Time Use Surveys, Social Practice Theory, and Activity Connections

Dale Southerton*, Jennifer A Whillans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Social practice theory (SPT) represents a growing body of research that takes the ‘doings and sayings’ (social practices) of everyday life as its core unit of enquiry. Time use surveys (TUS) represent a substantial source of micro-data regarding how activities are performed across the 24-hour day. Given their apparent complementarities, we ask why TUS have not been utilised more extensively within SPT-inspired research. We advance two contentions: (1) ontological tensions obscure the relevance of TUS data in addressing core SPT research questions, and (2) SPT concepts do not readily translate for application in TUS analysis. In response, we operationalise Schatzki’s (2019) concepts of activity events and chains to explore types and forms of temporal activity connection. Using TUS data we examine three activity events: sleeping, reading, and eating. Two types of temporal activity connection (sequence and synchronisation) are identified, together with four forms of connectivity (degrees of uniformity/ diversity, sequential directionality, time-varying connections, and symmetrical/ asymmetrical relationships). While practices cannot be reduced to activity connections, we argue that this analytical approach offers a systematic basis for examining the ways in which activities combine to underpin the organisation of social practices. Further analysis to compare activity connections across practices, between different groups of practitioners, and over time would offer a valuable resource to empirically examine claims regarding core processes of societal change. We further contend that SPT approaches offer insights for time use research by providing a framework capable of recognising that activities are dynamic and variable rather than homogeneous and stable categories.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Early online date30 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge funding received through the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme (pf160058) that underpinned the research presented in this article. We are also grateful to Consumption Research Norway (SIFO, OsloMet University) and the ESRC Centre for Sociodigital Research (ES/W002639/1) for support provided in the development of this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. The British Journal of Sociology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of London School of Economics and Political Science.


  • social practice theory
  • time use research
  • time use surveys
  • consumption
  • temporalities
  • activity chains


Dive into the research topics of 'Time Use Surveys, Social Practice Theory, and Activity Connections'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this