Cognitive Polyphasia in the Reception of Legal Innovations for Biodiversity Conservation

  • Carla Mouro Instituto Universitário De Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Cis-IUL, Lisboa, Portugal
  • Paula Castro Instituto Universitário De Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Cis-IUL, Lisboa, Portugal


Cognitive polyphasia has mainly been used to address encounters between innovative

scientific knowledge and local, traditional knowledge. Yet, change and innovation occur

in many spheres of life, not just in the scientific one. In this paper we examine the

encounter between new laws – or legal innovations – and local knowledge, and discuss

how the normative force of new laws shapes communication and cognitive polyphasia.

We specifically focus on the Generalisation phase of legal innovation, when new laws

are translated into concrete practices, the social debate is more intense, and cognitive

polyphasia is more likely to occur. We present empirical data from focus groups and

interviews to illustrate how this happens for the specific case of the reception of new

biodiversity conservation laws affecting communities living in protected sites. We also

examine the positions of professionals from local mediating systems, illustrating how

they manage the dilemmas linked to the introduction of new laws. The results illustrate

the contexts of use of non-polyphasic and polyphasic interventions; they also show how

polyphasia is expressed by two divergent argumentative formats (thematisation and 

conventionalisation), whose conjugation is indispensable for trying to contest the law

while still respecting the normative meta-system. The findings are discussed taking into

account the macro-societal consequences of cognitive polyphasia, trying to show how, at

the societal level, it may contribute to slowing down social change. We also discuss how

this is related to the enablement of emancipated representations, those where uncertainty

and ambivalence more clearly emerge and sustain the negotiation of meaning.

Author Biographies

Carla Mouro, Instituto Universitário De Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Cis-IUL, Lisboa, Portugal

CARLA MOURO is currently a Research Fellow at the Centro de Investigação e Intervenção

Social (CIS/ISCTE-IUL) at Lisbon University Institute, Portugal. Her research interests concern

the articulation of social representations and social identity in relation to sustainability and proenvironmental

domains. Her current research also focuses on community involvement and public

participation related to innovation and social change.

Paula Castro, Instituto Universitário De Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Cis-IUL, Lisboa, Portugal

PAULA CASTRO is Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Lisbon University Institute

(ISCTE-IUL) and a Researcher at CIS/ISCTE-IUL, both in Lisbon, Portugal. Her research

interests focus on the psycho-social processes that are mobilized by individuals, communities and

institutions for the reception of legal innovations promoting the transformation of ideas and

practices. She has looked at how these processes shape discourse, communication and representing

and impact on social change. Her research interests also include the reception of

scientific innovations and the communication of all types of innovations through the press.