Chryssides A., Dashtipour P., Keshet S., Righi C., Sammut G. & Sartawi M. (2009) We don’t share! The social representation approach, enactivism and the fundamental incompatibilities between the two. Culture & Psychology 15(1): 83–95.
Underlying all theories are philosophical presuppositions that lend themselves to different epistemological approaches, which need to be unfurled when comparing theories and offering alternative explanations. Contrary to Verheggen and Baerveldt’s (2007) promulgation that `enactivism’ may be an adequate alternative for Wagner’s social representation approach, this commentary outlines how this may be a misguided position. Enactivism, following an outward trajectory from nervous systems, to minds, to `(inter)action’, to social enactivism, is incompatible with the dialogical epistemology underpinning social representations theory. Social representations are not reducible to individual minds, and dialogical interaction is not reducible to operationally closed `systems’ in (inter)action. The difference between the two approaches lies in the fundamental paradigmatic distinction between molar and molecular explanatory frameworks. Offering one as an alternative to the other overlooks the epistemological differences between the two and fails to appreciate the discrepancies between different levels of analysis, explanatory frameworks and the very phenomena that theories problematize.
Verheggen and Baerveldt’s (2007) recent paper critiques the concept of ‘sharedness’ in Social Representations Theory (SRT). However, these arguments against sharedness are themselves founded upon an implicit argument against the role of ‘representation’ in SRT. This constitutes what I call the phenomenological critique of SRT. From a discussion of Heidegger’s phenomenology one can better understand Verheggen and Baerveldt’s argument. By concentrating on anchoring and objectification, the notion of ‘representation’ can be conceived as both a ‘conscious’ and a ‘non-conscious’ account of meaning. A Heideggerian phenomenological approach can unify the conscious and non-conscious elements of SRT into a common framework. Such phenomenological appreciation of SRT can contribute to a theory of meaning for cultural psychology.
People begin to construct their understandings of other people in childhood. Some such constructs are referred to as prejudices. Studying ways children understand children with learning difficulties is one way to understand such constructions. Following insights from Jean Piaget and Ernst von Glasersfeld such constructions are influenced by the social experiences during childhood. Here different school experiences are shown to influence the children’s constructions in different ways. A sample of 125 girls in third and sixth class in two non-urban primary schools were given a questionnaire to assess their attitudes towards children with mental handicap. One school was integrated with two special classes of children with moderate mental handicap, the other school was not integrated. Results indicate that the girls in the integrated school are significantly more prosocial along dimensions having to do with sociability with, and social concern for children with mental handicap. Comparisons between this data set and a similar urban one reveal urban/non-urban differences in both attitude and understanding of academic difficulties. An intervention programme in the integrated school was evaluated and changes were noted in the attitudes of participants reflecting a maturing of the relationship towards children with mental handicap. Relevance: The value of inclusive experiences is shown in the different social representations constructed by children in different schools (one with experience of children with learning difficulty and the other without such experience).
Gash H. & Murphy-Lejeune E. (2005) Children\s perceptions of other cultures. In: Deegan J., Devine D. & Lodge A. (eds.) Primary voices: Equality diversity and childhood in irish primary schools. Institute of Public Administration, Dublin Ireland: 205–221. https://cepa.info/2933
In this chapter, we will present various research projects dealing with children’s perceptions of other cultures, the word “culture” referring primarily in this instance to other national or ethnic entities. The issue of perceptions of other cultures is important in that it is linked with children’s constructions of their identity and may eventually determine their attitudes and behaviour to many others. Children construct social images of the groups they belong to and of other groups at an early stage of their socialisation. These early representations are acquired without them being aware of the processes at work. This is why representations often resist modification. This issue is difficult to deal with in schools and the tendency is for teachers to keep away from it. Outlining the nature, characteristics and role of social perceptions and representations of otherness in cross-cultural communication is a first step towards a fuller understanding of this area. We agree, however, with Goldstone who warns that researchers who identify difference merely reify it. We suggest strategies in line with the constructivist philosophy of the Primary Curriculum to promote pluralism. Relevance: This chapter is about identity construction in different cultures. It provides evidence of the variations in such constructions depending on the cultural context.
Although Enactivism and cultural anthropology share many core principles, a satisfactory Enactivist approach to culture has not yet been articulated. While the Enactivist embraces the cultural anthropologist’s skepticism with respect to a pregiven world described through objective truths, one of its stumbling blocks has been its difficulty in accounting for the normative background of interpersonal interaction, or what Wolfgang Wagner has referred to as “Social Representations.” This article argues that in order for the Enactivist to provide the conceptual tools necessary for this analysis, she must make use of what Varela and others refer to as “third-order unities.” The same principles that the Enactivist uses to explain the emergent properties of cells and organisms – autopiesis and identity-production – must be applied at the level of a society in order to understand how cultural meanings emerge and how they influence individual behavior. By applying these concepts at the supra-individual level, we get a more lucid picture of the fundamental features of an Enactivist account of culture, and can better understand the fundamental principles that Enactivism claims underlie all living systems both simple and complex.
Wolfgang Wagner is a current and productive advocate of the social representation approach. He developed a version of the theory in which social representations are freed from individual minds and instead conceived of as concerted interactions. These epistemological starting points come very close to the enactive outlook on consensually coordinated actions. Yet Wagner is not radical enough in that he continues to see concerted interaction as an expression of representations that are already shared by the actors constituting a group. In our view, the ubiquitous notion of sharedness – which is also found in studies on social models, cultural patterns, schemas, scenarios, and so forth – is conceptually problematic and reveals a misapprehension of how orchestrated actions come about. Moreover, it obscures a proper understanding of what really constitutes intrinsically social behavior. Enactivism provides a much more consistent epistemology for a psychology that is intrinsically social.
In earlier contributions to Culture & Psychology we have put forward enactivism as an epistemological alternative for representationalist accounts of meaning in relation to action and experience. Critics continue to charge enactive cultural psychology of being a solipsistic and a materialist reductionistic epistemology. We address that critique, arguing that it consistently follows from misunderstanding in particular the enactivist notion of “operational closure,” and from mixing up two observer viewpoints that must be analytically severed when describing living, cognitive systems. Moreover, Daanen (2009) argued that in particular Heidegger’s phenomenology can help to reconcile enactive cultural psychology and social representation theory. We reply that although enactivism is indeed close to phenomenology, Daanen fails to appreciate Heidegger’s much more radical break with a philosophy of consciousness to anchor meaningful Being. Consequently, representationalist accounts cannot be salvaged, least of all by invoking Heidegger.
Context: Numerous analyses emphasize the historical variability and social construction of the autism category. As a result, many beliefs and stereotypes about autism function unconsciously in social awareness as background knowledge. Problem: We present the results of a survey concerning the social perception of autism and we draw attention to the possible impact of the specific ways in which people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are perceived, as revealed in the survey, on how this social identity might be created. Method: A questionnaire consisting of two parts - closed-ended questions and free associations - was used in the survey. 355 participants answered the questions concerning the nature of autism, its causes, sources of information and experiences in contact with people on the spectrum. Results: The results shows that there exists a cognitively interesting divergence between the level of knowledge declared by the respondents, based on credible sources, which is indicative of a positive attitude toward people with ASD, and the more negative attitude seen in the free associations. Implications: Despite the level of social reflective knowledge, relations between people with ASD and neurotypical people seem to be lined with feelings such as fear, anxiety or uncertainty. This should draw attention to the need for a deeper and more conscious analysis of societal beliefs about autism. Constructivist content: The theoretical framework for this survey is social representations theory (SRT), which derives from the constructivist paradigm. By showing the important role of individuals’ background knowledge in the construction of autism social representation, the results of the survey confirm the usefulness of the constructivist approach to the analysis of the autism phenomenon. Keywords: Autism spectrum, constructivism, social perception of autism, reflective knowledge, background knowledge, identity.