Durkheim and Representations (Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought)


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These resources shaped his epistemology, and firmly distinguished the theory of social representations from other social psychological approaches. The focus on these intellectual resources draws attention to two issues. Second, an explicit recognition of presuppositions of social representations in their application in professional practices like education, politics and health, among others, enables a unique contribution to social sciences and humanities. In this tribute to Serge Moscovici I shall present the theory of social representations as a model of social scientific theory that shows the originality and creativity of his thought.

In doing so, I shall attempt to reconstruct the foundations of the theory of social representations by focusing on intellectual resources that were available to Moscovici during the time he was developing the theory. The focus on these intellectual resources will draw attention to two issues.

Unless one understands the nature of intellectual resources that underlie these presuppositions, one cannot answer questions about similarities and differences between our theory and those of other theories, e. Serge Moscovici arrived to Paris in January from Romania, where he had experienced racism, discrimination and the rise of communist totalitarianism. He thought that social psychology was a discipline that had the potential of finding solutions to these issues, as well to the post-War political, economic and industrial problems.

He MOSCOVICI, expressed these views in the Preface to the 1st edition of his book La psychanalyse: son image et son public in where he argued that social psychology occupies a unique and strategic position between social sciences, and specifically, between sociology and social anthropology. He referred in this context to visions expressed by two very different social scientists: the French sociologist Emil Durkheim and the Russian Marxist and a political philosopher Georgi Plekhanov.

Despite their tremendous political and philosophical differences, these two scholars had a common concern: the study of social knowledge. While Durkheim examined social knowledge in the realm of sociology, Plekhanov drew attention to possible contributions of social psychology in the field of political knowledge. From their different positions they both thought that the strategic position of social psychology was given by its potential to act in response to contemporary political, historical and social phenomena.

Thus from the very beginning, Moscovici articulated social psychology as a discipline in movement, which has its specificity. As a hybrid discipline in a continuous movement, social psychology has to cope with tensions produced by these dyadic relations. Indeed, it is the study of these tensions that constitutes the challenge to and specificity of social psychology. Intellectua l resources of the theory of social representations and communication. The study of psychoanalysis, which Moscovici chose to study social representations, brought to light the tension between scientific and professional thought on the one hand, and the daily thinking of ordinary people on the other.

Psychoanalysis was particularly suitable to explore this tension because it was highly controversial and widely talked about.

Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought

It had considerable affinities with common sense thinking and therefore, lay people had their own views about it. They saw similarities between psychoanalysis and various kinds of their daily experiences, for example, between a religious confession and a psychoanalytic interview. Instead, Moscovici promoted the perspective of a continuous development of thought from common sense to science.

Equally important, scientific thought gets diffused into daily thinking. As is well known, the idea of the transformation of scientific thinking into common sense has been vital in the development of the theory.

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In the post-War years, Norbert Wiener defined a new interdisciplinary field, i. Cybernetics re-focused interest of sciences on investigations of systems and their structures. It brought to attention the concept of information and communication as essential organizing mechanisms in domains that proceeded beyond the study of the individual into community, like anthropology and sociology. Wiener argued that one could not understand communities without a thorough exploration of the means of communication in social systems. He showed that individuals do not create a group or community in order to achieve homeostasis, but that, in contrast, society is created in and through heterogeneous disturbances, tensions, and various kinds of interactions among members, and their modes of communication.

Cybernetics appealed to Moscovici for several reasons. In contrast to theoretical approaches that focused on behavioural and mental elements, cybernetics orientated thinking towards the holistic idea of Gestalt, towards systems, structures and communication. Instead, Wiener was concerned with patterns and configurations in systems and communication. Communication and language are phenomena based on various kinds of tension between speakers and listeners essential to the concept of social representations.

Representations are formed, maintained and changed in and through language and communication and equally, the use of words and attributes attached to meanings transforms social representations. Heterogeneous interactions between groups and their specific contexts produce a variety of styles of thinking and communicating, some based on consensus, others on dissensus and contradiction. Communication does not necessarily lead to a better understanding, harmony and progress. Instead, it presupposes transformation of one kind of knowledge into another one; and transformation of various kinds of knowledge is pertinent to specific socio-historical and cultural conditions.

Moscovici ; coined these diverse kinds of thinking and communicating as cognitive polyphasia, the simultaneous and dynamic co-existence of different modalities of thinking and knowledge, like traditional and modern or ritualistic and scientific. Cognitive polyphasia is characterized by tension, conflict and constraints rather than by equilibrium and adaptation. Already in his first article Moscovici expressed his strong dissatisfaction with the use of scales in order to examine opinions about, and attitudes towards psychoanalysis, as his supervisors advised him.

As he explained in his first published papers, the results from scales give yes-no answers; they are concerned only with measurement, but one does not learn about how people think. Guttman ; attempted to discover the structures of items binding respondents together. Patterns, in which items were closer together, represented meaningful and socially shared Gestalts. They expressed the degree of structuredness of social phenomena.

Importantly, it was not transformation of neutral information, but of value-loaded knowledge that groups and societies accumulated in and through culture over generations: it was ethical. He was developing new thoughts against the established knowledge and the existing research practices. These first articles indicated his struggle with his own ideas, and his awareness that he confronted the establishment. He did not intend to validate psychoanalysis as good or bad.

Instead, he tried to capture social representations, which are dynamic and heterogeneous social phenomena. This can be achieved only by intensive investigations enabling exchange and development of ideas and their circulation in groups. He carefully introduced in his first papers the concept of the Guttman scale opposing the established views in France at that time. He came to Paris as a political refugee in and when he published his first articles in and , he still did not have the French citizenship.

Not surprisingly, he found it difficult to present his unauthorized views. For example he tried to use the laws of thermodynamics to study kinship, family, religion and cultures. From the very beginning Moscovici was interested in the study of dynamic nature of social phenomena and this kind of inquiry is underlain by an epistemology that is incompatible with the study of attitudes in social psychology.

This was a follow up of the Soviet Marxists. It was a Party matter and it was believed that only enlightened proletariat could objectively evaluate science. According to the Marxist-Leninist view, ordinary people are spontaneous and they cannot think rationally and scientifically. As Moscovici notes in Psychoanalysis, this was such a controversial issue that some scientists left the Communist Party, while others wrote personal critiques and confessions rejecting their previous adherence to psychoanalysis.

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Technological thinking was common sense thinking. Science adopted common sense elements, developed them and adapted them to new knowledge and practical needs. Thus common sense and scientific knowing started enriching one another and this idea of stimulating for Moscovici. Kuhn characterised a change of paradigms in terms of severe and prolonged anomalies which he viewed as necessary preconditions for crises, and subsequently, for the emergence of new theories.

In his critique of Kuhn, Moscovici argued that the idea of anomalies or deficits was too simplistic. Scientific changes do not take place on their own, but. After the War, phenomenology became one of the flourishing philosophical tendencies in France. Paul Ricoeur maintained that Husserl was read, translated and commented on in France more than anywhere else. Phenomenology appealed to Moscovici for several reasons. It is holistic and does not fragment the world into elements. Human consciousness is intentional and is directed towards objects and other humans.

It is concerned with contents of experience, which include imagination, judgements, emotions, self- and other-awareness and interactions.

Hypothesis and Theory ARTICLE

When Moscovici was developing the theory of social representations, one of the main representatives of phenomenology in France was Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He fundamentally disapproved of the Piaget conception of the child intellectual development from illogicality towards logicality. The second source of ideas for social representations was the phenomenology of language and this, in fact, is an expansion of the first point concerning the body.

The analysis of speech and expression shows the importance of living body more effectively than any other kinds of activity. The phenomenological perspective focuses on the speaking subject in the living community and is orientated towards the future. Here we also find a fundamental difference between phenomenology and the theory of social representations. In contrast to Merleau-Ponty who emphasized the primacy of perception, Moscovici emphasized the primacy of social representation.

But in the normal course of events, causes are both necessary and sufficient for their effects, and effects are not only logically necessary conditions of their causes, but sufficient indicators of their presence, making causes difficult to distinguish from effects. Alternatively, Durkheim could be interpreted as having claimed that the specialization of labor is an adaptation to increasing dynamic density rather than a result of it. Similarly, the division of labor among humans could minimize competition among them b , ff.

Durkheim is quite explicit that without the interpersonal relationships that make up social density, people could respond to increasing population density simply by dispersing b , —71; a , The function of specialization is to maintain those interpersonal bonds, so that individuals continue to see themselves as members of the same society and stay together.

As a result, population density may then increase. One could argue that Durkheim wrote The Rules precisely in order to try to defend The Division of Labor against the charge that it explains specialization ultimately in terms of physical causes. In The Rules he argued that the physical population density may serve as the means to measure the dynamic density, as they march together in lock step, but that it is not an exact measure a , and n.

However, that leaves the question of what gets the whole process started unexplained, that is, what causes the dynamic density to increase. Sometimes Durkheim himself appears to have been led astray by the confusion of causes with functions, as in his theory of the categories in The Elementary Forms. The problem is only compounded by an ambiguity between the categories and their collective or cultural representations.

Durkheim attempted to identify them, but this would be like confusing numbers with numerals. He seems to have wanted The Elementary Forms to be read as showing that the categories have social causes. But what he succeeded in showing is that the categories have important social functions and that their collective representations have social causes or at least social models.

According to Durkheim, all societies appear to use the same categories of space, time, causality, and class because these categories have necessary social functions. For example, all societies need some way of communicating about spatial directions. However, different societies need not all represent space in the same way.

Each society may have its own system of representing the categories. Durkheim claimed that individuals have no more need than an animal does of a conceptual representation of space and time in order to orient itself and satisfy its individual needs a , For Durkheim, the function of some social phenomenon has nothing to do with anything that people may have intended. Facts about groups of individuals cannot be explained in terms of facts about the individuals that make up the group, especially not facts about their intentional behavior.

To explain social phenomena in terms of individual intentions would be to mistakenly give them a psychological explanation. Sociology is an autonomous science for Durkheim, as social phenomena such as social suicide and homicide rates are not reducible to individual psychology. He was modeling sociology on the direction in which he saw the natural sciences moving in his day.

But history suggests that positing theoretical entities and taking a realist stance towards them is not always the only or even the best way to go. Also, physics, chemistry, and molecular biology today all share the same fundamental entities, and the idea of ascribing causal powers to them in this stochastic universe is questionable. There are further problems with collective representations. It is not clear how an unconscious mental representation can be the bearer of meaning, and even the identification of meanings with conscious mental representations faces philosophical difficulties.

Durkheim thought he needed to posit collective representations in order to explain what he took to be the ideas that held a society together, thus making the Comtean assumption that it is shared ideas that accomplish this task. Perhaps the difficulty Durkheim experienced in finding any such shared ideas in contemporary society explains the fact that he subsequently turned his attention to the study of simpler societies such as the Australian totemists. He demonstrated that there is a distinct class of social phenomena that cannot be completely explained in terms of individual behavior.

Specifically, he argued that no account in terms of individual psychology can explain how different social groups have different suicide and crime rates, which goes a long way towards illuminating how Suicide became a classic and a model in American sociology.

However, Durkheim perhaps did not quite see that this methodological principle does not depend on any ontology specific to sociology. This could be explained through an analogy with biology. Although biological organisms are nothing but physical and chemical entities, there are biological explanations that employ concepts like function and adaptation that cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry.

Similarly, although there is no social entity over and above the individuals that constitute a society, the reason some cities have higher homicide rates than others cannot be explained in terms of individual psychology. Durkheim also gave valuable advice about avoiding common-sense terms and concepts. That is, to really understand social phenomena such as suicide or religion, we must step back from our ordinary notions of these things, which may simply reflect cultural and other biases. For instance, we should not define religion in terms of beliefs in gods or other supernatural entities, as that privileges certain religions over others.

One could object that Durkheim could not explain the social meaning of suicide and say that it was inappropriate for him to treat social facts in a natural scientific sort of way. However, there is no reason to think that sociology cannot concern itself with both meanings and causes.

Durkheim at least attempted to combine the two; whether he was successful, of course, is a separate question. Often the arguments turn on contrasting the social sciences with an unrealistic picture of the natural sciences. There appears to be no set of methods that is specific to the social sciences that distinguishes them from the natural sciences, or set of methods that is common to all but only the natural sciences.

Causal Inference and Modeli We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Free trial voucher code. Invalid Search. Enter keywords, authors, DOI etc. Search History. Search history from this session 0. Metrics Views 1. Social Facts One thing on which everyone seems to agree is that Durkheim defended the autonomy of sociology by arguing that there is a distinct class of phenomena that constitute its field of study: social facts.

Methods of Inquiry It is also generally recognized that Durkheim advised sociologists to consider social facts as things, that is, as just as real as things in the material world a , xi, Methods of Persuasion Durkheim began each of his substantive works with a preliminary definition of the social phenomenon in question, such as suicide or religion, in terms of its external, observable characteristics. Anderson, R. Baldwin ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, — Durkheim, E.

Paris: Alcan. The pages from the introduction to the first edition that were removed in subsequent editions have been reprinted in a, vol. Paris: Alcan, New edn. The preface to the first edition that was removed in subsequent editions is reprinted in a, vol. Paris: PUF, 13— The social was finally discovered.

However, why was this emancipation from outmoded ways of thinking possible, or even necessary, after a certain point? The argument is here that to limit my analysis at the relationship with biology , when the pressure from the biological got worse, after when Mendel was rediscovered, and, one can assume, eugenics started the social sciences no longer felt comfortable sharing their epistemic premises with biologists. High tensions were emerging and a peaceful coexistence was now at risk. While the chronology of this interpretation is more or less correct, I think that the relationship between cause and effect is reversed.

It is rather that now for the first time, the social sciences found a way out from biologism. Because as a result of Galton, Weismann and genetics, biology made possible for the first time the circulation of a concept of heredity that was utterly separated from the social environment.

In this way, the latter was freed from any direct connection with the biological. Heredity was secluded away in the germ plasm later, in the gene , becoming less invasive than in previous Lamarckian forms. It was now possible to distinguish neatly and for the first time between heredity and sociocultural transmission. What seems a sociological gift, i. Rather than being enemies, sociology and genetics have shared a certain epistemic contiguity in the twentieth century, where a radical separation of heredity and heritage was made possible mostly via Weismann.

Whether this will continue to be the case in the current century is a different matter that I cannot address in the limited space of this article. The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication. The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The section on Weismann and hard-heredity summarizes Chapter 2 of my book Political Biology Thanks to Andrew Turner for kindly revising some passages of the text. Huge thanks to the two reviewers for their two extremely helpful comments and insights. Allen, G. Eugenics and modern biology: critiques of eugenics — Ansell-Pearson, K. London: Routledge.

Google Scholar. Ball, W. Are the Effects of Use and Disuse Inherited? London: Macmillan and Co. Bonduriansky, R. Rethinking heredity, again. Trends Ecol. Bowler, P. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Berkeley: University of California at Berkeley. Evolution, the History of an Idea , 3rd Edn.

Berkeley: University of California Press. Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Burrow, J. Churchill, F. August Weismann: Development, Heredity, and Evolution. Crook, D. Darwinism, War and History. Davenport, C. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution. Durkheim, E. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life , ed. Swain, trans. London: Allen and Unwin. The Division of Labor in Society , ed. Halls, trans. New York: Free Press. The Rules of Sociological Method , ed.

Suicide: A Study in Sociology , eds. Spaulding and G. Simpson, trans. Fancher, R. Alphonse de Candolle, Francis Galton, and the early history of the nature-nurture controversy. Fenton, S. Fields, K. The Soul of Inequality in American Life. New York: Verso. Fournier, M. Alexander and P. Gieryn, T. Boundary-work and the demarcation of science from non-science: strains and interests in professional ideologies of scientists. Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line.

Gissis, S. Late nineteenth century Lamarckism and French sociology. Gofman, A. Jeffries Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave , 45— Hamilton, P. Emile Durkheim: Critical Assessments. Hawkins, M. Heilbron, J. The Rise of Social Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Hirst, P. Johannsen, W. The genotype conception of heredity. Keller, E. The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture. Kroenfeldner, M. Zeitschrift fiir Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 17, — La Capra, D. Latour, B. We Have Never Been Modern , ed. Porter, trans. Lehmann, J. Lukes, S. Durkheim New York: Free Press , 1— Mayr, E.

Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Meloni, M. Meloni, S. Williams, and P. Martin Oxford: Wiley Blackwell , 61— Mucchielli, L. A Cultural History of Heredity. Novak, J. Nye, R. Offer, J. Spencer and Social Theory. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. Paligot, C. Paris: PUF. Paul, D. John Stuart Mill, innate differences, and the regulation of reproduction. Peel, J. Herbert Spencer: the Evolution of a Sociologist.

New York: Basic Books. Pickering, D. Durkheim and Representations.


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