Project Details

Towards a Relational-Processual Approach to Social Learning and ‘Culture’

Murillo Pagnotta, 2017 - 2018, Fellow Writing-Up

In many species learning, or skill development, may be influenced by the presence and the behaviour of other individuals, or the products of their behaviour. The term ‘social learning’ is currently used to refer to such processes which include teaching, imitation, emulation, stimulus enhancement, and local enhancement. Processes of social learning underlie the ‘passing on’ of knowledge and behaviour among individuals within and across generations. This can lead to what is now commonly called behavioural ‘traditions’ or ‘culture’ in humans and nonhuman animals. In my thesis I focus on social learning and ‘culture’ in two complementary investigations. The conceptual-theoretical investigation follows from a dissatisfaction with how the currently dominant approaches to social learning are supported by, and in turn reinforce, info-centric views of development, inheritance, evolution, cognition, and ‘culture’. I will therefore clarify the use of the term ‘information’ in these contexts. I will also review and begin to integrate three relational and process-oriented alternative frameworks which may provide an innovative and consistent way of thinking about social learning and ‘culture’. They include ‘developmental systems theory’ in biology, ‘radical embodiment approach’ in the cognitive sciences, and ‘relational thinking’ in anthropology. The experimental investigation applies this relational-processual framework to examine the coordination of visual attention in child-instructor dyads during a joint making task.