We consider some of the ideas influencing current artificial–intelligence research and outline an alternative conceptual framework that gives priority to social relationships as a key component and constructor of intelligent behaviour. The framework starts from Weizenbaum's observation that intelligence manifests itself only relative to specific social and cultural contexts. This is in contrast to a prevailing view, which sees intelligence as an abstract capability of the individual mind based on a mechanism for rational thought. The new approach is not based on the conventional idea that the mind is a rational processor of symbolic information, nor does it require the idea that thought is a kind of abstract problem solving with a semantics that is independent of its embodiment. Instead, priority is given to affective and social responses that serve to engage the whole agent in the life of the communities in which it participates. Intelligence is seen not as the deployment of capabilities for problem solving, but as constructed by the continual, ever–changing and unfinished engagement with the social group within the environment. The construction of the identity of the intelligent agent involves the appropriation or ‘taking up’ of positions within the conversations and narratives in which it participates. Thus, the new approach argues that the intelligent agent is shaped by the meaning ascribed to experience, by its situation in the social matrix, and by practices of self and of relationship into which intelligent life is recruited. This has implications for the technology of the future, as, for example, classic artificial intelligence models such as goal–directed problem solving are seen as special cases of narrative practices instead of as ontological foundations.