Social representations: a revolutionary paradigm?

Sammut, Gordon; Andreouli, Eleni; Gaskell, George and Valsiner, Jaan (2015). Social representations: a revolutionary paradigm? In: Sammut, Gordon; Andreouli, Eleni; Gaskell, George and Valsiner, Jaan eds. Cambridge Handbook of Social Representations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 3–11.



Against the prevailing view that progress in science is characterized by the progressive accumulation of knowledge, Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions of 1962 introduced the idea of revolutionary paradigm shifts. For Kuhn, everyday science is normal science in which scientists are engaged in problem solving activities set in the context of a widely accepted paradigm that constitutes a broad acceptance of a fundamental theoretical framework, an agreement on researchable phenomena and on the appropriate methodology. But, on occasions normal science throws up vexing issues and anomalous results. In response, some scientists carry on regardless, while others begin to lose confidence in the paradigm and look to other options, namely rival paradigms. As more and more scientists switch allegiance to the rival paradigm, the revolution gathers pace, supported by the indoctrination of students through lectures, academic papers and textbooks. In response to critics, including Lakatos who suggested that his depiction reduced scientific progress to mob psychology, Kuhn offered a set of criteria that contributed to the apparent ‘gestalt switch’ from the old to the new paradigm. But that is another story, as indeed is Kuhn’s claim that the social sciences are pre-paradigmatic – in other words, that the only consensus is that there is no consensus.

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