Cognitive research in the humanities has dramatically challenged the premises of 20th-century critical and cultural theory. Neuroscientific research of the 1990s re-defined the emotions as essentially rational means of evaluating experience and recent cognitive studies are redefining the nature of social exchanges. These developments have profoung implications on our understanding of literature, art and culture.
As a field of research, cognitive critical and cultural theory has been inspired by the cognitive methodologies which have established themselves since the 1970s: Cognitive Poetics, Cognitive Narratology and Cognitive Approaches to Literature, which were in turn strongly influenced by Cognitive Linguistics (the study of creative and conceptual metaphor, discourse, categorisation, prototypes, conceptual blending, etc).
The new model of mind is based on the ideas that the daily flood of information is structured and rendered manageable according to culturally defined criteria which operate at a pre-conscious level. This means that our responses are described as following deeply engrained pathways that have been established by individual experience and cultural conventions. But we are clearly able to diverge from “pre-programmed” responses and take unprecedented decisions. But how can we intervene in pre-conditioned patterns of response? Further urgent questions emerging from the need to re-think the boundaries between pre-conscious and conscious decisions concern the definition of gender roles, and socially defined behaviour.
Cognitive studies of consciousness and experience is also challenging established ideas about what it means to create and interpret literature, art and culture. In this respect, it has given rise to new areas of investigation which address urgent questions in critical and cultural theory.
A research group at the University of Vienna discusses the implications of the most recent developments in a vibrant and rapidly expanding field of investigation for the development of a critical and cultural theory that incorporates the new findings of cognitive research. Special areas of interest include:
- New approaches to reading
- New practices of interpretation
- Embodied experience
- Cognitive theories of emotion
- Mind Reading
- The Social Mind
- The cognitive unconscious