restricted access 4. Neither Individualistic nor Interactionist
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4 Neither Individualistic nor Interactionist Enactive approaches to social understanding have been the subject of much development and debate over the last few years. We think that these debates are fruitful, but sometimes it is useful to take stock and clarify what aspects of these discussions may point to gaps in the theory or needs for clarification, and what aspects may be rooted in misunderstandings and misinterpretations. In this essay, we provide an overview of the various claims defended by the enactive approach to intersubjectivity, from how social interactions can be defined operationally to how social understanding is rooted in participatory sense-making, even when we are not interacting with others. In contrast to prevailing views, the enactive approach does not put all the emphasis on individual capabilities to explain forms of social understanding and social action. This has often been interpreted as adopting an interactionist stance on intersubjectivity. It is indeed the case that social interaction patterns have not played a prevalent role in cognitive science and social neuroscience until recently, and in the light of this, a participatory as opposed to spectatorial stance still needs to be presented and defended. One common misreading of this interactive emphasis, however, is to consider the enactive perspective as downplaying the role of individual processes and subjectivity. But in truth, the claims made position social interaction and embodied agency as equiprimordial loci of scientific and philosophical inquiry. The realm of intersubjectivity is animated by a force that is neither what goes on in people’s brains or in their self-affective bodies nor what occurs in social interaction processes—if we consider each alternative on its own. On the contrary, intersubjective phenomena emerge only as a dynamic relation between these two broad domains: the personal and the inter-personal. Any emphasis on either side of this relation at the expense of the other fails to capture the complete picture. To see the enactive approach as defending an interactionist position is to repeat the mistakes of methodological individualism we criticize in others. This interactionist interpretation is the cousin of another common misunderstanding of enactive ideas, namely, the idea that meaning is somehow “generated” in the agent-world coupling, and hence that enactive Ezequiel Di Paolo and Hanne De Jaegher 88 E. Di Paolo and H. De Jaegher explanations are limited to concrete cognitive targets present in the here and now of interaction , for example, coordinating movements in a joint action task. Enactivism, so the criticism goes, cannot deal with anything beyond what is concurrently present to the cognizer. Thinking, planning, and imagining are supposedly out of reach for enactive explanations of cognition. This criticism is often invoked to defend some updated version of representationalism , since how else could we think, plan, or imagine, if not by using representations to supplement what is seemingly absent in our immediate couplings? We discuss the roots of this misunderstanding and explain why we can indeed propose that agent-world (and agentagent ) coupling is partly constitutive of sense-making—partly, because on its own it is not sufficient. Constitutive as well are the agent’s multiple forms of autonomy, her history, and the broader values and norms that matter to her. Similarly, the claim that the relation between persons and social patterns—embodied intersubjectivity—is primordial makes the enactive approach suspicious of hybrid solutions. These hybrids emerge as manufactured middle-ground positions between agonistic conceptual frameworks and hardly ever as the overcoming of their tensions. The theory of participatory sense-making instead offers dialectical tools for the self-deployment of the tensions that give rise to partial frameworks (individualist and interactionist). In the process, it offers accounts of increasingly complex forms of social agency, from bodily coordination to languaging. 1 Participatory Sense-Making Let us review some of the enactive claims made regarding the study of social cognition and intersubjectivity and highlight how they always involve both interactive and individual elements. 1.1 Social Interaction The enactive approach has seen an important amount of development over recent years. It offers a nonreductionist, naturalistic perspective on cognition and aims to answer questions that have largely been ignored by traditional functionalist approaches (Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1991; Di Paolo, Rohde, and De Jaegher 2010; Di Paolo 2005, 2009; Froese and Di Paolo 2011; Thompson 2007). It offers a conception of autonomy and individuality of the embodied cognizer based on the precarious organization of its material, ongoing self-constitution (Di Paolo and Thompson 2014). This conception of the embodied cognizer, or...