1.311 Cognitive Ethnography

As an aspiring “cognitive anthropologist,” K had to venture out of the classroom and laboratory and into “the wild” in order to pose the question of what it means to learn and think as only an anthropologist or human geographer can: “Many of the foundational problems in cognitive science are consequences of our ignorance of the nature of cognition in the wild. Most of what we know about cognition was learned in laboratory experiments. Certainly, there are many things that can be learned only in closely controlled 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. The first part of the job is, therefore, a descriptive enterprise. I call this description of the cognitive task world a ‘cognitive ethnography’.”⁶⁴ Before K embarked on his own adventure, the cognitive ethnographer conceived of a moment of practice as the intersection of three distinct lines (see Figure 1.16).

Fig. 1.16

The anthropology of apprenticeship extends or complicates such a conception by demonstrating that a single, complex, “integral” line is able to account for the development of phenomena as diverse as the dealership and the extended commercial enterprise (“development of the practice”), a dealer-principal (“development of the practitioner”) and the ordinary sales cycle (“conduct of the activity”).⁶⁵ “It is like Melville’s line, whose two ends remain free, which envelopes every boat in its complex twists and turns, goes into horrible contortions when that moment comes, and always runs the risk of sweeping someone away with it”.⁶⁶ Building directly on the contributions of his advisors at Berkeley while submitting himself to the edicts of the philosopher, K managed to effect this same reduction by effectively occupying and moving around on the surface of the cognitive cube or empty square: “A dynamic space must be defined from the point of view of an observer tied to that space, not from an external position.”⁶⁷

The field that unfolds accounts for “the whole of social reality.”⁶⁸ It is a “lived space” that K experienced when he learned the family business and eventually came to command by applying the tools afforded him by practice-centered anthropology.⁶⁹ Vai and Gola tailors and tailor shops, Maya shamans and ritual tables, or American salesmen and dealerships, it is all the same: K only had to wait until an “emergent process of spatialization” was “complete” before he could recognize how such a space is constituted as a “zone of proximal copresence”.⁷⁰ The same patient process led K to see in what way culture begins to encroach on biology, how cognitive ethnography and the ethnography of copresence lead invariably to biology and the possibility of “instinctive behavior”.⁷¹

[64] Edwin Hutchins, Cognition in the Wild (MIT Press, 1995), p.371.

[65] Studies of apprenticeship force the anthropologist to conceive of learning as “an integral part of generative social practice in the lived-in world,” Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning, p.35.

[66] Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (University of Minnesota Press, 1988/1986), p.122.

[67] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p.26.

[68] Pierre Bourdieu, Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, p.231.

[69] William F. Hanks, Referential Practice: Language and Lived Space Among the Maya.

[70] Ibid, pp.350–1.

[71] Jakob von Uexküll, “A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds,” in Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept, edited and translated by Claire H. Schiller, New York: International Universities Press.



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