Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology (Paperback), by Eviatar Zerubavel, Harvard University Press; Reprint edition, 1999, 176pp.
In seven brief, but dense, chapters,
Eviatar Zerubavel in,
Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology, guides the
reader through levels of "mental processes" that correspond to creating
and maintaining the social, historical, and physical world in which we
live. The processes are: perception, attention, classification,
semiotic association, memory, and time reckoning.
asks questions and presents ideas that challenge our very notions about
social order and the taken-for-granted acceptance of structures that
have their origin in the mind. By beginning on a micro-social level and
progressing through to the macro-social level, Zerubavel points out
that the constructions of our everyday existence from cultural,
religion, history, geography, and social interactions are characterized
by lines of demarcation that are real only in our minds. Additionally,
Zerubavel presents information that serves to assist the reader in
understanding the basis for cognitive sociology as a viable discipline
among the sciences and its potential contributions for the future
understanding of human cognition.
Two chapters considered
interesting by this writer are "The Sociology of the Mind" and "The
Social Division of the World," chapters one and four respectively.
chapter one, Zerubavel convincingly illustrates what cognitive
sociology is and its conceivable ideas for understanding how we came to
be that which we are: members of various thought communities.
Recognizing that our minds serve as the fostering ground for not only
how the/our world is constructed, but how it is maintained by adherence
to certain social facts, he gives examples the reader may apply to
their life to determine where they have fallen prey to thinking that
their thoughts are "original."
Additionally, he draws our
attention to the fact that there are "differences not only among
individuals but also among different cultures, social groups, and
historical periods." He refers to these groups as "thought
communities." By showing that the lines of demarcation which we draw
(race, city, state, country, etc.) have no basis in "reality,"
Zerubavel beckons us to look into not only how we think, but why we
have come to think as we do, and if thinking along current lines is a
hindrance to further social advancement. In this instance, he continues
to illuminate the discipline of cognitive sociology and what it has to
offer in our quest to further understand the mind; he also discuses our
arrival as new members of the human family upon birth and the
subsequent "cognitive socialization" we undergo as we are duly
initiated into our respective thought communities.
four "The Social Division of the World," Zerubavel illustrates how, as
members of thought communities, we "classify the world." He states,
"Like focusing, and perceiving, classifying is a universal mental act
that we perform as human beings." In so stating, he goes on to
discuss how we classify and how we learned to do so. To illustrate that
all humans engage in this process, he discusses various cultures and
their "norms" to support that this activity is "universal" to all
humans. Yet in its universality, the process of classifying leaves open
room for interpretation among members of the same community doing the
classifying; which illustrates that although we engage in this
activity, there are no hard and fast boundaries to which all members of
a given society adhere, and that these lines change over time.
that the book has only seven chapters and a conclusion, finding
"shortcomings" is a somewhat tough proposition; I truly enjoyed this
work. However, upon reflection, chapters titled "Social Memories" and
"Standard Time," chapters six and seven respectively, could have been
longer and more inclusive.
For instance, in chapter six, he
recalls a visit to Venice and how it seemed "quite familiar." Upon
reading these lines, my mind went to what we call deja vu. It would
have been interesting to know his thoughts on the subject since many
may not realize that their reading early in life, or viewing videotaped
images of people, places and things may be a component to this oft
cited phenomenon. In essence, is our "feeling that we have been here"
before in some way a mere recollection of a tale told to us long ago
and equally long ago forgotten? Or are there really events of this ilk?
While such an elucidation may not explain all such phenomena, it could
potentially remove from the realm of the "mystical" such explainable
Likewise, in chapter seven, titled "Standard Time,"
it would have been revealing to read his thoughts on what Christians
hold to be the creation of the universe. In this instance, given that
Christians hold that the world was created in six days and God rested
on the seventh, which serve as the foundation of religious life among
Christians, the ideas raised surrounding the solar and sidereal days,
as well as the calendar's shifting days based upon powerful entities
would have been fodder for an exciting thought exercise.
being said, by not granting primacy to one single social phenomenon, be
it race, religion, geographical considerations, etc. Zerubavel not only
drives his point home that cognitive sociology a discipline with which
to be reckoned, he also shows that all structures, both in the mind and
society, despite some very real and sometimes hurtful or deadly
manifestations, are just that . . .in our mind.