This paper critically examines the notion of social representations by way of a systematic analysis of media and participants' accounts of the St Pauls street disturbances of 1980. The analysis concentrates on two major explanatory categories which appear in the accounts: (A) ‘race’; (B) ‘government cuts and amenities’. In each case it is possible to distinguish three different levels of consensus between accounts: (i) particular explanatory schemata can be recognized as available but treated as mistaken; (ii) particular explanatory schemata can be recognized as relevant and adopted to explain the particular events, although in different ways; (iii) particular schemata can be adopted and used to explain events in the same way. The flexible meaning of these categories is highlighted along with the recurrent reference to alternative explanations. These findings raise problems for the suggestion that social representations minimize conflict and create ‘consensual universes’, and question the straightforward relationship between social representations and identifiable social groups. In conclusion the need is identified for a more detailed analysis of the language in which social representations are couched, and the relationship they bear to different contexts of use.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology