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Literature and Social Justice

Literature and Social Justice
Protest Novels, Cognitive Politics, and Schema Criticism

Drawing insights from cognitive and social neuroscience, this book uncovers the cognitive roots of social injustice and makes a powerful case that literature can positively alter the way we view others and promote social justice.

Series: Cognitive Approaches to Literature and Culture, Edited by Frederick Luis Aldama, Arturo J. Aldama, and Patrick Colm Hogan

September 2013
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350 pages | 6 x 9 | 3 line art |

Can reading social protest novels actually produce a more just world? Literature and Social Justice offers a scientifically informed, evidence-based affirmative answer to that crucial question, arguing that literature has the potential—albeit largely unrealized—to produce lasting, socially transformative psychological changes in readers. Moving beyond traditional social criticism in its various forms, including feminist, gender, queer, and postcolonialist approaches, Mark Bracher uses new knowledge concerning the cognitive structures and processes that constitute the psychological roots of social injustice to develop a detailed, systematic critical strategy that he calls “schema criticism,” which can be applied to literature and other discourses to maximize and extend their potential for promoting social justice.

Bracher draws on studies in social cognition, social neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, political psychology, and psychoanalysis to uncover the root cognitive structures that cause misunderstandings among people and give rise to social injustice. Using the novels The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath, and Native Son, he then demonstrates how schema criticism can correct these faulty cognitive structures and enable readers to develop more accurate and empathetic views of those they deem “Other,” as well as become more aware of their own cognitive processes. Calling the book “insightful, erudite, and humane,” Cognitive Approaches to Literature and Culture Series coeditor Patrick Colm Hogan says, “This inspiring book should be welcomed by literary critics, political activists, and anyone who cares about social justice.”




Part I. The Psychological Basis for a Cognitive Politics of Social Justice

Chapter 1. Cognitive Science for a New Social Criticism

Part II. The Cognitive Roots of Injustice: Four Person-Schemas

Chapter 2. Autonomism versus Situationism: Responsibility for Behavior and Life Outcomes

Chapter 3. Essentialism versus Malleability: Responsibility for Character

Chapter 4. Atomism versus Solidarity: Relation of Self to Others

Chapter 5. Homogeneity versus Heterogeneity: The Structure of Character

Part III. How Protest Novels Work to Replace Faulty Person-Schemas

Chapter 6. The Jungle

Chapter 7. The Grapes of Wrath

Chapter 8. Native Son

Part IV. A Radical Cognitive Social Criticism

Chapter 9. Schema Criticism: Radical Cognitive Politics


Works Cited



Mark Bracher is Professor of English and Director of the Center for Literature and Psychoanalysis at Kent State University. He is the author of Radical Pedagogy: Identity, Generativity, and Social Tranformation (Palgrave, 2006) and The Writing Cure: Psychoanalysis, Composition, and the Aims of Education (SIU Press, 1999).


Part I: The Psychological Basis for a Cognitive Politics of Social Justice

Chapter 1: Cognitive Science for a New Social Criticism

Deficiencies of Traditional Social Criticism

In the 1970s, spurred by second-wave feminism and a resurgent Marxism, social change emerged as an important goal of literary and cultural criticism, with ideology critique being viewed as the primary means of producing it. Judith Fetterley, to take a prominent feminist example, declared in 1978 that "at its best, feminist criticism is a political act whose aim is not simply to interpret the world but to change it", and by the 1980s, many critics were boldly embracing social change as a central goal of criticism.

Frank Lentricchia's widely read Criticism and Social Change echoed Fetterley in asserting that "the point is not only to interpret texts, but in so interpreting them, to change our society" and maintained that ideology critique, through exposing the social struggles that canonical literature and interpretation worked to obscure, would help readers "spot, confront, and work against the political horrors of one's time". Similar positions were taken by Fredric Jameson in The Political Unconscious and by Terry Eagleton in the "Political Conclusion" to Literary Theory and in The Function of Criticism, as well as by other feminists, such as Patrocinio Schweickart, who wrote in 1986 that "the point is not merely to interpret literature in various ways; the point is to change the world". But as these critics and others recognized, if literary study is to contribute to social or political change, it must do so by changing readers: "Literature acts on the world by acting on its readers," as Schweickart put it, thus producing "new forms of subjectivity," to use a phrase of Foucault's adopted by Eagleton. And ideology critique lacked a theory of subjectivity, as Jameson and others have noted regarding Marxism in particular.

The logical place to look for such a theory was of course psychoanalysis, and Jameson, in particular, explored the possibility of adapting certain psychoanalytic concepts to the needs of social criticism. The main problem with this tack, however, as Jameson observed at the beginning of his essay on Lacan, was "the difficulty of providing mediations between social phenomena and what must be called private, rather than even merely individual, facts". And such mediations were not forthcoming. Julia Kristeva's claim in Revolution in Poetic Language that disruptive linguistic practices in avant-garde poetry produce new forms of subjectivity having revolutionary ramifications had little evidentiary support, while the work of the most prominent American psychoanalytic critic of the 1970s and 1980s, Norman Holland, purported to demonstrate that reading experiences don't change people or even engage them in collective concerns so much as offer them an opportunity to rehearse their own idiosyncratic identity themes, a conclusion that made the possibility of a psychoanalytic mediation between the psychological and the social appear highly unlikely. Nor has the work of the most prominent psychoanalytic cultural critic of the past two decades, Slavoj Zizek, offered any strategies for producing new forms of subjectivity that would lead to social change. Indeed, as Rita Felski has recently noted, psychoanalysis is not "especially well suited for fine-grained descriptions of the affective attachments and cognitive reorientations that characterize the experience of reading a book or watching a film".

Despite their not having a comprehensive theory of subjectivity, social critics recognize that faulty knowledge about certain groups of people plays a major role in social injustice, and these critics have worked diligently to identify, expose, denounce, and correct inaccuracies, distortions, and omissions in people's understanding of women and non-heterosexual, non-white, non-European, and non-middle-class people. These efforts have rarely, if ever, produced the desired results, however, and there is good evidence that they are incapable of doing so. The reason is that faulty knowledge and beliefs about other people involve more than falsifiable propositions that are susceptible to correction by rational argument and evidence.

Foucault recognized this fact, and it seemed for a time that Foucauldian theory might be able to mediate the psychological and the social in a manner that could constitute a basis for an effective criticism for social change. Foucault appeared to offer a remedy for both the ineffectiveness of ideology critique and its theoretical deficiencies (deficiencies magnified by Foucault's stinging criticism of Marxist notions of history, ideology, and power, all of which he demonstrated to be more multifarious, "micro-physical," and mutually interconstitutive than ideology critique had acknowledged). With regard to literature specifically, while both Marxist and psychoanalytic theories had failed to provide a convincing explanation of how literature or criticism of it could alter readers' forms of subjectivity in ways that would lead to social change, the Foucauldian discourse–knowledge–power triad seemed to provide the basis for such an explanation: discourse (including literature and criticism) not only serves and expresses power, it also embodies and produces it, by constructing and regulating knowledge, a central element of subjectivity and thus a key determinant of behavior.

New Historicist criticism enthusiastically embraced these ideas. Drawing on Foucault's reconceptualization of power as a network of capillary forces with multiple types and points of generation, transmission, and resistance--including discourse, along with other techniques, technologies, apparatuses, practices, and disciplines--rather than as a monolithic force emanating from a single source such as the state, New Historicism offered a significant advance in our understanding of literature's relation to power. More specifically, in focusing on the ways literary texts engage with "the processes by which social subjects are formed, re-formed, and enabled to perform" and in "foreground[ing] the differential subject positions from which readers read, and into which they are maneuvered during the process of reading", New Historicist criticism appeared to possess the means by which literary study might promote the new forms of subjectivity that would lead to significant social change.

Here too, however, practice failed to achieve the goal. New Historicist criticism operated on the assumption that "construing literature as an unstable and agonistic field of verbal and social practices" would "bring to our students and to ourselves a sense of our own historicity, an apprehension of our positionings within ideology," thus "demonstrating the limited but nevertheless tangible possibility of contesting the regime of power and knowledge that at once sustains us and constrains us". The problem with this strategy is that even if criticism does successfully "demonstrat[e] the . . . possibility of contesting the regime of power and knowledge," such a demonstration still leaves us a good distance from social change. For simply being aware of the historicity--the arbitrariness, contingency, and socially constructed nature--of our social positionings and our subjective dispositions does not in and of itself lead to the sorts of adjustments in emotions and behaviors toward other people that result in social change.

This is the impasse not only of New Historicist criticism specifically but also of Foucauldian theory and practice generally: while it can produce intricate and massive archaeological excavations, which can in turn facilitate the construction of genealogies that reveal the arbitrary and constructed nature of regimes of truth and knowledge that had appeared natural, universal, and/or immutable, such exposure does not by itself even change these regimes, much less alter behavior. And Foucauldian theory is finally incapable of providing a strategy for doing so. The reason lies not only in Foucault's aversion to making normative judgments, which any agenda of social change necessarily presupposes, but also, and more crucially, in the fact that his theory fails to provide an adequate mediation of the psychological and the social. More specifically, Foucauldian theory, like Marxist theory and psychoanalysis, cannot explain how reading and analyzing literary texts and other discourses can produce the sorts of alterations of knowledge and belief that will lead to the kinds of behavioral modifications that result in social change. And in the case of Foucauldian (and Marxist) theory, this inability is based on a more fundamental deficiency: the absence of an account of the operations of the human mind. For although Foucault emphasizes the role of discourse, knowledge, and other implements of power in producing the soul (psyche), he says little about the nature of this psyche or how it variously produces, maintains, transmits, is produced by, and sometimes alters specific forms and elements of discourse, knowledge, and power. As J. M. Balkin has pointed out, "Foucault does not seem to have any theory of internal mental processes or cognitive structure. . . . He simply takes for granted that mechanisms of socialization and cognition supply whatever is necessary for disciplines of power/knowledge to have their requisite effects" . This is a fatal deficiency, for, as Balkin rightly contends,

disciplines and practices cannot have these effects unless they are understood and internalized by individuals with a cognitive apparatus. Social construction on the order that Foucault proposes requires elaborate mechanisms of understanding that must perform a great deal of work in shaping and constituting the individual's identity and thought. Foucault's account lacks any description or concern with these internal cognitive processes [that account for . . .] how each individual processes information.

Thus literary criticism after Foucault still lacks a viable, coherent strategy for facilitating social change, because it still lacks an understanding of how discourse--including literature and criticism--can (re)form subjectivity in socially consequential ways.

What Cognitive Science Offers

Cognitive science offers valuable new resources in this regard. Research has clarified four crucial features of social cognition--the processes through which we perceive, understand, and judge other people--that can provide the foundation for a more effective practice of social criticism. This research indicates, first, that the ultimate source of distorted, harmful assessments that people make about each other is not stereotypes per se, but certain faulty "knowledge" or beliefs about "human nature," or persons in general, that both form the core of negative group stereotypes and also operate independently of stereotypes (see Levy; Henry et al.). Second, cognitive research has emphasized that our knowledge of people, including beliefs about human nature or persons in general, exists not just in propositional form but also in multiple other forms that often serve as more powerful determinants of perception, judgment, emotion, and behavior than does propositional knowledge. Third, cognitive science has revealed that knowledge is not simply a static, continuously existing entity stored in some warehouse of memory; rather it is, like memory itself, produced or assembled for the nonce by information-processing routines (themselves the result of countless neural networks distributed throughout the brain) that are activated whenever we assess other people's behavior or character. And fourth, these information-processing routines, along with the multiple other types and forms of knowledge that both govern them and are (re)produced by them, cannot usually be altered solely by the operations of critique--that is, by evidence, argument, or correct propositional knowledge. Rather, they must be altered through cognitive retraining, ideally in conjunction with the development of metacognition. Consider each of these findings in turn.

Fundamental Beliefs about Persons in General, or Human Nature

As noted in the preface, four key faulty assumptions about persons in general, or human nature, have been identified that lead people to support harmful and unjust social policies, institutions, and systems. Once again, these are

  1. Autonomy: the assumption that an individual's character is the primary cause of his or her behaviors and life outcomes and that circumstances are not a major factor.
  2. Essentialism: the conviction that upbringing and environment play no significant role in forming one's character and that individuals themselves therefore bear the primary responsibility for the type of person they are.
  3. Atomism: the view that individuals are fundamentally separate and competitive, not united and cooperative and that life is thus a war of each against all and that any cooperation is merely a means of furthering one's individual competitive advantage.
  4. Homogeneity: the belief that people can be adequately categorized as simply good or bad--as in, "We are good, peace-loving people; they are evil people who hate our freedoms."


As I will explain in Chapters 2 through 5, each of these assumptions has been shown to be false and to lead to inaccurate judgments about other people that result in harmful and unjust social actions, policies, institutions, and structures. The degree to which assumptions about human nature can have real-world consequences is not always recognized, but as the following chapters will show, the impact is considerable. As economist Robert H. Frank points out, "Views about human nature are not merely a subject of debate among behavioral scientists. They also have practical consequences, including the way corporations treat their workers and customers, as well as the foreign, economic, and tax policies of a society". Stephan Chorover traces the consequences of assumptions about human nature even further, arguing in From Genes to Genocide: The Meaning of Human Nature and the Power of Behavior Control that such assumptions have "a powerful influence upon social expectations," which "shape the ways in which people in a given social context are treated . . . [and therefore] significantly influence how they behave." Such beliefs are thus "powerful instruments of behavior control . . . [and thus] have been fostered since antiquity for the sole purpose of justifying the power of some people to control the behavior of others". Chorover notes that "dominant groups will propagate whichever myths about human nature justify [current social] structures as 'natural'" . From Plato to the present, claims about human nature have been used "to justify as inevitable the concentration of social, political, and economic power in the hands of those who are alleged to be the inherently deserving". "Of all the ideas by which human behavior can be shaped," Chorover argues, "by far the most important and most persuasive (if not always the most credible) are the ones that purport to define what it means to be a human being".

This is not to say that faulty and harmful assumptions about persons are merely the product of the interests of certain groups of people. As we will see in the following chapters, these beliefs also derive from certain innate features of human cognition, as well as from various contingent cultural and psychological factors that are at most only partly and tenuously produced by the power interests of a particular group.

Nor is it to say that to avoid the misunderstandings and injustices that are produced by these false views of human nature we need simply to abandon the idea of a human nature. As Steven Pinker explains in The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, this strategy has been dominant among many intellectuals for decades, due to their belief that "to acknowledge human nature . . . is to endorse racism, sexism, war, greed, genocide, nihilism, reactionary politics, and neglect of children and the disadvantaged" (Pinker viii). Pinker argues convincingly that these feared dangers result from the misrecognition rather than the recognition of human nature. He points out that the claim that there is no human nature--that humans are a blank slate, an infinitely malleable species--is itself a claim about human nature, which, moreover, "has done harm to the lives of real people" by enabling unrealistic and misguided hopes and social projects. "Everyone has a theory of human nature," Pinker observes, and it's a good thing that we do: "Everyone has to anticipate the behavior of others, and that means we all need theories about what makes people tick". In addition, "every society must operate with a theory of human nature" as a necessary foundation for its policies, institutions, and systems:

Our theory of human nature is the wellspring of much in our lives. . . . Its assumptions about learning drive our educational policy; its assumptions about motivation drive our policies on economics, law, and crime. And because it delineates what people can achieve easily, what they can achieve only with sacrifice or pain, and what they cannot achieve at all, it affects our values: what we believe we can reasonably strive for as individuals and as a society.


Indeed, without some theory of human nature, however implicit or unconscious, we would be unable to distinguish a person from a bear, a tree, or a rock and hence would have no basis for discriminatory feelings, thoughts, and actions regarding these different kinds of being. The solution to the problem of the oppressive role played by the concept of human nature is thus not to deny that such a thing as human nature exists, but to correct the faulty beliefs about human nature that are responsible for the oppression.

Types and Forms of Knowledge

Unfortunately, correcting these faulty beliefs cannot be accomplished solely by evidence and argument. The problem is not merely that many people--such as those under the spells of fundamentalist religion on the right or absolute cultural relativism on the left--simply reject evidence and argument, though that is certainly a concern. The real issue is that such faulty assumptions are encoded not just in propositional form but in other modes as well, including concepts, episode scripts, life scripts, prototypic individuals, prototypic images, prototypic emotions, and action scripts. And these other modes of knowledge are more directly linked to emotions, which are not only a form of knowledge themselves but also the proximal motivator and determinant of much human behavior.

This difference between persuading people that their assumptions are untrue, on the one hand, and changing their faulty cognitive apparatuses and hence their behavior, on the other, is quite important and consequential. It is the difference between persuading phobic individuals that they really have nothing to fear and helping them actually get rid of their fear and their phobic behavior, or between convincing depressed people that their lives and prospects are actually pretty good and getting them to stop feeling despair and living fatalistically (see Beck). It is also the difference between persuading white people that African Americans are in no way inferior and changing the way white people process information about African Americans, so that they do not produce flawed and unjust judgments, emotions, and actions regarding them. Studies have shown that white people can be convinced that blacks are their equals, but still produce prejudiced judgments, feelings, and behaviors regarding them. Persuasion may get rid of traditional racism, but it often leaves in place various forms of "modern" racism, including aversive racism.

As the feminist philosopher Diana Tietjens Meyers has noted, one reason prejudice is so intractable is that it operates "without obliging anyone to formulate, accept, or reject repugnant negative propositions about any group's standing". This is because prejudice, as Meyers explains, is enacted largely through other forms of knowledge, including imagery, figurative concepts (e.g., women as "foxes," "chicks," "babes," or "bitches'), prototypic figures such as the saintly mother and the evil witch, and ideal and cautionary narrative prototypes articulating stereotypical relationships and actions of these mythical types. It is these non-propositional forms of faulty knowledge about other people that render faulty and harmful social judgments so difficult to eliminate: "It is not possible to refute [them] with counterexamples or statistics, . . . [because] empirically grounded arguments attacking propositional paraphrases of these figurations fail to make contact with their emotional underpinnings".

The emotions and other forms of non-propositional knowledge are key, because social action is often driven much more by these forms of knowledge about other people than by propositional knowledge or beliefs. This point has been powerfully demonstrated in recent books by Drew Westen and George Lakoff. In The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, Westen shows that people's positions with regard to social issues and policies, as well as political parties, platforms, and candidates, are determined more by the emotions they feel toward these things than by evidence and logical thought. He argues that the reason right-wing policies and candidates have dominated American politics for the past generation is because they have appealed to voters' emotions, whereas Democrats have based their appeals primarily on reason and evidence: "Republicans understand . . . that reason is a slave to emotion. . . . With the exception of the Clinton era, Democratic strategists for the last three decades have instead clung tenaciously to the dispassionate view of the mind and to the campaign strategy that logically follows from it, namely one that focuses on facts, figures, policy statements, costs and benefits, and appeals to intellect and expertise" (. "The brain," Westen explains, "gravitates toward solutions designed to match not only data but desire, by spreading activation to [neural] networks that lead to conclusions associated with positive emotions and inhibiting networks that would lead to negative emotions". This means that the most effective political persuasion is that which either activates, creates, or reinforces neural networks that produce positive feelings about one's own position and negative feelings about the opponent's. Republicans understand much better than Democrats that the primary way to activate these networks is by using emotion-bearing images and narrative frames and that to create new networks they must identify constituents' key values and principles and "weave them into a story [narrative frame] that resonates with the average American".

Lakoff makes a similar argument in The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain. Progressives, he declares, have been operating with an outdated, "false view of reason" and have thus "ceded the political mind to radical conservatives". This false view, which assumes "that reason is conscious, literal, logical, unemotional, disembodied, universal, and functions to serve our interests," not only "does not account for real political behavior", but also leads progressives to assume that appeals to facts and logic will carry the day. Progressives need to realize that the persuasive power of language comes not primarily from evidence and logic but rather from the "frames, prototypes, metaphors, narratives, images, and emotions" it engages. Instead of appealing only to facts and logic, they need to frame and reframe issues in such manner that reveals the truth about these issues in emotionally compelling ways.

Much of the effort of Lakoff and Westen is devoted to variously repositioning conservative and progressive policies in relation to hegemonic images, narratives, and prototypes. "Schema criticism," in contrast, aims to replace hegemonic images, narratives, and prototypes with more adequate ones. What schema criticism shares with the approaches of Westen and Lakoff is the recognition that attempting to refute or alter faulty propositional knowledge, as social criticism has traditionally done, will not change harmful social attitudes, practices, policies institutions, systems, and structures as long as other forms of knowledge remain intact and continue to govern people's information processing and hence their emotions and behaviors. Preventing unjust treatment of others, whether in public policies or in private actions, therefore requires a radical cognitive politics: a strategy of intervention that corrects not just faulty propositional knowledge but also the multiple faulty non-propositional forms of knowledge that constitute the roots of false and unjust perceptions, judgments, feelings, actions, and policies concerning other people.

Both cognitive theory and the practice of cognitive therapy indicate that elimination of unjust attitudes requires, more specifically, modifying four basic types of knowledge, each of which has multiple forms. These four types include

  • Specific instances of individuals, or exemplars, which are a function of episodic memory systems,
  • General types of individuals, or prototypes, which are a function of semantic memory,
  • Know-how in the form of information-processing routines, which are a function of procedural memory systems, and
  • Propositional knowledge, including metacognition, which is based in semantic memory.


Exemplars are memories of particular individuals and events, while prototypes are composites (average or standard cases) of multiple exemplars that form in semantic memory when a critical mass of exemplars for a particular category has been encoded in episodic memory. Information-processing routines are a form of procedural knowledge that, like other instances of procedural knowledge such as those involved in playing a musical instrument or driving a car, operate largely automatically and outside of awareness--as exemplars and prototypes tend to do as well. Information-processing routines can, however, be influenced and altered by both semantic knowledge and episodic knowledge--as when, for example, we observe that a young state legislator appears very senatorial (prototype) or reminds us of a young John F. Kennedy (exemplar) and then begin to notice, remember, infer, and/or suppose additional senator-like or Kennedy-like features in the individual, or when we employ metacognition to explicitly formulate (often with the help of teachers or coaches) revisions or alternatives to current procedures (e.g., a different fingering technique on a musical instrument or a different swing of a baseball bat, golf club, or tennis racquet). Conversely, information-processing routines themselves function to produce particular types of exemplars--and hence prototypes as well--by directing attention to certain features, ignoring or discounting other features, and so on.

Together these four types of knowledge constitute cognitive schemas. "Cognitive schemas," in my usage of the term, are functional (rather than neurological) constructs designating the multiple types and forms of previously acquired knowledge concerning a particular category, which are "stored" in multiple systems and locations in the brain and which guide the processing of information about each phenomenon we encounter. Thus whenever we encounter or think of a person (or an object, action, or event), one or more cognitive schemas are activated. These schemas are absolutely essential to our functioning in the world; they are what enable us to quickly identify and appropriately respond to people, objects, and events. But essential as they are, they can also distort our perception and understanding by causing us to ignore important information, to falsely infer, remember, or suppose facts that do not exist, or to connect or dissociate bits of information in tendentious, flawed, and harmful ways.

Some person-schemas are of particular types of people, but others concern people in general. These general person-schemas, or "implicit person theories," as they are sometimes called, constitute key assumptions about human nature (or human nature in conjunction with the human condition), and they in many ways exert even greater influence on social perception and judgment than particular stereotypes do. The four faulty person-schemas identified above systematically produce misunderstandings of self and others that, in turn, lead to unjust social policies, institutions, and systems. They do so not only directly but also indirectly, through their role in negative group stereotypes as well as in the moral frames discussed by Lakoff. The first two schemas listed below, those of autonomy and essentialism, are responsible for the mistaken judgments that individuals deserve full blame for their failures and full credit for their successes, while the last two, those of atomism and homogeneity, blind people to the profound sameness and interconnectedness they share with all other humans and thus validate and reinforce intergroup hatred and selfish, chauvinistic actions and policies:

  1. The autonomy schema blinds people to the role of circumstances in determining behavior and life outcomes and leads them to continually conclude that poor and marginalized individuals and groups are responsible for their "bad behavior" and inferior stations in life and that people who have exhibited "good behavior" and attained success deserve full credit for their good fortune. This conclusion, in turn, produces social policies that stigmatize, neglect, and/or punish the unfortunate and maintain poverty and inequality in the United States and around the world.
  2. The essentialism schema systematically prevents recognition of the formative effects of environment on character, promulgating the view that people are somehow responsible for their own character and that their formative experiences and environment played little or no role in determining the type of person they have become. This view, in turn, leads people to respond to social problems such as poverty, crime, violence, drug abuse, war, and terrorism with (largely ineffective) vindictive and punitive measures instead of much more effective and just preventive and rehabilitative interventions.
  3. The atomism schema obscures one's inherent sameness and interconnectedness with all other human beings and supports the view that individuals are fundamentally separate and isolated from each other, that life is a war of each against all, and that any act of altruism or cooperation is simply a means to achieve dominance over others. In producing this vision of persons, the atomism schema potentiates infra-humanization and dehumanization of the other, which further enables various forms of indifference and aggression toward the other, including Social Darwinism.
  4. The homogeneity schema homogenizes self and other into all good or all bad, thus blocking awareness of one's own negative qualities as well as the positive qualities of others who may have evinced negative behaviors or character traits. The schema thus enables categorization of people as either good or bad, and the division of the moral landscape into "us" versus "them," as in the terrorists' division of the world into the faithful and the infidels, and George W. Bush's declarations that "we" Americans are good, peaceful, freedom-loving people, while "they," the terrorists and their supporters, are evil people who hate our freedoms. By enabling an absolute distinction between "us" and "them," the homogeneity schema thus denies our common humanity and, like the atomism schema, fosters infra-humanization and dehumanization and the often-ensuing indifference and violence.


These general person-schemas govern both top–down and bottom–up processing of information about other people. They govern top–down processing from within specific stereotypes, such as the dominant ones for a welfare recipient or a homeless person, where they are embedded. That is, exemplars, prototypes, and information-processing routines, along with propositional knowledge, regarding specific categories of people such as the homeless, welfare recipients, and criminals are all influenced by assumptions about human nature embodied in the four general-person schemas. Moreover, when no stereotype is operative and bottom–up processing occurs, these general person-schemas themselves function as the templates governing our perception and judgment whenever we apportion responsibility for success or failure and whenever we assess another individual's or group's inherent worth (which we do in part by judging their degree of overlap with ourselves). Altering these flawed and harmful schemas is thus a prerequisite for social justice.

As we have noted, however, altering a cognitive schema requires changing not just its explicit, propositional beliefs but also the three types of implicit knowledge it includes--prototypes, exemplars, and information-processing routines--each of which itself exists in multiple forms, any of which can exert significant distortive pressure on our information processing in any given instance, resulting in harmful and unjust emotions and actions concerning other people.


Much of our perception and assessment of other people is based on prototypes, our constructs of what we take to be the typical member of a particular category. Prototypes function as cognitive templates that guide our perceptions, judgments, emotions, and actions when we are dealing with people who fall into a category with which we are quite familiar. When a prototype is activated, it usually preempts further information processing (e.g., searching for new information, drawing additional or alternative inferences, analyzing the information, etc.) by providing us with a prefabricated assessment of the person along with an emotional response and an action tendency or script.

The most familiar prototypes are stereotypes. Think of our culture's dominant stereotypes for welfare recipients, homeless people, or criminals. The stereotype many white people have of a welfare recipient is a person who is single, black, female, unemployed, lazy, self-indulgent, and overweight, and who lives with her multiple unruly children in the inner city (see Hancock). When a person who is guided by this stereotype thinks of public policy concerning welfare recipients, this prototype will often lead her to assume, without gathering any information whatsoever, that most welfare recipients are lazy, self-indulgent, and irresponsible, with little or no similarity to herself. And as a result of judging welfare recipients to be lazy, irresponsible, and other, the perceiver will experience negative emotions (disdain, contempt, anger, etc.) rather than compassion toward this group and proceed to support public policies that administer discipline and even punishment to them rather than aid. In such instances, the prototype may get the key facts about the welfare recipients at issue completely wrong: only a very small proportion of real welfare recipients actually fit the prototype of being lazy and irresponsible (most welfare recipients are children, many adult recipients are employed, and of the unemployed, most are unable to work or to find a job, etc.), and all of them have the same basic human needs as oneself. And as a consequence of her having gotten these key facts wrong, the perceiver's resulting emotional and behavioral responses--including the public policies that these responses support--are likely to be harmful, unjust, and socially and economically counterproductive.
Prototypes exist in multiple forms, any one of which can function as the default knowledge structure guiding perception, judgment, and action regarding other people. The autonomy prototype, for example, has the following forms:

  • Concepts, such as autonomy, independence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency, as well as derogatory counterparts such as laziness, self-indulgence, dependency, and parasitism.
  • Episode scripts, such as determination-leads-to-success--that is, episodes in which character is shown to determine behavior no matter what the circumstances (character--> circumstances-->behavior) and behavior is portrayed as determining success or failure no matter what the circumstances (behavior--> circumstances--> success/failure).
  • Life scripts, such as the rags-to-riches life story, in which determination and hard work are shown to overcome all difficult circumstances and, conversely, the vice-to-downfall story, in which failure is shown to be the product of bad character squandering even the most propitious of circumstances.
  • Prototypic individuals, such as the self-made man and the hero who overcomes all opposition and, conversely, the lazy, self-indulgent ne'er-do-well.
  • Prototypic body images, such as confident, can-do voices, gazes, postures, and movements--as well as, conversely, their listless, passive, hopeless counterparts.
  • Prototypic emotions, such as disdain and contempt for unsuccessful people and admiration and pride for successful people.
  • Action scripts (in the form of social practices and policies) of neglect, discipline, and punishment of the unfortunate (e.g., refusing the jobless unemployment benefits) and further rewards for the fortunate (e.g., reducing their taxes even further).



In some cases, instead of using prototypes, we use particular examples, or exemplars, as templates for perceiving and judging other people. Exemplars are not inherently more (or less) reliable than prototypes as processing guides, for they function in basically the same way as prototypes, often preempting further searching for information and immediately producing an emotional response and an action tendency. Exemplars can come from either direct or secondhand experience. Secondhand exemplars originate from literature, television, movies, folktales, stereotyping statements made by one's family and associates, and so on, and are often actually more numerous and prominent than firsthand exemplars. This means that the media and popular culture play a major role in the production of exemplars, and thus of prototypes as well.

And it also means that literature has at least the potential to make significant contributions to an individual's store of exemplars and prototypes and through them, to his perceptions, judgments, and actions regarding other people. As Patrick Hogan states, "The characters and situations depicted in literature" are exemplars that "can function to guide both understanding and action". Hogan reasons that although "exempla[rs] from our own lives are likely to have predominant force in guiding ethical and other thought and action, . . . we know literary characters much better than we know almost any real people" and thus that "literary exempla[rs] are likely to have considerable force as well". Consequently, Hogan concludes, "literature produces its ethical effects, at least in part, by supplying us with cognitive exempla[rs]. . . . Once triggered, these exempla[rs] serve to guide our response to that person or situation. They serve to highlight certain aspects and obscure others, to fill in details, to associate emotions. . . . [And] the emotional valence of the exempl[ar] motivates spontaneous action toward the . . . person or situation".

Exemplars become operative in cases where a fitting prototype is lacking, as well as in cases where a particular exemplar is especially accessible in memory (e.g., because of priming, recency of activation, or frequency of activation and hence chronic accessibility). Thus if a person has a close friend or family member on welfare, or has recently read a memorable account of a (real or fictional) welfare recipient, that single exemplar may override the dominant stereotype and function as a template for perceiving, judging, and responding to other welfare recipients. If the exemplar had to go on welfare because of an illness, a disability, or other circumstances over which he or she had no control, the perceiver will be more likely to at least consider the possibility that other welfare recipients might similarly be victims of circumstance and thus respond to them more with compassion and assistance than with the disdain and neglect or punishment triggered by the dominant cultural prototype, which attributes sole responsibility to the individual and ignores the situation. On the other hand, seeing a homeless black man with a young boy, for example, might remind some moviegoers of the example of Chris Gardner (as recounted in the film Pursuit of Happyness), who, although homeless and living in the subway with his young son, worked hard and became a successful stockbroker. On the basis of this exemplar, people may eschew any inquiry into the circumstances of the homeless father before them and simply leap to the conclusion that he could achieve the same success as Chris Gardner if he just worked harder.

Exemplars exist in the same multiple forms as prototypes. They include our episodic memories (which are themselves reconstructed for the nonce whenever they are recalled) of particular episodes, life stories, individuals, body images, emotions, and actions. As is the case with prototypes, a faulty belief or "knowledge" such as that of autonomy--the assumption that individual behaviors and life outcomes are determined by character and not circumstances--can operate in each form of exemplar. To illustrate, consider the following exemplars of the autonomy assumption found in the early pages of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle:

  • Signifier of the autonomy concept: powerful, prosperous, successful.
  • Autonomy episode: Jurgis works hard on the railroad in Poland, earns good money, and through his own efforts and conscientiousness manages to outwit those who attempt to prey upon him, and returns to Lithuania still in possession of his earnings.
  • Autonomy life story: a Lithuanian acquaintance of Jurgis's family emigrates to America and through diligence and hard work prospers there.
  • Autonomous individual: the successful Jurgis--e.g., Jurgis in the early days of his labor in the meatpacking plant.
  • Body image of autonomy: the huge and powerful Jurgis standing out in the crowd or effortlessly carrying a quarter of beef.
  • Emotion presupposing autonomy in self or others: Jurgis's pride in getting a job (a manifestation of the self's supposed autonomy); Jurgis's contempt for men who don't get jobs, readers' admiration for Jurgis, and their indifference or contempt toward the jobless (in response to others' supposed autonomy).
  • Action responding to supposed autonomy (and entailed by the emotions thereby generated): Jurgis's strutting and swaggering at his own success, scoffing at those who are jobless, and attempting to solve his financial problems simply by working harder; readers' opposition to jobless and other welfare benefits.


Any exemplar of this sort can, like a prototype, function (often outside of our awareness) as a template for our perception of other people, causing us to ignore important information about their circumstances and/or to (inaccurately) interpolate, infer, or suppose key information about their character that is not given, and hence to have unjustified emotions about them that may in turn lead to unjust actions toward them. Thus when such individuals encounter or think about unsuccessful people--homeless people, for example--the activation of any one of these exemplars or prototypes can be sufficient to short-circuit further information search and analysis and precipitate the conclusion that the plight of these people is their own fault. Such a judgment leads to emotions of indifference, contempt, or anger, which incline one toward actions of neglect, discipline, or punishment.

As noted above, even when people possess accurate abstract knowledge that refutes these exemplars and prototypes--for example, the knowledge that most welfare recipients are white, not black; are children, not adults; are employed (if adult), not unemployed; and live in rural rather than urban areas--the atypical exemplars and false prototypes will often (e.g., as a result of cognitive busyness or of self-affirmation needs) bypass this abstract knowledge and determine people's emotions and actions. And even when information processing is not short-circuited, each processing step can be constrained or misdirected by an atypical exemplar or faulty prototype. Each of the various exemplars and prototypes of the autonomy schema, for example, can prevent people from expecting, seeking, finding, focusing on, inferring, supposing, encoding in memory, or recalling the multiple ways in which a person's behavior and life outcomes are determined by circumstances rather than by the person's character.

Information-Processing Routines

Prototypes and exemplars produce what is known as top–down, or categorical, processing, in which a current object of perception is forced, Procrustean style, to fit a preexisting model. Not all perception and judgment proceed in a top–down manner, however. In cases where a person cannot be readily assimilated to either a prototype or an exemplar, either because these aren't available or because such assimilation is opposed by cognitive (including emotional and ethical) obstacles, information processing proceeds in a more systematic, bottom–up, manner.

In bottom–up processing, people are judged on the basis of their own actual qualities, rather than on the basis of the typical qualities attributed to a category to which they belong. In such cases, information processing is governed largely by cognitive routines, or scripts, established in one's procedural memory. There are cognitive scripts, for example, that determine what information we expect to find concerning a given phenomenon, what information we pay attention to and what we ignore, how we interpret ambiguous information, what inferences we draw from incomplete information, what suppositions we make in the absence of information, what kinds of information we search for, and what kinds of memories (exemplars) we retrieve.

Such bottom–up processing, however, is unfortunately also vulnerable to distortion and misdirection, and the four faulty person-schemas identified above constitute a major source of distortion. As one research team observes, "Such [person-schemas], although generally unconscious and unarticulated, contain key assumptions that can underlie different patterns of social information processing. . . . Fundamentally different perspectives on human nature are likely to spawn very different mental models about how humans function, and therefore very different [implicit] beliefs about what information is needed in order to understand and predict their behavior".

These schemas can distort the particular procedures of information processing in several different ways. First, a schema's inadequate exemplars or prototypes can unconsciously distort our information processing even if we have consciously rejected them. In addition, a schema's faulty propositional knowledge can prevent even the most diligent investigation from reaching accurate conclusions about a person. Thus, for example, people who believe that disease is caused by sin will never think to look for (and hence will be extremely unlikely to discover) situational (e.g., environmental) causes such as polluted drinking water. And finally, the schema's systematic information-processing routines encoded in procedural memory may be inadequate for the task of acquiring and interpreting all the information necessary for making an accurate and fair assessment of any given individual or group.

Thus in addition to correcting atypical exemplars and false prototypes, it is also important to address faulty information-processing routines directly. Failure to do so is a third reason that the critique of flawed knowledge about people often fails to produce social change. Knowledge of other people is not simply a preconstituted static entity lying in the vaults of memory waiting to be retrieved and then utilized, altered, or destroyed; rather, it is a construct produced by multiple information-processing routines that are activated whenever we assess other people. As J. M. Balkin has pointed out, "The standard view of ideology as a collection of beliefs" does not provide an adequate basis for effectively opposing ideology, because the essence of ideology and the source of its power are "rooted in the very way in which we are able to process information". To understand ideology, we have to examine the "psychological and cognitive mechanisms that produce beliefs. . . . We must break down what previous thinkers have called ideology into distinct and analyzable mechanisms"--mechanisms that variously expect, notice, search for, infer, suppose, and remember information that confirms one's preexisting beliefs and screen out information that disconfirms these beliefs, producing what is known as confirmation bias.

With regard to the autonomy schema, for example, this means recognizing and addressing the fact that people operating with autonomist processing routines expect there to be no significant situational determinants of behaviors or life outcomes, and because of this expectation, they often fail to notice situational factors even when they are apparent. As a result, homeless persons are seen as responsible for their fate because of their own supposed shiftlessness or laziness, and situational factors that caused the homelessness--such as an accident or illness that rendered them incapable of working and/or resulted in crippling medical expenses--are overlooked. When people operating with the autonomy schema do notice such situational factors, or are forced to notice them, they often discount the significance of these facts and focus their attention on character traits instead. Thus even when people consider a person whose homelessness they know was caused by bankruptcy brought about by overwhelming medical expenses, they may still blame her for this fate, criticizing her for not having better insurance or for not taking better care of herself in the first place.

Because they expect behavior and life outcomes to be determined by character traits, in the absence of evidence that such traits played a central role, individuals operating with the autonomy schema will often search for such traits--but not for situational determinants. Or they will simply infer or suppose the existence of character determinants, either because their search for evidence proved unproductive or because they are so confident in their general assumption of autonomy that they don't feel that specific evidence is necessary. They will not, however, make similar inferences or suppositions concerning the situational determinants of behavior or destiny. Thus when there is no clear evidence that a welfare recipient is lazy or self-indulgent, many people will simply infer that she has these traits on the basis of highly ambiguous data, such as the fact that she walks very slowly or spends a lot of time sleeping. And when there is no evidence even of the most ambiguous sort to support the inference that a behavior or life outcome is the result of character rather than situation, the autonomy schema will often fill the gap in information with the supposition that such character traits exist. Thus in the absence of any evidence that a homeless person has squandered his resources on alcohol or drugs, many people will nonetheless conclude that he has.

Often people reach or bolster such a conclusion by recalling other examples in which character supposedly determined behavior or life outcome. When they search their memories, they fail to retrieve any exemplars of behavior or destiny being determined by situational factors. They retrieve exemplars of presumably lazy, dissolute, or self-indulgent homeless persons, but no exemplars who were rendered homeless by forces beyond their control. Since the autonomy schema blocks awareness of situational factors, however, there is often no experience of such factors to remember. And on those relatively rare occasions when an individual does notice situational factors, the autonomy schema is likely to either prevent such instances from being encoded in memory or cause them to be encoded as special cases that do not disconfirm the principle of autonomy and that are therefore not retrieved from memory in future instances where the memory would be relevant.

Information processing is thus governed by--and is therefore subject to distortion by--the four basic factors, or forms of knowledge, we have discussed: exemplars, prototypes, information-processing routines, and abstract propositional knowledge. The accompanying diagram indicates how these factors operate to produce faulty judgments that lead to social injustice.

In influencing each step of information processing, these various forms of "knowledge" lead people to continually misperceive and misjudge other people--as when they conclude, for example (in the case of the autonomy schema), that the marginalized and stigmatized individuals and groups they encounter are themselves responsible for their inferior stations in life and thus deserve no assistance, and that people who have attained success deserve full credit for their good fortune and thus should not be subjected to any redistribution of their wealth. These faulty conclusions, in turn, lead them to support social policies that stigmatize, neglect, and/or punish the unfortunate and maintain poverty and inequality. Correcting people's information processing to take adequate account of the crucial information concerning other people would thus contribute significantly to social justice and is arguably a prerequisite for it. The question, then, is how such faulty, harmful schemas can be corrected or replaced with more adequate person-schemas as default information-processing structures.

Principles of Schema Change

To help answer this question, we move from the laboratories of cognitive science to its clinical wing, where cognitive therapists have successfully addressed a problem very similar to this one, that is, the failure of critique to disable harmful prejudices, stereotypes, ideologies, and power/knowledge formations.
The clinical problem is that certain psychological maladies, such as depression and phobia, often prove highly resistant to traditional forms of therapy based on insight, clarification, or confrontation--practices that closely resemble traditional forms of social criticism. The traditional therapeutic techniques help people acknowledge that, for example, their deep despair about their lives, or their fear of public spaces, is unfounded and irrational, but despite this knowledge, their perceptions, feelings, and behaviors often remain unchanged, just as people who are rationally convinced that certain prejudices or ideological beliefs are invalid often continue to perceive, feel, and respond to others in a prejudiced and harmful manner. Cognitive therapists gradually realized that to overcome their faulty and harmful perceptions, feelings, and behaviors, patients need to change not just their conscious, propositional beliefs but the cognitive schemas that continually reproduce the faulty perceptions, feelings, and behaviors. The result, known in one of its more prominent forms as "schema therapy," is composed of processes that can be adapted by social and cultural critics to alter or replace faulty and harmful collective cognitive schemas.

The general process through which a faulty cognitive schema is replaced involves repeatedly employing, in varying contexts, a more adequate schema. One step toward this end is to help individuals develop metacognition of their own information processing by compelling them to repeatedly apprehend the faulty and harmful nature of their flawed schema in its various elements--that is, its various exemplars, prototypes, and information-processing routines, as well as propositional knowledge. The key activity in this step is to help people identify the important types of information that are excluded when they arrive at certain judgments, emotions, and actions. A second step is to provide these people with exemplars that reveal this crucial excluded information and thus serve as correctives to the faulty exemplars and prototypes. Third, one must help people formulate and perform information-processing routines that provide the crucial information that their current processing is excluding. And fourth, one must get people to repeatedly recognize, interrupt, and override the old, faulty schema elements when they are triggered, and to activate instead the elements of the new, more adequate schema.

Repeated activation of these alternative, corrective schema elements will incrementally establish them as the default structures for processing information, at which point the old schema will no longer be cued and the new schema will be activated automatically instead. The more experiences one has of recognizing and eschewing the propositions, exemplars, prototypes, and processing routines of the old, faulty schema and activating instead the elements of the new, more adequate schema, the more powerful and automatic the new, more adequate schema becomes.

Such repetition is essential because while a single experience may be sufficient to correct faulty propositional knowledge, the non-propositional forms of knowledge often cannot be changed by a single intervention. This is because unlike propositional knowledge, which is encoded in a "fast-binding" memory system, non-propositional forms of knowledge and their information-processing mechanisms are based in "slow learning" memory systems that can only be changed incrementally, through multiple repetitions. More specifically, countering the effects of misleading exemplars usually requires that multiple alternative exemplars be encoded in episodic memory, which takes multiple encounters with alternative exemplars. Similarly, reducing the effects of distorting prototypes generally requires the encoding in episodic memory of a critical mass of alternative exemplars sufficient to produce the development of an alternative prototype in semantic memory. And correcting faulty information-processing routines requires the same sort of practice and repetition that is necessary to correct, for example, a faulty backhand swing or keyboard fingering technique.

To summarize, faulty cognitive schemas can be replaced by employing the following basic principles:

  1. Developing metacognition, the awareness of one's own processing activities, their pitfalls, and their consequences--for example, being aware of one's tendency to overlook people's circumstances when judging their behavior or life outcome--through directing attention to the act of information processing. Metacognition can be aided by the acquisition of more adequate and comprehensive propositional knowledge concerning human nature and the human condition, which can then serve as a standard against which one can assess the comprehensiveness and accuracy of one's information-processing.
  2. Acquiring more adequate exemplars and prototypes through repeatedly engaging with perceptually salient and emotionally powerful specific instances that include crucial information that one's faulty prototypes and exemplars do not include--e.g., an image of a homeless man that includes information about the circumstances that contributed to his homelessness.
  3. Developing more adequate information-processing routines--that is, expectations, attention, inferences, suppositions, and so on that take into account all the relevant information--through enacting them repeatedly, in multiple and various contexts.


Protest Novels as Schema-Altering Apparatuses

What this understanding of schemas and schema change means is that the most effective strategy of social criticism has been right under our noses the whole time--in the form of certain protest novels whose purpose was to change the social order by changing the way people thought and felt about other people. As we will see in part III, these novels possess features that can engage readers in precisely the sorts of cognitive activities that have been found to correct faulty social information processing. Literary texts operate with and on all the forms of knowledge and information-processing activities that constitute cognitive schemas. And certain types of literary texts themselves promote the replacement of certain harmful schemas by (1) demonstrating their faulty and harmful nature (i.e., developing readers' metacognition), (2) providing more adequate exemplars in multiple forms (concepts, characters, episodes, life stories, etc.), and (3) actually engaging, and hence training, readers in more accurate information-processing routines.

Providing Corrective Exemplars and Prototypes

Various studies have shown that even a briefly presented fictional exemplar can alter readers' attitudes and actions toward real people. In one study, University of Kansas psychologist Daniel Batson and his colleagues presented students with a brief fictional interview of a confessed murderer and found that the brief encounter with this exemplar improved the students' attitudes toward murderers in general, as measured one to two weeks later. In another study, Batson found that after reading a fictional interview with an incarcerated drug dealer, with instructions to imagine the dealer's feelings and life circumstances, students voted to allocate more university funds to help drug addicts. Other studies have found that simply imagining counter-stereotypical exemplars of an out-group can reduce negative, stereotypical judgments of them.

The novels we will examine work to correct readers' deficient general knowledge of persons in a similar, but much more systematic and thus presumably more powerful, way: by providing multiple new exemplars that embody crucial information that many readers' current exemplars and prototypes omit. In addition, by repeatedly engaging readers in processing numerous emotionally powerful exemplars representing a more adequate understanding of persons, these novels promote the gradual construction of new, more adequate general person-prototypes incorporating the recognition that individuals are situated rather than purely autonomous, malleable rather than immutable, in fundamental solidarity with each other rather than in unmitigated opposition, and internally heterogeneous rather than homogeneous. As we have noted, striking exemplars can themselves substitute for faulty prototypes in guiding information processing, and, moreover, when a critical mass of these exemplars accumulates in readers' episodic memory, they form alternative prototypes that can serve as the default templates of social cognition. These exemplars and their resulting prototypes can then function as templates for our perception and judgment of real people, models of what we expect, attend to, search for, infer, suppose, feel, and do when we deal with actual human beings.

Developing More Adequate Information-Processing Routines

Besides providing more adequate exemplars and prototypes, literature can also correct readers' faulty information-processing routines in several additional ways. It can do so, first, by explicitly articulating in propositional form crucial knowledge about people in general that readers are often blind to. By providing propositional knowledge of situatedness and malleability, for example, a text cues readers to expect, attend to, search for, infer, or suppose such information when assessing characters in the text. Second, a literary text can correct faulty information processing by prompting readers to develop metacognitive knowledge concerning their own deficient information processing. Literature can induce such metacognition by, for example, thwarting readers' expectations about characters or disconfirming their inferences or suppositions about them in ways that are dramatic enough to enter readers' awareness and induce self-reflection, or by portraying obviously flawed information processing on the part of a narrator or character, as when one character commits the fundamental attribution error and blames another character for behavior that was actually determined by the other's situation. A third way in which literature works to correct faulty information-processing routines is by directly guiding readers' information processing through the text's own enactment of specific processing activities, repeatedly engaging readers in more accurate and thorough processing of crucial information about characters in the novel.

A literary text does this first by directing our attention and determining our focus. A novel, as Martha Nussbaum points out, "tells its readers to notice this and not this". Furthermore, when a literary text makes suppositions, it engages its readers in making the same suppositions, and when it foreshadows, it elicits specific expectations in readers. And when a narrator or character makes an interpretation of another character, expresses an emotion regarding another character, or engages in an action toward another character, readers' mirror neurons make their brains follow suite and simulate the same actions and emotions. In some cases, literary texts also directly instruct readers to search their memories for certain kinds of experiences, or to search for particular types of information in the world.

Finally, literary texts can induce readers to engage in more adequate information-processing routines by evoking pro-social emotions, such as compassion and moral outrage at suffering and injustice. Emotions play an important and complex role in information processing. First, they are often the product of information processing, with a particular judgment or constellation of judgments producing a particular emotion. Thus the judgment that people's distress is their own fault will result in emotions of indifference, disdain, contempt, or even anger, while the judgment that their distress is the result of factors over which they had no control will lead to feelings of sympathy (and possibly anger at a responsible third party) (see Weiner, Judgments and Bracher, "Teaching"). And since each form of exemplar and prototype (i.e., concept, episode script, prototypic image, etc.) is capable of embodying such a judgment, each is also capable of producing the corresponding emotion. Furthermore, the concurrent experience of a particular emotion with a particular exemplar or prototype produces an association between the two that is encoded in memory and that can thus produce the emotion whenever the exemplar or prototype is activated.

But in addition to being the effect of certain (possibly faulty) specific judgments about persons and situations, emotions can also be the cause of such appraisals, by biasing each step of information processing in the direction of information that supports the appraisals that constitute the specific emotion. Emotions can bias information processing in at least two ways. They can do so, first, through their associations with particular beliefs and second, through their embodiment of the particular appraisals that give them their specific nature. As Clore and Gasper put it, "emotional feelings provide internal, felt evidence that an object or situation has the attributes implied by the emotion". Anger, for example, embodies the judgments that one has been harmed or threatened, that the source of the harm or threat is an intentional agent, and that this agent acted intentionally or negligently. Thus whenever we feel angry, we assume that someone is responsible and look for someone to blame. People operating with the autonomy schema, which include emotions of disdain, contempt, and anger, are thus inclined by those emotions to (mis)attribute responsibility to any party in need--an attribution that then serves as an appraisal that validates and/or reproduces the original negative emotion, resulting in a vicious circle in which the emotion-producing appraisal and the appraisal-producing emotion reproduce each other.

Emotions aroused by literature can engage this process in ways that work to replace faulty information-processing routines. A literary text that evokes compassion, for example, will incline readers to expect, search for, infer, recall, and suppose situational causes for problematic behaviors and life outcomes. As Keith Oatley has noted, literature evokes both "fresh" and remembered emotions in readers. "Fresh" emotions, Oatley argues, are produced in two basic ways. First, literary texts engage us in simulating the goals, plans, and actions of characters we identify with, which brings us "to feel in ourselves the emotions that occur with the results of actions that we perform mentally as if in the place of [the] character". Second, literary texts can provide "a pattern of appraisal, a pattern of events capable of causing [specific] emotions," which causes readers to "recognize [a character's] predicament, and feel sympathetic emotions for the character".

In addition to evoking fresh emotions in these two ways, literary texts can also produce emotions in readers by triggering emotional memories as they read. These memories can be explicit, involving conscious recollection of specific events, or implicit, in which the emotion is experienced without the conscious recall of the event to which it is attached. By eliciting, in one or more of these ways, emotions such as compassion and moral outrage at human suffering that are congruent with the more adequate person-schemas (situationism, malleability, solidarity, and heterogeneity), literature counters the biased information processing of the faulty, harmful schemas (autonomism, essentialism, atomism, and homogeneity) with a corrective emotional bias in an opposite direction. And with sufficient repetition, as noted above, these corrective processing routines become established as the defaults, thus resulting in more adequate and just judgments, emotions, and actions regarding real people.


Together, these various alterations of readers' information-processing structures effected by protest novels constitute a radical cognitive politics, a mode of intervention that works to promote social justice by altering the cognitive roots of harmful and unjust social policies, institutions, systems, and structures, as illustrated in the following diagram.

One reading of any literary text is of course unlikely to provide readers with sufficient repetitions of these various schema-changing activities to fully displace the faulty cognitive schemas with the more adequate ones. For a sufficient number of repetitions to occur so that the more adequate exemplars, prototypes, processing routines, emotions, and metacognition become established as their default social information-processing structures, readers must first of all engage fully in the repetitions offered by the text, something readers who are not focusing on these textual elements--whether because they are inattentive or because they have been trained to focus on other things (style, symbolism, narrative techniques, etc.)--will not do. And second, in order for these new cognitive capabilities to fully develop, readers must exercise them on characters in other texts and on real people as well.

Hence the need for schema criticism. For while a novel itself may not be able to produce or induce all of the textual, intertextual, and extra-textual cognitive activity that is necessary for the full development of more adequate cognitive schemas, it can do so with a little help from schema critics and teachers. Indeed, literature teachers are in a privileged position to promote precisely such activity and thus to actualize the radical cognitive politics of protest novels--and to pursue this cognitive intervention in response to other genres and forms of discourse, and harmful social policies, institutions, systems, and structures as well.

The chapters that follow will explain how the four faulty person-schemas identified above operate, how such cognitive schemas can be changed or replaced, and how three prominent protest novels work to correct or replace these four schemas. Drawing on the techniques of these protest novels as well as the more general principles of schema change discussed above, the final chapter will then outline a new critical methodology, which I call schema criticism, for implementing a radical cognitive politics that works to repair the faulty cognitive schemas that constitute the roots of unjust social policies, institutions, systems, and structures.