Culture and Cognitive Science


  • Michael Cole



culture & cognition,


The purpose of this paper is to review the way in which cultural contributions to human nature have been treated within the field of  cognitive science. I was initially motivated to write about this topic when invited to give a talk to a Cognitive Science department at a sister university in California a few years ago. My goal, on that occasion, was to convince my audience, none of whom were predisposed to considering culture an integral part of cognitive science, that they would indeed benefit from recognizing some affinities between the ideas of some of the founders of cognitive science and ideas about culture emanating from the Soviet (now Russian) cultural-historical school. My task in presenting this argument to the readers of  Outlines is most likely the mirror image of that earlier effort. On the one hand, the ideas of the cultural-historical school are well known to this readership and you do not need to be lectured on the topic by an American whose knowledge of the topic is no greater than your own. At best, the ways in which I have appropriated those ideas and put them to work might provide an opportunity to reflect on the strange fate of ideas when they move between national traditions of thought. On the other hand, owing to a double twist of fate (after all, what was an American doing in Moscow in 1962 doing post-doctoral work in psychology) I was also present during the discussions leading to the founding of Cognitive Science in the early 1970’s and subsequently became a member of the Cognitive Science Program at UCSD in the early 1980’s, arguably one of the pioneering efforts to institutionalize this new discipline.
My hope is this unusual confluence of experiences, and the ideas that they have generated, will be of some use to those who see value in a dialogue between these different intellectual projects. With this goal in mind, I will begin by providing my own brief history of key ideas associated with the origins of cognitive science. My presentation will of necessity be highly selective – it is the relevance of the inclusion of culture in cognitive science that is my major focus. I will then summarize some major milestones in the development of cognitive science at UCSD before turning to describe my own fusion of ideas from cultural-historical psychology and cognitive science as a kind of existence proof of the potential value of inter-disciplinary dialogue.




How to Cite

Cole, M. (2003). Culture and Cognitive Science. Outlines. Critical Practice Studies, 5(1), 3–15.