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What can be said?: identity as a constraint on knowledge production

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Social representations are produced and reproduced through social interactions. Gerard Duveen made an important contribution by revealing the subtle processes through which the microgenetic production of knowledge is constrained by the identity relations between the participants in an interaction. Relations of symmetry and asymmetry constrain what can be said and heard. In this paper, we show how these ideas yield fruitful analyses in the context of two research projects. First, in a project concerning professional advice-giving by Health Visitors to parents, we elucidate the identity stakes involved in offering, receiving and resisting advice. Giving advice is not simply presenting new knowledge, it re-positions the advice-giver and advice-receiver with complex consequences for each person's knowledge and action. Second, in an experimental study of communication conflict we show how hierarchical identity positions constrain what can be both said and heard. Across both studies, we draw attention to the processes allowing speaking and listening on the one hand, or self-silencing and dismissing on the other. To take this line of inquiry further, we conclude by suggesting directions for future research, calling for investigations of how specific identity content and identity relations mediate knowledge construction, and for studies of the kinds of social contexts that might make transformative dialogical engagement more likely.

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