According to Cussins (1992), cognitive trails are the first artefacts created by humans, animals (and perhaps also by digital and other artefacts). All activities produce various traces, signs or indicators of their activity (“cognitive trails”), which are often physically embodied and involve both symbolic as well as socially represented dimension. These traces, signs, and so on, simultaneously, guide activity and become transformed in the process of their usage. Social practices and cognitive trails mutually constitute one another; when practices change, the trails also change and vice versa (Engeström and colleagues). Cognitive trails, further, develop through local activities that also help to keep the trails up and help agents negotiate their ways across obstacles, intersections and borderlines. Although the trails are physical entities, they also have a symbolic dimension in respect of their directions, starting points and destinations. The strength of the concepts of cognitive trails is in understanding dynamically transforming, rather than fully stabilized practices. In this regard, it is essential that trails be adaptive, flexible, multi-faceted and negotiable in nature rather than something fixed and permanent.

See also Cognition, Cognitive Prostheses, Cognitive Tools.


Cussins, A. (1992) Content, embodiment, and objectivity: The theory of cognitive trials. Mind, 101, 651-688.

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