Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1-11-2017


Cognitive sociology is the study of the conditions under which meaning is constituted through processes of reification. Cognitive sociology traces its origins to writings in the sociology of knowledge, sociology of culture, cognitive and cultural anthropology, and more recently, work done in cultural sociology and cognitive science. Its central questions revolve around locating these processes of reification since the locus of cognition is highly contentious. Researchers consider how individuality is related to notions of society (structures, institutions, systems, etc.) and notions of culture (cultural forms, cultural structures, sub-cultures, etc.). These questions further explore how these answers depend on learning processes (socialization, acculturation, etc.) which vary according to the position one takes on the role of language in cognition. It is from these positions that we operationalize a theory of human nature and construct a justification for the organization of the state of human affairs and the related conceptualizations of identity, self, and the subject. In this way, cognitive sociology seeks to establish the minimal model of the actor (the ontology) that underpins not only other subfields of sociology but also the human sciences in general. In this way, cognitive sociology analyzes the series of interpersonal processes that set up the conditions for phenomena to become “social objects,” which subsequently shape thinking and thought. In classical cognitive sociology, the historical traditions of the sociology of knowledge and phenomenology are emphasized, with the work of Bourdieu and Goffman given special treatment, given their contributions as precursors to many of the contemporary contingencies and consequences of debates in culture and cognition. The principle organizing the more contemporary literature are the paradigmatic assumptions concerning the locus of cognition, which have been organized into five ideal-types. These elucidate the points of agreement and disagreement in the field by addressing how thematic concerns (e.g., knowledge, rationality, embodiment, practices, discourse, etc.) highlight the priority of individuality in modeling society, to illustrate what makes cognitive sociology at once interdisciplinary yet contentiously distinct in addressing the politics of “tacit knowledge.”


This work was originally published in "Oxford Bibliographies Online in Sociology," available at doi: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0187.

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