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Why social representations?. Anja Koski-Jännes Department of Sociology and Social Psychology University of Tampere IMAGES AND CONCEPTS OF ADDICTION 2nd Consortium Meeting Helsinki, 12-14 November 2007. Social representations. introduced by Serge Moscovici

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why social representations

Why social representations?

Anja Koski-Jännes

Department of Sociology and Social Psychology

University of Tampere


2nd Consortium Meeting

Helsinki, 12-14 November 2007

social representations
Social representations
  • introduced by Serge Moscovici
  • refer to lay theories of phenomena that are important to us
  • concerns systems of values, ideas and practices that
  • serve two kinds of functions:
    • by removing the mysterious edge from new phenomenona they bring order and manageability to our world
    • they facilitate communication

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who is serge moscovici
Who is Serge Moscovici?
  • born 1928 in a Jewish family in Romania
  • lived in France since 1948
  • a French social psychologist
  • Thesis La psychanalyse, son image, et son public (1961)
  • currently the director of the Laboratoire Européen de Psychologie Sociale ("European Laboratory of Social Psychology")
  • which he co-founded in 1975 at the Maison des Science de l’homme

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how psychoanalysis was appropriated by the french society
How psychoanalysis was appropriated by the French society?
  • Initially a disturbing and confusing new phenomenon – a medical treatment without medication?
  • Focus of the thesis: how catholic, communist and urban liberals related to psychoanalysis
    • In a catholic context it was connected with confessing and father confessors, but its sexual aspects were rejected
    • commmunists saw it as a tool of the imperialist forces and therefore rejected it
    • urban liberals were the only group that approached it with curiosity and accepted its basic tenets because it fit with their previous knowledge base
  • A more general interest in how ideas of science are appropriated by common people and the nonspecialists

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collective and social representations
Collective and social representations
  • Emile Durkheim: collective representations
    • myths, traditions, legends, science, religion etc.
      • static
      • independent of unique individuals
      • were used to explain the life of a society
  • Moscovici: Social reepresentations
    • those concepts, images, and theories that we create of our changing world
    • folk beliefs or systems of belief about common objects
      • dynamic, interest in the evolving nature of representations
      • that require explanation as themselves

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social representations vs information processing or social constructionist approaches
Social representations vs. information processing or social constructionist approaches
  • SR are not only cognitive or linguistic phenomena
  • they highlight also the symbolic, emotive and social aspects of how people make sense of their world
  • interest in socially shared rather than individual ways of understanding
  • SR approach appreciates also the importance non-verbal material in the study of human psyche (Joffe 2002)

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main processes in forming social representations
Main processes in forming social representations
  • anchoring - naming and classifying a new object in one’s previous body of knowledge
    • e.g. psychoanalysis was anchored to confession in a catholic context
  • objectification – a process of filling a new phenomenon with familiar images by giving it an iconic form
    • personification as one form of objectification
      • e.g. theory of relativity is personified by Albert Einstein
  • naturalisation – hownew concepts turn to a part of the natural order and start to live a life of their own

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methods of study in sr studies
Methods of study in SR studies
  • highly variable
    • focus groups, surveys, interviews, drawings, free associations, media analysis, etc.
  • methodological triangulation
  • historical & developmental approaches
  • cultural and subcultural comparisons

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study of cultural variation in social representations
Study of cultural variation in social representations
  • different cultures and subcultural groups have different resources of ideas and imagery to draw upon when forming a social representation of something
  • therefore they also create somewhat different objectifications of the same concepts
  • they may also anchor them to different conceptual frameworks

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examples of related applications
Examples of related applications
  • representations of health (Flick et al. 2002)
    • how everyday or professional knowledge is informed by stocks of knowledge from science or a specific theory
    • identified cultures of knowledge among physicians and nursers
  • representations of AIDS (Crawford 1994)
  • represesentations of mental illness (Foster 2001)
    • central aspects of unified ’mental illness’: unpredictability, permanency, violence and Otherness
    • some differentiation to mental ilnesses

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preliminary trial with finnish interviewees sinr koski j nnes et al 2005
Preliminary trial with Finnish interviewees (SINR; Koski-Jännes et al. 2005)
  • the core of addiction was typically anchored in the physical effects of hard drugs and
  • objectified with such concepts as “hooks”, “heavenly effects”, which made them very difficult to change.
  • the psychological aspects of addiction were not seen to be linked to any neural basis at all
  • thus non-chemical addictions were regarded as enormously easy to change
  • representatives of different professional groups perceived the possibilities of recovery in widely differing ways
  • there were large crosscultural differences in views concerning possibilities of self-change

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images and or social representations
Images and/or social representations?
  • Images form a part of social representations
  • they are displayed in the objectified iconic aspects SR
  • particularly in professional contexts anchoring in the form of classification of addiction is of more importance
  • therefore we prefer to use SR in the survey and interview studies

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  • Foster, J. (2001) Unification and differentation: A study of the social reporesentations of mental illness. In Papers on Social Representations 10,3, 1-18.
  • Joffe, H. (2002) Social representations and health psychology. In Social Science Infromation 41, 559-580.
  • Koski-Jännes, A., Vainionpää, J. & Haapamäki, L. (2005) Paving the way for change-related optimism in addictions. Dependence as a “social representation” and how to make more permeable for self-change processes. Paper presented at the First International Working Group Meeting of the Collaborative SINR Project, St. Peter’s Island, Erlach, Switzerland, September 18-21, 2005.
  • Moscovici, S. (1961/1976) La psychanalyse, son image, son public, University Presses of France.
  • Moscovici, S. (1981) On Social representations. In J. Forgas (Ed.) Social Cognition. European monographs in Social Psychology, 26. Academic press, London.
  • Pirttilä-Backman A-M ja Helkama K (2001) Serge Moscovici: Sosiaaliset representaatiot. Teoksessa V. Hänninen, O-H. Ylijoki ja J. Partanen (toim.) Sosiaalipsykologian suunnannäyttäjät. Vastapaino, Tampere, 253-274..

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