John Sutton

Macquarie University, Australia
Paris IAS
10 months


Research interests: Philosophy of mind and cognition, memory, distributed cognition, expert skills, embodied cognition, science studies, sport, music, cognitive humanities.

Research Project

Place and Memory: cognitive ecologies of the city

Place and memory are deeply entangled, and their relations studied in disparate fields. This project integrates disconnected research in philosophy, social science and the cognitive neurosciences. Treating cognition as distributed across brain, body, and social and material worlds, it refines the hypothesis that historically or culturally unique architectures, landscapes, technologies and ecologies are not always external to mental life. In certain circumstances the places we inhabit can partly constitute the processes and activities of feeling, remembering and navigating.

The project develops this approach across three core themes. It addresses collaborative wayfinding, how people work together to navigate complex ecologies, and to interpret and manage difficult pasts. It highlights deep place knowledge,the embodied certainty of individuals or small groups navigating deeply familiar terrain. It focusses on transformations in urban place memory and mental health, examining both enhancements in digital outsourcing and in artistic architectural interventions, and disruptions in dementia or spatial disorientation and in creative community responses to spatial dislocation.

The project builds collaborative research strength in Paris to develop mixed-method studies of place and memory. It meshes conceptual, ethnographic and experimental methods at the intersection of philosophy, sociology, architecture and cognitive neuroscience, to study spatial cognition in rich urban ecologies.


John Sutton is Emeritus Professor in Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. His research on memory and skill seeks to bring humanities, social sciences, and cognitive sciences together, and to integrate conceptual, ethnographic, and experimental methods. After early work addressed early modern science and philosophy, his main topics have been autobiographical and collaborative memory, embodied memory and expert movement, distributed cognition, and cognitive history. In recent collaborative work he studies sport, music, film, dance, and literature. A collection of essays he co-edited with Kath Bicknell, Collaborative Embodied Performance: ecologies of skill, has just been published in Bloomsbury’s ‘Performance and Science’ series. Sutton is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, and has held visiting fellowships at UCLA, Edinburgh, UCSD, London, and Durham. After Paris, he will take up a Leverhulme Visiting Professorship at the University of Stirling in Scotland for 2023-24.