CULTURE, COGNITION, AND EDUCATION: EXPLORING THE INTERSECTIONS

Abstract. Educational studies have a long-standing history of productive
engagement with cognitive neurosciences, including research on learning,
memory, knowledge acquisition, language comprehension, etc. However, as
fruitful as this cross-disciplinary engagement has proven to be, it is still
flawed in some important respects, particularly because it lacks the cultural
dimension of analysis, almost completely dismissing the meaning-making
processes that shape today’s educational environments.
Cultural sociology, on the other hand, has been able to provide rich and
theoretically saturated accounts of cultural processes in education that
challenged traditional assumptions about the role of schools in the
institutional life of modern societies. Nevertheless, this line of theoretical
and empirical inquiry is also vulnerable to criticism, largely because of its
dogmatic commitment to a set of dubious underlying assumptions about
human cognitive capacities imported straight from the classical sociological
theory of the 20
th
century.
Consequently, I argue that given the limitations and conceptual gaps of both
approaches, there is a clear necessity to develop an integrative ‘best-of-bothworlds’ account of culture and education. A good starting point here might
be a critical evaluation of those efforts to bridge culture and cognition that
already exist in the literature, particularly the ones that constitute the socalled Sociology of Culture and Cognition research program.
One well-developed account is the dual-process model of culture brought
forward by Vaisey and Lizardo. Drawing on the psychological ideas about
automatic and non-automatic cognitive processes, this approach states that
social actors are primarily driven by ‘deeply internalized cultural schemas’,
but are also capable of deliberation and justification to some extent. This
approach explicates the distinct types of cognitive processes that occur in
different enculturation phases, including the acquisition, storage, processing
and use of culture, which in turn might help educational sociologists to
develop a more viable and robust account of how cultural factors exert
causal influence on educational choice.
Another recent integrative proposal comes from Vaisey and Valentino, who
suggest that key cultural sociological terms (such as values, frames,
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DOI: 10.22363/09669-2019-290-297
narratives, etc.) need to be translated into the language of the judgment and
decision-making (JDM) sciences, with a particular focus on such common
JDM-terms as beliefs, preferences and endowments. This proposal seems
quite promising given that cultural sociologists frequently theorize about
choice, decision-making and judgment in education, but often lack precise
conceptual and methodological tools for this work.
I then argue that the major source of constraints for the said approaches lies
in their reliance on the standard computationalist model of cognition, which
has recently come under criticism by the so-called ‘enactivist’ approaches to
cognition that focus on the mutual interaction between mind, body, and
environment rather than on internal computational processes. Although no
full-blown enactivist account of culture has been developed yet, Turner
outlines the directions in which the work on an alternative conceptualization
must proceed, focusing in particular on the ideas of empathic understanding
(made possible by mirror neurons), joint attention, affordances, scaffolding,
pattern recognition, predictive processing, and much more. The ideas of
affordances and scaffolding might prove to be specifically relevant for
educational researchers, since schooling, for instance, is largely considered
to be a textbook example of designed affordances, where each step enables
future steps, but also requires the next affordance.
Finally, some important philosophical issues pertaining to the link between
culture and cognition are addressed. I argue that no viable model of culture
and cognition (and education) could ever be developed, unless we clarify
the ontological status of the different ‘levels of explanation’ (i.e. social,
psychological, neuronal, molecular etc.) and the causal relations between
these levels. In this respect, I argue, the philosophical ideas of emergence
and downward causation deserve particular attention from cultural theorists.
Keywords: Culture, Cognition, Education, Dual-Process Framework (DPF),
Enactivism

Dmitriy D. Sharikov
National Research University Higher School of Economics,
Moscow, Russia, e-mail: ddsharikov@hse.ru
ORCID ID: 0000-0001-8255-3191

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