From representations to representing: On social representations and discursive-rhetorical psychology

Stephen Gibson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

28 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter focusses on active processes of representing, and does so by exploring the links between social representations theory, discourse analysis and rhetorical psychology. It is argued that the focus on action in discursive and rhetorical approaches provides a lens through which we might view how social representations are used in specific social settings. Equally, the focus of social representations theorists on the ‘sedimentation’ of cultural themes provides one possibility through which discursive and rhetorical psychologists might be able to combine a focus on the micro-interactional with the more diffuse cultural-historical processes that partially shape the objects of discourse. The details of such an approach are necessarily preliminary, but in the latter part of the chapter I will provide a brief empirical example in an attempt to sketch out some of the possibilities afforded by a combination of a concern with both historical and micro-interactional processes of social construction. Social representations theory and discursive-rhetorical psychology have much in common, such as the use of some form of constructionist epistemological metatheory, and the variety of approaches encompassed by these broad umbrella terms. Social representations theory has diversified into distinct traditions such as Abric's (e.g. 2002) structural approach, Marková's (e.g. 2003) dialogical approach, and many others besides (e.g.Wagner and Hayes, 2005; Jovchelovitch, 2007; Howarth, 2006a). Similarly, discursive-rhetorical psychology takes in a range of approaches from Parker's (1992) critical realist approach, to Potter and Edwards's (1992) avowedly relativist discursive psychology (see Edwards, Ashmore and Potter, 1995) and Billig's (1996) rhetorical psychology. Indeed, the term ‘discursive-rhetorical psychology’ is preferred here precisely in order to capture this breadth, and is intended to afford the potential to draw on the insights of these traditions while recognizing that there may sometimes be epistemological tensions as a result of any attempt at eclecticism. Such problems also have the potential to arise in any attempt to suggest a rapprochement between discursive-rhetorical psychology and the theory of social representations.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Social Representations
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781107323650
ISBN (Print)9781107042001
Publication statusPublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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