Cognition in a hierarchy

Blaug, Ricardo (2007) Cognition in a hierarchy. Contemporary Political Theory, 6 (1). pp. 24-44. ISSN 1470-8914

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To contribute to the organizational turn in research on participatory democracy, this paper examines the effects of organizational hierarchy on individual thinking. Power corrupts, but neither political scientists nor psychologists can really tell us how. To identify mechanisms by which it does so, the paper introduces recent advances in the field of cognitive psychology, here to suspicious political theorists. The study of cognition shows that we actively make meaning, and that we do so with a discernable neurological apparatus. The paper presents hierarchy as a social construct that 'fits' this apparatus in such a way as to assist the capture of meaning by the interests of power. This process of capture takes place beneath individual awareness. For this reason, the concern here amounts to ideology critique: specifically, using cognitive psychology to reveal the ideological propagation of hierarchy. The fact that hierarchy has hidden cognitive costs has important implications for the prospects of a more participatory democracy. Any democratization of organizational life is seen to turn on the capacity of participants to selectively use and manage hierarchy and to minimize its cognitive costs. This entails, among other things, a recovery of our own thinking from the knowledge processing requirements of power saturated hierarchic organizations. In its examination of the personal effects of power, the paper seeks to reveal psychological mechanisms by which power corrupts, and by which, inadvertently, we come to serve the interests of power in the very way we think.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: University of Westminster > Social Sciences and Humanities
Depositing User: Rachel Wheelhouse
Date Deposited: 31 Oct 2012 16:23
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2012 16:23

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