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Brains/Practices/Relativism presents the first major rethinking of social theory in light of cognitive science. Stephen P. Turner focuses especially on connectionism, which views learning as a process of adaptation to input that, in turn, leads to patterns of response distinct to each individual. This means that there is no common "server" from which people download shared frameworks that enable them to cooperate or communicate. Therefore, argues Turner, "practices"—in the sense that the term is widely used in the social sciences and humanities—is a myth, and so are the "cultures" that are central to anthropological and sociological thought.
In a series of tightly argued essays, Turner traces out the implications that discarding the notion of shared frameworks has for relativism, social constructionism, normativity, and a number of other concepts. He suggests ways in which these ideas might be reformulated more productively, in part through extended critiques of the work of scholars such as Ian Hacking, Andrew Pickering, Pierre Bourdieu, Quentin Skinner, Robert Brandom, Clifford Geertz, and Edward Shils.
Formal theories of logical reasoning, grammar, and other higher mental faculties compel us to think of the mind as a machine for rule-based manipulation of structured arrays of symbols. What we know of the brain compels us to think of human information processing in terms of manipulation of a large set of numbers, the activity levels of interconnected neurons. Finally, the richness of human behavior, both in everyday environments and in the controlled environments of the psychological laboratory, seems to defy rule-based description, displaying strong sensitivity to subtle statistical factors in experience as well as to structural properties of information. (Smolensky, Legendre, and Miyata 1993, 382)In this case there is an alternative explanation or approach, namely connectionism.
Excerpted from Brains/Practices/Relativism: Social Theory After Cognitive Science by Stephen P. Turner Copyright © 2002 by Stephen P. Turner. Excerpted by permission.
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Introduction: Social Theory After Cognitive Science
1. Throwing Out the Tacit Rule Book: Learning and Practices
2. Searle's Social Reality
3. Imitation or the Internalization of Norms: Is Twentieth-Century Social Theory Based on the Wrong Choice?
4. Relativism as Explanation
5. The Limits of Social Constructionism
6. Making Normative Soup Out of Nonnormative Bones
7. Teaching Subtlety of Thought: The Lessons of "Contextualism"
8. Practice in Real Time
9. The Significance of Shils