Cognitive Ecology as a Framework for Shakespearean Studies

Shakespeare Studies 39:94-103 (2011)
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‘‘COGNITIVE ECOLOGY’’ is a fruitful model for Shakespearian studies, early modern literary and cultural history, and theatrical history more widely. Cognitive ecologies are the multidimensional contexts in which we remember, feel, think, sense, communicate, imagine, and act, often collaboratively, on the fly, and in rich ongoing interaction with our environments. Along with the anthropologist Edwin Hutchins,1 we use the term ‘‘cognitive ecology’’ to integrate a number of recent approaches to cultural cognition: we believe these approaches offer productive lines of engagement with early modern literary and historical studies.2 The framework arises out of our work in extended mind and distributed cognition.3 The extended mind hypothesis arose from a post-connectionist philosophy of cognitive science. This approach was articulated in Andy Clark’s Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, and further developed by Susan Hurley and Mark Rowlands, among others.4 The distributed cognition approach arose independently, from work in cognitive anthropology, HCI (Human-Computer Interaction), the sociology of education and work, and science studies. The principles of distributed cognition were articulated in Hutchins’s ethnography of navigation, Cogni- tion in the Wild,5 and developed by theorists such as David Kirsh and Lucy Suchman.6 These models share an anti-individualist approach to cognition. In all these views, mental activities spread or smear across the boundaries of skull and skin to include parts of the social and material world. In remembering, decision making, and acting, whether individually or in small groups, our complex and structured activities involve many distinctive dimensions: neural, affective, kines-

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John Sutton
Macquarie University


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