E-Approaches to Social Difference and Disparity

 

Aerial photograph of tourists visiting the Old Town Square in Prague

 

E-Approaches to Social Difference and Disparity

University of Wollongong, March 13th & 14th, 2019

Research Hub (Building 19, Room 2072A)

Given that embodied and enactive approaches to cognitive science put the lived body, intersubjectivity, and interaction at the very core of their research paradigms, discussions of how aspects of our lived identities can shape our cognitive processes would be a natural application. Despite this, there is a shortage of literature in which these frameworks are used to directly discuss the influence of gender, race, disability, and sexuality in perception, social cognition, and other cognitive processes. This conference intends to address how we might take these into account in answering core questions of philosophy of mind using enactive and embodied approaches to cognition.

 

Conference Schedule

Wednesday, March 13th 2019

10.00-11.00 Nick Brancazio (University of Wollongong)
Why We Need Feminist Philosophies of E-Cognition

11.00-12.00 Rob Wilson (La Trobe University)
The Social Mechanics of Eugenics: Two Examples

12.00-1.00 Lunch Break

1.00-1.45 Anya Daly (University of Melbourne)
Feminism, grounding and enactivism – the too-hard basket?

1.45-2.30 Graham Wood (University of Tasmania)
E-morality: can enactive and embodied approaches to cognition help understand the linguistic analogy in moral psychology, and can all these research programs help explain moral relativism?

2.30-3.00 Coffee/Tea/Refreshments

3.00-4.00 Glenda Satne (University of Wollongong)
Group Minds and Social Identities

4.00-4.45 Miguel Segundo Ortin (University of Wollongong)
Tackling social differences at their econiche

Thursday, March 14th 2019

10.00-11.00 Elena Cuffari (Worcester State University) – via video
“Billions of different bodies” interacting: heteronomy, asymmetry, responsibility

11.00-12.00 Shaun Gallagher (University of Memphis/Wollongong)
Over the top: Ideal theory and social perception

12.00-1.00 Lunch Break

1.00-1.45 Denisa Butnaru (Universität Konstanz)
Bodies Redesigned:How Technologies of Motor Rehabilitation Recast Forms of “I can”

1.45-2.30 Alejandra Martínez Quintero (University of the Basque Country)
Female bodies in embodied cognition: evolutionary and phenomenological approaches to menstruation and pregnancy

2.30-3.00 Coffee/Tea/Refreshments

3.00-3.45 Alan Jurgens (University of Wollongong)
Overcoming Biases: An Enactive and Narrative Approach to Social Disagreement

3.45-4.30 Closing Discussion

(Schedule may be adjusted)

Attendance is open to all and registration is free. To register, please email nick_brancazio@uow.edu.au.

This conference has been organized by Alan Jurgens and Nick Brancazio, and is funded by a Postgraduate Conference Award from the Australasian Association of Philosophy and by the University of Wollongong’s Narrative Practice Research Network.

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/364169981030365/ 

 

Abstracts

Nick Brancazio (University of Wollongong)
Why We Need Feminist Philosophies of E-Cognition

This presentation will provide reasons that insights from feminist philosophy of science can and ought to be brought to bear on enactive understandings of cognition. Feminist scientists and philosophers of science have brought attention to the ways in which gender biases and tropes make their way into empirical research, addressed the situatedness of scientific knowledge, examined how gender is obscured or ignored in scientific practice, problematized the treatment of gender as an isolated axis of investigation, proposed alternative scientific methods and theories, and much more. All of this contributes to better scientific practices and better philosophy of science.

Traditional cognitivist approaches to cognition often treat social norms as representational, culturally local sets of propositional rules or biases that inform our actions. Enactive understandings of cognition, drawing much from phenomenology and the autopoietic notion of organismic self-production, hold that cognition is a “relational domain enacted or brought forth by [a] being’s autonomous agency and mode of coupling with the environment” (Thompson 2007, p. 13). Further, enactivists hold that cognition is not representational in nature—rather, it involves “skillful know-how in situated and embodied action” (Thompson 2007, p. 13). I will argue that (1) enactive approaches avoid some problematic issues encountered when theorizing about gender on the cognitivist framework, and (2) taking gender, race, sexuality, disability, and other aspects of our lived or visible identities (Alcoff 2006) into account should be an integral part of doing good enactive cognitive science.

 

Denisa Butnaru (Universität Konstanz)
Bodies Redesigned:How Technologies of Motor Rehabilitation Recast Forms of “I can”

Similarly to implants or gestational surrogacy, recent prosthetic developments draw attention to deep social consequences concerning the status of both disability and ability. Not so long ago Hugh Herr, professor at MIT and head of the Biomechatronics research group at MIT Media Lab, had a public non-specialist conference in which he stressed the achievements of the prosthetic field1. If according to Herr, himself having bionic legs, bionics reestablishes former biological, dynamic and mechanical functions of the body, in a further development stage, bionics could lead to overcoming already existing bodily features. Such a project implicitly advances new forms of capability since the issue Hugh Herr advances refers not only to a rehabilitation project of a disabled “own body” (Merleau-Ponty [1945] 2012) but also to the possibility of changing healthy biological-anatomical functions.

Considering the example of exoskeletal devices, which are a special form of technology used to rehabilitate or enhance movement, I intend to explore how new forms of “I can” emerge due to the choice and use of this type of technology in the medical field. My aim is while using these examples to defend an applied phenomenology (Zahavi 2012: 3). This predilection is motivated by the fact that the conception and use of exoskeletal devices has specific consequences for the definition of one’s “own body” of dis/ability, and for basic experiential parameters such as motor intentionality (Merleau-Ponty [1945] 2012: 112-113; Pacherie 2018), which further condition interactional possibilities.

Exoskeletal devices have also a visible impact on such parameters as the sense of agency (SA) and the sense of ownership (SO) (Gallagher 2012a; Gallagher 2012b), both of them playing a crucial role in the phenomenological definition of self and its intersubjective and interactional resources. Due to this modification, categories such as disability, ability but also more generally the role of the body as the core of “I can” (Husserl 1989: 165; Merleau-Ponty [1945] 2012: 328), are questioned. This leads especially to a redistribution of the difference abled/disabled, since what seemed to be a corporeal limit gains more social acceptance due to the use of exoskeletal devices.

In order to highlight some consequences of these transformations it shall be first stressed the centrality of the body and motility for the conception of subjectivity, intersubjectivity and for our interactions in everyday life. To do so, the phenomenological heritage of Maurice Merleau- Ponty ([1945] 2012) and Alfred Schütz ([1945] 2012), as well as recent theories defending the enactive turn in phenomenology (Gallagher 2012; Malafouris 2013; Malafouris 2018) shall be evoked. Second, the modification of the disabled body by the application of exoskeletal devices shall be inquired with respect to empirical material coming from narrative interviews with disabled persons, as well as with experts designing exoskeletal devices. The case of motility impairment that shall be discussed is spinal cord injury. The intention is to show how the “I can” of motility disability is transformed by exoskeletal devices and what new models of embodiment, as well as interactional repertoires emerge due to this implementation.

 

Elena Cuffari (Worcester State University)

“Billions of different bodies” interacting: heteronomy, asymmetry, responsibility

Drawing on the proposals laid out in Linguistic bodies: the continuity between life and language (Di Paolo, Cuffari, De Jaegher 2018), in this talk I will consider difference relevant to social meaning-making from two perspectives: (1) differences that operate within each linguistic body to generate significance and (2) disparities between meaning-making elicited by an interaction dynamic and the habitual stances of the linguistic bodies involved.

Regarding (1), Di Paolo, Cuffari, and De Jaegher (2018) argue that the entanglement of (conceptually distinguishable) domains of bodily life, each striving to maintain an asymmetric relation to a sustaining environment, sows interactional tensions, the perpetual navigation of which gives rise to the organizational level of linguistic bodies. This proposal suggests irreducible difference not only between, but also within, linguistic agents, hence the phrase “billions of different bodies.” Exacerbating this radical plurality is the insight of participatory sense-making (De Jaegher and Di Paolo 2007), i.e. that participants in an interaction undergo a heteronomous relation to an emerging dynamic (perspective (2), above). Given the idiosyncratic ‘signatures’ (relatively stable but ’soft-assembled’ identities) particular linguistic bodies cultivate in the course of a lifetime of incorporating and incarnating utterances, this heteronomy can in some cases feel (or, be deemed subsequently) inauthentic or unintended. Interactional asymmetry and heteronomy raise questions of responsibility that problematize traditional ethical frameworks based on a more stable metaphysics of self as enduring substance as well as speaker-intention models of pragmatics based on a rigid, “container” metaphysics of cognition and communication.

Reflection on this set of proposals and likely circumstances yields a preliminary conclusion that, while for everyday and face-to-face interactions within a community such layers of difference are inevitable and usually at the level of interpretive nuance (with the important exception of hate speech, hate crime, microaggressions), a number of specific exercises of social agency by linguistic bodies call for special treatment and greater responsibility. These include at least linguistic bodies acting as:

  • Parents (children’s caregivers)
  • figures who represent the public or are charged with acting for their good/on their behalf
  • interactors distributed across significant distances of space and/or time

“Special treatment” will likely involve dialectic maneuvering, needing to include tolerance for error while and a recognition that the stakes are particularly high. “Greater responsibility” should come from/be supported by the social sphere; the practice of responsibility here cannot be a matter of individual will. 

 

Anya Daly (University of Melbourne)
Feminism, grounding and enactivism – the too-hard basket?

This paper explores the issue of whether feminism needs a metaphysical grounding and if so what form that might take to effectively take account of the socio-political demands of feminism more generally. Some feminists (Haslanger & Sveinsdóttir, 2011) argue that the critical divides in ‘social constructivism’ are real but not metaphysically fundamental because they are contingent. And here we get the crux of the problem – is it possible sustain an engaged feminist socio-political critique for which contingency is central and at the same time retain some kind of metaphysical grounding. I argue that this will only be possible through an enactivist account which is able to offer a non-reductive grounding and at the same time give value to and accommodate feminist socio-political critiques. My paper proceeds in dialogue with feminists generally involved in this ‘metaphysical turn’ in feminism and specifically with the paper by Mari Mikkola, ‘Doing Ontology and Doing Justice: What Feminist Philosophy Can Teach Us About Meta-Metaphysics’, Inquiry, 2015.

 

Shaun Gallagher (University of Memphis/Wollongong)
Over the top: Ideal theory and social perception

Ideal theory, according to Charles Mills (2005), assumes social transparency and limits an understanding of biases to self-interest and internal factors while ignoring hegemonic ideologies and group-based distortions. I argue that standard scientific approaches to social cognition (theory theory and simulation theory) are instances of ideal theory. The same accusation could be made against the notion of direct social perception in the context of interaction theory. I argue that the latter can easily defend against this objection. I consider studies of in-group versus out-group effects, cultural differences, and implicit racial bias, and suggest ways to understand the effects of culture, not as something external added on top of behavior, but as something that shapes embodied perceptual and interactional processes from the ground up.

 

Alan Jurgens (University of Wollongong)
Overcoming Biases: An Enactive and Narrative Approach to Social Disagreement

This talk argues that an enactive and narrative approach to understanding social disagreement of socio-political events, such as police brutality, offers a better explanation Spaulding’s (2018a, 2018b) mindreading account. Spaulding’s explanation relies on a ToM based interpretation of ‘social categorization,’ ‘implicit bias,’ ‘stereotyping’, and ‘dehumanization’ to account for differences in the interpreters’ goals and approaches in understanding others’ social interactions. However, the enactive and narrative alternative argued for here claims that our perception of others and their situations are shaped by our embodiment and socio-cultural situatedness, which is informed by our history of interactions with narratives. Drawing on an enactive notion of empathy (Hutto & Jurgens 2018), I argue that only by understanding our embodiment and narratively driven engagement with others’ social interactions can we understand social disagreements and overcome our own biases.

 

Alejandra Martínez Quintero (University of the Basque Country)
Female bodies in embodied cognition: evolutionary and phenomenological approaches to menstruation and pregnancy

Over the past 30 years, cognitive science and psychology have taken important steps towards a coherent way of thinking about affect and cognition from an embodied perspective (e.g., Clark 1997; Varela et al 1991; Lakoff 1987; Shapiro 2014). The 4E approaches (Embodied, Enactive, Extended and Embedded) contribute constantly to a growing wealth of empirical work. But the general trend ignores the ​concreteness of bodies. Bodies are addressed as abstract, neutral and universal entities, missing what makes bodily experience particular and diverse. Even recent handbooks of embodied cognition (Shapiro, 2014; Newen, Bruin, & Gallagher, 2018) contain only a handful of references to gendered bodies, or to other important sources of bodily distinctiveness.

We will investigate female bodies, by examining pregnancy and the menstrual cycle as concrete, bodily and experienced interactions that can contribute to the theory of embodiment. ​The body as neutral and universal hides both gender and social assumptions. Take the example of heart attacks: because clinical standards are based on male pathophysiology, for a long time it was unknown that heart attacks have different symptoms in females, putting women at higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease (Schiebinger & Klinge, 2013). Or the fact that behavioral studies are primarily based on ​weird s​ amples (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic Societies)—a “particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity” that underrepresents the great differences in behavior across populations (Henrich et al. 2010). But this so-called universal body —and mind— actually reinforces a particular and uncommon body as normative. Instead of considering the male, adult, white person as equal to the “general human”, we consider that incorporating female phenomena, bodily and social, can contribute to a comprehensive theory of lived, material bodies (Di Paolo, Cuffari, De Jaegher 2018).

Moving towards concrete bodies, this paper discusses how menstruation and pregnancy affect embodied cognition. First, we review the presence of female bodies in the enactive literature. Then, we show how current evolutionary and phenomenological questions about the menstrual cycle and pregnancy ask us to rethink individuality, intersubjectivity and intercorporeality. We discuss how evolutionary evidence about human menstruation sheds light on the developmental process of human individuation and how this shaped the evolution of the human female body (Pavlicev and Norwitz 2018). Finally, we retrieve phenomenological work on the maternal-fetal relationship (Lymer 2011), which modulates the intersubjective theory of the development of the body schema in the fetus.

In reflecting on these two bodily phenomena, we expect to contribute to the enactive concepts of self-individuation and autonomy (Thompson 2007, Di Paolo 2011) and propose that intersubjective affectivity in cognitive development is not simply a bilateral or symmetrical, but rather participatory relation​. As pregnancy, lactation, menstrual cycle and menopause affect women’s lives, health and cognition in a number of ─as yet underinvestigated─ ways, we need to incorporate them into the theoretical discussions of enactivism. E-approaches to sex differences promise advances in this context: they start to identify omissions and assumptions in mind theories about gender. A comprehensive theory of cognition should take seriously bodily differences that matter in everyone’s lives.

 

Glenda Satne (University of Wollongong)
Group Minds and Social Identities

Many 4-E approaches to cognition emphasize the social character of human minds. This claim is advocated as a constitutive thesis, namely, the idea that human minds are constituted through and embedded in social interactions with others. On the other hand, recent empirical work from Psychiatry, Sociology and Developmental Psychology points to the existence of a tendency in humans to experience empathy and sympathy preferentially towards members of their own group, whereas empathetic feelings towards outgroup members or strangers are often reduced or even missing. Some authors explain this phenomenon in terms of a human psychological tendency to ‘group identify’ (Zahavi 2018, Salice & Miyazono 2018). They claim that this phenomenon of ‘social identity’ construction is one of the most basic forms in which human beings relate to one another and associate to develop and sustain their lives in common. In this talk, I address the question of what is the significance of this “group mind-ing” phenomenon when analyzing it from the point of view of social diversity, paying especial attention to its role in giving raise to implicit biases and other forms of injustice. I conclude with a positive remark on the prospects of group mind-ing for overcoming some of such forms of injustice.

 

Miguel Segundo Ortin (University of Wollongong)
Tackling social differences at their econiche

In the last decades, so-called E-approaches to cognition have gained relevance in the field, being recognized as a potential alternative to the dominant computational paradigms. A common critique to these E-approaches, however, is their alleged inability to make sense of sophisticated psychological phenomena such as those that include getting involved in social and normative practices. In this presentation, I aim to tackle this issue from an ecological perspective. My goal is to sketch an account of social differences in terms of the individuals’ sensitivity and responsivity to the affordances of the environment. To do so, I will combine the theory of perceptual learning developed by Eleanor J. Gibson (1969, 1997, 2000) with the eco-social approach of Reed (1993, 1996) and Heft (2001, 2007).

 

Rob Wilson (La Trobe University)
The Social Mechanics of Eugenics: Two Examples

Eugenics is usually thought of, especially by historians, as a social movement that ran from about 1865 until 1945 that aimed to improve the human population over intergenerational time.  But there is much to understand about eugenic thinking outside of that period, and here I tend to two issues that cross between the cognitive and social sciences.  The first concerns what I call, in The Eugenic Mind Project (MIT Press, 2018), the puzzle of marked variation: why do we attend to just some kinds of variation in human populations and not others?  Here I will be focused on disablement as one key form that marked variation takes in eugenic and newgenic thinking, but much of what I say should generalize to race and ethnicity.  The second concerns the persistence of eugenic practices, such as eugenic sterilization, in some jurisdictions, well beyond 1945, and the ready-made way in which eugenic fears can be elicited even today.  How was (and is) eugenics able to continue on even 70 years after the social movement that propagated it ended?  In discussing both of these issues I will be interested in drawing on ideas from cognitive and social psychology, psychiatry and trauma studies, in order to encourage some further interdisciplinary thinking about the social mechanics of eugenics.

 

Graham Wood (University of Tasmania)
E-morality: can enactive and embodied approaches to cognition help understand the linguistic analogy in moral psychology, and can all these research programs help explain moral relativism?

This paper proposes that embodied and enactive approaches to cognition can help understand the linguistic analogy in moral psychology and that all these research programs can help understand moral relativism (moral relativism being relevant, in the context of this conference, to accounts of individual and group differences in perspectives, and to in-group and out-group dynamics).

This paper assumes (1) a dual system theory of mind and that moral intuitions are the outputs of System 1, (2) that moral intuitions should be understood with reference to the linguistic analogy in moral psychology, and (3) that the moral intuitions outputted by System 1 are the source of moral relativism.

The paper will suggest that the operation of System 1 can be analysed using embodied and enactive approaches to cognition. For example, a particularly insightful characterisation of the distinction between System 1 and System 2 (offered by Kahneman) is presented, as follows. System 1 (intuition) is fast; automatic; undemanding of cognitive capacity; acquired by biology, exposure, and personal experience. And System 2 (reasoning) is slow; controlled; demanding of cognitive capacity; acquired by cultural and formal tuition. Furthermore, Kahneman characterises System 1 as generating intuitive judgments that “occupy a position – perhaps corresponding to evolutionary history – between the automatic operations of perception and the deliberate operations of reasoning”. Importantly, the insight that dimensions of the operation of System 1 are acquired by biology, exposure and personal experience is directly relevant to embodied and enactive approaches to cognition. This paper then goes on to describe how the linguistic analogy in moral psychology can be applied to the outputs of System 1 within a dual system theory of mind.

Importantly, this paper is not concerned with moral deliberation that may occur in System 2 (what some philosophers would characterise as the appropriate domain of moral deliberation). This paper is only concerned with moral intuitions, understood as moral judgments that were not arrived at via a process of conscious deliberation. Here the purpose is to give a descriptive account of the cognitive systems and processes that give rise to the actual moral intuitions in the minds of humans, independently of any obvious conscious moral deliberation. And such an account aligns closely with embodied and enactive approaches to cognition.

All this can be understood as an ‘e-approach to social difference and disparity’. In particular, as mentioned above, this paper is relevant to enactive/embodied accounts of individual and group differences in perspectives, and enactive, and embodied approaches to in-group and out-group dynamics.