Making Sense in Participation: An Enactive Approach to Social Cognition

De Jaegher, Hanne and Di Paolo, Ezequiel (2008) Making Sense in Participation: An Enactive Approach to Social Cognition. In: Morganti, Francesca, Carassa, Antonella and Riva, Giuseppe (eds.) Enacting Intersubjectivity: A Cognitive and Social Perspective on the Study of Interactions. Emerging Communication: Studies in New Technologies and Practices in Communication . IOS Press, Amsterdam, pp. 33-47. ISBN 9781586038502

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Most research on social understanding, in such diverse fields as developmental psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, cognitive science, anthropology, linguistics and robotics, seems to have fallen into one of two categories: the one in which the interaction process (in its social and cultural aspects) is central, and the one in which individual capacities are at the focus. Even dialogue analysis and cognitive science, which intersect between the above disciplines, have most often focused on only one of these two angles: on the interaction or on the individual respectively. We argue that these two lines of approach to the question above need to be brought into correspondence with each other. We criticise existing approaches to social cognition on the basis that interactionist approaches tend to see social processes as having too much of a life of their own, while individualism sees social encounters as problems to be solved by a cogniser. A fruitful approach to the complexities of social cognition will, however, need to explore the relation between individual actions and social processes and bring them together in an integrated framework. We suggest that a story that succeeds in taking both the interaction process and the individuals involved seriously and in making progress on understanding their relationship, can be delivered by extending the enactive approach to cognition in general to the realm of social cognition. More specifically, we extend the enactive notion of sense-making into the social domain. Our argument runs like this. Enactivists characterise cognition as sense-making (Varela 1991; Thompson 2004; Di Paolo 2005), which is the active engagement with a world by a cogniser who imbues his environment with meaning and value because of this active engagement with it. Sense-making is an embodied and embedded activity, and if this is true, then movements are its tools and expressions. It is well-established that individuals can coordinate their movements intra-individually (Thelen 1981; Kelso and Clark 1982; Turvey 1990), and that such coordination is a non-mysterious and ubiquitous phenomenon in nature (Strogatz and Stewart 1993; Clayton, Sager and Will 2004). It has also been found that coordination can happen inter-individually. People can coordinate, for instance, their heartbeats (Neugebauer and Aldridge 1998) and their movements and utterances (see Kendon 1990, among others) in social settings. Interindividual coordination, moreover, seems to be a phenomenon that can be hard to avoid (Kelso 1995). Until now, no principled account of this coordination in social interaction has been put forward. We introduce a set of concepts that serves to unpack the workings of coordination in social interactions and get a better grip on it. We describe how the proposed notions can guide and inform interdisciplinary empirical research. This groundwork in the understanding of how interactors coordinate underlies our proposal regarding social understanding. We argue that, if movements are the tools and expressions of sense-making activities, and movements can be coordinated inter-individually, sense-making activities can also be coordinated. We call such coordination of sense-making participatory sense-making. Participatory sense-making is the active engagement of social agents in making and transforming meaning together (De Jaegher 2006). This approach combines the individual and interactional aspects of social understanding in that the interaction process plays a fundamental and indispensable role in the meanings generated and transformed by individuals in interaction. The individual and interactional levels emerge as having complex synchronic and diachronic relationships: social processes and individual actions in the same timescale become mutually constraining, and a developmental history of interactions changes us as individuals and makes us more prone to certain expectations and interactions.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of Engineering and Informatics > Informatics
Depositing User: Hanne DeJaegher
Date Deposited: 15 May 2012 10:33
Last Modified: 28 May 2012 13:50
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