Edwin Hutchins combines his background as an anthropologist and an open ocean racingsailor and navigator in this account of how anthropological methods can be combined with cognitivetheory to produce a new reading of cognitive science. His theoretical insights are grounded in anextended analysis of ship navigation -- its computational basis, its historical roots, its socialorganization, and the details of its implementation in actual practice aboard large ships. Theresult is an unusual interdisciplinary approach to cognition in culturally constituted activitiesoutside the laboratory -- "in the wild."
Hutchins examines a set of phenomena thathave fallen in the cracks between the established disciplines of psychology and anthropology,bringing to light a new set of relationships between culture and cognition. The standard view isthat culture affects the cognition of individuals. Hutchins argues instead that cultural activitysystems have cognitive properties of their own that are different from the cognitive properties ofthe individuals who participate in them. Each action for bringing a large naval vessel into port,for example, is informed by culture: the navigation team can be seen as a cognitive andcomputational system.
Introducing Navy life and work on the bridge, Hutchins makesa clear distinction between the cognitive properties of an individual and the cognitive propertiesof a system. In striking contrast to the usual laboratory tasks of research in cognitive science, heapplies the principal metaphor of cognitive science -- cognition as computation (adopting DavidMarr's paradigm) -- to the navigation task. After comparing modern Western navigation with themethod practiced in Micronesia, Hutchins explores the computational and cognitive properties ofsystems that are larger than an individual. He then turns to an analysis of learning or change inthe organization of cognitive systems at several scales. Hutchins's conclusion illustrates the costsof ignoring the cultural nature of cognition, pointing to the ways in which contemporary cognitivescience can be transformed by new meanings and interpretations.