Edward S. Reed Franklin & Marshall College
Blandine Bril École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
In this chapter, we focus on Bernstein's account of motor learning, because we believe that it is especially in this part of his theorizing that Bernstein was most radical and provocative, offering ideas that are still "ahead of their times" in many ways. The account of motor learning offered in On Dexterity and Its Development carries the seeds of a radical shift in how to think about the acquisition of skill. For Bernstein, functional actions are primary, and the control of movements and postures are secondary. Movements are not the building blocks of action; instead, the control of movements is one of the results of the development of action. Although we are convinced that this insight about the primacy of action is fundamental for any successful functional theory of action, it is still the case that the majority of textbooks and theorists in the field of motor control and development resist such a radical approach ( Schmidt, 1982).
We argue that a theory placing action as primary in development is the only kind that can really help theorists to begin to understand how many of the important, culturally specific skills that characterize human beings have evolved and developed. After situating Bernstein On Dexterity in its historical and theoretical context, we briefly describe how the traditional kinds of accounts of motor development emphasize movements and repetitions of movement as the basic factor in development and skill acquisition. After this, we show how Bernstein, in On Dexterity, began to turn such theories "on their heads." Following this, we offer some suggestions concerning how an action-based theory of development may be very useful in helping theorists to understand one of the