Research Topic

Enaction and Ecological Psychology: Convergences and Complementarities

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Ecological psychologists—following on the work of James J. Gibson—and enactivists—inspired by the work of Francisco Varela—offer clearly articulated alternatives to the dominant computational or cognitivist perspective in cognitive science. Both groups have developed a rich body of research in the form of ...

Ecological psychologists—following on the work of James J. Gibson—and enactivists—inspired by the work of Francisco Varela—offer clearly articulated alternatives to the dominant computational or cognitivist perspective in cognitive science. Both groups have developed a rich body of research in the form of scientific concepts, tools, models, and empirical work. Both groups share commitments to the naturalistic understanding of the mind as embodied and situated socially and ecologically, to the use of dynamical systems ideas, and to the challenge of explaining cognition as emerging out of the encounter of multiple processes and relations, from biology to culture, in a non-reductionist, yet scientifically grounded way.

An outside observer would be forgiven for thinking these are just two names for a same scientific endeavor. Yet, while ecological psychologists and enactivists are increasingly paying serious attention to each other’s work, the two groups remain relatively disconnected, sometimes talking past each other. Beyond the narcissism of small differences, there are real dissimilarities between the two approaches concerning explanatory strategies, goals, assumptions, vocabularies, and concepts. It remains unclear whether these differences are easily resolvable, point to useful complementarities, or indicate unsolved/unsolvable tensions between the two perspectives.

Advancing on these questions is the goal of this Research Topic. We believe the challenge is timely and goes beyond a mere academic exercise. Understanding pressing problems such as human diversity and variability, our abilities to cope with rapidly changing cognitive and technological environments, the psychological effects of the disintegration of communities and their places, and of major social, political, economic, and ecological breakdowns, necessitates critical conceptions of human bodies, minds, sociality, and environments that do not follow a machine metaphor that fits the status quo only too well.

We solicit contributions that explicitly address the relation between ecological psychology and the enactive approach, whether in the form of conceptual clarifications and developments, empirical or modelling work, or interventions from the history and philosophy of science. We hope such contributions will contribute to existing dialogues, encourage new collaborations, and raise novel challenges.


Keywords: Enaction, Ecological Psychology, Embodied Cognition, Non-representationalism, Non-reductionism


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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