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Towards a paradigm for research on social representations

Bauer, Martin W. and Gaskell, George (1999) Towards a paradigm for research on social representations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 29 (2). pp. 163-186. ISSN 0021-8308

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Identification Number: 10.1111/1468-5914.00096


Based on Moscovici’s (1961) classical study on the cultivation of psychoanalytic ideas in France in the 1950’s and our own research on modern biotechnology, we propose a paradigm for researching social representations. Following a consideration of the nature of representations and of the ‘iconoclastic suspicion’ that haunts them, we propose a model of the emergence of meaning relating three elements: subjects, objects, and projects. The basic unit of analysis is the elongated triangle of mediation (SOPS): subject 1, object, project, and subject 2, captured in the image of a ‘Toblerone’. Such social units cultivate, that is produce, circulate and receive representation which may be embodied in four modes–habitual behaviour, individual cognition, informal communication and formal communication–and in three mediums–words, visual images or non-linguistic sounds. We propose an operational definition of a ‘social representation’ as the comparison of four characteristics of communication systems: the content structures (anchorings and objectifications; core and peripheral elements), the typified processes (diffusion, propagation, propaganda etc.), and their functions (identity, attitude, opinion, resistance, ideology etc.), within the context of segmented social milieus. Seven implications for research on social representations are outlined: (1) content and process; (2) segmentation by social milieus rather than taxonomies; (3) cultivation studies within social milieus; (4) multi-method (mode and medium) analysis; (5) time structures and longitudinal data; (6) the crossover of cultural projects and trajectories; (7) the disinterested research attitude. This ideal type paradigm leads to an operational clarification to identify new research questions, and to guide the design and evaluation of studies on social representations.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 1999 The Executive Management Committee/Blackwell Publishers
Divisions: Methodology
Centre for Analysis of Risk & Regulation
Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2012 12:31
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:33

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