My research investigates the relationships between thinking and doing in performance, training and everyday life. I am particularly interested in how people make sense of these experiences as they happen, and the impact of the broader context surrounding a given moment or event.
I draw on detailed case studies from real-world situations to ask how people flexibly and intelligently adjust their actions in response to challenge, pressure or unpredictability, and what this reveals about human capacities for coping and excelling in high-risk, high-pressure situations and the routine challenges of day-to-day life.
My academic work is unusually transdisciplinary, drawing on ethnographic methods to expand on research in performance studies, cognitive science, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, cultural studies and sports science. By placing these different perspectives in conversation with one another, my work consistently reveals new insights into the theoretical debates explored and the activities investigated.
Considering how people make sense of experiences in sport and physical performance reveals new ways of thinking about other situations where attention, focus and memory are important for guiding movement and collaboration. These range from aesthetic practices such as theatre and dance, to job-specific expertise like performing surgery or flying a plane, to supporting memory and communication processes as we age, and to day-to-day activities where we don’t think about every step of an action in order to carry it out. This training translates to equipment consultation, product testing, cycling advocacy and general media work I do within the cycling industry.
Current projects investigate: decision-making processes while mountain biking down steep, rocky trails; the important roles of failure and staying attuned to bodily and affective variability in scaffolding skilled performance; and how an app designed by an Australian tech start-up, Brain Changer, is used by people with persistent pain to learn to live well with, or overcome, the impact of pain on their daily lives.
My PhD thesis, “Embodying Biking: Sport as Live(d) Events”, examined the relationships between thinking, sensing and doing using case studies from mountain bike racing. I undertook this research in the Department of Performance Studies at the University of Sydney, where I was awarded a Faculty Teaching Fellowship in 2011.
I have worked in course coordination, lecturing and tutoring roles since 2009. In addition to teaching at the University of Sydney, I have taught in Cognitive Science at Macquarie University, Communications at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and the Performance Practices Department at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).
Between 2014 and 2017 I worked part time as a research assistant with two interdisciplinary research teams on projects within the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University. One project investigated skilled action and cognition as part of the ARC Discovery Project, “Mindful bodies in action: a philosophical study of skilled movement” led by John Sutton and Doris McIlwain. For the second project, which is ongoing, I am developing a cognitive ethnographic method with colleagues John Sutton and Celia Harris (among several others) to bridge the gap between psychological studies of memory and the real world. This is part of an interdisciplinary project investigating collaborative remembering in older Australians.
I started a postdoctoral researcher position in April 2018, once again working closely with John Sutton and a small but excellent team, the Cognitive Ecologies Lab, in the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University. This work is funded by his Australian Research Council grant, “Cognitive Ecologies: a philosophical study of collaborative embodied skills.” I am an associate member of the Centre for Elite Performance, Expertise and Training (CEPET) and member of the Centre for Scaffolding the Ageing Mind (C-SAM).
Please contact me if you’re interested in hearing about upcoming talks or workshops related to this work.
This video, shot by Mark Parry, weaves together my work in the media and research worlds, for students of an undergraduate course at Macquarie University called Cognitive Science in the Real World. Other videos in the series are here.
Bicknell, Kath and Sutton, John (eds). In press. Collaborative Embodied Performance: ecologies of skill. London: Bloomsbury.
Bicknell, K. (2021). ‘Embodied intelligence and self-regulation in skilled performance: or, two anxious moments on the static trapeze’, Review of Philosophy and Psychology, doi: 10.1007/s13164-021-00528-7.
Christensen, W., Bicknell, K., McIlwain, D. and Sutton, J. (2015). “The sense of agency and its role in strategic control for expert mountain bikers,” The Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research and Practice. 2(3), 340-353.
Sutton, John and Bicknell, Kath. In press. Introduction: the situated intelligence of collaborative skills. In Collaborative Embodied Performance: ecologies of skill, ed. K. Bicknell and J. Sutton. London: Bloomsbury.
Bicknell, Kath and Brümmer, Kristina. In press. ‘No elephants today!’ Recurrent experiences of failure while learning a movement practice. In Collaborative Embodied Performance: ecologies of skill, ed. K. Bicknell and J. Sutton. London: Bloomsbury.
Sutton, John and Bicknell, Kath (2020). Embodied experience in the cognitive ecologies of skilled performance. In Ellen Fridland and Carlotta Pavese (eds), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Skill and Expertise (pp. 194-205). London: Routledge.
Christensen, Wayne and Bicknell, Kath. (2019). “Affordances and the Anticipatory Control of Action.” In Massimiliano L. Cappuccio (ed.) The MIT Press Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bicknell, Kath. (2016.) “Equipment, innovation and the mountain biker’s taskscape.” In H. Thorpe & R. Olive (Eds.), Women in Action Sport Cultures: Identity, Politics and Experience, 237-258. Palgrave Macmillan.
Peer reviewed conference proceedings:
Bicknell, Kath. (2013). “Everybody’s Writing,” Proceedings of the 5th Australian Cycling Conference: Everybody’s Cycling. http://www.australiancyclingconference.org/images/proceedings/ACC-2013-proceedings.pdf
Sutton, J., McIlwain, D., Geeves, A., Bicknell, K. and Williamson, K. (2016). Sustaining Elite Performance: emotional skills and the mental game in Australian professional cricket. Macquarie University and the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA).
Bicknell, Kath. (2014). Review of The Audience Experience: A critical analysis of audiences in the performing arts, ed. by Jennifer Radbourne, Hilary Glow and Katya Johanson, Austalasian Drama Studies 65: 326-330.
“Cognition, Collaboration and the Highly Context-Sensitive Nature of Affordances.” Actions: The Mental and the Bodily conference. University of Warwick, England, 6-7 July 2019. Invited keynote.
“Facilitating embodied skills under pressure: two anxious moments on the trapeze.” Cognitive Futures in the Arts and Humanities: Paradigms of Understanding – Sharing Cognitive Worlds conference. Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany, 19-23 June 2019.
“What can mountain biking teach philosophers and psychologists about affordances?” with Wayne Christensen. Cognitive Futures in the Arts and Humanities: Paradigms of Understanding – Sharing Cognitive Worlds conference. Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany, 19-23 June 2019.
“From Flips to Foibles: The dynamic experience of embodied expertise.” Workshop on Minds in Skilled Action. University of Wollongong, 26 March, 2019. Invited speaker.
“The multimodal experience of (embodied, performative, life-saving) cues,” as part of a symposium on Movement, Expertise and Creativity. Australasian Society for Philosophy and Psychology inaugural conference. Macquarie University, 5-7 December, 2018.
“Making the implicit explicit: cognitive skill transfer in mountain biking and trapeze.” Australasian Skill Acquisition Network Conference. University of Technology, Sydney, 15-16 November, 2018. Opening panel.
“Cueing embodied action under pressure.” Centre for Elite Performance, Expertise and Training Annual Conference, “High-Stakes Expertise”. Macquarie University, November 12-13, 2018.
“Three anxious moments and why I like them so much.” Music-Emotion-Performance: embodied, interactive, distributed perspectives (workshop), Macquarie University, 13 September, 2018. Co-convenor.
“Where does the research go?” Career development seminar, Department of Performance Studies, University of Sydney, August 31, 2018. Invited speaker.
“Cognitive ethnography on the fly.” Informal, unstated and vital: a cross-disciplinary workshop on creative ideas generation in distributed cognitive systems, Macquarie University, April 5, 2018.
“Scaffolding memory on the static trapeze.” International conference for SARMAC (the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition). University of Sydney, 3-6 January, 2017.
“Performance Under Pressure: skill, memory and interdisciplinary research.” Memory Day 2015. University of Otago, New Zealand, 6-9 December 2015. Opening panel.
“Interdisciplinary Approaches to Understanding Embodied Action and Expertise.” 2015 Cultural Studies Association of Australasia Conference, “Minor Cultures”. University of Melbourne, 1-3 December 2015. Recipient of Minor Culture travel bursary.
“When Skills on the Bike Become Skills for Life.” 2015 Future of Cycling: Challenges and Possibilities symposium, University of Waikato, Avantidrome, Cambridge, New Zealand, 1-2 October 2015. Invited presentation.
ECR Experience Panel. 2015 Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies (ADSA) conference, “Revisiting The Player’s Passion: the Science(s) of Acting in 2015”. University of Sydney, 23-6 June 2015. Invited speaker.
“The Senses of Agency and Control in Complex Skilled Action,” with Wayne Christensen. 10th Conference for the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science. Monash University, Melbourne, 8-10 December 2014.
“Technological Innovation and the Female Mountain Biker’s ‘I can’.” 2014 Cultural Studies of Australasia Conference, “Provocations”. University of Wollongong, 2-5 December 2014.
Academic Roundtable. Happiness, Joy and Pleasure Conference. University of Sydney, 26-8 November, 2014. Invited speaker.
“Triggering Better Biking: Action and cognition in performance.” 2013 Conference for the Australasian Skill Acquisition Research Group Conference. Macquarie University, Sydney, June 25-26 2013. Invited presentation.
“Everybody’s Writing.” 5th Annual Australian Cycling Conference, “Everybody’s Cycling?” Adelaide, Jan 21-22 2013. Winner: Best Academic Paper.
“Body-as-Object and the Materiality of Fatigue.” Cultural Studies Association of Australasia Annual Conference, “Materialities: Economies, Empiricism & Things”. University of Sydney, Dec 4-6 2012.
“A Sense of Place, A Sense of Self, A Sense of Something Else.” Phenomenology in Performance Studies panel at the Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies (ADSA) conference “Transcultural. Transnational. Transformation. : seeing, writing and reading performance across cultures”, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, 28 June – 1 July 2011.
“Pushing Past Pain.” Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies (ADSA) Conference “Stripping Bare…!”, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia 29 June – 2 July 2010.
“What Does Five Minutes FEEL Like?” “Time, Transcendence Performance” Conference. Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, 1 – 3 October 2009.
“Sport, Performance and Environment” with Ian Maxwell. Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies (ADSA) Conference “Turangawaewae: A Sense of Place.” University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand, 30 June – 3 July 2008.
Recent research related magazine and website publications
Bicknell, Kath (2015). “Creating a new normal,” Travel Play Live (1): 22-25.
Bicknell, Kath. (2015). “On yer bike,” Women’s Health, (August 2015): 48-49.
Bicknell, Kath. (2013). “Column: Down with negativity,” Flow Mountain Bike, 4: 32-33. Re-published online (2014).
I have published over 400 additional articles, reviews and opinion pieces for global sports media. These include: Flow Mountain Bike, Bike, Enduro, Freewheel, Outer Edge and Australian Mountain Bike, Travel Play Live print magazines and websites such as SBS Cycling Central, BikeRadar.com, Eskapee, Flow Mountain Bike, Australian Mountain Bike, Enduromag, Privateer, and Pedal Pushers Online.
Images by: Gaye Camm (top), Jeff Kennel (at the Trek Bikes Global Women’s Summit in 2016).