Social Representations Theory: a Dialogical Approach to the Ecological Crisis

  • Sabine Caillaud Université Paris Descartes, France
Keywords: human history of nature, dialogicality, comparative research design, ecology, social representations


This article seeks to illustrate why and how social representations theory (SRT) based in its

dialogical epistemology can be used as a critical approach to analyse the ecological crisis. We

first present the shortcomings of some models used in social psychology – that they are rather

individual and cognitivist, discrediting common sense knowledge, adopting a nature/culture

dualist approach. To overcome those limitations, we then draw some parallels between the

concept of the “human history of nature” (Moscovici, 1968) and SRT by referring to the wind

rose model (Bauer & Gaskell, 2008) and by outlining the dialogical epistemology underpinning

Moscovici’s work. This epistemological turn offers theoretical advances in order to study the

ecological crisis and call for methods operationalising dialogicality. By referring to a previous

study, that compared social representations in France and Germany, we illustrate how a

comparative research design can endorse the different assumptions of the wind rose model and

support a dialogical approach of the ecological crisis. Our results suggest that the ecological crisis

refers to different competitive realities in France and in Germany and that these representations

serve identity stakes in the French/German relationship. Finally, we discuss how the ecological

crisis can challenge back theoretical developments in SRT.

Author Biography

Sabine Caillaud, Université Paris Descartes, France

SABINE CAILLAUD is an assistant professor of social psychology at the Institute of

Psychology, University Paris Descartes. Her research focuses on the social representation

approach and on collective emotions in a range of topic areas relating to environment and health

issues. She is concerned with qualitative methodologies and, more specifically, with focus

groups, narratives, and triangulation about which she published different articles and chapters.

She also coedited a book about the concept of threat in social psychology.