“Mirror Neurons,” Collective Objects and the Problem of Transmission: Reconsidering Stephen Turner's Critique of Practice Theory


Omar Lizardo
Department of Sociology University of Notre Dame, 810 Flanner Hall, Notre Dame, IN, 46556.
email: olizardo@nd.edu


In this paper, I critically examine Stephen Turner's (1994) critique of practice theory in light of recent neurophysiological discoveries regarding the “mirror neuron system” in the pre-frontal mo-tor cortex of humans and other primates. I argue that two of Turner's strongest objections against the sociological version of the practice-theoretical account, the problem of transmission and the problem of sameness, are substantially undermined when examined from the perspective of re-cently systematized accounts of embodied learning and intersubjective action understanding in-spired by these developments. In addition, I show that the practice-theoretical framework out-lined by Pierre Bourdieu in the Logic of Practice and other works is, in contrast to Turner's por-trayal of a confused hodgepodge of logical errors and empirical impossibilities, largely consistent with the latest neurophysiological evidence and as such fundamentally foreshadowed more recent understandings of the neurocognitive foundations of the perception, understanding and structure of the motor schemes productive of action in the world. Also in line with these newer neurosci-entific developments, the practice-theoretical focus on the body as the central matrix generative of tacit understandings and analogical operations responsible for “higher order” systems of classi-fication emerges as the key to solving some of the thorniest problems in the theory of action: eliminating to need to resort to unwarranted “collective object” explanations for the origins of shared presuppositional frameworks.