Schemas and the Imaginary

British psychologist Bartlett understood the notion of a “schema” as being that which creates a cognitive structure for us to make sense of what is around us – Taylor also discusses this and conceptualizes the idea of “prototypes” – or as Bartlett or Baudrillard (and perhaps many others) would understand as a ‘paradigm’ – that is, the shared expectation of how a something should present itself. So, the prototype of a kitchen would have to include a source of heat for cooking on, or else it would not be a kitchen and would instead fit into another structure.

Schemas are useful for helping us understand the world around us, but what happens when this imaginary gets a bit ‘too real’?  Discourse, social practise and the imaginary can be seen to compose our understandings of the world, Taylor saw it as people  ‘imagining their social surroundings’ in their day to day life, as articulated through expressions of the self, such as the narratives we create and the stories we tell  – as well the images and symbols that hold meaning for us. (This is separate from theory as theorists are immersed within their own specialist knowledge systems.)

As Strauss points out, “paradigmatic examples repeated in popular culture may carry more weight.”  So the repetition of particular media tropes, messages and ideas can very well form a schematic understanding, or if you like, an “imaginary”. This is a concern because even though we may not fully internalize everything, indeed we may well reject much of what we are fed – we still may hold some contradictory and incohesive values as a result. So in this instance we could draw attention to Strauss’ example of a feminist woman, fully aware of the implications of the ‘glass ceiling’ who has still managed to internalize negative discourses around the idea of  the “welfare mother” and is able to view these as completely separate from each other.

I’ve been thinking about to what extent do these shared practises, that become ‘common sense’ understandings of the world, constrain and limit our own agency in how we are able to think about certain things? What actually lies underneath discursive practise? And how possible is it to reach what Saussure believed as a fixed ‘objective’ reality buried beneath layers of signification?


One thought on “Schemas and the Imaginary

  1. ahd2 says:

    I would like to take the opportunity given by this post to share some thoughts on an experience I had when writing for this blog. Drawing on recent readings, I came to think of the tensions between freedom of expression and imaginary in the highly delicate current political context. It is needless to say that the recent political and international events turned this topic into a highly controversial and sensitive topic. Discussing my post with friends and family, they were wary of the consequences it might have on my future because the idea did not fit in the dominant “schema” and suggested either, not to post it, or to wait for a lull. While some might say it might be too soon yet to advance such ideas, I personally think that the “appropriate time” will never manifest itself, precisely because of the repetition and self-perpetuation of the “schematic understanding” I was actually questioning. The ‘commonality’ a “common understanding” acquires through repetition and re-authorization remains so, as long as nothing interrogates it. Challenging entrenched understandings of our surroundings stirs up passions and often provokes extreme reactions because it calls into question the very foundations of our identity, social and individual, as well as the values we identify with. Common sense is what we cling to in order to make sense of what does not. Should one expose its contingency and we will face the only real truth: the impossibility of a unified and objective truth. It is the “shared” element that contributes to the objectivity of the idea, because objective truth is impossible and the violence of the reactions will probably depend on how much we consider the idea to be “foundational”, how much it defines us.
    Growing up in this imaginary is probably the reason why I felt so conscious of the potential backlash and the need I felt to explain and justify myself, is possibly symptomatic.
    Derrida emphasized a lot on the importance of ethic when dealing with deconstruction and the responsibility before memory of a network of concepts that regulates our behaviour. My reflexion was triggered precisely by looking at the violent effects and consequences of the dominant imaginary but I can only speak for myself. As Mark Twain would say “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”.

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