Transmission in Motion


“What to do with the ‘doing undergoing’?” – Gido Broers

Let me start by saying that Tim Ingold gave an interesting talk – “On doing undergoing: Experience, Imagination and the Principle of Habit” – about what it means to do something habitually and to master a certain skill, which also raises more general questions about attention & intention, embodiment and cognitive systems. For Ingold, doing something habitually means that through practice you can do something without thinking. Once you can do a certain activity without thinking – Ingold referred multiple times to the act of playing the cello – you can do this while at the same time reflecting on how you are doing. This also means that during the doing you are situated inside the action and are undergoing this action, according to Ingold’s argumentation. When looking for instance at the playing of the cello, you are playing the cello while you are bringing forth the music of which you also become part because you have to keep the music going. What Ingold tries to show here is that you are always in the process, which would make activity and passivity no longer a binary opposition; the doing is part of the undergoing.

As the title of this reflection already suggests, I wonder what we can do with Ingold’s idea of ‘doing undergoing’ and its relation to the notion of habits. I think that this could be an interesting starting point to further think about the role of our body in learning processes and to see how the environment affects cognitive processes as is for instance described within the framework of the so-called ‘situated cognition’. ‘Situated cognition’ means that “knowledge is situated, being in part a product of the activity, context, and culture in which it is developed and used” (Brown, Collins and Duguid 1989, 32). In the article from which I took the above quote, the authors explain how this idea of ‘situated cognition’ affects processes of learning, which could lead to an improvement of educational methods. Next to this notion of ‘situated cognition’, I think that Ingold’s ideas concerning habits and skills could also be related to theories about attention and memory. How do these two correlate? What is the degree of attention that is needed once a skill is mastered? Is the memory that is necessary to know how to play the cello embodied?

As you can see, Ingold’s talk raised for me more questions than it provided answers. It is not entirely clear what can be done with Ingold’s ideas (should it ever be the case that theories can be applied to only one type of research?), which triggered my own creative thinking to think about potential areas of research that can be explored starting from his perspective.


  • Brown, John Seely, Allan Collins, and Paul Duguid. 1989. “Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.” Educational Researcher 18, no. 1 (January): 32–42. doi:10.3102/0013189X018001032.