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Social Representation Theory


Explanations > Theories > Social Representation Theory

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 



In order for people in groups to talk with one another, they need a system of common understanding, in particular of concepts and ideas that are outside of 'common' understanding or which have particular meaning for that group. Words thus become imbued with special meaning within particular social groups.

Moscovici described social representation as:

“systems of values, ideas and practices with a two-fold function; first, to establish an order which will enable individuals to orientate themselves in their material and social world and to master it; secondly, to enable communication to take place amongst members of a community by providing them 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)

What is particularly significant about this is that meaning is created through a system of social negotiation rather than being a fixed and defined thing, and that its interpretation may well require an understanding of additional aspects of that social environment.


Levin Rozalis et al (2003) showed how the development of social representations as a therapeutic process served to enable a group of habitually violent men to understand and hence manage their own aggressive tendencies.


Luc K. Audebrand, in, describes how the social representation of a social object of 'fair trade' has particular meaning in the specific community of 'students'.

Politicians and journalists regularly create new words which they seek to insert into the language. These may well be intended to trigger emotional states and specific reactions.

So what?

Using it

To get an idea accepted in a group of people, create a model and discuss it with everyone to embed the common concept. Where possible, connect it with concrete reality and show linkages, for example cause and effect.


Where someone is propagating the use of a new word or a new use of an old word, carefully consider the purpose of this and the effect it will have if everyone accepts this new meaning.

See also

Social Learning Theory, Schema, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Linguistics


Moscovici (1973), Moscovici (1984), Levin-Rozalis et al. (2003) (notes by Moscovici)


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