This paper argues for the importance of universalist cognitive approaches
to the study of local sociocultural power formations. The concept of "power"
has become a fulcrum of social theory over the last decade or so, but has
rarely been explored from a perspective that examines the interaction between
psychological universals and particular social dynamics. Many social theorists,
in fact, dismiss cognitive approaches to culture as deterministic or insensitive
to the contingencies of local social formations. However, recent work in
cognitive science and cognitive anthropology suggests that universal cognitive
tendencies may help to shape the ideological bases of social hierarchies
and facilitate the asymmetrical distribution of knowledge. This paper suggests
several ways in which the exercise of power and survival of power formations
can be parasitic on cognition. It will be argued that the role of cognition
in power formations does not determine the content of local power dynamics
and ideology so much as their architecture.
Janet McIntosh is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.