terça-feira, 29 de novembro de 2011


Available online at


BAR, Curitiba, v. 8, n. 1, art. 6,

pp. 86-106, Jan./Mar. 2011

Social Practices and Strategizing: a Study of Produce Merchants

in the Vila Rubim Market


Alfredo Rodrigues Leite da Silva*

E-mail address: alfredoufes@gmail.com

Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo

Vitória, ES, Brazil.

Alexandre de Pádua Carrieri

E-mail address: aguiar.paduacarrieri@terra.com.br

Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil.

Eloisio Moulin de Souza

Email address: eloisiomoulin@gmail.com

Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo

Vitória, ES, Brazil.

* Corresponding author: Alfredo Rodrigues Leite da Silva

Avenida Fernando Ferrari, 514, Goiabeiras, Vitória, ES, 29075-91, Brazil. Phone: + 55 27 40092599

Copyright © 2011 Brazilian Administration Review. All rights reserved, including rights for

translation. Parts of this work may be quoted without prior knowledge on the condition that

the source is identified. 87

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The aim of this article is to understand the relationship between the meanings of social practices and strategy

creation used by the produce merchants in Vila Rubim, Vitória, ES, from 1970 to the present time. To provide

empirical evidence of the conceptual framework that was developed, we conducted a case study. The data

gathered from the documents and interviews were treated using discourse analysis, and those obtained from

observations were treated using content analysis. The possibility and the act of approaching the neighboring

merchant’s customer is the link that joins the homonymous strategy and tactic, but the process in each of them

has different implications (strengthening or transgressing the established order) and develops in different and

dynamic ways. Thus, the denomination of strategies and practices is dynamic, relational and temporary because

the focus is on the process that permeates each strategy and its articulations in the practices and meanings in each

flow. In their socio-historic process, the produce merchants in the VR Market articulate various flows. Among

them, the empirical investigation identified fourteen flows, nine as strategies and five as tactics, according to the

social references assumed in the analysis.

Key words: making strategy; strategizing; social practice.


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This article is a case study regarding produce merchants in a market and its goal is to understand

the relationship between the social practices and strategy creation of the produce merchants in Vila

Rubim’s market in Vitória, ES, from 1970 to the present time.

This objective is connected with two basic concerns related with the strategy study as a social

practice: (a) to present an approach to deal with the endless delimitations between the micro and

macro levels of the strategy analysis as a social practice; (b) this approach bypasses the instrumental

logic which predominates this field. Jarzabkowski (2005) acknowledges that, in the strategy study as a

social practice, the practices are tools and artifacts which people use to make the strategy work. These

practices take various forms: (a) influential use; (b) rational practice – strategic planning; (c)

discursive practice – cognitive sources or the day-to-day interaction related to everyday language use

and (d) opportunity practices – practitioners’ interaction (meetings, courses). There are studies which

focus management studies in a functional logic in the sense of instrumentalizing these practices

(Ezzamel & Willmott, 2004). With recognition of the relevance of the focus on the social practices,

this article follows the same reasoning as the question raised. However, it refrains from instrumental

logic and attempts to clarify how to establish the construction dynamic of the strategizing of everyday


To deal with this dynamism, we quote the study of the analysis which Certeau (1990) made

regarding the strategic rationalization. The author states that

as in Business Administration, all the strategic rationalization seeks first to distinguish the

‘environment’ and one ‘very own’, that is, the place of power, personal desire. Cartesian

gesture, perhaps: circumscribe himself in a world bewitched by the invisible power of the Other

(Certeau, 1990, p. 59).

It has to be clear that the author is not referring only to the organizations but to the strategies

and everyday tactics of people in society as a whole, in which organizations are also included. One

example is in the II volume of his book The Practice of Everyday Life, of which two members of his

circle are co-authors, Luce Giard and Pierre Mayol. The latter, in the first part of this publication

(Certeau, Giard, & Mayol, 1994), when discussing the art of living, analyses the case of a merchant in

the area of Croix-Rousse market in Lyon (France).

The strategic rationale of the privileged place of that very own in the war cited by Certeau

(1990) or the typical strategy to focus, commonly found in studies of strategy as a social practice,

shares space with a production that is characterized by what the author highlights as being clever

tactics, in the underprivileged area of the other. As an example, a French market in an area in Lyon

showed that the rationality of the strategies in sales are spread in the form of the deceitfulness of the

merchant to steal from its trade in favor of and in collaboration with some special clients (Certeau et

al., 1994).

By adopting the relationship between strategies and everyday tactics in the study of strategizing,

this article seeks to make room for the understanding of the social dynamics involved in this

execution. The challenge of strategy studies as a social practice highlighted by Wilson and

Jarzabkowski (2004) remains: properly defining the limits of micro and macro levels will be discussed

in the analysis, called relational distance. As a simple solution, the authors propose a prior outline of

these limits in accordance with the object under study.

To deal with this question, the contributions of the Social Representations Theory (SRT)

proposed by Moscovici (1961) were adopted. According to Certeau (1986), Moscovici’s contributions

reveal processes related to the social practices that go beyond the construction of the normalizations

institutionalized in society. In this article, it is emphasized that by doing so, Moscovici (1961) placed

the Social Representations (SR) as a dynamic construction of the subjects themselves, and this is 89

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compatible with the idea that such tactics violate the institutionalization that is the basis of

rationalization. In addition, the recognition of the role of individuals in defining their SR, allows the

substitution of the previous outline of the relational distance since there is the assumption that the

subjects fit to express such a definition. This arises as the construction of a specific social

representation and is established when the researcher must understand the process in which these

limits are established within its own dynamic.

These theoretical links will be discussed below and applied in the case study regarding

strategizing of the produce merchants in the Vila Rubim market.

Strategy as a Social Practice

The contributions of authors such as Pettigrew (1977) and Mintzberg (1978) take the approach

of the strategy as a process, concerned with investigating how strategy works in organizations. Based

on these contributions, other authors developed the vision of strategy as a social practice. In this

approach, the research focus on implementing the strategy within the organization considers “the

skilled ability to use, adapt and manipulate those resources that are to engage in shaping the activity of

the strategy over time” (Jarzabkowski, 2005, p. 34).

The concerns over implementing strategy in organizations have to do with “the detailed

processes and practices that constitute the day-to-day activities of organizational life and relate to

strategic outcomes” (Johnson, Melin, & Whittington, 2003, p. 3). Therefore, there is a need to discuss

the level to be taken in the analyses of those detailed processes and practices and, consequently, of

implementing the strategy in the organization. Wilson and Jarzabkowski (2004) showed that without

this delimitation, the researcher faces innumerous practices among the organizational players: each

view or sound may be included on the edge of the micro level. Furthermore, the influences on this

level can be extended, at the macrosocial level to any influence from a wide variety of places all over

the planet.

Wilson and Jarzabkowski (2004) suggested the micro level should be defined according to the

researched object and by what constitutes the macro level in the situation. This proposal takes the

understanding that when we analyze these two aspects, the researcher should define the delimitations a

priori. However, this article disagrees with this option since it defines the relational distance in the

initial methodological definitions according to the object under study. It is understood that the

definition a priori would already exclude one of the subjects’ main contributions concerning their

research regarding their social practices: to state what surrounds everyday life.

As an alternative, we propose a path which emphasizes the dynamism of social construction and

the role of the subjects to express the limits that involve their own connections in strategizing. In other

words, if one defends the theoretical- methodological approach in which it falls to the subjects to

indicate the outline between the micro and macro social levels, the construction surrounding

strategizing in everyday social practice must be emphasized.

Apart from this, this paper departs from most of the work regarding strategy as a social practice

because it does not focus on the upper management which is considered the basis of “strategizing”

(e.g. Jarzabkowski, 2005; Jarzabkowski & Wilson, 2002; Regnér, 2003; Samra-Fredericks, 2003;

Whittington, 1996, 2003).

In the classical approach, the privileged holders of power in the strategic power mechanisms

formulated the strategy so that the other actors would implement: a mind and body with each of them

doing their part (Clegg, Carter, & Kornberger, 2004). Even though they reject this understanding and

defend an integrated view, the supporters of the strategy as a practice kept the role of strategizing

focused on top management. The authors only included the influence of the practices for the remaining

actors in the process. Now there are two minds, one with a stronger power than the other, and the 90

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body. The mind with the weaker power is responsible for the body and for influencing the other mind

responsible for strategizing. A common argument in the studies is the affirmation that the asymmetry

of power favors top management. Therefore, it would be interesting to focus on it (Jarzabkowski,

2005); this reinforces the idea of separation between body and mind that is hidden in an integrated

discourse which criticizes and at the same time reinforces.

Another aspect to be criticized, agreeing with Ezzamel and Willmott (2004), is the concern to

identify the tools, techniques, and skills used in the everyday process to reveal the appropriate

instrumental use of these elements which include an integrative culture. The study by Wilson and

Jarzabkowski (2004) exemplifies this proposal when they discuss the possible inter-relationships

between the organizational level and strategizing at a micro level and in cultural dimension. The

authors’ argument is based on the perception of the integrated culture in which certain training and

socialization processes allow the dominant and desired logic to be developed and to have continuity.

Therefore, it highlights some practical emphasis in which it would be possible to offer tools for

upper management to better deal with strategizing, and it also explains the fact that a good deal of

studies are focused at this level. This emphasis is not the basis of the approaches but it is present in the

group with influence in various approaches of social theory in which the authors connect contributions

of Foucault (1987), Giddens (1984), Bourdieu (1990) and Certeau (1990), among others (Wilson &

Jarzabkowski, 2004).

Despite the criticism, this connection and concern with practices when strategizing is explored

leads to the inclusion of this work in this approach. This inclusion comes from the understanding that

no criticism presented here eliminates the legitimacy of the approach, nor can the entire field be

generalized. They only expose some aspect present in the field and opposite the lines of arguments

proposed in this paper which should be circumvented when adopting the contributions of this


In this paper, these contributions are directed at highlighting the relationships which involve the

practices of the organizational actors as a whole, recognizing their different contextual inclusions. It is

assumed that the strategies in and of the organization only exist from the social practices and complex

interaction, making this paper responsible for the challenge of highlighting existing relationships in

this process and thus, legitimizing this understanding. This discussion will be developed below from

the contributions of the SRT elaborated by Moscovici (1961).

Social Representations (SR) and Strategy Study as Social Practices

There is a close relationship between everyday practices and representations (Vergès, 1989).

The former enable the elucidation of social interaction processes whereas the latter are built and used

(Jodelet, 1989). It justifies, in this essay, the use of a concept of SR which highlights this knowledge –

Jodelet’s (1989, p. 36) “it is a way of knowledge, socially elaborated and shared with a practical goal

that contributes to building up a reality common to a social group”.

According to Jodelet (1989), the usage of this description must respect the understanding that

the SR are from the subjects over the objects. This understanding is interpreted as a need to define

both of them a priori. But, when the subjects are already defined, it is possible to allow them to

indicate the objects and the SR that associate and articulate in some contexts. Offering the

epistemological basis to deal with this contextual insertion, the SRT offers important contributions to

the strategic approach as social practices. As Jarzabkowski (2005) states, the social practices must be

put in a context to highlight what led the subjects to articulate them, as well as their implications.

The SRT focus on the process of maintenance, change and the appearance of some social

practices associated to the subjects’ SR. Moscovici (1984) highlights that this happens through an

anchoring and objectification process. According to the author, anchoring “strives to anchor strange 91

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ideas, to reduce them to ordinary categories and images, to set them in a familiar context” (Moscovici,

1984, p. 29), so that a religious person uses religious value scales to confront something new.

Objectification “turns something abstract into something concrete, to transfer what is in the mind to

something existing in the physical world”, such as religious statues (Moscovici, 1984, p. 29).

The subjects’ social practices reflect this social constitution as a whole. However, the question

remains as to how they develop interactions with implications positioned in certain groups composed

of subjects that are commonly included not in one social group but in many. These subjects have a

certain awareness of the specific contexts of the groups with which they currently interact.

In the search to broaden the comprehension of this dialogical process, SRT researches, like

Marková (2000) highlight two concepts interconnected with anchoring and objectification: the themata

(Moscovici, 1993; Moscovici & Vignaux, 1994) and the communicative genres (Moscovici &

Marková, 1998). Themata is defined by Liu (2006, p. 255) as “historically embedded presuppositions,

culturally shared antinomies, and the deeper logic of social thought”.

Liu (2003) explains that in a social representation a hegemonic face there exist the themata, as

well as emancipated and controversial views. The term emancipated indicates the constitution within

specific groups, emancipated in relation to the society as a whole and without entering in conflict with

the hegemonic sharing of this society. The controversial term already applies to the open and explicit

conflict in relation to the diverse aspects, which include hegemonic and emancipated views.

The application of the themata concept in the SRT is legitimized by the generative capacity of

its themes. The themes considered as analysis units and accessed through methodologies of data

collection are dialogically interdependent when referring to the themata. Liu (2006) explains that the

first ones can be ephemeral, situational and do not constitute a way of becoming a duo or a trio. On the

other hand, the themata are reasonably stable, built over time. “They are typically antithetical dyads

such as atomicity/continuum or analysis/synthesis, but also, occasionally, apola-triads such as

constancy/evolution/catastrophic change” (Liu, 2006, p. 254).

The contributions to the linguistic field by Bakhtin (1986) concerning discursive genres were

allied by Moscovici (1993) to his concept of the communicative system. Marková (2000), explains

that these systems mold the SR and are molded by them when incorporating the idea of genres, the so

called communicative system legitimizes itself based on Bakhtin’s contributions, reinforcing the idea

that through them different questions can be emphasized or minimized through the use of specific

terminologies and according to the practices and social groups of which they are part.

Bakhtin (1986, p. 87) explains that “genres correspond to typical situations of speech

communication, typical themes and, consequently, to specific contacts between the meanings of words

and actual concrete reality under certain typical circumstances”. The author explains that the selection

of words to be used in the creation of any elocution is not made based on the neutrality of the

linguistic system, but on previous elocutions, especially those that are familiar.

According to Marková (2000), the communicative genres and the SR are presented in dynamic

or relatively stable compositions. In this sense, Rosa (2006) explains that the previous concrete

(objects with stabilized senses), that served the objectification process, takes on new meanings (Rosa,

2006). In this process, the conflict between stability and dynamism reflects the ambiguity of the SR,

associated with four different concepts presented in the following way (Marková 2000): (a) the

formation of the themata is a characteristic of the genres; (b) as it happens, they serve as a basis for

dealing with the unknown through the creation of SR that incorporate and articulate the unknown with

the themata (the known); (c) this creation results from the anchoring and objectification process

inserted in the communicative genres necessary to the symbolical changes that enable these processes

and express the SR.

Based on the theoretical discussion, the argument of the strategy approach as social practices is

defended and offers, from the elements incorporation of SRT, contributions that allow the

development of the field. The challenge is to find support in the social theory that allows an 92

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understanding of the articulation process of the social practices in strategy implementation in the

organization that must be compatible with the SRT approach, which was sought in the contributions of

Certeau (1986, 1990).

Contributions of Certeau to the Study of Strategy as a Social Practice

Wilson and Jarzabkowski (2004), among other authors, have recognized in the contributions of

Giddens (1984), Bourdieu (1990) and Certeau (1990) a concern for social practices and their

possibilities of promoting structural changes, that is, offering pathways for the analysis of strategy as a

social practice. In the cases of Giddens (1984) and Bourdieu (1990), there is greater emphasis on

structural recursivity, from which standpoint practices are the basis for both maintaining tradition and

the possibilities for change. In contrast, Certeau (1990) does not centralize his concerns on recursivity.

Certeau (1990) starts from the assumption that passive and disciplined users of ordinary

everyday practices also relate to each other in an anti discipline, based on expedients in their everyday

practices (ways of doing things). When this perspective is confronted with the discussion of

strategizing in organizations, it allows moving beyond the instrumental rationality of the practices.

This is achieved from the moment that the author’s contributions offer a distinctive path for dealing

with the fact that passivity and discipline contribute to the actuation of certain people in deliberate

planning efforts; but there is also resistance within organizations which enables a certain level of

transgression by actors.

To investigate this expediency, or making do, we apply what Certeau (1990) calls bricolage: the

creative inventiveness or art of expediency associated with getting things done. This concept

composes the base of tactics: a calculus that cannot count on a proper, or on a dividing line

distinguishing the other as a visible totality. According to the author, this occurs because the making

do dwells in the spaces for transgression that remain inserted in the place controlled by the other. It is

in these spaces for expedients in the place controlled by the strong that the weak articulate to take

advantage of outside forces through movements including everyday practices, such as speaking.

The place that permits differentiating the other is based on disciplinary procedures (Foucault,

1987) and enables what Certeau (1990) calls strategy. In the interplay between discipline and anti

discipline, everyday strategies and tactics are present in all people’s lives, including in organizations.

Therefore, a common link that would permit investigating these everyday strategies and tactics would

also enable the study of strategizing in organizations. This link is offered by Certeau (1990): they are

practices, acting in places and spaces, in strategies and tactics, in discipline and anti discipline.

For the author, in strategies the practices take in consideration calculations for the relationships

of strength with basis in an outlined place in the privileged himself. The term itself is used by the

author, as in this work, to denote a place of power and differentiated need in an environment, i.e., an

order established from a boundary beyond the disorder, the boundary itself; as well as the subjects

positioned in a privileged manner in this order which acts converging to it and reinforcing it. This

presents itself in a position of power to distinguish and manage stocks in an environment.

While the strategy may rely on the self who connects its practices, the tactic relies on the other,

without that place of power. This other articulates into spaces of transgression in that place, while it

uses elements of power as a bound which legitimizes the transgress spaces (Certeau, 1990). In relation

to the organizational strategy concept, the way that Certeau (1990) deals with the art of inventing,

connected with strategies and everyday tactics, raises a question regarding the focus of this creation to

the organizational strategy. Rather than turning into organizational strategy, emphasizing the study of

the strategies and everyday tactics of the people in the organizations which are included the practices

related to the organizational strategies since they are also developed by the people in their everyday

life. While the organizational strategies limit the organizational objectives, defined by the members of 93

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the organizations positioned in the place with the power to define these objectives, the strategies and

everyday tactics in the organizations involve endless convergent and divergent interests with the


In this understanding, the practices in the strategies within organizations involve the conciliation

of aspects such as interests, resources and results which is not necessarily presented in a manner

coherent in itself since it does not deal with a rational instrumental logic but rather a social constitution

inherent in the practices of the subjects in their experiences with other subjects. The conciliation

inserted in the social contexts of these subjects, contexts which constrain the practices of these

subjects and on the other hand, offer conditions so that they use time and space in their favor, to the

point of changing that awkwardness during their own conciliation.

To embrace this process, it is proposed that strategies and tactics in organizations are

understood as the composition of flows in the social practices inserted in the specific organizational

contexts and broader social contexts. This understanding includes different flows in the organizations.

Here are different types of strategies, from the organizations, such as the growth in the market by

means of the reduction in costs, to the personal, such as a search for career advancement, or any other

type of outline that revolves around specific goals within his place, considered as a reference by

whoever analyses this composition. Between one strategy and another, only the emphasis in relation to

the contextual integration of the subjects involved varies. None of these is isolated from the other

social constitutions, they are only seeking an outline in the place of oneself which revolves around the

practices and goals that indicate the specificity of the strategy in question. Likewise, the tactics are

also included in this composition, but in flows in which the contextual insertion used as reference do

not have a self privileged place. They arise from the connections utilized in this place to delimit an

area that is violated by the subjects that assume directions that are non convergent to this area, and this

is when the rationality gives way to deceit (Certeau, 1990).

Within this approach, Certeau’s (1990) contributions allow us to understand the strategy

creation in the organizations within the dynamic perspective, having as a reference the place of the SR

itself based on the understanding of Moscovici (1961). As Certeau (1986) explains, it is a vision in

which the representations are not limited to something static, streamlined and institutionalized; it

relates to the dynamic of social practices. To find evidence the empirical application of the conceptual

framework developed, we conducted a case study seeking to understand the relationship between the

meaning of social practices and the directional flow of the ways of making strategy in selling fruit and

vegetables in the VR market.

The Empirical Investigation of Strategy Making in the VR Market

The proposed conceptual scheme is based on an investigation whose unit of analysis is the

social practice of the subjects (ways of selling, buying, bargaining, joking...). According to

Jarzabkowski (2005), among other authors, these practices involve concerns of a qualitative nature. In

other words, this approach offers depth to the investigation, but is more focused on the meanings and

the complex human processes that permeate them (Denzin & Lincoln, 2006).

The method adopted is configured as a case study. According to Yin (1989), the case study is

featured as a research in which the object of the study is the unity which examines deeply and may be

characterized as a detailed analysis in an environment, of a single subject or a specific situation. In the

case of empirical research discussed in this paper, the trade in the produce market in Vila Rubim,

Vitória, ES, was studied.

The choice of this locus, to outline this study in this area, is due to three aspects: (a) it is a

unique organization that brings together public interest (city and state) and private interest (several

retailers and suppliers with complementary or different activities) connected in a common area; (b) 94

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there is the social cultural importance that throughout the decades, it was inserted in a meaningful way

in the everyday life in the city; and (c) there has been the direct impact of the restructuring of urban

areas which results in the city center becoming a marginalized area and its establishments experience

greater difficulty to survive. In the diverse activities of the market, the focus of this study was on the

trade of the produce in general, the original activity in the market that has prevailed for years, reaching

its height in the 1970s when there were more than 300 merchants. However, nowadays there are less

than a dozen.

Due to the temporal outline of this route on the disappearance of the produce traders, this study

was limited in time from the periods of 1970 to the present. That is, the focus of this study is in the

comprehension of strategizing that have taken place since 1970 until today but it includes previous

strategy creations, from traders who are no longer in the market, which were attributed to the relations

with the strategies developed along the period established.

To carry out this investigation, we first made a preliminary observation at the market, together

with gathering documents available in public archives. Then, in the main part of the study, we

observed first by participating as customers, and then conducted interviews on the life stories of the

people at the market. When necessary, we asked follow-up questions. In the case of some

interviewees, we took more detailed life stories that required further interviews at a later date. In

parallel with the interviews, we observed the daily routine of the produce merchants, based on the

same interview script, and carried out a non-systematic observation at the houses of two customers,

and on two occasions, one of us accompanied merchants in their bargaining to buy produce at the

region’s central wholesale market, CEASA, in another town.

We applied discourse analysis (DA) to the data from the interviews in order to delve deeper into

the interdiscourse, in addition to the syntactic and semantic dimensions involving the meanings

expressed in the intra discourse. The discourse is assumed here to be “the combinations of linguistic

elements (sentences or groups of several sentences), used by speakers to explain their thoughts, to talk

about their exterior or interior world, to act on the world” (Fiorin, 2003, p. 11). The semantic route and

its subsets form the main descriptive category of intra discourse, bearing the world view advocated

and organized, implicitly or explicitly, by means of themes and figures. The themes encompass

abstract elements such as joy and betrayal, while the figures utilize elements of the natural world such

as wife and house (Fiorin, 2003). These elements were identified by analyzing, in the oral and written

texts, the following discursive persuasive strategies: construction of personalities, lexical selection,

silence, relation between explicit and implicit elements.

Barry and Elmes (1997) identify the use of construction of personalities to highlight or conceal

those (persons, organizations, etc.) related to determined themes. For Watson (1995), lexical selection

defines the vocabulary of groups, and is used to refer to themes and figures. Mumby and Stohl (1991)

stress the importance of the relationship between the said and unsaid (silencing), because this shows

what is systematically remembered or forgotten. Furthermore, according to these authors, discursive

practices are immersed in a system of explicit and implicit content relations. The explicit ones are

evident when stated – the speaker assumes full responsibility – while the implicit ones depend more on

the hearer’s interpretation (Ducrot, 1987).

Regarding our field notes, we did not see any meaning in using DA because the expression in

which interdiscourse manifests itself does not refer to the locus under study, but rather to the academic

contextual insertion of the investigator who takes down the notes and is outside of the focus in

question. Therefore, we decided to treat these data through content analysis, according to the thematic

analysis approach, in which the data are organized into themes, seeking patterns of meanings, to be

separated and categorized (Bardin, 1977; Bogdan & Biklen, 1994).

The data analyzed were obtained from a group of subjects defined by the criterion of the time

the people frequent the market, either as a customer, seller or supplier, with focus on the sale of fruits

and vegetables. The initial group consisted of five merchants. The final group was expanded by the

snowball technique, in which the previous interviewee referred us to the next ones (Bogdan & Biklen, 95

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1994), and was defined by the saturation criterion (recurrence of information), constituted in the

following way: 24 owners of stalls/shops at the market (5 produce merchants, 5 former produce

merchants and 14 other merchants of varied items); 5 suppliers (3 of produce); 9 customers; 2

representatives of associations; 11 employees (4 of produce merchants and 7 of other types of

merchants); and 3 security guards.

Of these, three merchants were chosen for an in-depth study of their lives in relation to the

market. Each of them represent different movements, but with overlaps regarding their insertion in the

historical context of the market and produce selling: (a) one man who migrated from a small town in

the 1960s at the age of 14 and started out as a produce peddler in the area around the market and later

acquired a stall inside the main building where he sold fruit and vegetables before selling it to another

merchant and buying his own shop (around the market), which he has now built into a chain of grocery

stores; (b) a man who was born and raised in the market, who started out at the age of seven in the

1960s as a peddler within the market, then took part in the invasion of the square facing the market in

the 70s, where he operates his own stall today, besides renting a small area across from the fish

market’s area, both of which concentrate fruit and vegetable merchants; (c) a merchant who started in

the 1980s as a supplier of produce to the market, and took over a stand in the invaded square as

settlement of a debt owed to him, where he works today, and who was the first president of the Stand

Owners Association that was created in the early 90s.

The VR Market

Originally opened in 1928, the VR took on its current configuration in the 1970s. It is centered

around three large warehouse structures in which independent merchants own or rent small shops and

stalls. These were originally built to sell fruit and vegetables, but today handcrafts are the predominant

goods there. Around these structures, there are a variety of small stores, a structure for a fish market

and a square that was invaded in the 1970s by peddlers, who set up stands there.

The large structures and other areas are separated by streets through which shoppers circulate.

In these streets, in recent decades, customers, police, municipal inspectors, politicians, merchants and

peddlers have developed ambiguous relationships of friendship/hostility and support/suppression due

to the search for space to sell produce. In this context these actors, through their practices, have dealt

with various matters at various times, such as fires, urban violence and financial crises.

In this way, commerce in fruit and vegetables predominated for many years. But in 1974, the

wholesaling of fruit and vegetables was transferred to CEASA in another municipality. This caused a

decline in the sale of these products at the market, aggravated by competition from supermarkets and

specialized stores, spread throughout the city. Currently, the merchants who specialize in fruits and

vegetables at the market are concentrated in a series of small portable stands set up across from the

fish market structure, in one large store, and in some of small stalls around the square.

Strategy as a Social Practice in Selling Produce at VR

The analysis of the data revealed social constructs in which there is a dual movement in the

everyday activities of strategizing: one in the direction of maintenance and the other in the direction of

change of directions and in the practices themselves. Tables 1, 2 and 3 summarize the analysis of the

data and the movements mentioned during the analysis, in an attempt to understand the produce

merchants’ strategizing at the VR Market.

The directions highlighted in the analysis revolve around two thematas: family/survival/work;

and the public/private set. At the macro social level, family/survival/work appeared related to the 96

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influence of the social inclusion of the subjects’ parents or grandparents in the lower class of society.

All the research subjects mentioned the difficulties with hunger and homelessness that their parents or

grandparents had been subjected to because of poverty, which forced everyone to start working at an

early age. Poverty was introduced almost as a concrete entity which at the macro level has influenced

the past and propelled toward the future. This drive involves the objectification of labor as a matter of

the family and its survival due to poverty and the need to deal with it escape from it.

Within this logic, poverty’s influence is part of a distant past and is alive in the present, while

the subject needs to deal with it by working together with his family. Accordingly, as shown in Table

1, practices related to the hard work shared with their children and the family as a whole are

highlighted, as well as concerns over how to manage the trade in which everyone works.

Along with the macro social level, the public/private factor appeared, associated with a recent

past experienced by the subjects since they started to work at the market. Table 3 displays practices

concerning the role of the government at the in a local, state and federal level as an entity that directly

influences either to harm or help them, and this has broad implications for what happens in their

routine. Among these implications were mentioned laws and other rules, such as the code of public

attitudes and the way public resources are managed.

One example is the city’s decision to build on its own ground new stalls for traders with public

funds, in an area where there is little foot traffic. This is the private use of public resources since it will

be used by a small group of traders. However, they themselves were against this mandatory transfer

since they claimed that there was more foot traffic where they were before. Therefore, at first, they

accepted the imposed change but later used their own material of the new stalls to return to where they

used to work.

Within the private aspect of this duo, beside the use of public resources, the macro influence of

what the subjects called major economic groups or big businessmen was highlighted, a reference to

the supermarkets and their networks. For the subjects, the influence of this logic of large-scale trade

which has intensified in the city over the last thirty years has imposed on them a new market logic in

which they cannot compete without changing their traditional practices. The subjects associate a great

deal of this influence with the changes in the choice of what to sell and how to sell it today. This

involves the practices, as shown in Table 2, which indicates movements seeking a distance of focus

adopted by these large-scale trades either through the sale of different products, a direction for

opportunities or guidance to specific consumers.

Moving away from the macrosocial level, and moving towards the microsocial, the researches’

subjects highlighted a series of practices with mutual influences, in a bricolage in which they are

mutually composed and recomposed. There is also a link with the macrosocial level to the extent that

these practices also introduced relationships with two thematas, hightlighted when it was established

around three social representations of the research’s subjects. (a) a social representation of the seller at

Vila Rubim; (b) social representation of Vila Rubim and (c) social representation of the changes in the

market at Vila Rubim.

Each of these representations is expressed with linked to the different hegemonic and

emancipated dimensions. These dimensions and social practices are related and shown in Tables 1, 2

and 3. In the analysis, it was not possible to identify clear expressions of the controversial dimension

of these social representations. To understand the reason for this absence, we need to recall that the

basic distinction between the controversial and emancipated dimension is the fact that the former

articulates its differences in relation to the others through an open, explicit conflict, aiming to

subjugate the others. In VR’s case, even when the subjects of the research are revealed through

something, supposedly, antagonistic, involving practices in an explicit opposition, they pointed to the

link between other constructions which prevailed and allowed the maintenance of this difference In

other words, what the research should show from the controversial dimension came about from the

emancipated dimension. 97

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One example is the question of the invasion of a public area which was vacant in front of the

market, by peddlers who worked at the VR produce market. For the group who owned shops in the

market, this should be solved because it was unfair competition against those who paid taxes. The

invaders, on the other hand, defended their right to work.

The development expected in this case, was a manifestation of a controversial dimension in an

open conflict between two opposing viewpoints. However, in the case of an explicit opposition that

simply legitimized the expulsion of the invaders, the manifestations of the opposition to the invasion

were linked to the necessity for public institutions to guarantee the right of these men to work by using

their own resources, albeit without interfering or allowing unfair competition with those who were

already legally working in those institutions. Therefore, something had to be done, even if it meant the

expulsion of the invaders.

In turn, the invaders also demanded that the public institutions respect their right to work and

that resources be used in their favor. In this perspective, the removal in the area was one more action

among many others. Indeed, there were public institutional practices to this end, against which the

invaders resisted. Their rights prevailed and the local government registered them and began to

coordinate their operations, in the same way that the tenants of the stores are recognized and


In this case, it was observed that the practices related to the attempts to expel the merchants

were part of a broader emancipated dimension than just a controversial decision whether to expel the

invaders. Even when this controversy arose, it did not take shape as a controversial dimension of

social representations between two groups because the broad consensus within the group of tenants

were not regarding the removal. This came about from a specific action among many other

expressions which were highlighted by two sets of emancipated dimensions: (a) the social

representation of the typical merchant whose hegemonic dimension is devotion to his work, which

links the emancipated dimensions of the family, personal application and personal relationships (Table

1); (b) the social representations of the changes in the VR Market, whose hegemonic dimension is

demands from and on public institutions, of the privatization of public areas and the emancipated

dimension of competitive pressures (Table 3).

In this context, pervaded by these structures, besides not having a consensus within the tenants’

group regarding the removal of the invaders as a simple and unique alternative, they were of a like

mind regarding their right to work and oblige the public institutions to guarantee this, in the same way

that they should do so for themselves. Similarly, different group structures of the subjects were

articulated around the hegemonic and emancipated dimension presented in Tables 1, 2 and 3.

The tables show the links highlighted in data processing to the extent that it sought to

understand the strategy of the produce merchants in Vila Rubim’s Market. Among them, the empirical

investigation made it possible to identify nine everyday strategies legitimized around three established

social representations, such as that undertaken by Certeau (1990), who identified a place of one’s very


In the social representation of the typical merchant (Table 1) three everyday strategies were

identified: concerning the family; selling; personal relationships. Each of these appeared to be linked

with an emancipated aspect specific to the social representation, respectively: emancipated dimension

of the family; emancipated dimension of personal application; emancipated dimension of personal

relationships. In turn, all these aspects are embedded in elements of a hegemonic view that in VR the

typical merchant is a man devoted to work.

In links that have arisen in a similar manner but legitimized in different social constitutions,

three everyday strategies related to the social representation of VR were identified (Table 2): the

traditional commerce involving customers and suppliers and the specific features of the VR Market. Its

expression is linked with an emancipated view of this social representation, respectively: emancipated

dimension of the continuity of the commerce; emancipated dimension in the everyday activities 98

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involving customers; emancipated dimension of the match between the media efforts of the large

stores, chicken and fish sellers. These views are embedded in the elements of the hegemonic aspect

that VR is a traditional commercial venue in Vitória.

The last set of strategies highlighted in data processing appeared in accordance with the social

representation of the changes in the VR Market (Table 3). The three everyday legitimized strategies

were those of formal relationships; privatized space and the laws of the market. They were expressed

as related, respectively, with the emancipated views referred to by the social representation:

emancipated dimension of the demands from and on public institutions; emancipated dimension of the

privatization of public space; emancipated dimension of competitive pressures. Together, these three

views share elements of a hegemonic aspect that the changes in the VR Market are a consequence of

the everyday events reflected in demands from and on the government and merchants.

In Tables 1, 2 and 3 the practices in the flows include structures inserted in the homonymous

strategies, in the direction of determined interests and aspects strengthened by the same strategies. On

the other hand, the practices included in the tactics, although they are legitimized in matters of such

social representations, they do not necessarily enforce them, and could even oppose them, in an astute

use of their own elements (Certeau, 1990).

For example, in Table 1, the strategy of personal relations, the merchant approaches a customer

to make a sale for a neighboring merchant, passes the proceeds to that other merchant, thereby

strengthening the personal ties between them, and consequently, the order that legitimizes this

practice. But the same merchant can approach a customer as if he were making a sale for the other

merchant, check that he is not being observed, and sell on his own behalf, in the tactic for personal

relations. The possibility and the act of approaching the neighboring merchant’s customer is the link

that joins the homonymous strategy and tactic, but the process in each of them has different

implications (strengthening or transgressing the established order) and develops in different and

dynamic ways. Social Practices and Strategizing 99

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Table 1

Summary of the Social Practices Articulated Around the Social Representation of the Typical Merchant

Hegemonic dimension: a man devoted to work

Emancipated dimension of the family Emancipated dimension of personal application Emancipated dimension of personal relationships

Practices in the everyday

strategy of the family

Practices in everyday


Practices in the everyday

strategy as applied to selling

Practices in everyday


Practices in the everyday strategy of

personal relationships

Practices in

everyday tactics

. The merchant is

accompanied by his family

in his leisure activities.

. Discourses on family


. Distances himself from the

family member who does

not fit the profile of a

disciplined, persistent,

hard-working man.

. Sells the business.

. Works more to correct the

errors of a previous owner.

. Persistence and dedication: gets

up early, has breakfast everyday

at the same snack bar, goes to

CEASA, sets up the stand.

. Saves money.

. Invests money saved to expand

stock, equip or refurbish the


. Pays debts on time.

. Takes advantage of credit from suppliers.

. Does not extend credit to, cash checks for

or engage in joint deals with those

considered dishonest, and does so with

those considered honest.

. Sells without authorization from public


. Evades taxes.

. Reports thieves to the police, physically

intimidates them and spreads news of the

theft and its perpetrator.

. Sells the product of the neighboring

merchant or calls him when a customer

arrives while he is temporarily


. Lends products to neighboring merchants.

. Helps others by sharing freight costs from

CEASA and keeping an eye on strangers

around other merchants’ stalls/shops.

. Actively hawks his products to passing


. Steals customers

from neighboring


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Table 2

Summary of the Social Practices Articulated Around the Social Representation of VR

Hegemonic dimension: a traditional commercial venue in Vitória

Emancipated dimension of the continuity of the commerce Emancipated dimension of the everyday activities involving


Emancipated dimension of the match between the

media efforts of the big stores and chicken and

fish sellers

Practices in the everyday strategy

of the traditional commerce of the


Practices in everyday


Practices in everyday strategy involving

customers and suppliers

Practices in

everyday tactics

Practices in the everyday

strategy regarding the specific

features of VR Market

Practices in

everyday tactics

. Puts family members and

employees considered as such to

run the business and monitors

their daily tasks.

. Transfers the business, with

customers included.

. Gives family members financial

support, access to know-how and

network of contacts.

. Continues in the family business

or open your own.

. Does not allow his kids

follow his footsteps.

. Requires kids to study.

. Discourage older kids from

hanging around and

encourage them to find

better jobs.

. Allow kids to work, but

without interfering in their


. Use network of

relationships to find formal

jobs for kids.

. Keeps a large variety of items for sale.

. Chooses the variety, quality and price of the

products to be purchased according to the


. Observes what the customer wants to buy.

. Deals with the supplier personally to build


. Extends credit to those he trusts and cash only

business to those he distrusts.

. Offers innovation or novelty as part of the

tradition of variety.

. Seeks products with characteristics or prices

that few can match.

. Yields exclusivity and supply products to his


. Fills the buckets with fruit and vegetables to

sell more quickly when they begin to go off. .

. Encourages customer loyalty with dialog,

freebies and selling on credit.

. Helps others by sharing freight costs from

CEASA and making it possible to purchase a

wider variety of products.

. Positions himself near the fish

market stall to sell produce.

. Increases stock of produce

when the demand and

consumption of fish and

chicken is greatest.

. Benefits from customers

attracted by the media

investments of supermarkets.

Note. Source: Study data101

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Table 3

Summary of the social practices articulated around the Social representation of the changes in the VR Market

Hegemonic dimension: a consequence of everyday events reflected in demands from and on the government and merchants

Emancipated dimension of the demands from and on public institutions Emancipated dimension of the

privatization of public space

Emancipated dimension of competitive pressures

Practices in the everyday

strategy of formal relationships

Practices in everyday tactics Practices in the

everyday strategy

of privatized space

Practices in

everyday tactics

Practices in the everyday strategy of the laws

of the market

Practices in

everyday tactics

. Hold meetings at the association.

. Elect a president for the


. Pay the association’s monthly


. Invest the association’s funds in

infrastructure, enrollment drives

and partnership arrangements.

. Maintain interaction with public


. Argue that the products at the

street booths and stands do not

pay taxes.

. Help and be helped by paying

the freight cost and making

business feasible in the face of

difficulties imposed by public


. Go to the booths offered and

built by the government.

. Accept the offer to use public


. Expose the failings of public institutions

in the media to pressure them.

. Set up booths to work wherever

necessary, even when against public


. Articulate with politicians, scheduling.

meetings with them to air ideas, hand out

flyers, put up posters and monitor their

actions and explain to them what they

want in opposition to current demands

from public institutions

. Publicize the theme of unemployment to

oppose public institutions.

. Articulate with political actors through

personal relationships to oppose public


. Confront inspectors from public

institutions violently.

. Replace violence with dialog with public

institutions and their representatives.

. Yield to or obey the inspector

temporarily, and then go back to what

they were doing beforehand.

. Define the group

of invaders before

they invade.

. Enforce the rules,

even with


. Plan the retaking

of the public space

from the city


. Be patient and

slowly change

what it is

prohibited to


. Stop selling what is not profitable.

. Constantly analyze the commerce that is not


. Start working with other products.

. Sell the shop.

. Know how to buy inventory, taking advantage

of prices at CEASA by arriving early, entering

beforehand as a delivery man and bargaining.

. Buy products according to the target customers.

. Buy fresher products to serve the target

customers and so they will stay fresh longer.

. Vary the quantity of produce in the buckets

instead of varying the price.

. Reduce the quantity of fruit and vegetables

when they are fresh, recover capital invested

and then increase the quantity in the buckets

until everything is sold before it spoils.

. Purchase a part of the fruit and vegetables

with better quality and a higher prices and in a

greater variety, to take up more space.

. Expand their space to grow, earn more,

expand space and so on.

. Always improve the shop.

. Expand your

space only to


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In the tables, each practice is part of one or two movements (maintenance and change) in

relation to the contextual insertion of the subjects and the SR constructed by them, exposing the

configuration of strategizing in terms of practices and meanings that flow through it.

In relation to the contextual insertion in the SR and the emancipated dimension that were used

as a reference in the analysis and are reproduced in the tables, the everyday practices classified as

tactics are based on the movements in the direction of the mentioned change of meanings, with or

without maintenance of the practices. In contrast, the everyday practices classified as strategy are

based on movements for the maintenance of meanings, also with or without maintenance of practices.

In other words, the changes in practices involved in the social constructs of the subjects do not

necessarily mean changes in the meanings inserted in these social constructs because the contrary also

occurs: the practices change around earlier meanings, reinforcing them.

This was observed based on the proposed conceptual scheme, when in the case under study, the

strategy making of the produce merchants was articulated around the thematas family/survival/work

and public/private. These elements, at the same time, appear in hegemonic form, lead to specific

constructs, exposed from the analysis of the set of emancipated dimensions of the SR anchored in

those thematas. From this organization it was possible to indicate two sets of practices: those inserted

in strategy and those inserted in everyday tactics.

The insertion of a practice in one or the other set was in relation to the social reference assumed,

whether involving the social group (produce merchants at VR Market), or involving a cross section of

their share (the emancipated dimensions in question). An aspect to stress, observed throughout the

analysis and evident in the above tables, is that in this process some practices are positioned over time

as everyday tactics and as everyday strategy.

By summarizing the produce merchants’ practices in the tables, it was possible to observe these

dual insertions, an adequate condition to illustrate the potential of the proposal for investigation based

on the conceptual scheme advocated in this article. It is to offer space for social dynamism that one

can observe the insertion of the practices in this dynamism, in which even when a practice remains the

same, it can be permeated with different meanings at the same time or over time. In other words, the

practice can involve anything from a simple reproduction of previous constructs, positioned in the

space of a proper in which a determined established order must be maintained as it is to (without

necessarily changing the concrete manifestations of the practice itself) a condition that transgresses

this space, this order, and demarcates a singular space.

This occurs in the case of the practices involving political articulations, either aimed at

opposition to formal demands or to fit within this order and benefit from it. More specifically, the

ambiguity of social practices can be illustrated by focusing on a specific practice: that of expanding

your space (Table 3), demarcated in the emancipated dimension of competitive pressures in the social

representation of the changes at the VR Market. In relation to this dimension and the produce

merchants’ group of subjects, this practice is positioned in the space of the proper when articulated

around the idea of market growth, and in a transgression space of the other when articulated around

the idea of survival. Using simplistic logic, it could be conceived that the definition of one or the other

insertion would hinge on the result attained or desired from this practice. But according to the

conceptual scheme proposed, the result is permeated by the social context; it is not isolated. The very

definition that it is a result of growth or survival only exists based on social constructs that delimit one

or the other.

The demarcation of the meanings of the practices is based on the analysis, without which there

is no reference. An example is to know what growth is and what survival is, since both can entail the

same practice, that is, the same concrete evidence for the observer. In the conceptual table, this

demarcation of meanings occurs through the SR which is inserted in the privileged condition of

delimiting the place of the proper of establishing orders. In this sense, in the example, the emancipated

dimension of the competitive pressures in the social representation in which the practice is articulated

offers the basis for analysis. In this analysis, the successful produce merchant, cited in various 103

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fragments, is successful because he has grown. Thus, in this contextual insertion, the practice of

expanding your space is positioned in the space of the proper and reinforces it. Nevertheless, in the

conceptual scheme proposed, the tactic is not subordinated to these representations, nor to the strategy.

In fact, to a certain extent, it is the contrary.

In using one of the elements of that place – in the case, the practice of expanding your space,

but associated with the sense of survival – the very social representation in question is altered by the

practice. If beforehand it reinforced, now it is associated with a new meaning, so that the emancipated

dimension changes together with other constructs that attack. In this fashion, a new emancipated

dimension can arise, a new place of a proper where perhaps to survive is to be successful, and expand

your space to survive is a strategy delimited in this place.

This latter movement, in the case investigated, was not evidenced in the practice to expand your

space, but it did involve another practice identified, that of violence (Table 3) on the part of the stall

merchants. Beforehand, violence was a tactic, since these sellers, then itinerant peddlers (without a

permanent stand or table to sell from, hence, precarious from a legal standpoint) confronted the hired

security guards and police. Afterwards, the same sellers shifted from using violence as a strategy,

acting as propers to keep order in the public square where their stands are set up. The social dynamic

evidenced entails the maintenance of the practice through changes and innovations involving them.

On the other hand, new practices arise articulated in previous social constructs, such as the

practice of helping to be helped, sharing the freight cost. In the analysis, it is articulated and associated

simultaneously with three emancipated dimensions: personal relationships (Table 1); everyday

activities involving customers (Table 2); and demands from and on public institutions (Table 3). In all

these dimensions, the practice in question is part of an everyday strategy, converging with the order

established by these dimensions and becoming legitimized therein. But as can be observed in the

analysis, this practice only arose in the everyday life of VR when the wholesale marketing of fruit and

vegetables was transferred from VR itself to CEASA, creating the need to share transport costs. This

new practice changed the meanings inserted in the previous social constructs, presented in the

emancipated dimensions. It reinforced them, uniting other practices, also previous, that articulated

them, such as merchants lending money and merchandise to one another.

From the above, it can be seen that the strategy in selling produce at VR involves a social

dynamism in which social constructs articulate in movements toward maintenance, change and

emergence of practices and meanings that involve these constructs. In this movement, the changes in

the concrete manifestations of these practices do not necessarily depend on changes in the meanings

involving them, and vice versa. Therefore, a better understanding of this dynamism depends on a

deeper socio-historical contextual insertion, which hinges on these meanings and the concrete

manifestations of these practices, going beyond an isolated analysis of concrete manifestations and of

the results that are desired or obtained, but one that includes these elements in being articulated by the

research subjects in that social dynamism.

Final Considerations

In recalling the proposed objective it can be observed that the comparison of Tables 1, 2 and 3,

employing the conceptual scheme adopted, reveals strategy as a social practice in the case under study.

In their socio-historical process, the produce merchants at the VR Market articulate various flows

inserted in wider and more specific organizational contexts, i.e., various everyday strategies and


Within the approach followed in this article, the denomination of strategies and practices is

dynamic, relational and temporary because the focus is on the process that permeates each strategy and

its articulations in the practices and meanings in each flow. In Tables 1, 2 and 3, each flow has its 104

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practices identified in the summarized analysis in one column, but it is only possible to understand the

processes that involve the practices, in the strategizing, by resorting to the relational meanings of each

practice. In the case of this article, these meanings were detailed in the analyses of the three SR that

run through the everyday lives of the research subjects. Without this previous discussion, the table by

itself would not make sense because it only presents isolated practices. This reinforces the argument

that understanding strategy as social practice demands recognition of the social constructs that

permeate such practices. This goes far beyond identifying concrete manifestations, but involves this

identification since it is one more step to reach the other social constructs hinging on these


In the conceptual scheme, these meanings permeate social practices in the articulations around

the emancipated dimensions of the SR presented in the analysis. These meanings appear to be

inseparable from the directions of the strategizing of the produce merchants of the VR Market. This

does not mean that there is a simplistic cause and effect relationship between the meanings and

strategizing, as one sense might indicate, or vice versa. We observed that the practices inserted in the

research subjects’ strategizing can remain the same in relation to their concrete manifestations, but be

articulated in different ways, and new practices arise articulated in previous ways, as was observed in

the sharing of expenses from CEASA for those inserted in the meaning of friend within the merchants’

personal relationships.

These aspects evidenced in the empirical analysis legitimize the position that the conceptual

model proposed permitted attaining the objective of this article around the following interpretation: the

constitution of the merchants’ strategies in the produce market in Vila Rubim in Vitória, ES, from

1970 to the present time occur in a dynamic way, involving simultaneous movements in the direction

of maintenance and of change in meanings and strategizing, interrelated in everyday practices. In a

process where the old practices gain new meanings and new practices are established related to the

new or old meanings, establishing this way a dynamic in which the new and old are joined in an

embedded manner.

The final contribution of this article is that the discussion developed herein should be applied

and expanded. The development of this proposal certainly does not stop here; on the contrary, the

intention is to spur discussion and incorporate knowledge from other researchers and groups interested

in the development of the approach to strategy as a social practice.

Received 19 August 2009; received in revised form 16 August 2010.



This study was supported by grants from the CNPq and FAPEMIG.


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