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Social representations : the versatility of a concept

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This paper attempts to discuss the 'versatility' of the concept of social representations, in the context of the Anglo-saxon tradition of social psychological research. This is done by analysing some of the concept's internal features - what we call the 'openness' of the concept - along with the various ways in which it has been incorporated by other approaches within social psychology - bringing about what we call the 'closure' of the concept. It is suggested that the theory has provided a 'convenient social package' to social psychological perspectives historically criticized as being asocial. The use of pre-established methods and techniques combined with social representations theory provides a "safe" territory to do research, where one introduces something allegedly "novel", i.e. the social, and at the same time does not assume the full consequences of that novelty. We argue that while the very openness and flexibility of the concept might invite convenient combinations, these are usually achieved at a cost. The theoretical integrity of the concept is compromised, mainly by treating social representations as a technological answer to theoretical lacuna of other perspectives. The outcome is a premature epistemological closure of the concept, which disempowers its otherwise lively theoretical resources.

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