Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 485–507 | Cite as

Participatory sense-making

An enactive approach to social cognition
  • Hanne De Jaegher
  • Ezequiel Di Paolo


As yet, there is no enactive account of social cognition. This paper extends the enactive concept of sense-making into the social domain. It takes as its departure point the process of interaction between individuals in a social encounter. It is a well-established finding that individuals can and generally do coordinate their movements and utterances in such situations. We argue that the interaction process can take on a form of autonomy. This allows us to reframe the problem of social cognition as that of how meaning is generated and transformed in the interplay between the unfolding interaction process and the individuals engaged in it. The notion of sense-making in this realm becomes participatory sense-making. The onus of social understanding thus moves away from strictly the individual only.


Social cognition Enaction Sense-making Interaction process Coordination Participatory sense-making Autonomy 



We would like to thank Stephen Cowley, Marek McGann and Steve Torrance for their very helpful comments on this paper.


  1. Auvray, M., Lenay, C., & Stewart, J. (2006). The attribution of intentionality in a simulated environment: The case of minimalist devices. In Tenth Meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Oxford, UK.Google Scholar
  2. Boden, M. (2006). Of islands and interactions. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 13, 53–63.Google Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  4. Buck, J., & Buck, E. (1976). Synchronous fireflies. Scientific American, 234, 74–85 (May).Google Scholar
  5. Colombetti, G. (2007). Enactive appraisal. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, (This issue).Google Scholar
  6. Condon, W. S., & Ogston, W. D. (1971). Speech and body motion synchrony of the speaker–hearer. In D. L. Horton, & J. J. Jenkins (Eds.) The perception of language. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merril Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  7. Cook, J. E. (1991). Correlated activity in the CNS: A role on every timescale? Trends in Neurosciences, 14, 397–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cowley, S. (2007). How human infants deal with symbol grounding. Interaction Studies, 8, 81–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Currie, G. (2007). Narrative frameworks. In D. D. Hutto (Ed.) Narrative and understanding persons: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 60 (pp. 17–42). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. De Jaegher, H. (2006). Social interaction rhythm and participatory sense-making: An embodied, interactional approach to social understanding, with implications for autism, D.Phil. Thesis. In University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.Google Scholar
  11. de Vignemont, F., & Singer, T. (2006). The empathic brain: How, when and why? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 435–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Di Paolo, E. A. (2005). Autopoiesis, adaptivity, teleology, agency. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 4, 97–125.Google Scholar
  13. Di Paolo, E. A., Rohde, M., & De Jaegher, H. (2007). Horizons for the enactive mind: Values, social interaction, and play. In J. Stewart, O. Gapenne, & E. Di Paolo, (Eds.), Enaction: towards a new paradigm for cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  14. Di Paolo, E. A., Rohde, M., & Iizuka, H. (2007). Sensitivity to social contingency or stability of interaction? Modelling the dynamics of perceptual crossing. New Ideas in Psychology.Google Scholar
  15. Fogel, A. (1993). Developing through relationships: Origins of communication, self and culture. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  16. Gallagher, S. (1997). Mutual enlightenment: Recent phenomenology and cognitive science. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4, 195–214.Google Scholar
  17. Gallagher, S. (2001). The practice of mind: Theory, simulation or primary interaction? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 83–108.Google Scholar
  18. Gallagher, S. (2004). Understanding interpersonal problems in autism: Interaction Theory as an alternative to Theory of Mind. Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology, 11, 199–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gallagher, S. (2005). How the body shapes the mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Gallagher, S. (2007). Logical and phenomenological arguments against simulation theory. In D. D. Hutto & M. Ratcliffe (Eds.), Minding our practice: Folk psychology re-assessed. Springer.Google Scholar
  21. Gallese, V., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., et al. (1996). Action recognition in the premotor cortex. Brain, 119, 593–609.Google Scholar
  22. Georgieff, N., & Jeannerod, M. (1998). Beyond consciousness of external events: A ‘who’ system for consciousness of action and self-consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition, 7, 465–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gill, S. P., Kawamori, M., Katagiri, Y., et al. (2000). Role of Body Moves in dialogue. International Journal of Language and Communication, 12, 89–114.Google Scholar
  24. Goffman, E. (1972). Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  25. Goffman, E. (1983). The interaction order. American Sociological Review, 48, 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Granic, I. (2000). The self-organization of parent-child relations: Beyond bidirectional models. In M. D. Lewis, & I. Granic (Eds.) Emotion, development, and self-organization. Dynamic systems approaches to emotional development (pp. 267–297). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Haken, H., & Köpchen, H. P. (1991). Rhythms in physiological systems. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  28. Hobson, R. P. (2002). The cradle of thought. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  29. Hutto, D. D. (2004). The limits of spectatorial folk psychology. Mind and Language, 19, 548–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hutto, D. D. (2007). The narrative practice hypothesis: Origins and applications of Folk Psychology. In D. D. Hutto (Ed.), Narrative and understanding persons. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Jaffe, J., Beebe, B., & Feldstein, S., et al. (2001). Rhythms of dialogue in infancy: Coordinated timing in development. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  32. Jaffe, J., & Feldstein, S. (1970). Rhythms of dialogue. London: Academic.Google Scholar
  33. Jonas, H. (1966). The phenomenon of life. Toward a philosophical biology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Kelso, J. A. S. (1995). Dynamic patterns: The self-organization of brain and behaviour. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  35. Kendon, A. (1990). Conducting interaction: patterns of behavior in focused encounters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Klin, A., Jones, W., Schultz, R., et al. (2003). The enactive mind, or from actions to cognition: Lessons from autism. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society London B, 358, 345–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kuramoto, Y. (1984). Chemical oscillations, waves and turbulence. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  38. Moran, G., Fentress, J. C., & Golani, I. (1981). A description of relational patterns of movement during “ritualized fighting” in wolves. Animal Behavior, 29, 1146–1165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Moreno, A., & Etxeberria, A. (2005). Agency in natural and artificial systems. Artificial Life, 11, 161–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Murray, L., & Trevarthen, C. (1985). Emotional regulation of interactions between 2-month-olds and their mothers. In T. M. Field, & N. A. Fox (Eds.) Social perception in infants (pp. 177–197). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  41. Myin, E. (2003). An account of color without a subject? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 26, 42–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pickering, M. J., & Garrod, S. (2004). Toward a mechanistic psychology of dialogue. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27,169–190.Google Scholar
  43. Port, R. F., & van Gelder, T. (Eds.) (1995). Mind as motion: Explorations in the dynamics of cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  44. Quinn, M. (2001). Evolving communication without dedicated communication channels. In Advances in artificial life: Sixth European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL 2001). Prague: Springer pp. 357–366.Google Scholar
  45. Ratcliffe, M. (2007). Rethinking commonsense psychology: A critique of folk psychology, theory of mind and simulation. Hampshire/New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  46. Ruhleder, K., & Jordan, B. (2001). Co-constructing non-mutual realities: Delay-generated trouble in distributed interaction. Journal of Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 10, 113–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sacks, H. (1992). Lectures on conversation volumes I and II. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  48. Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50, 696–735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schiffrin, D. (1994). Approaches to discourse. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  50. Schmidt, R. C., & O'Brien, B. (1997). Evaluating the dynamics of unintended interpersonal coordination. Ecological Psychology, 9, 189–206.Google Scholar
  51. Shanker, S., & King, B. J. (2002). The emergence of a new paradigm in ape language research. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 605–656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (1999). Emotion and movement: A beginning empirical-phenomenological analysis of their relationship. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, 259–277.Google Scholar
  53. Stern, D. (2002/1977). The first relationship: Infant and mother. London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Thompson, E. (2001). Empathy and consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 1–32.Google Scholar
  55. Thompson, E. (2005). Sensorimotor subjectivity and the enactive approach to experience. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 4, 407–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Thompson, E. (2007). Mind in life: Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Thompson, E., & Varela, F. J. (2001). Radical embodiment: Neural dynamics and consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 418–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Thorpe, W. H. (1972). Duetting and antiphonal song in birds: Its extent and significance. Leiden: E. J. Brill.Google Scholar
  59. Torrance, S. (2005). In search of the enactive: Introduction to special issue on enactive experience. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 4, 357–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Trevarthen, C. (1979). Communication and cooperation in early infancy: A description of primary intersubjectivity. In M. Bullowa (Ed.) Before speech (pp. 321–347). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Tronick, E. (2005). Why is connection with others so critical? The formation of dyadic states of consciousness and the expansion of individuals’ states of consciousness: Coherence governed selection and the co-creation of meaning out of messy meaning making. In J. Nadel, & D. Muir (Eds.) Emotional development (pp. 293–316). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Tronick, E. Z., Als, H., & Adamson, L. (1979). Structure of early face-to-face communicative interactions. In M. Bullowa (Ed.) Before speech (pp. 349–370). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  63. van Gelder, T. (1999). Wooden iron? Husserlian phenomenology meets cognitive science. In J. Petitot, F. J. Varela, B. Pachoud, & J.-M. Roy (Eds.) Naturalizing phenomenology (pp. 245–265). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Varela, F. J. (1979). Principles of biological autonomy. New York: Elsevier (North Holland).Google Scholar
  65. Varela, F. J. (1991). Organism: A meshwork of selfless selves. In A. Tauber (Ed.) Organism and the origin of self pp. 79–107. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  66. Varela, F. J. (1996). Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3, 330–349.Google Scholar
  67. Varela, F. J. (1997). Patterns of life: Intertwining identity and cognition. Brain and Cognition, 34, 72–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Varela, F. J. (1999). The specious present: A neurophenomenology of time consciousness. In J. Petitot, F. J. Varela, B. Pachoud, & J.-M. Roy (Eds.) Naturalizing phenomenology (pp. 266–314). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (1991). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  70. Weber, A., & Varela, F. J. (2002). Life after Kant: Natural purposes and the autopoietic foundations of biological individuality. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 1, 97–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Winfree, A. T. (2001). The geometry of biological time. London: Springer.Google Scholar
  72. Zahavi, D. (2005). Subjectivity and selfhood: Investigating the first-person perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, Centre for Research in Cognitive ScienceUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations