Dr. Petronilla Whitfield’s professional output

Applying Shakespeare II – ‘Grounding the text through epistemic artefacts, actions and engineering’

Conference – Published 1st Jun 19


Grounding the text through epistemic artefacts, epistemic actions and epistemic engineering:  David’s autonomy over dyslexia when performing a Shakespeare sonnet


This presentation describes a transformative experience (for student and teacher) in the devised performance of a Shakespeare sonnet by an acting student with dyslexia.  The presentation describes his breakthrough and unique performance, through his manipulation of handwritten signs, actions and place stations, directly related to his interpretation of the text.  The words of the text were grounded through a thinking through and interaction with his devised tools within the environment. This presentation considers how his method revealed his abilities, generating an innovative performance style, when conventional teaching approaches had accentuated a disability (dyslexia). With regard to circumventing challenges of dyslexia, David’s idiosyncratic performance of the sonnet offers an example of what philosopher Andy Clark calls extended mind and extended cognition.  In extended mind theory, thinking and cognizing are not processes that remain inward and brain bound. There is an outward extension into the world built on a cycle of perceptuomotor capacities, which, Clark argues, enlarges the capability of the mind. Clark labels such tools as epistemic artefacts. David’s manipulation of signs and spatial stations demonstrates his construction of epistemic artefacts as agents in his thinking. This is  not only in extending his understanding about the words of the sonnet,  but also as a form of engineering in building a problem-solving method in bypassing aspects of his dyslexia.  Epistemic engineering, Clark states, is when we change our environment or build physical constructions that transform problem spaces in ways that aid reasoning about some target. David’s actions can be identified as epistemic actions. Epistemic actions extract information, playing a role in problem solving. The manipulation of physical objects/spaces/actions offer a parallel text, a mnemonic system and emancipation from a reliance on the alphabetic representation of meaning on the page.