Planning as social practice: the formation and blockage of competitive futures in tournament chess, homebuying, and political organizing by Max Besbris & Gary Alan Fine (2023)

Theory & Society, May 2023


Drawing on models of the interaction order, we describe how planning is an inherently social activity. We argue that planning as a practice involves five core elements: mirroring, identifying, coordinating, timing, and surmounting. Specifically, planning depends on (1) a realization of likely responses of others, (2) a recognition of communal understandings, grounded in local cultures, (3) a commitment to collaborative engagements with allies, (4) an adjustment to temporal sequences involving the use of “in time” strategies and tactics, and (5) an ability to overcome or avoid obstacles and blocking moves set by competitors and adversaries. Planning is evident in micro-, meso-, or macro-level domains. To demonstrate how planning is a social accomplishment, we analyze three distinct ethnographic sites: the world of competitive chess, dependent on the micro-interactions of two competitors; the meso-level process of homebuying, requiring the aid of real estate agents as allies; and macro-level structures in directing social movement activism in a contentious action field. Planning extends beyond cognitive achievement and is central to a sociology of the future.