Theoretical Research Paper

Goal: To further the theoretical discussion about cognitive-cultural-communicative (C3) processes and systems by research and argument.


Your paper should be of one of the following types:

  1. Interpretation / Explanation: Analyze or interpret an existing C3 system or process using theoretical concepts from the course and empirical data from existing studies. (You are not to gather new empirical data for this project.) The empirical studies you cite do not need to apply C3 theories themselves. Indeed, it is better if they do not. Your job is to show that some C3 ideas better account for some existing phenomena than the orthodox theories of cognition, culture, or communication.
    • A great example of this kind of work is Jean Lave’s discussion of previous studies of learning transfer in Chapter 2 of Cognition in Practice
    • Another example is Mike Cole’s discussion of classic cross-cultural psychology in Cultural Psychology
  2. Theoretical / Methodological Issues: There are a number of unsettled issues and theoretical disputes among C3 theories about the best way to study C3 systems and processes. Your job is to give a clear explanation of the dispute or issue, explain what is at stake, and provide a way of resolving it that is philosophically, theoretically, or empirically well-motivated and compelling. Here are some potentially fruitful issues.
    • Actor-Network Theory and many of the other views differ on whether humans have a special place in C3 systems, or whether they are to be treated symmetrically with non-human cultural artifacts and parts of the natural environment.
    • D-Cog sticks closest to classic cognitive science by continuing to rely on the resources of classical and connectionist computation to analyze the cognitive activities of C3 systems. Should cognition still be analyzed computationally in C3 theories?
  3. Critical Engagements: In the course we have read mostly defenses of radical approaches to C3 systems and processes. Of course, these approaches have been criticized from the more orthodox point of view. Your job is to research one particular set of criticisms. You can either respond on behalf of some C3 theory, validate and extend the critique, or find some middle ground. For example:
    • Philosophers like Robert Rubert, Ken Aizawa, and Fred Adams have attack philosophical and scientific theories that extend the mind beyond the brain or individual. They argue that a more conservative account which treats the mind as “embedded” without treating the external factors as “constituent” parts of mind / cognition.
    • Psychologists like Margaret Wilson have questioned views of “embodied cognition” that involve environment and action as central to cognition along empirical and explanatory grounds.
    • Sociologists (and other social scientists) like Graham Button have questioned distributed cognition theories from the perspective of adequate theories of society.


  1. Ordinary, easily readable fonts, font size, margins, etc. Be reasonable; aim at readability not flashy style.
  2. First page must include your name, UTD-ID, date, the section number you are registered in (e.g., “ACN 6V81.501”, “EMAC6372.501” etc), the title of your paper, and an abstract, 100-200 words.
  3. Every subsequent page should include a page number and preferably your last name in the header or footer.
  4. Citations according to some major manual of style, preferably APA or Chicago, preferably author-date format. Take proper citation practices seriously.
  5. Maximum of 2400 words (including references and footnotes but not abstract and header).
  6. Review these further generic tips and guidelines.

Egregious failure to follow formatting guidelines will result in an automatic failing grade on the assignment at the discretion of the instructor.

Due 4/30, in class and online via You will have to give a relatively informal presentation of your paper.

This project is optional. You can choose to do it or to complete the Video Ethnography Project.

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