Cultures of metacognition brings ethnographic focus on the ways in which people theorise, experience and otherwise relate to their minds. We will explore the ways people conceive of knowledge, belief, ignorance and expertise, to understand the consequences of specific modes of thought about thought.
Social anthropologists, like philosophers and other social scientists, have long debated epistemological questions, seeking to understand what it means to believe, to know, to doubt, to be ignorant, to draw inferences, and so on. We have learned, for instance, to distinguish faith from propositional belief, or to distinguish embodied knowledge from explicit knowledge. However, it is not only academics who are interested in thinking about thought, or what psychologists have called 'metacognition'. Many of our interlocutors have tacit assumptions, or formulate explicit theories, about the nature of thoughts and the proper relationship one ought to have to them. To the extent that such thought about thought can vary, and can be transmitted from one person to another, it makes sense to speak of cultures of metacognition. We are particularly interested in taking a comparative approach to cultures of metacognition that might shed light on the role of recent developments in technology, politics and education in problematising people's relationships with mind, subjectivity and identity in a wide range of settings. Are there common metacognitive roots, for example, in emerging economies of attention, the popularity of mindfulness as a healthcare practice, the 'post-truth' crises of expertise, and the moral and epistemological priority of lived experience in liberation movements? Do contemporary ideas about prayer reflect wider theories and practices related to attention and the authority of direct experience? How does an ethnographic sensibility to our interlocutors' cultures of metacognition pose the old questions of relativism and universalism in new ways?