Varieties of Enactivism: A Conceptual Geography

4th April 2014

A one day symposium taking place as part of AISB-50, 1st-4th April, Goldsmiths, London, UK

Invited speakers

Daniel D. Hutto (University of Wollongong)

Jan Degenaar and J. Kevin O’Regan (CNRS – Université Paris Descartes)

Xabier Barandiaran (University of the Basque Country)

Michael Wheeler (University of Stirling)

Submitted speakers

Giovanna Colombetti (University of Exeter)

Nathaniel Barrett (University of Navarra)


Enactivism is a non-mainstream approach to cognition that, in its best established guise, rejects internal representation and proposes instead that autonomous living organisms bring forth meaning through a process of bodily coupling with their environments. The approach originates with Varela, Thompson and Rosch’s (1991) book The Embodied Mind and has roots in earlier work on phenomenology and the biological phenomenon of autopoiesis. From these origins, the canonical position has been developed and enriched in various ways by Varela, Di Paolo, Thompson and others. All give autopoiesis a central explanatory role.

In recent years, the “enactivism” label has been applied more widely to include accounts that ignore or downplay autpoiesis. On a more liberal construal, enactivism shares at a minimum the original theory’s emphasis on environmentally-situated bodily coupling and argues that the theoretical role played by internal representation should be restricted or eliminated entirely. One account in this broader category is the enactive or sensorimotor approach to perception, which was given perhaps its canonical statement by O’Regan and Noë (2001) and encompasses important work by Hurley (1998). More recently, Hutto and Myin (2013) have offered the first book-length statement of an approach to cognition they call radical enactivism.

Varieties of enactivism: A conceptual geography will chart this conceptual terrain. The symposium aims to clarify the core principles that underlie the respective varieties of enactivism, and in particular the key boundary lines that separate them from one another and neighbouring accounts in embodied cognitive science. In the process, the symposium aims to discover whether “enactivism”, as the term is used, picks out no more than a motley, or whether there is, alternatively, a minimal framework that could unify enactivist accounts while usefully distinguishing them from approaches nearby.

The symposium Organising Committee would like to thank the members of the Programme Committee for their excellent work refereeing submissions. We would also like to thank the invited and submitted speakers for their efforts in contributing to the symposium.

We gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support provided by the AISB, the University of Edinburgh and the Mind Association.

Symposium Organising Committee:

Mario Villalobos (University of Edinburgh, UK) – email

David Silverman (University of St Andrews/University of Stirling, UK)  – email

Dave Ward (University of Edinburgh, UK)  – email

Symposium Programme Committee:

Katja Abramova (Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands)

Daniel Hutto (University of Wollongong, Australia)

Victor Loughlin (University of Antwerp, Belgium)

Ken Pepper (University of York, UK)

David Silverman (University of St Andrews/University of Stirling, UK)

Mog Stapleton (University of Stuttgart, Germany)

Dave Suarez (University of Toronto, Canada)

Mario Villalobos (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Jack Wadham (University of Sheffield, UK)

Dave Ward (University of Edinburgh, UK)


The symposium is taking place as part of AISB-50, a convention commemorating both 50 years since the founding of the society for the study of Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behaviour (the AISB) and sixty years since the death of Alan Turing, founding father of both Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.

AISB-50 will be held at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK from the 1st to the 4th April 2014.

For information about registration and travel see the convention website.