ethical judgements, our aesthetic appreciation, our tastes and manners through an active engagement with our experiences and our practices. "“Correcter prognoses will generally issue from the judgements of those with better knowledge of mankind.Can one learn this knowledge? Yes; some can. Not, however, by taking a course in it, but through ‘experience’" (PI, Pt II) Quite a few of the nuanced features of language in use and practices in context are shaped through shared experiences with others.

STAGE SETTING - Stage setting refers to all the preliminary activities that prepare one to make meaning or to establish a practice. For instance, Wittgenstein is quick to remind his audience that a substantial amount of preliminary experiences must be in place for one to acquire language, or make sense of algebra, or to become a mechanic. We must ask ourselves, "what are the prerequisite experiences, expectations, role models and understandings that will lay down the tracks on which the learning will occur?" And "do we have the resources, models and opportunities to carry on with the learning so it becomes practiced and relevant and useful?"

SCAFFOLDING  - We come to learn methods of activity and systems of knowledge. These methods and systems become reinforced as they are shaped through our interactions with the notion of learning presented to us in a circle of influence. Deep grooves are set in our thinking and our behaviour. In this sense, education proceeded first as a form of training in ways of doing and seeing, which become prototypes for our thinking and decision in future events. Our methods, our experiences, our expectations, our schemas are initially scaffolded for us in the learning process. In turn, these habits, beliefs, rituals and methods become the scaffolding for our engagement with the world in the future. When one is brought into knowledge, one should be brought into content and method at the same time.

(TO) GO ON - To go on following a rule or acting on a belief requires a significant amount of stage setting. Any rule requires interpretation to be followed. To follow a rule, one must have access to what "following a rule" might look like. To "go on" following a rule regularly and/or habitually is the product of initiation and much shaping of behaviour. This applies equally to the learning of mathematically rules to the adoption of ethical practices.

APPRENTICESHIP - Refers to the first of four stages of skill development and/or practice adoption. The other three steps are guided participation, participatory appropriation and performance. During the apprenticeship phase, the learner is introduced into a practice. The whole skill or practice is modeled for the learner so that the learner has a clear indication of the practice, its delivery and the context and conditions under which it is performed. Often, the mentor and the apprentice jointly engage in activities for collaborative and modeled completion.

TRADITIONAL APPRENTICESHIP - In a traditional apprenticeship, the learning is often a physical, tangible activity, such as watching a parent sow, plant, and harvest crops and help as they are able; or assisting a tradesman as he crafts a cabinet; or piecing together garments under the supervision of a more experienced tailor. In contrast, a cognitive apprenticeship involves something far less tangible: bring people into different ways of thinking.

COGNITIVE APPRENTICESHIP - A cognitive apprenticeship brings people into different ways of thinking, problem solving and processing. Cognitive apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible. The practices of problem solving, reading comprehension, and writing are not at all obvious- they are not necessarily observable to the student. In apprenticeship, the processes of the activities are made visible as the processes of thinking are modelled, jointly constructed and guided. 

TACIT KNOWLEDGE - as defined by Gerrans (2005) is "knowledge not consciously possessed by the agent or able to be articulated by her in propositional form but which nevertheless regulates her activities. Bourdieu’s account of the concept draws from a philosophical tradition whose 20th century inspiration is Martin Heidegger, which treats tacit knowledge as practical ability or skill, acquired through habituation ... [It is a] conception of knowledge [that] is, in effect, a dispositional one, which identifies knowledge with the socially acquired capacities, propensities or tendencies of an agent to act appropriately in given circumstances." (p. 54)

GUIDED PARTICIPATION - Refers to the second of four stages of skill development and/or practice adoption. The first stage is the apprenticeship stage and the third stage is the participatory appropriation stage. And the fourth stage is performance. In guided participation, the learner is brought through the steps or stages of the skill and/or practice. The learner is provided with scaffolded activities and opportunities to demonstrate the practice and/or skill. The learner will have benefited from holistic exposure, observation and joint construction during the apprenticeship stage of development. 

PARTICIPATORY APPROPRIATION - Refers to the third of four stages of skill development and/or practice adoption. The first two stages are the apprenticeship stage and the guided participation stage. The final stage is performance. In participatory appropriation, the learner has developed the skill and/or practice AND the learner has come to incorporate the ability into one's activities. The individual can now 'participate' in the practice and independently appropriate, extend and add to that which has been learned.

PERFORMANCE - Refers to the final stage of the four stages of skill development and/or practice adoption. The other three stages are apprenticeship, guided participation, and participatory appropriation. To perform is to exhibit a skill or practice without doubt or hesitation or meta-analysis. To perform is to act and see in a particular manner and to embody a practice and a mode of analysis. Rather than seek alternative systems through which to think and act, the individual accepts a system and performs within that system.

MODELLING - During an apprenticeship, it is important that the expert/teacher models/demonstrates/explains the process of completing a task. This is particularly important where the expert is making certain unseen choices that cannot be intuited from observation alone. In apprenticeship, it is important that the learner observes how the whole process works before looking at particular subskills

JOINT CONSTRUCTION - After a skill is modelled, it is important that the teacher and the student jointly construct or complete the task. The provides the teacher with an additional opportunity to model, guide and support the learner's practices, deliberations and choices.

GUIDED CONSTRUCTION - After joint construction, it is important that the teacher provides the learner with the opportunity to engage in the practice more independently. However, the learner may not be ready for full independence. The teacher can "scaffold" how one would go about the practice by setting reminders of the stages of the process. This scaffolding might be a series of prompts, key questions, guiding diagrams, pertinent examples and more.

INDEPENDENT CONSTRUCTION - After guided construction, it is hoped that the learner can continue performing the practice (and evolving the practice) through independent construction (or practice), which would include reflection on how one is going and what changes or learnings occur along the way. PLEASE NOTE: any practice is open to decay. Even if a learner has achieved independence, it is important that the teacher reinforces and rewards effective practice and assists the learner to apply the practice in new contexts and with new content.

ILL-STRUCTURED TASKS - An ill-structured task is not an unusual task (at all). It refers to any task in which the first step involves identifying the task itself and how to proceed with it. For instance, one may be asked to write a letter to one's local mayor. Even if an individual has written letters before (and political ones as well), this does not mean that the person will not need to interpret, deliberate, plan and execute this task. It is not merely a matter of moving mechanically through the task. At each stage the person must assess progress against the original intention and reassess time and other available (and not-so-available) resources. Most reading and writing tasks are ill-structured task since no two reading or writing tasks are ever the same, thereby requiring all readers and writers to be initiated into the practices of deliberation, monitoring and reflection.

REFLECTIVE PRACTICE - Throughout a practice, it is important to encourage reflective practice, or thinking about one's own practices, choices and deliberation. Critical reflection encourages thought about how one goes about the practice and about the relevance and meaning of the practice itself. It is vital that the learner becomes a reflective practitioner as one becomes more independent. 

EXPERTISE - In cognitive theory, the construct of expertise has been the principle one used to account for the acquisition of regular and skilled performance, or, if you will, habits of mind that distinguish particular pursuits or knowledge domains. Expertise comes a long and motivated experience in a domain, an experience that produces a large and complex knowledge base that one uses in the course of activity.

COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE - A group of people who engages in a practice (who are the custodians of a practice or a set of practices). This can be a community of doctors, of chess players, of historians, of readers and writers, etc. The community is the custodian of the practices as well as the customs, culture and identities inherent in that community. A community is usually evolving as new members, practices and settings gives rise to a dynamic space.

ACTIVITY SYSTEMS - An activity system describes the interaction between people and resources with certain intended outcomes. An activity system involves the integration of

  • instruments (various tools and technologies),
  • rules (norms of use), and
  • division of labor (the differential expertise of different actors in the system).

Various other relationships in the model capture the diverse ways in which

  • subjects (actors),
  • the object (goal) of the activity system, and
  • the community (various types of actors in the system)

interrelate with each other and with the instruments, rules, and division of labor to achieve particular outcomes. (including the diagram).

COMMUNITY PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How an individual or groups thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by the broader institutional, community and political spheres. Forces outside of the individual and of the group can determine which practices are fostered/encouraged or which ones are marginalised. The community or institutional plane involves shared history, languages, rules, values, beliefs, and identities.This is sometimes addressed in studies of entire schools, districts, professions, neighbourhoods, tribes, or cultures, and the ways that these “common sociocultural inheritances” interact with other levels of development. If a particular practice is reinforced on the community and cultural stage - such as success in sport - then this will have an impact upon other levels of engagement. 

INTERPERSONAL PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How one thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by previous interpersonal interactions with others (such as parents, community members, friends, etc). The interpersonal or social plane includes communication, role performances, dialogue, cooperation, conflict, assistance, and assessment. In educational research, this is often addressed in studies of teaching/learning interactions between teachers and students or parents and children.  Vygotsky (1978) would remind us  'Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals' (p.57) 

PERSONAL PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How one thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by previous interpersonal interactions with others (such as parents, community members, friends, etc). The personal plane involves individual cognition, emotion, behaviour, values, and beliefs. In educational research, this might correspond to studies of individual student or teacher actions, psychological characteristics, or competence. Vygotsky (1978) would remind us  'Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals' (p.57) 

FORMS OF LIFE - Our claims, our knowledge, our beliefs and our practices all make sense in a form of life. The language we speak, the activities we engage in, the knowledge we encounter, the stories we tell all arise in our practical engagement with a way of living. In this sense, the bedrock justification of any action is found in how they sustain a form of living. Additionally, if one is not part of a form of living (amongst others), then it may be difficult to ascertain how certain beliefs and practices arise and are relevant. One would not have access to the form of life of which the beliefs and practices are part.  

In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein introduces this notion through the "languages of builders". In this scenario, Wittgenstein implores us to see how the language used by those people develops as a means to solve particular problems in that form of life. "Here the term ‘language game’ is meant to bring into prominence the fact the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life" (Wittgenstein quoted in Phillips, 1977, pp 29 - 31)

STREAM OF LIVING - Refers to the great “hurly burly” of life. It is a term for the collective actions in life (or a form of life). It is impossible to notice all salient details or moments in a stream of life. At times, we use language without deep consideration in the stream of life. We just speak. Or we make decisions according to conventions within the stream of life without realising that we may be following rules (or habits). At times, it is not possible to rationally consider each action or thought in a stream of life. Sometimes one's beliefs, knowledge, and/or skills only become manifest when one is performing or reacting (out of habit or upbringing) in that great adventure called living. It also gives greater reason to develop the skills of critical reflection, since it is necessary to reflect on decisions in the stream of life that were made implicitly and habitually. It is important to reflect upon the stream of life in order to change and/or alter practices.

HABITUS - This is a concept used by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who cites Wittgenstein as a key contributor to his thinking. Habitus refers to the lived conditions (or context) that serve as the foundation for certain practices, knowledge, tastes and values. It most closely aligns with Wittgenstein's use of the "form of life" concept. Bourdieu would argue that whilst habitus is key to understanding a practice or a way of thinking, it is often poorly analysed or entirely ignored when people consider social, cultural or learning event.

STRUCTURING STRUCTURES WHICH STRUCTURE STRUCTURE - Refers to those aspects within one's environment that gives shape to practices, influences what practices one is part of, and comes to sustain practices. The concept is closely related to Bourdieu's concept of habitus, and it refers to the background to practices and knowledge which is often taken for granted or assumed. For instance, an actor must be aware that the ability to attain a career in acting is built on the premise that a culture values the concept of acting and drama, and the culture can allow/afford for members of its community to embody the role of actors. It can be the case that one feels entitled to a form of living without admitting that this form of life is reliant on certain capital, practices, methods of production and division of labour to be in place for the practice to be sustained.

CULTURE - Stanley Cavell claimed that Wittgenstein was a philosopher of culture. That is, Cacell asserts that Wittgenstein claims that our knowledge, our practices and our values are derived from the interactions of a community. There is considerable evidence to suggest that this is the case. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein stipulates that meaning is derived from the form of life to which our language and practices occur. In addition, On Certainty emphasises how one's knowledge and world pictures are arrived at through one's "upbringing".

ENTROPY - Entropy is formally defined as "the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder." Any system must have energy placed into it so that the system is maintained or preserved. If the practices of a cultural system are not reinforced, then the system and the form of life to which that system is attached will suffer and decay. According to the concept of entropy, the natural state of any system is decay unless efforts are made to maintain it.