Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, and Janus Pannonius University, Pécs, Hungary - PDF

Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, and Janus Pannonius University, Pécs, Hungary Social representations theory is deeply rooted in French social theory (Bergson's dual memory system, 1889; Durkheim's

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Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, and Janus Pannonius University, Pécs, Hungary Social representations theory is deeply rooted in French social theory (Bergson's dual memory system, 1889; Durkheim's collective representation, 1898; Halbwachs' social frames of memory, 1925; Blondel's radical constructivism, 1928) the cognitive anthropology of Levy-Bruhl (1910) and the French version of psychological or mental constructivism (Janet, 1928; Piaget, 1945). This is certainly one of the reasons, if it is not the main one, why social representations theory has, for decades, fallen outside the interest not only of mainstream social psychology, but also of symbolic interactionism or sociological social psychology (Graumann, 1988). Both dominated by Anglo-American traditions which were, respectively, melded with German phenomenology through Heider (1958) and Schutz ( ). However, in parallel with a growing discontent with the largely individualistic, asocial and acultural trends in mainstream cognitive social psychology, there has been a burgeoning interest in social representations theory outwith the 'Latin' world (see Forgas, 1981; Moscovici and Hewstone, 1983; Farr and Moscovici, 1984). Currently, an evolving social representations theory competes with discursive psychology (Harre, 1995), discourse analysis (Potter and Wetherell, 1987), and cultural psychology (Bruner, 1991) to become the leading paradigm of the second cognitive revolution . This seems to be happening despite the fact that social representation theory is often criticised for lack of clarity; contradictory formulations; and, having little predictive value, (e.g. Jahoda, 1988). Further, social representations theory is sometimes held not to be a 'real' social psychological theory, but rather a broad approach or framework for studying social psychological phenomena, or as Doise (1993) puts it a grand theory . As such it is said to lend general conceptions about individual and/or societal functioning to orientate research efforts and to require completion by more detailed descriptions of processes which are compatible with it, but which may also sometimes be compatible with other theories. p a p e r s o n s o c i a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s t e x t e s s u r l e s r e p r é s e n t a t i o n s s o c i a l e s ( ) V o l. 6 ( 2 ), ( ). 156 J. Laszlo The key to the problematic character of the social representations theory can probably found in its dual character which was formulated in Moscovici's initial suggestion in the following way: ...we can see two cognitive systems at work, one which operates in terms of associations, discriminations, that is to say the cognitive operational system, and the other which controls, verifies and selects in accordance with various logical and other rules; it involves a kind of metasystem which re-works the material produced by the first (Moscovici 1976, p.256.). These two systems are traditionally studied in social psychology separately from each other. The cognitive operational system which is bound to the individual mind encompasses processes including attribution, scripts, implicit theories, categorisation, and stereotyping is the target of mainstream social psychology. In contrast interpretative rules and the social distribution of knowledge are placed onto the social level of analysis, and are approached by phenomenologically or sociologically orientated research. The titanic attempt (Gergen, 1994) to avoid both psychologicalmentalistic and sociological reductionism by integrating the exogenic and endogenic world views, i.e., individual, social, and collective levels of representation (Cranach, 1992; Jesuino, 1995) into a single theory, however inevitably complex, runs the risk that the gain in explanatory value is at the cost of its relation with empirical research (c.f. Ibanez, 1991). The bridge between the levels of representations is social communication. Communication not only transmits, but also shapes representations and makes them socially shared. In Moscovici's words, social representations provide people with a code for social exchange and a code for naming and classifying unambiguously the various aspects of their world and their individual and group history (Moscovici, 1973, xvii.). It also links representations to cultural and societal dimensions (Jodelet, 1989). But again, such a complex notion of communication may, at the level of empirical work, demand simplification, and exactly this happens with discourse analysis (Potter and Wetherell, 1987) which eliminates individual cognitive processes from the reconstruction of social representations out of discourse. There is, however, an analytic which offers a systematic solution to the dilemma of accommodating individual cognitive processes and social representations of groups in a single empirical framework. The dilemma for the empirical study of social representations consists in the fact that the raw material that one can collect is composed of individual beliefs, opinions, associations, or attitudes from which the organising principles common to groups of individuals must be pieced together and linked to their cultural, sociological, and social-psychological characteristics. Doise and his co-workers (Doise, 1993, Doise, Clemence and Lorenzo-Cioldi, 1993) have further elaborated the basic concepts of the social representation process - anchoring (to anchor strange ideas, to reduce them to ordinary categories and images, to set the into a familiar context, c.f. Moscovici, 1984, p.29.) and objectification ( to turn something abstract into something almost concrete, to transfer what is in the mind to something existing in the physical world. c.f. Moscovici, 1984, p.29) - at the level of their assessment. (Social representation is conceived not only as a contentful structure, but also as a process, Moscovici, 1984). Doise et al analytically differentiated between four phases of anchoring. In the first phase, during datageneration, mapping the objectified social representations is performed. In this phase, social representation is conceived as a collective map, common to a given population. Social representations do, however, not equate with shared beliefs. They are, rather, Narrative Organisation of Social Representations 157 common reference points to which individuals within a group may relate differently. Therefore, in the second phase, social representations are conceived as organising principles of individual differences in relation to the common reference points. Thus, in this phase, anchoring the individuals in the collective map or social representational space takes place. These first two phases which consist of relating the social representation with personal attitudes, beliefs and values, gathered at the intra and inter-individual level. are called psychological anchoring by Jesuino (1995) For the third phase sociological anchoring is performed. This is a close cousin to sociological and cultural analysis, in that it attempts to identify social representations of groups in terms of their stratified and historical/cultural position. Finally, in the fourth phase, through psycho-sociological anchoring, social representations are related to social psychological processes of social comparison and social identity that arise at the interface of different group relations (see, Duveen and Lloyd, 1986; Breakwell at al., 1995). The above use of the anchoring concept seems to solve the much debated issue of universalistic versus particularistic nature of social representation (see Billig, 1993). It accepts anchoring as a universal process that occurs in each social, cultural and historical context in accord with Moscovici, who stated that the theory excludes the idea of thought or perception without anchor (Moscovici, 1984, p.36). However, this universality is not held to be identical with a universality of having cognitive schemata or categories by each individual. For empirical studies, anchoring of new, unfamiliar ideas into the existing system of categories, is a particularistic process in the sense that it proceeds according to the existing category system and the system of symbolic regulations particular to each social or cultural context. If social representation theory could not work at this more specific level, it could hardly escape from becoming either another version of neo- Bergsonian philosophy or mere cognitive psychology amended with some social theorising. The fact that social representations theory and research focuses on the content as well as on the social origin of categories (see e.g. Farr, 1985), or as Billig (1993, p.48.) puts it, If categories bias the perception of individuals, these biases have group origins (i.e. not arbitrary operations to diminish stimulus overload, J.L.) and are part of a whole cultural set of meanings. , opens up the possibility of building specific theories within the general theoretical framework. Social representations theory allows for an interpretation that denies the universality of the objectification process. If we follow the route that Moscovici (1984) suggests, social representations derive from abstract, scientific knowledge as opposed to the Medieval age when the transformation of knowledge went in the opposite direction (i.e., from the mundane to the esoteric). Transforming abstract knowledge into a concrete, material knowing requires objectification: however, according to the above line of thought, this process is neither diachronically nor synchronically universal by necessity. There was all thought common senese thought in the Middle Age, and it was sui generis material, i.e. material thought was primary compared to the abstract thought.therefore, if we remain consistent to Moscovici's theory, there was no need for an objectifying of abstract knowledge to meet the needs of common sense. For synchronic or contemporary social 158 J. Laszlo knowledge, Moscovici (1984, p.23.) claims that social representations are in certain respects specific to our society and he describes the social representation process as specifically modern social phenomenon (Moscovici, 1984, p ). Pervaded as is our modern consciousness by scientifically-originated concepts, abstract, nonobjectified thought still exists. Hence, as Billig (1988, p.7.; 1993, p ) rightly notes, objectification again appears to be a non-universal process. Those who conceive objectification as being universal in social representation, like Doise, Clemence and Lorenzo-Cioldi, (1993) focus not on the social or psychological universality of the process, but on the particular ways in which social groups make the unfamiliar familiar, real, and experiential by using the experiential material available to the group, extending and reinforcing the common experience of the group. Social representations theory has generated a large amount of empirical research which is hardly characterised by methodological orthodoxy (see Breakwell and Canter, 1993). Besides a wide range of quantitative methods (see Doise at al., 1993) and even experimentation or quasi-experimentation (see for example, the work of the Aix-en- Provence school on breaking the cognitive organisation of social representation into central core and peripheric system, Abric, 1984, 1994; Molineri, 1995), there is a strong tradition of using qualitative, anthropological methods (Herzlich, 1973, Jodelet, 1989) in interview studies or focus groups (Zani, 1987). Duveen (1993), following Geertz' (1973) ideas on thick description, bases his research on observational and conversational data via which they construct interpretations upon the social representation of gender. Most recently, qualitative and quantitative methods are combined. Content analytic categories of verbal, visual, or audio-visual material which are clearly products of preceeding interpretation are quantified, and the positioning of different groups or individuals relative to the qualitatively interpreted category matrix is approached by quantitative analytics (see De Rosa, 1987, 1994) or the interpretation is helped by quantitatively assessed patterns. These studies address various aspects of social representation, nevertheless they share the position that the worldview embodied in social representations theory that the system of meanings in which individual thought is anchored by social representations is categorical by nature. People are often depicted as naive scientists operating with naive theories consisting of naively anchored and objectified categories. However, in the consensual world of common sense as opposed to the reified world of science (Moscovici, 1994) the communicational character is most common: one, that is, who gives more importance to relationships with others than with things. As Jesuino (1995) writes, In very schematic terms it is the former world that makes science possible or, at least, some type of science, the one that has the physics as model and the formal logic as instrument. In the second world the rules are different, the formal logic replaced by the natural logic (Grize, 1989), and decisions are taken through dynamic processes of convergence and adjustment, as identified by now classic research in social psychology . This distinction between scientific logic and natural logic of thought had already been described by Moscovici (1976) when he contrasted scientific argumentation based on rules of formal logic with communication that is aimed at maintaining group cohesion, but in the past decades of research it has somehow faded away from attention. Narrative Organisation of Social Representations 159 Recently, however, in the social sciences and humanities there has been a growing recognition of the distinctively narrative character of social knowledge or social thought (e.g., Gergen and Gergen, 1988; Neisser and Fivush, 1994; Ricoeur, ; Robinson, 1981; Sarbin, 1986; Schafer, 1980; Spence, 1982; Stainton Rogers and Stainton Rogers, 1992; White, 1981). In the next section of the chapter we will elaborate on the characteristics of narrative understanding, whilst in the concluding section we will consider the possible consequences of this narrative turn for social representations research. In psychology, one of the leading protagonists of the narrative approach is Jerome Bruner (1986, 1990, 1996) who clearly distinguishes between two modes or two natural kinds of human thought, each providing distinctive ways of ordering experience, and of constructing reality. One he calles paradigmatic or logico-scientific mode which operates with abstract concepts, establishes truth by appealing to procedures of formal logic and empirical proof, and searches for the causality that leads to universal truth conditions. The other, more mundane mode of thinking is the narrative mode. This deals with human or human-like intention and action and the vicissitudes and consequences that mark their course. It verifies itself by its lifelikeness, and strives to establish not truth but verisimilitude. Bruner (1986, p ) illustrates the two types of causality implied in the two modes with the following example: The term then functions differently in the logical proposition 'if x, then y' and in the narrative recit 'The king died, and then the queen died.' One leads to a search for universal truth conditions, the other for likely particular connections between two events -- mortal grief, suicide, foul play. In other words, narrative thinking strives for coherence. The most conspicous materialisations of narrarive thinking are stories told by formal authors and ordinary people. Bruner (1986, p.14.) sensitively notes that stories must construct two psychological realms, or as he calls them landscapes , simultaneously. The constituents of the landscape of action are the arguments of action: agent, intention or goal, situation, instrument, and so on. The other realm, the landscape of consciousness maps what those involved in the action know, think, or feel, or do not know, think, or feel. This simultaneous dual landscape of narrative argues that developed narratives are not simple accounts of what happened but imply much more, notably about the psychological perspective taken toward those happenings. The capacity to elaborate on action, the necessary involvement of time (see Ricoeur, ; Cupchik and Laszlo, 1994) and perspective (Uspensky, 1974; Laszlo and Larsen, 1991) makes narrative a natural instrument for differentiating between action, affect and thought, and for reintegrating them (see Bruner and Luciarello, 1989, p ). By the same token, Bruner and Luciarello (1989, p. 79.) emphasize the constructive character of narratives: deep reason why we tell stories to ourselves (or to our confessor or to our analyst, or to our confidant) is precisely to 'make sense' of what we are encountering in the course of living... and indeed lives, for someone's life is not ...univocally given. In the end it is a narrative achievement. (Bruner 1987, p.13.) Bruner, similarly to Ricoeur ( ) or Flick (1995) conceptualises the relation between life, construction and interpretation as a circular mimetic process: Narrative imitates life, life imitates narrative. (Bruner, 1987, p.12.) 160 J. Laszlo Although by no means taking a social constructionist position, Schank and Abelson (1995) in their recent chapter argue for the storied nature of the human mind. They claim that virtually all human knowledge is based on stories constructed around past experiences and new experiences are interpreted in terms of old stories (p.1.) Schank and Abelson insightfully derive the roots of all sorts of knowledge, from facts to beliefs, from a continous flow of story-telling and story understanding. Even lexical items, like words, numbers and grammar itself can thereby be approached in the context of stories. Thereby, Schank and Abelson challenge the classical cognitivist model of the human mind ( cf. Newell and Simon, 1972) as information processor whose mental activity focuses on theorem proving and problem solving. This they do by noting their atypicality in everyday life: few people spend time trying to prove theorems, and if they do, they don't ordinarily talk about it. (p.15). However, in this argument here is an implicit phenomenal distinction between abstract, theoretical reasoning and mundane, everyday understanding, which is parallel with earlier noted distinctions between Moscovici's scientific and communicational logic and Bruner's paradigmatic versus narrative thinking. There is no doubt that, at least in human affairs, Schank and Abelson give a clear priority to the latter type of thinking. Schank and Abelson's new theory is a further elaboration of their earlier ideas of episodic or scripted organization of human memory and understanding (Schank, 1975, Schank and Abelson, 1977), in which they had already challenged Tulving's dual (episodic versus semantic) memory system. Although they focus mainly on the cognitive construction of stories and memory effects of storytelling, their observations on the social context of storytelling and their notion of story sceletons have wide social implications. In fact, when they state that understanding means mapping your stories onto my stories , they refer to the cognitive constraint to settle on a story we have been reminded a mental path to take...because we can only understand things that relate to our experiences. (Schank and Abelson, 1995, p.17.). This strictly cognitivist and in this sense somewhat trivial statement, however, implies not only that people can alone communicate stories which can be related to other people's storied experiences, i.e., there should be a social sharing, but also addresses the issue of the variation and distribution of stories within a society or culture, and the relation between story and reality. Similarly, when Schank and Ab
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