Aesthetic Engagement*

Michal Pagis, Erika Summers-Effler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Recent work in culture and cognition breaks cognitive processing into two types—automatic, implicit, and nondeclarative processes are labled “type 1” and controlled, explicit, and declarative processes are labled “type 2.” We suggest that this dual processing model cannot account for some types of experiences central to the embodied aspects of culture. In this paper, we lay out a theory of experience based on aesthetic engagement with the world, a type of experience that does not fall neatly into type 1 and type 2 processing. Drawing on phenomenology and pragmatism, we illustrate three dimensions of aesthetic engagement: (1) a shift to the fringe of attention that opens a zone of curiosity and fascination, (2) a focus on the unfolding moment that temporarily inhibits type 1 and type 2 thinking while sustaining uncertainty, and (3) a space to relax and possibly discard enduring storylines while creating potential paths to refreshment and change. We develop our argument through empirical analysis from the authors' respective studies of mindfulness-based meditation and fly-fishing. Both fly-fishing and meditation open new worlds of perception that produce fascination and curiosity and destabilizes previous meanings. Through analyzing meditation and fly-fishing, we highlight ideal-typical processes that researchers will find in both mundane and complex combinations in daily life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1371-1394
Number of pages24
JournalSociological Forum
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Eastern Sociological Society


  • aesthetics
  • cognition
  • culture
  • dual-process
  • embodiment
  • experience
  • phenomenology
  • pragmatism


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