Skill and Expertise in Joint Action


Developing an individual skill is a daunting undertaking. Take learning a musical instrument: when a person first picks up a guitar, she must learn the basic motor actions that will produce prescribed chords, how each string is supposed to sound and be tuned, and her own motoric constraints of what kinds of chords she can produce and the speed with which she can transition. Only then can she progress to adapting these to suit her own needs. Now imagine the guitarist wants to learn guitar so that she can play as part of a band, and this individual skill must transition to a joint skill where, in addition to learning the guitar she must also contend with the performance of her bandmates. Now, as well as producing her own music she must also anticipate and adapt to production features that are outside of her control. This chapter focuses on two questions related to skilled joint action. The first question is what are the mechanisms that allow people to perform skilled joint actions. The second question is how context affects skilled joint action, such as whether coordination occurs in the course of a cooperative or competitive interaction. In addressing these questions, we draw on studies from a wide range of skilled joint actions, including music, sports, and dance, as well as on more basic coordination tasks designed to investigate fundamental mechanisms of coordination. While acquiring specific joint actions–like dancing tango or playing in a string quartet–may entail challenges that are unique to a specific domain, there are also general principles of skilled joint action performance. Such principles can not only be derived from studies on ’experts’ who have been trained to perform joint actions in particular domains; rather, any typical human being can to some extent be considered a joint action expert, given our life-long engagement in joint actions such as handshakes, object transfers, and conversations.

In Fridland, E. & Pavese, C. (Eds). Routledge Handbook on Philosophy of Skill and Expertise, Chapter 29