Social Representations, Alternative Representations and Semantic Barriers


Alex Gillespie
Department of Psychology
University of Stirling
Stirling FK9 4LA


Social representations research has tended to focus upon the representations that groups have in relation to some object. The present article elaborates the concept of social representations by pointing to the existence of “alternative representations” as sub-components within social representations. Alternative representations are the ideas and images the group has about how other groups represent the given object. Alternative representations are thus representations of other people's representations. The present article uses data from Moscovici's (1976/2008) analysis of the diffusion of psychoanalysis to examine how people engage with alternative representations. It is demonstrated that there can be more or less dialogical relations with alternative representations. The analysis concludes by considering seven “semiotic barriers” which work to neutralise the dialogical potential of alternative representations, thus on the one hand enabling groups to talk about the views of others, while, on the other hand, remaining unchallenged by those views.