Monday, November 14, 2005

Cultural Process of Cognition

The last three chapters of Hutchins’ book helped me to better understand the cultural aspect to cognition more so than the text by Shore earlier this semester. Did anyone else have this connection? Just curious..

As Hutchins mentions in Chapter 9 in regards to cognitive science and culture, “culture was relegated to a peripheral role” in much of the early literature and I felt this was considered more the case in the Shore text as he had more of anthropological approach to how our minds work than Hutchins who makes a strong effort to make culture a primary role to the cognitive process.

In Chapter 9, Hutchins also states, “Culture is a process, and the “things” that appear on list-like definitions of culture are residua of the process. Culture is an adaptive process that accumulates partial solutions to frequently encountered problems.” From what I was able to garner from these last three chapters, culture supports the embodied approach to cognition and the aspect that the cognitive process emerges at the same time as those aspects that occur in the inside/outside boundaries. It seems that our inside/outside boundaries are ever-changing and adapting as the situation changes around us and inside our minds.

I thought Hutchins made an effective argument on how narrow the view of cognition has been on page 370, “Most of what we know about cognition was learned in laboratory experiments…But little is known about the relationships of cognition in the captivity of the laboratory to cognition in other kinds of culturally constituted settings.” It is true that the laboratory does serve a rigorous research purpose in isolating variables and controlling conditions to show trends or patterns but as Hutchins mentions it eliminates the aspects that occur in naturally in reality. The culture of any situation cannot be replicated in the lab.

I think the epilogue of John’s Brain from Clark’s Being There might have been a nice addition to the Hutchins book by taking an example of one member of the naval crew and how their mind may have experienced the situation of the ship losing power and how the cultural process was included in that situation from the brain’s perspective. It might have been a fun exercise at the end of this text.

As technology becomes faster, smaller and more compact, I am wondering why more scientists have not bothered to explore the aspect of looking at cognition in the wild as Hutchins did in his book and recording it as they may in an actual lab? Have there been additional works done since the publication of Hutchins’ text? Does anyone know? As Hutchins relied on a few technologies for capturing his data such as a notepad for capturing his notes and some recording equipment, why don’t more social scientists follow in his path in taking the experiments or the research into the field versus keeping them hidden in a lab?


Blogger jmj said...


I thought Hutchins brought together a lot of the information in our other texts. He seems to allow for both individual learning as well as group cognition.

5:53 PM  
Blogger IB said...

I have some ideas why social scientists do little field work. At least in the field of psychology it is a question of time and money, and an obsession with controlled experiments and rigorous statistical methods. I was surprised when I came to the US, that qualitative approaches are much more valued here than in Europe. Qualitative methods in psychology? Field work? No control group? These are still regarded as exotic and "not so scientific" - at least in the field of psychology in Europe.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Eileen McGinnis said...

Yep, it was pretty nifty how by shifting the unit of analysis, the problem of reconciling culture and mind was handled so much more fluidly/less clunkily in Hutchins than in either Shore (in which I wasn't sure how culture "got into" mind) or Clark (in which the cognition material was great, but didn't seem to connect with his description of culture or an "external" reality).

3:23 PM  

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