Janet McIntosh
Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
October 1997
Cognition and Power

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.

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