Theory and Method for the Analysis of Social Representations

Part of the Culture in Policy Making: The Symbolic Universes of Social Action book series (CPMSUSA)


Since its earliest conceptualization, Social Representations Theory has cast light on the mechanisms through which media communication contributes to shaping social thinking and transforming the various objects of knowledge that characterize the flow of everyday life unfamiliar ideas and concepts. The present chapter intends to enlarge the understanding of the role of the media in the genesis, diffusion, and transformation of the social representations of complex issues that are relevant in the social arena. More specifically, it aims to shed light on the dynamic structures that connect the representational forms produced by media discourses so as to generate coherent, meaningful patterns of thoughts and cognitions. This main aim is pursued at a twofold level, both in theory and method. At the first level, a theoretical bridge connects the notion of social representations and the concept of symbolic universes. To be more precise, social representations are described as concrete “instantiations” of abstract, generalized symbolic universes while media discourses are presented as (one of) the communicative contexts in which important issues are represented in recursive patterns of meaning-making, e.g. social representations. At the same time, we contribute to the literature on the methodology of studying social representations by applying a combination of text mining techniques and multiple correspondence analysis to link textual and survey data.


  1. Abric, J. C. (1994). Pratiques sociales et représentations. Paris, France: Presses Universitaires de France.Google Scholar
  2. Abric, J. C. (2001). A structural approach to social representations. In K. Deaux & G. Philogène (Eds.), Representations of the social (pp. 42–47). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  3. Augoustinos, M., Walker, I., & Donaghue, N. (2005). Social cognition: An integrated introduction. London, UK: Sage.Google Scholar
  4. Bauer, M. W., & Gaskell, G. (1999). Towards a paradigm for research in social representations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 29(2), 163–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bauer, M. W., & Gaskell, G. (2002). Researching the public sphere of biotechnology. In M. W. Bauer & G. Gaskell (Eds.), Biotechnology—The making of a global controversy (pp. 1–20). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bauer, M. W., & Gaskell, G. (2008). Social representations theory: A progressive research programme for social psychology. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 38(4), 335–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Breakwell, G. (1993). Social representations and social identity. Papers on Social Representations, 2(3), 1–20.Google Scholar
  8. Castro, P. (2015). Social representations of sustainability: Researching time, institution, conflict and communication. In G. Sammut, E. Andreouli, G. Gaskell, & J. Valsiner (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of social representations (pp. 295–308). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Castro, P., & Gomes, I. (2005). Genetically modified organisms in the Portuguese press: Thematization and anchoring. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 35(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Castro, P., Garrito, M., Reis, E., & Menezes, J. (2008). Ambivalence and conservation behaviour: An exploratory study on the recycling of metal cans. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29, 24–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Christidou, V., Dimopoulos, K., & Koulaidis, V. (2004). Constructing social representations of science and technology: The role of metaphors in the press and the popular scientific magazines. Public Understanding of Science, 13(4), 347–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clèmence, A., Devos, T., & Doise, W. (2011). Social representations of human rights violations: Further evidence. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 60(2), 89–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. de Oliveira, J. M., & Amâncio, L. (2014). A missing triad: The politics of locations, hierarchy and the negotiation of knowledges. In T. Magioglou (Ed.), Culture and political psychology. A societal perspective (pp. 87–102). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing INC.Google Scholar
  14. Delanty, G. (2008). Fear of others: Social exclusion and the European crisis of solidarity. Social Policy and Administration, 42(6), 676–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Delanty, G., & O’Mahony, P. (2002). Nationalism and social theory. London, UK: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Delanty, G., Wodak, R., & Jones, P. (2007). Migration, belonging and exclusion in Europe. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Doise, W., Spini, D., & Clémence, A. (1999). Human rights studied as social representations in a cross-national context. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29(1), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duveen, G. (2007). Culture and social representations. In J. Valsiner & A. Rosa (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of sociocultural psychology (pp. 543–559). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Duveen, G., & Lloyd, B. (1990). Social representations and the development of knowledge. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. European Commission & European External Action Service. (2017). Joint communication to the European parliament and the council. Retrieved from:
  21. Gauthier, E. (2009). Social representations of risk in the food irradiation debate in Canada, 1986–2002. Science Communication, 32(3), 295–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gaskell, G. (2001). Attitudes, social representations and beyond. In K. Deaux & G. Philogene (Eds.), Social representations: Introductions and explorations (pp. 101–123). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  23. Gillespie, A. (2008). Social representations, alternative representations and semantic barriers. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 38(4), 375–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gillespie, A., & Cornish, F. (2010). What can be said? identity as a constraint on knowledge production. Papers on Social Representations, 19, 5.1–5.13.Google Scholar
  25. Holmes, D. (2006). Nationalism in Europe. In G. Delanty & K. Kumar (Eds.), Handbook of nations and nationalism. London, UK: Sage.Google Scholar
  26. Howarth, C. (2006a). A social representation is not a quiet thing: Exploring the critical potential of social representations theory. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 65–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Howarth, C. (2006b). How social representations of attitudes have informed attitude theories: The consensual and the reified. Theory and psychology, 16(5), 691–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Howarth, C. (2011). Representations, identity and resistance in communication. In D. Hook, B. Franks, & M. W. Bauer (Eds.), The social psychology of communication (pp. 153–168). London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jahoda, G. (1988). Critical notes and reflections on “social representations”. European Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 195–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jodelet, D. (1991). Madness and social representations. London, UK: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  31. Jodelet, D. (2002). Les representations sociales dans le champ de la culture. Social Science Information, 41, 111–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jovchelovitch, S. (2001). Social representations, public life, and social constructionism. In K. Deaux & G. Philogene (Eds.), Representations of the social: Bridging theoretical traditions (pp. 165–182). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
  33. Jovchelovitch, S. (2002). Re-thinking the diversity of knowledge: Cognitive polyphasia, belief and representation. Psychologie et société, 5(1), 121–138.Google Scholar
  34. Jovchelovitch, S. (2007). Knowledge in context: Representations, community and culture. London and New York, NY: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jovchelovitch, S., & Priego-Hernàndez, J. (2015). Cognitive polyphasia, knowledge encounters and public spheres. In G. Sammut, E. Andreouli, G. Gaskell, & J. Valsiner (Eds.), The cambridge handbook of social representations (pp. 163–178). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kalampalikis, N., & Haas, V. (2008). More than a theory: A new map of social thought. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 38(4), 449–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Labra, O. (2013). Social representations of HIV/AIDS in mass media: Some important lessons for caregivers. International Social Work, 58(2), 238–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lahlou, S. (2001). Functional aspects of social representations. In K. Deaux & G. Philogene (Eds.), Representations of the social: Bridging theoretical traditions (pp. 131–146). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  39. Lauri, M. A. (2009). Metaphors of organ donation, social representations of the body and the opt-out system. British Journal of Health Psychology, 14, 647–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Liu, L. (2004). Sensitising concept, themata and shareness: A dialogical perspective of social representations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 34(3), 249–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Markovà, I. (2000). Amédée or how to get rid of it: Social representations from a dialogical perspective. Culture and Psychology, 6, 419–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Markovà, I. (2003). Dialogicality and social representations. The dynamics of mind. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Markovà, I. (2008). The epistemological significance of the theory of social representations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 38(4), 461–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Markovà, I. (2012). Social representations as anthropology of culture. In J. Valsiner & A. Rosa (Eds.), The oxford handbook of culture and psychology (pp. 487–509). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Moloney, G., & Walker, I. (2002). Talking about transplants: Social representations and the dialectical, dilemmatic nature of organ donation and transplantation. British Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 290–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Moloney, G., Leviston, Z., Lynam, T., Price, J., Stone Jovicich, S., & Blair, D. (2014). Using social representations theory to make sense of climate change: What scientists and nonscientists in Australia think. Ecology and Society, 19(3), 19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Moscovici, S. (1961). La psychoanalyse, son image et son public. Étude sur la representation sociale de la psychoanalyse. Paris, France: Presses Universitaires de France.Google Scholar
  48. Moscovici, S. (1984). The phenomenon of social representations. In R. Farr & S. Moscovici (Eds.), Social representations (pp. 3–69). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Moscovici, S. (1988). Notes towards a description of social representations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 211–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Moscovici, S. (2001). Why a theory of social representations? In K. Deaux & G. Philogene (Eds.), Representations of the social (pp. 8–35). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
  51. Moscovici, S. (2011). An essay on social representations and ethnic minorities. Social Science Information, 50(3–4), 442–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Moscovici, S., & Hewstone, M. (1983). Social representations and social explanations: From the “naïve” to the “amateur” scientist. In M. Hewstone (Ed.), Attribution theory: Social and functional extensions (pp. 98–125). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  53. Moscovici, S., & Marková, I. (2000). Ideas and their development: A dialogue between Serge Moscovici and Ivana Marková. In S. Moscovici & G. Duveen (Eds.), Social representations (pp. 224–286). London, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  54. Nuno-Gutierrez, B. L., Alvarez-Nemegyei, J., & Rodriguez-Cerda, O. (2008). Social representations used by the parents of Mexican adolescent drug users under treatment to explain their children’s drug use: Gender differences in parental narratives. Adolescence, 43(170), 351–371.Google Scholar
  55. Palmonari, A., & Emiliani, F. (2009). Paradigmi delle rappresentazioni sociali [Paradigms of social representations] Bologna, Italy: il Mulino.Google Scholar
  56. Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  57. Potter, J., & Litton, I. (1985). Some problems underlying the theory of social representations. British Journal of Social Psychology, 24(2), 81–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rochira, A. (2014). Common sense of experts. Social representations of justice amongst professionals. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 48(3), 239–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rochira, A., Fasanelli, R., & Liguori, A. (2015). Same people, different images. The social representations of migrants in a local community. Community Psychology in Global Perspective, 1(2), 96–122.Google Scholar
  60. Rouquette, M.-L. (1996). Social representations and mass communication research. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 26(2), 221–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sakki, I. (2014). Social representations of European integration as narrated by school textbooks in five European nations. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 43, 35–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Salvatore, S. (2016). Psychology in black and white. The project of a theory-driven science. Charlotte, NC: InfoAge Publishing.Google Scholar
  63. Salvatore, S., Fini, V., Mannarini, T., Veltri, G. A., Avdi, E., Battaglia, F., et al. (2018). Symbolic universes between present and future of Europe. First results of the map of European societies’ cultural milieu. PLoS ONE, 13(1), e0189885. Scholar
  64. Salvatore, S., Gelo, O. G., Gennaro, A., Metrangolo, R., Terrone, G., Pace, V., et al. (2017a). An automated method of content analysis for psychotherapy research: A further validation. Psychotherapy Research, 27(1–2), 38–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Salvatore, S., Gennaro, A., Auletta, A., Tonti, M., & Nitti, M. (2012). Automated method of content analysis. A device for psychotherapy process research. Psychotherapy Research, 22(3), 256–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Salvatore, S., Tonti, M., & Gennaro, A. (2017b). How to model sensemaking. A contribution for the development of a methodological framework for the analysis of meaning. In M. Han & C. Cunha (Eds.), The subjectified Charlotte, NC and subjectifying Mind (pp. 245–268). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  67. Salvatore, S., & Valsiner, J. (2010). Between the general and the unique: Overcoming the nomothetic versus idiographic opposition. Theory and Psychology, 20(6), 817–833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sammut, G., Andreouli, E., Gaskell, G., & Valsiner, J. (Eds.). (2015). The Cambridge handbook of social representations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Sammut, G., & Gaskell, G. (2009). Points of view, social positioning and intercultural relations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 40(1), 47–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sammut, G., Tsirogianni, S., & Wagoner, B. (2012). Representations from the past: Social relations and the devolution of social representations. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 46(4), 493–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Uzelgun, M. A., & Castro, P. (2015). Climate change in the mainstream turkish press: Coverage trends and meaning dimensions in the first attention cycle. Mass Communication and Society, 18(6), 730–752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Valsiner, J. (2003). Beyond social representations: A theory of enablement. Papers on Social Representations, 12, 7.1–7.16.Google Scholar
  73. Valsiner, J. (2007). Culture in minds and societies. Foundations of cultural psychology. New Delhi, India: Sage.Google Scholar
  74. Valsiner, J. (2014). An invitation to cultural psychology. London, UK: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Veltri, G. A. (2012). Viva la nano-revolución! A semantic analysis of the spanish national press. Science Communication, 35(2), 143–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Voelklein, C., & Howarth, C. (2005). A review of controversies about social representations theory: A British debate. Culture and Psychology, 11(4), 431–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wagner, W., Valencia, J., & Elejabarrieta, F. (1996). Relevance, discourse and the “hot” stable core of social representations. A structural analysis of word associations. British Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 331–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wagner, W., Duveen, G., Themel, M., & Verma, J. (1999). The modernisation of tradition: Thinking about madness in Patna, India. Culture and Psychology, 5, 413–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wagner, W., & Hayes, N. (2005). Everyday discourse and common sense. The theory of social representations. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Walmsley, C. J. (2004). Social representations and the study of professional practice. International Journal of Qualitative Method, 3(4), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SalentoLecceItaly
  2. 2.“La Sapienza” University of RomeRomeItaly
  3. 3.University of TrentoTrentoItaly
  4. 4.University of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  5. 5.T-LABRoccaseccaItaly

Personalised recommendations