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SOC483Y1 Lecture Notes - Loose Coupling, Mary Douglas, Social Cognition

Course Code
Vanina Leschziner

of 4
SOC483Y1- Culture and Cognition
Lecture 1- Wednesday September 14, 2011
What is culture and cognition? = Study of patterns and thinking and acting in particular
institutional settings. Thinking and acting go together bounded by place in which we act.
Those institutional settings will bound the way we act…
Anchor on some empirical data…
It is easier when we study or look at smaller environments to see patterns those people share in
those environments
We can define this area of culture and cognition as looking at how actors use culture through
shared cognitive schema
How actors use culture through shared cultural scheme embedded in institutional settings
What do we mean by culture? In terms of what goes on in our minds, patterns of thinking,
cognitive patterns differ… those we share with other people
Sociologists try not to speculate how do we get at what goes on inside our minds?
Neuroscience relied on to see what goes on in the mind
Sociologists look at other things that show some evidence on how and what people are thinking…
we can look at certain norms- repertoires of actions (different ways people act) these ways of
thinking (subjectivity not used in this area as a term) but think of studying some form of
subjectivity developed maintained or changed in institutional settings… sometimes they can be
small like a peer group and sometimes large as UofT.
Also cognitive sociology culture and cognition is still a new area, not much defined/consensus… -
there are some specific things about this area: of course we assume acting and thinking go together,
focus on that…
3 things characterize this area - 3 levels of analysis
1. Actions or practices:
2. Cognition
3. Social structures: include different kinds of institutional settings, can be small influx peer
We will try and see in all discussions how the 3 are interconnected
Contemporary society understanding- the relationship is more complex than we have assumed
*how culture and how cognition work how the two work
Culture & Cognition is something we can find anywhere not as strictly structured as Sociology of
To see how people put their thinking at work… some thinking through practice/discourses…
- We mean things cognitive schema, patterns, mental structures/schema, different ways of
referring to what goes on in life, in ways that are patterned- we are looking at one level of
analysis not individual ways of thinking we are looking at social cognition, patterns we
- Other extreme- universalistic view focusing on mental mechanisms common to all humans
we will read some of this this is relied on to tell certain patterns of thinking whether
cultural, shaped by environment, how brains work? knowing some mental mechanisms
we can infer a little about how culture may be shaping those patterns of thinking
Culture and cognition focused on trying to explain middle level- not the individual or universal we
want to focus on social origin/natures
- Before this field, more speculation
- In progress, component of identity
- Culture is a distinct aspect of any phenomenon we do, that meaning we give to things, those
ideas in flux or changing, norms values we could find culture in anything we deal with
- Culture and cognition- culture not outside of us or objects/values, it is- we think of culture
as SHARED MENTAL SCHEMA what is inside our minds and enacted in particular settings,
enacted through discourses and practices…
- The understanding of culture has changed a lot through time…
4 basic moments of understanding of culture
1. Culture is shared norms, values, and beliefs
- The notion of socialization is central, through socialization those ideas are reproduced and
passed down, what we do is mainly driven by values, goals, and norms
- Think of classical sociologists who would fit in this view- Durkheim, Parsons (later typical
- Rituals- people moved to these, they were more concrete, more anthropologist’s terrain.
They were interested in rituals because they thought they were the most powerful per
formative actions, a reproduction of practice and beliefs through rituals. That rituals are
essential for construction of norms this was the terrain of anthropologist Mary Douglas
and Levy Strolls
- Anthropologists looked in the West to study things not so exotic
- Sociologists also interested in studying everyday practice- driven by idea of looking at
routines of everyday practice from which we can learn about culture because those things
are central and embody our representations of space and time
- Central in late 70s and early 80s for understanding culture, still influential today
- Practice theory- theories that study practice, regular everyday practice: 1 sociologist and 2
anthropologists- Sainz, Geards (definition of culture that was very influential), and
- Geards definition of culture- problematic- because considered homogenous, holistic,
something we all shared? So people took issue with this thinking there are certain things we
share but there are also different environments that we come from
o We may have different ideas/ skills inconsistent with one another that are even
contradictory which lead to a critique of this definition of culture as something
homogenous which led to the “token” view of culture: understanding we have a
repertoire of tools for action box of things: some go together some do not…
developed by Anne Swindler
The way we understand culture- it is not something all constraining anymore! No longer
a culturist view or structuralist view
Culture is something complex, contingent in a relationship with structure that shapes
one another, goes both ways- culture not so much norms, beliefs but rather more as
mental structures, heterogeneous, made of loosely coupled parts, not holistic…. Seen as
tools of strategies and actions and not norms (Refuting Parsons view)
If we all agree people act in ways socially shared so there are patterns- we will learn about social
life, social processes, we will look at very different kinds of processes, learn how to theorize about
those social processes, take different data and theorize!
When looking at readings: What are premises? How do authors come to conclusions? Would we
apply their ideas to something else?
We will be doing analytical work here and thus learn about culture and cognition
Reading topics- beginning part (classical) second half (contemporary)
We will look at processes (habits and practices etc.)
Role of concepts- something we will discuss deviance, social structure, family, social movements…
etc. there are concepts we use in our lives not concepts like capitalism but ideas that become
prototypical and become important in the way we act in the world.
- What could be a concept important in your life: a concept is an idea or an abstraction, based
on something that goes on and it goes on repeatedly
- Concepts are important in guiding us in the world because well since abstractions guide
us, they organize reality and make it less complicated and simplify it…