Cognition and Collective Representation – Durkheim
The process of understanding or being aware of something is known as cognition. It is a mental process that lets each other learn about things happening around us. Conversations on these topics in groups serve to raise everyone’s level of sensitivity to the issues at hand. The interaction of minds results in the production of symbols or products of thought that are jointly owned and publicly declared by both parties. Therefore, the collective representation may be either a concept or a category of thought held in a sufficiently comparable form by a significant number of people to facilitate efficient communication. The fact that these collective symbols were conceived of and developed together lends them a sense of authority. They are not dependent on any one thought or collection of minds in any way. Therefore, they exert a significant amount of influence on people. In addition, they have a unifying influence on society; for instance, a flag is an example of a political representation, and holy texts are often examples of religious representations.
In contrast to sensual representations, such as sensations, perceptions, pictures, etc., concepts of thought exist in their own realm. Sensual representations are in constant change. They follow one another in succession, much like waves in a river. They do not continue to be the same thing, not even after a short period. People can never be confident that they will once again discover a perception in the same manner they encountered it for the first time.
On the other hand, a concept has its own unique stable life; it does not move about on its own and is resistant to change. The only thing that can bring about a change is for an individual to see an error in a concept and work to correct it. For instance, the system of ideas that people use while going about their daily lives is the same as the one reflected by the terminology of their mother tongue. Every ‘word’ is a representation of a different concept. Language has developed into something stable. It undergoes extremely little change, and as a result, it maintains a consistent relationship with the conceptual system it reflects.
In addition, a concept is universal or, at the very least, has the potential to become so. One individual may have a common understanding of a concept with several others. Individuals can converse with one another via the notion of concepts. On the other hand, a person’s sensation is intimately connected to their physiology and personality. It can’t be separated and given to other people. However, all intellectual contact between persons, including talking, is an interchange of ideas. Therefore, ideas and mental categorizations are, at their core, representations of impersonal thought. These are the channels via which human intellect and the structure of cognition connect with one another.
The community is responsible for the development of concepts. They exhibit the characteristics of having no particular thinking. They originate from the associative quality of the group or collectivity in question. Thought concepts are more consistent than sensory perceptions or visual representations. This is because collective representations are far more reliable than individual representations. Small changes in one’s surroundings are the only things that have the potential to influence one’s state of individual consciousness. On the other hand, major life events, like wars or social upheavals, are the only things that have the potential to alter the mental state of society.
Language, and by extension, the system of concepts it interprets, is the outcome of the individual contributions of many people working together. What it conveys is how all members of society as a whole portray the particulars of the shared experience that they have had. The many concepts that correspond to language components are thus referred to as collective representations.
The whole society shares in the ownership of concepts since they are representations of the collective. It is not because they reflect the average of the corresponding individual representations that they are considered part of the whole social group they belong to. Because under such circumstances, collective representations would be inferior to individual representations in terms of the intellectual content they contain. Despite this, it is a well-known truth that collective representations include much more information than the average individual. This information is superior to the knowledge of the average person.
Concepts, in the sense of collective representations, are more or less pervasive across a community. They express categories and classes rather than individual objects since society is only sometimes interested in things’ unique and dynamic qualities. Collective representations result from the labor done by the society, and the experiences improve what society has to offer.