PhD Candidate Lawrence Williams on the automatic yet temporary use of schemata in everyday reasoning

Ph.D. Candidate Lawrence Williams published an article in European Journal of Cultural Studies entitled, “Thinking through death and employment: The automatic yet temporary use of schemata in everyday reasoning.” The article addresses the issue of schematic failure through an analysis of in-depth interviews. In these, respondents were asked a series of questions in the domains of dying and employment.

Lawrence Williams is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. His research interests lie within sociological theory, sociology of culture, and deviance. His current research focuses on how individuals working in the field of customer service understand their careers and find meaning at work. It also examines the role of intuition in major life decisions.

We have posted the citation and the abstract below. The full text is available through Sage Journals here.

Williams, L. H. (2019). Thinking through death and employment: The automatic yet temporary use of schemata in everyday reasoning. European Journal of Cultural Studies22(1), 110–127.

Over the past two decades, the word schema has become increasingly used by scholars studying culture. Viewed largely as a kind of mental shortcut that individuals internalize by means of their various experiences, the concept enables researchers to study how societal-level factors such as norms and values impact individual action by way of shaping individuals’ cognitive structures. However, little attention is given to how and why particular schemata are used in particular situations. Through comparative analysis of two sets of in-depth interviews on the topics of dying and careers, I find that individuals alternate through various schemata as they attempt to answer questions posed to them. I argue that the presence of this alternation weakens assumptions regarding the automaticity of the deployment of schemata in the decision-making process by signaling that schemata may be triggered automatically but used temporarily. In extension, this argument supports the work of cultural scholars and discursive psychologists who both implicitly and explicitly see schemata as flexible, personalized heuristics rather than impersonal, statically shared determinants of thought and action.