Cognitive Sociology, Social Cognition and Coping with Racial Discrimination in International Law
European Journal of International Law (Vol. 30,2019)
Posted: 27 Apr 2020
Date Written: 2020
Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of mental processes involved in the acquisition, classification, organization and interpretation of knowledge in the human environment, and the decision taken on the appropriate action based upon it. The point of departure is that people do not directly sense information; cognitive processes mediate between sensory input from the environment and behaviour. These cognitive processes are influenced by neurological, psychological, socio-cultural and other factors. In recent years there has been growing scholarly interest in the study of cognitive sociology, focusing on the interactions between culture and cognition. This stream in sociological literature draws upon and complements cognitive psychological literature. The prohibition on discrimination constitutes one of the fundamental rules in international human rights law, but studies reveal that racial discrimination is pervasive and persistent in many states. Non-compliance with this international legal rule is significantly related to cognitive processes through which people acquire and interpret incoming information about other people. Racial groups are socially constructed, and deeply ingrained socio-cognitive biases feed and reproduce racially discriminatory behaviour. These biased mental processes, however, are not inevitable and may change over time. Effective struggle against racial discrimination requires that international legal mechanisms also address the socio-cognitive infrastructure which facilitates and sustains racial discrimination. Consequently, this study also discusses some international legal strategies aimed at mitigating cognitive biases and enhancing compliance with treaties prohibiting racial discrimination.
Keywords: International law, cognitive science, sociology, racial discrimination, human rights
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