Policy Attitudes, Ideological Values and Social Representations



This article reviews research on policy attitudes and ideological values from the perspective of social representations theory. In the first part of the paper, key features of lay political thinking are presented, its pragmatic imperative, its focus on communication and the social functions of shared knowledge. Objectification transforms abstract and group-neutral ideological values into concrete and socially useful knowledge, in particular stereotypes of value-conforming and value-violating groups. Such shared understandings of intergroup relations provide citizens with common reference knowledge which provides the cognitive and cultural basis of policy attitudes. Social representations theory further suggests that lay knowledge reflects the social context in which it has been elaborated (anchoring), an aspect which allows conceptualising aggregate-level differences in policy attitudes. In the second part of the paper, a model of lay conceptions of social order is outlined which organises four shared conceptions of social order, along with the stereotype-based thinking associated with each conception: Moral order, Free Market, Social diversity and Structural inequality. We conclude by arguing that policy attitudes are symbolic devices expressed to justify or to challenge existing social arrangements.