Sociology Index

Culture and Cognition

Overview: Culture and Cognition: In recent years there has been a budding of a new interest in culture that has revolved around the incantation of culture and cognition. In any abstract, formal sense, it is hard to defend this as a new field, but in the sociological sense there is clearly something new afoot.

This interest is different from the sociology of culture and cultural studies generally conceived in two ways. First, it is not specifically concerned with Culture in the narrow sense of productions, but culture in the wider anthropological sense (although specific cultural products may be used to get at this culture). Second, it is not interested in the vague, evanescent and global level of culture involving things such as “symbols” unless these can be made concrete and related to defensible models of cognition.

This interest is also different from social psychology as currently constituted, basically because of a lack of interest in the problems that became central to social psychology as it currently stands. - Syllabus. John Levi Martin, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The substitution of “cognition” for “psychology” also seems to imply that conventional psychological models are considered to be exhausted.

Instead, the study of culture and cognition is an attempt to look at patternings in subjectivity that arise because of the placement of that cognizing apparatus which we call the human mind in institutional settings.

How exactly this is to be done, however, is not yet worked out. This make the field incredibly exciting. This class will be in modest form a contribution to the project. Fortunately, there is little enough work that we need not simply survey what has been done. We are also free to determine the lines of what should be done. This class will do both.

Culture in Mind: Toward a Sociology of Culture and Cognition by Karen A. Cerulo (Editor)

Judith R. Blau, University of NC at Chapel Hill ""A spendid volume on cognitive sociology...Cerulo has done sociologists a great service."."

Book Description Rather than considering thought as just an individual act, Culture in Mind considers it in a social and cultural context. Covering such diverse topics as the nature of evil, the process of storytelling and the defining mental illness, these essays offer fresh insights into the functioning of the mind. Karen A. Cerulo is Associate Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University where she specializes in culture and cognition research. She is the author of Deciphering Violence: The Cognitive Structure of Right and Wrong (Routledge, 1998).

Each class section has a focal reading or set of related readings; for part of the class I will make an argument for how this contributes to our understanding of culture and cognition, and/or provide background. The rest of the session will be an evaluation of the material. By the end, we will probably actually know something about cultural and cognition, as opposed to only knowing about the sociology of culture and cognition.

1. INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE SOCIOLOGY OF CULTURE Reading: Eviatar Zerubavel, Invitation to Cognitive Sociology; Roy D’Andrade Development of Cognitive Anthropology. If we really want to finish before our time runs out, perhaps instead we should talk about what isn’t wrong with the sociology of culture. Today we do three things: we deal with organizational issues; we review some predecessors of Marx & Engels and Durkheim & Mauss to get us ready for next time; we discuss the state of the sociology of culture more generally.

2. HOMOMORPHISMS AND HOMO ECONOMICUS Reading: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, selections; Durkheim and Mauss, Primitive Classification. The Culture and Cognition problem isn’t really new—it goes back to two venerable traditions in the sociology of knowledge to establish a correspondence between subjectivity and social structure, the Marxian and the Durkheimian. Both suggest some sort of homomorphism — structural identity — between society and culture.

Sociology of Culture and Cognition.