In these introductory essays, the issues treated in the volume are placed in the wider framework of anthropological research. The first chapter considers the various questions a cognitively oriented framework is supposed to deal with, and the differences in methods and concepts between cognitive theories, on the one hand, and other types of anthropological models, on the other. Atran's paper describes in detail the contribution of past cognitive anthropology (‘ethnosemantics’) to the understanding of symbolism. In his view, early studies in cognitive anthropology did not produce satisfactory models of cultural knowledge and its transmission, mainly because it was based on inadequate psychological models. Atran's essay also outlines the research programme of a more sophisticated approach to cultural representations, which would integrate recent advances in theories of cognitive development.