Places from which We Speak: The Concepts of Consensual and Reified Universes and the Interpretation of the Outcomes Obtained with ALCESTE and IRAMUTEQ

  • Luiz Gustavo Silva Souza Universidade Federal Fluminense
Keywords: social representations, consensual universe, reified universe, ALCESTE, IRAMUTEQ


In the literature on social representations, the concepts of consensual and reified universes have been a source of controversy. In this theoretical-methodological paper, I review these concepts and define them as ways of producing and understanding reality that differ according to the knowledge’s source of validation (authorities or lay thinking). The Top- Down Hierarchical Classification (TDHC) provided by the software ALCESTE and IRAMUTEQ has been widely used in studies on social representations. The TDHC allows the investigation of the topologies of texts generating corresponding graphics in the form of dendrograms. I propose an interpretation scheme of the outcomes obtained with ALCESTE and IRAMUTEQ as follows. When an individual or group produces the text, the enunciator alternately adopts socio-subjective positions in the consensual and reified universes. The universes are two radically different socio-subjective ways of dealing with knowledge. Therefore, they activate different vocabulary. The first division of the text performed by the TDHC splits the text into two subsets characterised by the greater possible difference in vocabulary. Hence, it is sensitive for identifying the two socio-subjective positions in the consensual and reified universes. I describe some characteristics of the TDHC and evaluate the correspondence of the mentioned interpretation scheme with empirical studies. In conclusion, I make practical recommendations for the interpretation of outcomes obtained with the software ALCESTE and IRAMUTEQ.