Zone 4 Examples: Why Do We Believe What We Do?

Key Questions to Ask

Description and Historical Examples
  • Episteme refers to the frameworks of knowledge and understanding that are socially accepted and underpin the cognitive structures of an era. It is the 'epistemological field' that forms the conditions of possibility for knowledge in a certain period. For instance, in the Middle Ages, knowledge was framed by religious beliefs, whereas in the modern era, it is often framed by scientific rationality. These different epistemes significantly shape our collective belief systems, influencing what is deemed as 'true' or 'false' in society.
  • Permissions refer to culturally sanctioned behaviors and thoughts that are allowed within a society. They define the boundaries of acceptable speech and action, thereby guiding societal norms and values. For example, in many democracies, freedom of speech is a permission that allows individuals to express their views openly. However, what is permissible can change over time as societal norms evolve. For example, behaviors that were once normalized, such as smoking in public places, have become less permissible due to changing health understandings.
  • Taboos are behaviors and thoughts that are prohibited or strongly discouraged by cultural norms. They act as powerful deterrents, maintaining social order by preventing breaches of what is considered morally or socially acceptable. For instance, incest is universally taboo due to biological and social implications. Taboos can strongly shape collective consciousness and behavior, and implicate penalties in case of violations.
Overton Window
  • The Overton Window represents the range of policies and ideas considered acceptable in the public discourse at any time. This concept is particularly relevant in politics, where politicians try to shift the window to make particular policies more or less socially acceptable. For example, universal health care was previously outside the Overton Window in American discourse but is gradually moving within its frame.
Habermas's Public Sphere
  • Habermas's 'Public Sphere' refers to a domain of social life where public opinion can be formed and is accessible to all. This conceptual space is where individuals can discuss societal problems and go through democratic decision-making. The 18th-century coffee houses are historical examples, serving as platforms for exchanging ideas and discourses. Modern day equivalents include media platforms that shape public discourse.
Collective Consciousness
  • Collective Consciousness refers to the set of shared beliefs, moral attitudes, and social dynamics that operate within a society. This term coined by sociologist Emile Durkheim states that society itself is a system of shared beliefs and sentiments that act as a unifying force. An example could be national consciousness or identity, such as 'Americanism' that shapes collective understanding and behavior.
Memes and Memeplexes
  • Memes and Memeplexes are cultural units of information and their complexes that propagate and evolve within a culture. A meme can be an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads within a culture. An example is the concept of 'fast food', which has spread globally. Memeplexes are groups of compatible memes that come together for mutual reinforcement, like ideologies or cultural customs.
Cultural Capital
  • Cultural Capital refers to the non-financial social assets that influence social mobility and acceptance, such as education, intellect, style, etc. Coined by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, it indicates that one's cultural knowledge, skills, education, and other cultural acquisitions are key to social integration and hierarchy. For instance, a degree from a prestigious university represents high cultural capital, potentially leading to beneficial social positions.
Cultural Hegemony
  • Cultural Hegemony is the influence or domination by one cultural group over others, often seen in the normalization of certain ideologies and practices. Developed by Antonio Gramsci, it refers to the ways in which the dominant class establishes and maintains its control in society, not only through force but also through the passive acceptance of their world view by other classes. An example would be the spread and acceptance of western culture and values globally.
Worldviews and Value Systems
  • Worldviews and Value Systems constitute the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point of view. These systems significantly influence behavior, responses and perception of reality. For example, the Christian worldview, influenced by biblical teachings, encompasses views on life, morality, purpose and meaning which shapes Christian societies or individuals.

Don’t miss the bigger picture

Leaders on Context are the first to turn complexity into clarity

Join Context Today