Social Representation Theory: Meaning & Applicability

Psychologist Serge Moscovici recommended social representation (SR) in 1961 to bridge the gap between isolated mental processes and interpersonal interactions. People and communications are viewed as the creators of symbolic realities. These are how people organize their views of the world and connect, but instead shape the physical forms of cultural artifacts.

What does Social Representation Theory Explain?

The social bonds that hold societies, organizations, and groups together result from the common cognitions that emerge during the process of collective meaning, which is at the heart of social representations. It shifts public attention to issues that spark heated debate, emotional outbursts, violent conflict, and ideological struggle, all of which alter people's worldviews. It is an approach to communication that bridges the gap between the public and private spheres, the media, and the general populace.

There are many ways in which this theory can contribute to studies of the media and communication. It lays out several verbal mechanisms that explain how ideas spread and become accepted as common knowledge. The media's ability to normalize social thinking and create collective cognition is at the core of mediated communication. With this theory, it would be possible to make an analytical framework with a theoretical base.

Origin and Definition

The term "social representation" was first used by Serge Moscovici in his 1961 research on the spread of psychodynamics in France. " the development by a group of people of a shared medium for human engagement but instead behavior," As defined by the author, a culture is " a system of values, thoughts, and practices with a twofold activity: first, to establish a sequence which will enable an individual to guide themselves in one "s material and social realm and master it; and second, to facilitate discussions among society members by supplying the others with a code for social exchange and a script for identification and categorizing clearly and unequivocally the various aspects of their entire globe but instead their life situations." Moscovici looked into how the general public applies scientific concepts. Moscovici suggested two parallel universes, one where scientific knowledge is created and disseminated following established scientific norms and procedures and another where common sense is developed and disseminated through the efforts of the general public.

Moscovici's seminal research compared the responses of three French groups to cognitive behavioral ideas in the '50s'50s: urban liberals, Catholics, and communists. Moscovici discovered distinctions between the three social groups regarding policies and training, content, and outcomes. According to Moscovici, communist publicity encourages hostility and squabbling. Stigmatize. The Catholic segment's propaganda was well-organized and pedagogical, but it was expected to placate a small subset of psychoanalytic Catholics and thus compromise on broader issues of Church orthodoxy. The liberal, urban environment where this information spreads allows people to learn about these new possibilities without actively fighting psychoanalysis.

Representation Distribution

Moscovici outlined two primary mechanisms—anchoring and objectification—by which the strange becomes familiar. The process of "anchoring" entails assigning significance to novel phenomena (i.e., objects, relations, experiences, practices, etc.) by incorporating them into pre-existing worldviews. The threat posed by the foreign object is being neutralized in this way. Objectification is the process of making something abstract into something nearly tangible.

In this way, social construction is shown to be both the cause and effect of social representations. Representations are constantly interpreted, thought through, and re-presented as part of the socio-cognitive activity of representation that generates them.

Common Sense and Science

The target of Moscovici's research was to examine psychiatry as a social artifact, to see how its language permeated popular culture and gave rise to a novel common sense.


Vulgarization can be considered a debate and a practice. The chasm between scientific consensus and everyday sense has become an obsession. To communicate new knowledge to a broad audience, the laypeople ("valgus," the common people), scientists, and science writers (a social elite) inevitably distort and simplify it. Vulgarization, in the manner of distorted presentation, is generally accepted outside elite circles. Although it is important to share scientific findings, doing so often feels like "throwing pearls to the swine." Popularization, informal interest in science, public relations, and science communication are all fancy words for condescension. They all come from an elitist point of view and a belief in a "public deficiency," but they all mean the same thing.


"Diffusion" was originally coined to describe the "extension" of agronomic practices to more farmers. However, it has since come to mean transferring ideas from one group to another. Objectives include broadening the audience for a given idea, product, or service. This concept is predisposed to favor novel solutions; novel approaches are always ideal. This model accounts for the value of rapid dissemination suggests ways to enhance communication, and, most pertinently, assumes that the quality of the object being disseminated does not degrade over time. Any idea can be just as valid whether it is accepted or rejected. As the size of the permeation framework and the features of the prospective parents change, so does the rate at which "packages" spread.

Social Representation

The idea of social representation sheds light on two important topics: the evolution of ideas as they spread throughout humanity and a unifying principle of expression for studying social psychology. Words like "diffusion," vulgarisation," propaganda," and "propaganda" become "special case" terms at a more general level of abstraction. This is the social psychological analog to the theory of relativity in physics, which banished classical mechanics, not to the dustbin of history but instead as a special case of mass primarily with lower speeds and medium size.


The field of media studies can greatly benefit from the insights provided by the concept of social representations. We learn about "new" scientific, political, and social issues by analyzing how the content and the public anchor and objectify them. Concerning critically important shifts in how societies think and talk to one another about what they mean. These ongoing shifts involve material and structural processes and profound psychological and social ones.

Updated on: 29-Dec-2022


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started