1st Edition

Cognitive Science and the Social
A Primer

ISBN 9780815385691
Published March 20, 2018 by Routledge
226 Pages

USD $44.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

The rise of cognitive neuroscience is the most important scientific and intellectual development of the last thirty years. Findings pour forth, and major initiatives for brain research continue. The social sciences have responded to this development slowly--for good reasons. The implications of particular controversial findings, such as the discovery of mirror neurons, have been ambiguous, controversial within neuroscience itself, and difficult to integrate with conventional social science. Yet many of these findings, such as those of experimental neuro-economics, pose very direct challenges to standard social science. At the same time, however, the known facts of social science, for example about linguistic and moral diversity, pose a significant challenge to standard neuroscience approaches, which tend to focus on "universal" aspects of human and animal cognition.

A serious encounter between cognitive neuroscience and social science is likely to be challenging, and transformative, for both parties. Although a literature has developed on proposals to integrate neuroscience and social science, these proposals go in divergent directions. None of them has a developed conception of social life. This book surveys these issues, introduces the basic alternative conceptions both of the mental world and the social world, and show how, with sufficient modification, they can be fit together in plausible ways.

The book is not a "new theory " of anything, but rather an exploration of the critical issues that relate to the social aspects of cognition which expands the topic from the social neuroscience of immediate interpersonal interaction to the whole range of places where social variation interacts with the cognitive. The focus is on the conceptual problems produced by any attempt to take these issues seriously, and also on the new resources and considerations relevant to doing so. But it is also on the need for a revision of social theoretical concepts in order to utilize these resources. The book points to some conclusions, especially about how the process of what was known as socialization needs to be understood in cognitive science friendly terms. But there is no attempt to resolve the underlying issues within cognitive science, which will doubtless persist.

Table of Contents


Preface: Cognitive Science

Chapter 1: Perspectives on the Brain and Cognition: The Problem Domain

Chapter 2: Standard and Non-Standard Approaches to Cognitive Science

Chapter 3: Folk Psychology, the Background, and the Standard Model

Chapter 4: Explaining and Understanding Action

Chapter 5: Incorporating the Social into Cognitive Science: Affordances, Scaffolding, and Computational Complexity

Chapter 6: Selves, Persons, and the Social

Chapter 7: Social Theory and Cognitive Science

Chapter 8: The Two Socials and the Verstehen Bubble

View More



Stephen P. Turner is Distinguished University Professor at the University of South Florida. He has written on issues of cognitive and social science since the 1980s, incorporating philosophy and science studies in related areas, and publishing two collections of articles on these topics: Brains/Practices/Relativism and Understanding the Tacit, as well as a number of other articles and chapters. Dr. Turner is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of twenty-five other books.


Stephen Turner has written Cognitive Science and the Social: A Primer to get us up to speed... [He] has a terrier-like ability to interrograte the multitude of cognitive theories and the truly voluminous literature, which, to note, appears to be accessibly written... Sociologists are indebted to Turner's brilliant tour de force of cognitive theories and the numerous bridges he proposes for a beleaguered sociology to renew itself.
Sam Whimster, Global Policy Institute, in The British Journal of Sociology (April 2020)

In this impressive book, the great sociological theorist of cognition, Stephen Turner, brings together and critically evaluates the important results in cognitive science of the past quarter century; the book serves both as introduction to the uninitiated and a decisive reconfiguration for those who have been following this history. Social theory will not be the same.
John Levi Martin, University of Chicago

How do our best current theories in the cognitive sciences relate to our best understanding of the social? The answer is not well and not easily. Each domain is tumultuous, teeming with theoretical disagreement and conflict. The chances of bringing them into harmony are slim. Yet in this book, Turner makes a heroic attempt to close these gaps and provide some integration. He recognizes that the task is no picnic; there is no easy way to make sense of the various alternatives, At the very least, acknowledging the deep philosophical issues that must be addressed, this primer – this beginner’s guide – sketches a rough lay of the land. In this, Turner’s brave attempt answers a great need. Given the magnitude of the challenge, this book is surely just a first step on a much longer adventure. But it is an all-important step!
Daniel D. Hutto, Professor of Philosophical Psychology in the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong, Australia

Synthesizing and confronting diverse and cutting edge ideas across an impressive array of disciplines, Stephen Turner shows that interdisciplinary dreams of integrating cognitive science and social theory are a long way from fruition. He argues convincingly that complex social life still resists explanation by combining mainstream or classical neuroscience, computation, and evolution: but Turner also pinpoints tough challenges for alternative approaches based on embodied social interaction. This powerful and unusual critical primer assumes no specific prior knowledge, and should be read by everyone keen to understand mind, action, and society.
John Sutton, Macquarie University, Sydney

Stephen Turner is an outstanding leading-edge researcher in his field…..He continues in this book to ask and develop new approaches to critical questions about the future of the social sciences.
Gabe Ignatow, University of North Texas