From May 1st – 3rd, 2014, in the Casa de la Paz y los Derechos Humanosthe San Sebastian node of TESISin collaboration with the Globernance Institute, and the IAS-Centre for Life, Mind, and Society at the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), will be hosting an interdisciplinary workshop “Interacting Complexity: Cognition and Communication in Conflict Transformation.” The workshop is exploratory; we hope it will not only advance the research within the invited fields of philosophy, conflict resolution/transformation, enactive cognitive science, discourse ethics, and distributed/dynamic views of language, but also engender some collaborative writing projects.

Presently, much of the discourse surrounding issues of social cognition focus on either extreme cases of persons who have difficulty communicating due to a range of disabilities (i.e. autism or schizophrenia) or perfectly ideal cases of meaning making wherein both parties understand the terms of communication and agree with minimal effort (i.e. Habermas’s ideal communicative situation). Though these accounts are useful starting places for understanding the dynamics of social cognition, they are out of touch with the reality of everyday communicative interaction that is generally riddled with conflict. Conflict resolution, on the other hand, specifically focuses on the various tactics used to navigate the conflicts which mark the interactions of most peoples, whether they are embedded in a ‘hot’ or violent conflict, or merely experiencing difficulties with loved ones, coworkers, or strangers. 

We take this navigation of non-ideal circumstances to be at the heart of intersubjective meaning making and at the heart of ethics. Hence, we are working to bridge a gap between the ethics of communication and the findings of embodied cognition. We believe that conflict resolution can benefit from a more rigorous engagement with the theoretical work being done in enactive cognitive science, distributed and dynamic views of language, and discourse ethics. Similarly, we believe enactive cognitive science and new sciences of language in interaction are still too general and universalizing in thematizing their topics and therefore would benefit from examining the ground level practical work being done in conflict resolution.

We aim to make explicit the way that each of these fields presupposes without explicitly thematizing the other: Conflict resolution is about communication – hence it is about cognition – but it does not treat this explicitly. Embodied science of social cognition and intersubjectivity is about how we are with one another – hence it deals in ethically and social-politically significant phenomena – but it does not usually foreground these dimensions. We take conflict resolution as not just another case study or ‘application’ of cognitive science, but as a theory-constitutive corrective to interaction studies’ focus on ideal cases and harmony. We seek to facilitate a mutually building exchange between non-ideal social interactions requiring navigation (conflict) and explanations of cognition and communication within social interactions generally.

We take the subject matter of this exploration to be an ethical inquiry because it is concerned with ameliorating relations between persons on the basis of the best scientific and theoretical understanding of communication and cognition. Interventions may take the form of emphasizing the social trajectory of habits and the role of environment in influencing these relations. This is not only a straightforward application of cognitive science to ethical problems, however, as difficult questions of responsibility arise when we take seriously the insights from social and embodied research in cognitive science, which claim that intentions, actions, and emotions are co-authored and co-enacted. Core ethical notions of accountability and commitment may thus be brought to bear critically on social cognitive science.