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What is the theory of social representations?

What is the theory of social representations?

July 14, 2024

A society is characterized by being formed by a large number of people or individual subjects, with their own characteristics and idiosyncratic ways of thinking. However, there are a series of norms or common thoughts within a society that create a framework of beliefs, affirmations and universal social norms.

One of the proposals that tries to explain this phenomenon is the theory of social representations . In this article we will try to review what this theory consists of, as well as the main characteristics of these representations, their elements and their functions.

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What is the theory of social representations?

Throughout the history of psychology there have been several authors who have tried to develop the concept of social representation, however this theory finds in the social psychologist Serge Moscovici his biggest representative .


In the year 1961, Moscovici published his doctoral thesis in which for the first time he mentioned the concept of social representation. Although the definition of this term has been evolving over the years, its essence remains intact.

According to this theorist of social psychology, social representations are cognitive systems with a logic and own statement. Within these social representations we find stereotypes, beliefs, affirmations or values ​​that help people to orient themselves and dominate their social environment.

The social representations they provide a common communication code with which to name and classify in a group way the different aspects of the world in which we live. Likewise, these systems of codes, principles and qualifying judgments shape and guide the way in which people act in society, since they establish the norms and limits that are within the collective consciousness.


That is to say, the theory of social representations establishes that there exists a form of social or collective thought through which individuals they get some common perception of reality and also, act in relation to it.

Finally, these social representations can change through different groups of people or cultures, so studying each one of the social representations of a community allows us to know how that society is, as well as how it is regulated and compared. other.

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Characteristics of social representations

With the aim of facilitating the understanding and delimitation of the concept of social representation, the various theorists who study it have elaborated a list of the characteristics that define it and differentiate it from other phenomena of social thought.


1. It refers to a specific aspect

A social representation always refers to a specific aspect that can not materialize physically. That is, social representations are able to convert a perception or an abstract aspect into a concrete concept that appears in the minds of all people.

An example can be the stereotypes, which from a perception establish a sentence or resolution in a universal way.

2. They are simplifying

The transformation of concrete aspects into universal mental images allows the simplification of these, making them much more accessible and understandable to society .

3. They are constantly evolving

From the moment of the appearance of a social representation it is in constant construction and evolution. This elaboration work is both personal and group, which means that Individuals are not passive subjects they absorb social representations, but they manufacture and transform them adapting them to the present moment.

4. They have a social character

As its name suggests, social representations are social because they are created and shared by a group of people in order to categorize a phenomenon or social event , explain its characteristics and incorporate it into reality.

5. They start from common sense

Social representations form a kind of natural thinking, not institutionalized which finds its basis in common sense. From the communication between people and the media a new element or image is integrated into the collective thought and discourse.

6. They are cognitive-affective structures

This phenomena has an affective aspect. Social representations are cognitive-affective structures that interpret, explain, choose, connect and interrelate all those data that come from the environment.

7They have a practical function

Finally, social representations have a practical purpose that allows use them as guidance and behavior guide that allows the person to interact satisfactorily with the society that surrounds him.

Elements that make them up

The theorists of social psychology establish the existence of three main elements that are found within social representations. These elements are: the information or content, the object and the subject.

1. Information or content

For a social representation to be formed, it needs content. This content is formed by all that information, knowledge and knowledge that exists around an object or social phenomenon .

Within this content we can find three different dimensions:

  • Figurative dimension : are the mental images associated with this phenomenon
  • Symbolic dimension : the phenomenon acquires a meaning and can be transmitted through language
  • Affective dimension : consists of the valuation that society gives to said phenomenon

2. Object

Evidently, said information must be related by necessity to a social object, phenomenon or event, which constitutes the central element of the representation.

3. Subject (s)

Finally, social representations they need a subject or group of subjects that assimilate and transmit them . The individual or individuals are the active agents that perceive the social phenomena, elaborate the contents of the representation and share them with the rest of the people.


Social Representations Part 2 (July 2024).


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