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Keywords:

  • social representations;
  • social reality;
  • power;
  • resistance;
  • conflict

Fifty years ago, Serge Moscovici first outlined a theory of social representations. In this article, we attempt to discuss and to contextualize research that has been inspired by this original impetus from the particular angle of its relevance to political psychology. We argue that four defining components of social representations need to be taken into account, and that these elements need to be articulated with insights from the social identity tradition about the centrality of self and group constructions in order to develop original insights into political psychological phenomena. First, social representations are shared knowledge, and the way interpretations of the world are collectively elaborated is critical to the way people are able to act within the world. Second, social representations are meta-knowledge, which implies that what people assume relevant others know, think, or value is part of their own interpretative grid, and that collective behavior can often be influenced more powerfully at the level of meta-representations than of intimate beliefs. Third, social representations are enacted communication, which means that social influence is exerted by the factors that constrain social practices as much as by the discourse that interprets these practices. Fourth, social representations are world-making assumptions: collective understandings do not only reflect existing realities but often bring social reality into being. Put together, these four components provide a distinctive theoretical perspective on power, resistance and conflict. The added conceptual value of this perspective is illustrated by showing how it allows revisiting ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. We conclude with implications for research practices and discuss how the proposed model of social representations invites us to define new priorities and challenges for the methods used to study political psychological phenomena.