Distributed Cognition

Studying theatre in the wild

Authored by: Evelyn Tribble , Robin Dixon

The Routledge Companion to Theatre, Performance, and Cognitive Science

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138048898
eBook ISBN: 9781315169927
Adobe ISBN:


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The model of distributed cognition or cognitive ecology that we advance in this chapter takes its inspiration from Edwin Hutchins’s ground-breaking book Cognition in the Wild (1995). ‘In the Wild’ refers to the proposition that thought is not best studied in artificial laboratory settings, but rather in real-world environments that have been designed to think with. Experimental settings by definition seek to reduce complexity and eliminate variables; in Hutchins’s view, identifying cognitive mechanisms through these means alone provides only a partial picture of human intelligence. Such methods are generally predicated upon individualistic and atomistic models of thought, which cannot account well for the emergent properties of complex group activities. Hutchins argues for the study of ‘human cognition in its natural habitat – the material and social surrounds that enable and constrain thought:

Humans create their cognitive powers by creating the environments in which they exercise those powers. At present, so few of us have taken the time to study these environments seriously as organizers of cognitive activity that we have little sense of their role in the construction of thought.


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