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Transcending the Situation: On the Context-dependence of Practice-based Cognition

Rasmus Gahrn-Andersen


Socio-material practices entail what Per Linell (2009) terms ‘situationtranscendence’ in that they allow agents to engage in purposeful activity that exceeds the spatiotemporal constraints of a given situation. Radical perspectives in cognitive science offer insights into the cognitive dynamics involved: while those supportive of Distributed Cognition (DCog) analyze how cognition is distributed synchronously across situations, proponents of 4E Cognition show that cognition extends in a diachronic manner. Despite their differences, both perspectives acknowledge that agents must be sensitive to contextual information in order to accomplish cognitive tasks. In fact, both analyze the functionality of socio-cultural resources (e. g. computers, notebooks, instruments etc.) in relation to particular contexts and tasks, and focus on how such ressources give rise to the cognitive resources required for different kinds of cognitive activity. Having described key positions in the literature, the paper presents a case study on the practice of leakage detection in heating pipes as this is done by professionals in a Danish utility company. Accordingly, the paper explores situation-transcendence and, more specifically, how contextual constraints connect with and emerge from the synchronic and diachronic processes involved as professionals engage in data analysis, internal and external coordination and on-site exploration.

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