Dissertation Abstracts

Culture-cognition interaction: bridging cognitive science and cultural sociology

Author: Jacob Strandell, jacob.strandell@gmail.com
Department: Department of Sociology
University: University of Copenhagen, Sweden
Supervisor: Jakob Demant
Year of completion: 2017
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Cognitive Sociology , Cultural Schema , Cultural Sociology , Culture-cognition interaction
Areas of Research: Theory , Social Psychology , Conceptual and Terminological Analysis


In the last two decades, sociology have seen the beginning of a cognitive turn. This has come later than in the other social sciences, but the movement towards a cognitive sociology is continuously gaining strength. However, the field is still in its infancy and researchers with different positions are still debating how cognitive sociology should relate to the cognitive sciences. Several authors have independently identified two camps among cognitive sociologists: ‘isolationists’ who view cognitive sociology as a sociological perspective on cognition; and ‘reductionists’ who argue for a full engagement with cognitive science and a reconstruction of our understanding of culture from the bottom up, thereby rejecting most of cultural sociology. The tension between isolationism and reductionism in the debates of cognitive sociologists reflects a larger problem, which is also the reason that sociology engaged with cognitive science so late. The problem is a misperceived incompatibility between cultural sociology and cognitive science based on their dissociated conceptual vocabularies and frameworks. However, as argued by Paul DiMaggio—who initiated the growth of cognitive sociology—many insights of contemporary cognitive science actually support and strengthen many of the ideas established in cultural sociology. If this is the case, there is no need for antagonism; with sufficient conceptual translation work, it should be possible to embrace cognitive science without rejecting cultural sociology. This dissertation aims to show that cognitive science and cultural sociology can be fruitfully bridged in a non-reductive way. This is done through four papers: two broad conceptualization papers, and two papers where a non-reductive culture-cognition interaction perspective is applied in two specific fields of research. The first of the four papers shows that we can use the notion of ‘cultural schemas’ as a powerful conceptual adapter to integrate multiple macro-level sociological culture concepts and make them compatible with cognitive schema research on the micro level. The second paper compares cognitive dual-process models with similar reasoning in cultural theory. It is argued that a duality is present in many cultural theories that resembles that of the dual-process models of cognition. It would be possible to develop a cultural dual-process model that could integrate many theories in a joint framework, and integrate them with the cognitive model. The third paper addresses self-esteem research and shows how a culture-cognition interaction perspective provides a more detailed and realistic account of self-esteem in action than what a monodisciplinary perspective has managed this far. Finally, the fourth paper shows that individualization theory can be re-thought using a culture-cognition interaction perspective to better understand the role of individualization in action. The papers of this dissertation together show that there is substantial common ground for a non-reductive integration of cultural sociology and cognitive science and that there is much to gain from such a move. The main challenge remains the divergent conceptual vocabularies and frameworks of the two disciplines. However, with sufficient conceptual translation work, it is possible to develop the frameworks necessary for truly interdisciplinary vertical models of human action, connecting neuroscience to large-scale cultural phenomena.