Social Mindscapes by Eviatar Zerubavel

An invitation to Cognitive Sociology


Romantics emphasize experience.  Enlightenment reason.  Reason led to the individual mind considered as an isolated processor.  Cognitive universalism ignores the particular differences.  Most of his work relates to words. The “lower” processors neuroscience highlights.  How we think/prozac versus what we think.  Our shared thoughts versus the intensely personal (freud).  The mindscapes of thought communities.  What we don’t share with rats.  Emphasize the cognitive differences.  When a young boy hears a recap of a shopping trip he took with Mom, he learns what is considered relevant or isrrelevant.  Special clothes and the meaning of days.We are individuated by different groups.  Star trek, teacher, ping pong community.  Older cultures were more monocentric.  Our words are several, of our time (generation) and our profession.  A chef sees a meal differently than I.  An electrician a room an art critic a room.

People used to be set on fire for thinking differently/against society.  Now they get nobel prizes.



We have expectations that color what we see.  For Ex: columbus or is man a machine or woman different or art obscene.  Much of this depends on the perspective seen from.  Neither is correct. Picasso in the 12 th century would not be accepted.  There may be freuds or Darwins among us who don’t express themselves due to fear of cognitive excommunication.

These viewed shared perceptions creat “world views”.  Conservatives views on modern art and abortion are related.



[what of when I told a strange group of youths to not be pigs. They say make me. I end up at the police station. Where is the final authority?  The young people throw food the mexican helper girl must pick up.  She starts to cry, they laugh]


Attention is focused by ignoring.  To look at art I ignore the wall.  At work there are things I don’t look at.  When we play chess, religion, weight orientation and political views we bracket off.  Jains v. pesticide users.  Both science and art are big on exclusions. Arguments over whether or not race should be included in discussions.  Minding our business is a battle of what’s relative at family fights.  Protestant and nobiliy too are gone.  Moral horizons, feminism, teachers and media guide our attention to what is relevant. 

Note the difference of attention of left and right wing media jazz and baseball games on media.



Not only what we pay attention to, but how its organized in our heads. Edible and sexually available vary.  Some cultures are purist / either or types.  Others encourage blurring.  Both / and ambiguous.  Fuzzy clan distinctions, rolling leadership, art without boundaries.  Personal and privbate in business is like religion that separates edible from not edible.  Play v. work.  We don’t have contests to the death and we don’t execute criminals as theater.  There is now attack on previous boundaries, western medicina, gender differences, race, convensions.  Borders flex, r to x films flex.  Some say borders shouldn’t exist!  Canons of literature, Months , real christianity v. fake christianity, whose a jew?  Language facilitates these divisions.  Remember, nothing actually separates moral and immoral, private v. personal, business from pleasure. We sculpt islands of meaning.



Signifier is the thing.  Signified is the meaning.  Long nails signify that you are above manual labor.  Clothes signify much.  There is a spectrum of level of symbolic v. non-symbolic meaning. The indicator to the symbol to the icon.  Wehere a word lies can be found by asking how mch of the meaning is inherent in the object and how much isn’t?

Mapstherefore very icon.  Semantics depend on content.  Man {v. animal or man made or v. woman?}  Days of the week have significance not inherent in them.  Hair beatles to Ben Franklin.  Meaning of abortion?  But foods and blushing topics re culturally chosen.  STrangely, hidden frog legs wouldn’t cause a gag reaction.  In a behaviorist way we learn symbolic meanings.  Signified involves a relation to community.  Jerusalem is a heavy signifier.


Words are intrinsically meaningless and reifying them is like hypnosis.  Money.  Animals cannot make things symbols, but we perilously do so.  Taking men literally limits our freedom.



We have individual memories, but mostly filtered through symbolic asumptions of the present.  Our ideas of the past are different by group (beatles fans v. Marine biologists).  Sociology of memory.  Memory archeology.  Ask the class what memories their school has, what memories their family has, what memories they have with their friends or team.  Again our social group (fashion designer/ electrician/ tv viewer) tells us what to remember from vacations.  Stories beginnings tell us before what time we should ignore.  622AD  Psycholotherapy can be seen as the attempt to begin to test your own version of memories away from the family version  We have many “memories” of historical events and things we’ve never seen.  Sociobiographical memory of “our peoples” past can bring up feelings.  University’s hyphenated epartments are dedicated to this.  As language started , individual memory was compromised.  Organizations and elders keep group memories for us.  Writing is very important in this, museums , monuments and preservation society projects serve national identity too.  Family photo albus.  Holidays co-memorate the past. History battles over who to include/holidays are hot.  Nixon to columbus to vietnam.



Sometimes we use personal referent for dating the past.  But often “it was just after the persian gulf war”.Family dates   Social spacial - temporal markers.  1693 standard time/events make social life possible”see you after the game.” I want an 8 day week with three weekends.  Date and time are reified , yet not real.  The international date line started being used in 1840 for railroads in Greenwich.  Before the telegraph it wasn’t needed.  People who “don’t know what time it is” are considered outside of society.  We all carry the collective time on our wrists at some point of maturity.