'Practice without theory': a neuroanthropological perspective on embodied learning

Greg Downey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


This paper, drawing on research on skill acquisition and sports training, asks two questions. First, how does the mimetic channel function and thus limit what can be acquired by bodily enculturation? Second, given that it was acquired through imitation, what must be the nature of the resulting bodily knowledge? These questions are addressed through a close examination of movement education, especially its neurological, psychological, and interactional dynamics in the Afro-Brazilian art capoeira. The study of embodied knowledge and its development in bodily practices suggests that gaining bodily skills requires more than 'knowledge', involving changes in physiology, perception, comportment, and behaviour patterns in unsystematic, diverse modes. Embodied knowledge from this perspective appears more complex, less systematic or susceptible to structural account, than typically modelled.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S22-S40
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue numberSuppl. 1
Publication statusPublished - May 2010

Bibliographical note

French title: « Pratique sans théorie»: unpoint de vue neuroanthropologique surl’apprentissage incorporé


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