Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 70, Issue 2, pp 111–126 | Cite as

Why do gestures matter? Sensuous cognition and the palpability of mathematical meanings

  • Luis RadfordEmail author


The goal of this article is to present a sketch of what, following the German social theorist Arnold Gehlen, may be termed “sensuous cognition.” The starting point of this alternative approach to classical mental-oriented views of cognition is a multimodal “material” conception of thinking. The very texture of thinking, it is suggested, cannot be reduced to that of impalpable ideas; it is instead made up of speech, gestures, and our actual actions with cultural artifacts (signs, objects, etc.). As illustrated through an example from a Grade 10 mathematics lesson, thinking does not occur solely in the head but also in and through a sophisticated semiotic coordination of speech, body, gestures, symbols and tools.


Cognition Gestures Graphs Objectification Multimodality Mathematical meaning Semiotics 



I wish to thank the three reviewers for their insightful comments on a previous version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.École des Sciences de l’ÉducationUniversité LaurentienneSudburyCanada

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