Social representations and the politics of participation

Howarth, Caroline; Andreouli, Eleni and Kesi, Shose (2014). Social representations and the politics of participation. In: Nesbitt-Larking, Paul; Kinnvall, Catarina; Capelos, Tereza and Dekker, Henk eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Global Political Psychology. Houndmills: Palgrave, pp. 19–38.



Recent work has called for the integration of different perspectives into the field of political psychology (Haste, 2012). This chapter suggests that one possible direction that such efforts can take is studying the role that social representations theory (SRT) can play in understanding political participation and social change. Social representations are systems of common-sense knowledge and social practice; they provide the lens through which to view and create social and political realities, mediate people's relations with these sociopolitical worlds and defend cultural and political identities. Social representations are therefore key for conceptualising participation as the activity that locates individuals and social groups in their sociopolitical world. Political participation is generally seen as conditional to membership of sociopolitical groups and therefore is often linked to citizenship. To be a citizen of a society or a member of any social group one has to participate as such. Often political participation is defined as the ability to communicate one's views to the political elite or to the political establishment (Uhlaner, 2001), or simply explicit involvement in politics and electoral processes (Milbrath, 1965). However, following scholars on ideology (Eagleton, 1991; Thompson, 1990) and social knowledge (Jovchelovitch, 2007), we extend our understanding of political participation to all social relations and also develop a more agentic model where individuals and groups construct, develop and resist their own views, ideas and beliefs. We thus adopt a broader approach to participation in comparison to other political-psychological approaches, such as personality approaches (e.g. Mondak and Halperin, 2008) and cognitive approaches or, more recently, neuropsychological approaches (Hatemi and McDermott, 2012). We move away from a focus on the individual's political behaviour and its antecedents and outline an approach that focuses on the interaction between psychological and political phenomena (Deutsch and Kinnvall, 2002) through examining the politics of social knowledge.

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