Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 911–937 | Cite as

Enculturation and narrative practices

  • Regina E. FabryEmail author


Recent work on enculturation suggests that our cognitive capacities are significantly transformed in the course of the scaffolded acquisition of cognitive practices such as reading and writing. Phylogenetically, enculturation is the result of the co-evolution of human organisms and their socio-culturally structured cognitive niche. It is rendered possible by evolved cerebral and extra-cerebral bodily learning mechanisms that make human organisms apt to acquire culturally inherited cognitive practices. In addition, cultural learning allows for the intergenerational transmission of relevant knowledge and skills. Ontogenetically, enculturation is associated with neural plasticity and the development of new motor routines and action schemas. It relies on scaffolded learning that structures novice-teacher interactions. The acquisition of reading and writing are paradigm examples of enculturation. Based on an empirically informed analysis of the components of enculturation, I will apply the emerging account of enculturated cognition to narrative practices. To date, research on the impact of narratives on the constitution of the self and our understanding of folk psychology has not paid much attention to the question how narratives are influenced by cumulative cultural evolution and our capacity to acquire reading and writing during ontogeny. I will argue that textual narratives, above and beyond oral narratives, provide genuinely new ways of narration. Therefore, the enculturated interaction with textual narratives has the potential to contribute to a better understanding of ourselves and other cognitive agents.


Enculturation Narrative practice Neural plasticity Embodied cognition Literacy Scaffolded learning Cognitive niche Cumulative cultural evolution 



I am very grateful to Karin Kukkonen, Markus Pantsar, and the members of the research group on Literature, Cognition and Emotion at the University of Oslo for their invaluable feedback on earlier versions of this paper. I would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive comments.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Experimental Psychology and Cognitive ScienceJustus Liebig University of GiessenGiessenGermany

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