Culture in Mind: Toward a Sociology of Culture and Cognition

By Karen A. Cerulo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

The Elephant in the Room

NOTES ON THE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION OF DENIAL

Eviatar Zerubavel

This chapter looks at a somewhat unusual aspect of cognition, namely that which does not enter our awareness. I am referring here to that which, at least potentially, could have entered awareness yet nevertheless does not. Furthermore, I am referring to that which is deliberately left out of our consciousness. In other words, I am talking about the active process of blocking certain information from entering our minds. In that respect, I follow Sigmund Freud’s critical distinction between that which we simply forget and that which we actively repress from our awareness, thereby regarding ignoring as an active process of deliberately not noticing.

Let me add here that I do not intend to discuss the physiological level of perception. I will not address, for example, the natural constraints affecting what enters our visual field. That is something on which psychologists and biologists are much more qualified to comment. By the same token, I do not intend to address the physiology of other senses, such as hearing, taste, or smell, the disruption of which certainly blocks the flow of information into our minds. I also will ignore the individual dimension of perception and attention. I shall therefore refrain from addressing strictly psychological phenomena such as self-numbing or dissociation, which have to do with the way individuals manage to block certain information from entering their consciousness. Though absolutely fascinating, they are quite irrelevant to my distinctly sociological concern with cognition.

As I have demonstrated elsewhere, 1 cognitive sociology addresses cognitive matters at a level that both cognitive individualism and universalism leave untouched

-21-

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