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Social Mindscapes: A Review
By Baruti KMT
Sunday, 31 December 2006 - 12:00 PM

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Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology (Paperback), by Eviatar Zerubavel, Harvard University Press; Reprint edition, 1999, 176pp.

Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive SociologyIn 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.

Zerubavel 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.

In 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.

In chapter 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.

Given 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 experiences.

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.

That 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.

© Copyright 2006 by Radical Scholar, Inc.

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