Editors’ introduction: the situated intelligence of collaborative embodied skills (preprint)

People move together, and do things together, all the time. We play and work and talk and suffer together, finding ease or joy, sharing pleasure or grief. We discover challenge, thrill and risk.

Joint actions may involve physical, manual or technical skill, and may rely on tools, technologies and ordinary old objects. Collaborative actions also involve situated intelligence, a dynamic, lively and social form of cognition. This book is a celebration and exploration of these things: the dizzying variety of remarkable ways that people move and think together, in unique places and settings, at a time and over time.

In initial orientation to the book’s topics, we introduce in turn the five key concepts which animate it: performance, body, collaboration, cognition and ecology. We briefly describe the domains of performance in question here, its bodily or ‘embodied’ nature, the forms of collaboration addressed, the role of intelligence or ‘cognition’ in expert movement and the notion of ‘ecologies of skill’.

Sutton and Bicknell, Introduction: The situated intelligence of collaborative skills

John Sutton and I are beyond thrilled to share that our edited collection, Collaborative Embodied Performance: Ecologies of skill, is now available!

The book, which is part of Bloomsbury’s Performance and Science series, includes 10 case-study-rich chapters of around 5,000 words, and five commentaries by leading scholars in performance studies and cognitive science. Follow this link to learn more about it, and the wide range of globe- and discipline-spanning contributors who have made it such an enriching and pleasurable project to work on.

To whet your appetite, and to discover more about the cognitive ecologies framework which underpins the book, a preprint copy of our editors’ introduction, is here.

Introduction: the situated intelligence of collaborative embodied skills (preprint)

Or if you’d prefer one more favourite excerpt from the intro first, this one provides a nice taste of our approach to understanding, and learning more about, cognition and skill in challenging, real-world situations.

On fundamental questions about the nature of skill and collaboration, these diverse case studies start from firm shared ground. Firstly, we treat skilled movement as deeply mindful and intelligent: expert performance is not automatic, not a set of fully proceduralized responses of experienced bodies simply triggered by current stimuli. Practitioners’ talk of ‘instinct’ or ‘intuition’ is not the final word on the springs of action, but marks the complexity and dynamism of the multiple, meshed cognitive processes apparent in adaptive actions in context. When we dig into the real-time operations of skilled performance, where experts are seeking to improve and to go beyond their comfort zones, we find not simply smooth or hitch-free coping, but dizzying arrays of hard-won strategies and many forms of variable, free-floating awareness. […]

Cognition here does not lie behind skilful action, encoded as fixed control plans or transmitted as top–down instructions to an automated motor system. Rather, thinking is itself a bodily and worldly aspect of our real-time engagement with the rich resources of our shifting performance ecologies.

Sutton and Bicknell, Introduction: The situated intelligence of collaborative skills

I’d like to extend an enormous thanks to our contributors, colleagues, the series editors, and the team at Bloomsbury for their skill and enthusiasm in bringing this collection together. And the biggest thanks of all to John. His warm, intelligent, curious, joyful and generous approach to high-quality, transdisciplinary research, and the processes that underpin it, comes through in every page of this book.

Academic friends, please encourage your university libraries to order a copy. Paperbacks in this series are much more affordable to mere mortals so keep an eye out for these as well!