Representationalism and cognitive culturalism: riders on elephants on turtles all the way down

  • Jason L. MastEmail author
Original Article


This article examines the influx of neurocognitive concepts in cultural sociology and this development’s consequences for representationalism. In the first part, I examine representationalism in two research programs that have shaped cultural sociology from the cultural turn to the present: Jeffrey Alexander’s “strong program” and Ann Swidler’s “tool kit” theory. I also briefly discuss the mixed and contradictory findings presented in one of sociology’s most-cited cognitive works, Paul DiMaggio’s (Annu Rev Sociol 23:263–87, 1997) programmatic statement on cognitive psychology’s potential contributions to sociology, which catalyzed the discipline’s cognitive turn. In part two, I demonstrate how in working with and against these three pillars in cultural sociology, figures such as Omar Lizardo, Steven Vaisey, and John Levi Martin have drawn on the cognitive neurosciences to re-conceptualize culture in ways that may have profound consequences for representationalism as it is practiced in the field. I conclude by arguing that representationalism is present but suppressed in cognitive cultural theory and its empirical investigations; that representationalism finds support in the neurocognitive sources that cognitive culturalists cite; and by asserting that future general theories of action will be predicated on a more interactive relationship between automatic and deliberative cognitive domains than the cognitive culturalists currently allow.


Representationalism Cognition Schemas Dual process model Habitus 



The reviewers’ comments and those of the editor helped to sharpen this article’s arguments considerably. The author thanks them for their significant feedback. The author also thanks the participants of the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology Workshop, Alexis Galán and Agustin Casagrande at Excellence Cluster Normative Orders, and Erik Ringmar for their insightful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cluster of Excellence “Normative Orders”Goethe University FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany

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