Social Representations of Social Structure among Estonians

Andu Rämmer

Summary of the thesis

 

Master’s thesis is based on two papers that consider social representations and the perception of social structure during a period of social change.

 

I How to interpret the formation of widespread beliefs

The first article examines treatment of widespread beliefs in different social sciences. For interpreting widespread beliefs there are no common terms in the social sciences. The most known terms are myth, norm, and stereotype. According to anthropological, sociological or cognitive psychological accentuation these terms have been applied in describing beliefs created in human communication.

Serge Moscovici’s Social Representations theory differs somewhat from the above mentioned approaches, joining together the psychological construction and social distribution mechanisms of the representations. As a result this theory enables to compare the genesis, spreading, and transformation of representations in different social groups and cultures.

Considering that social representations are very fluid phenomena they are not located in reified universe of scientific knowledge, but are found in consensual universe of knowledge.

 

II How social changes affect social representations: Estonians’ representations of social structure

The second article focuses on the empirical research of social representations. The representations of the social structure of ten different social group (MPs, journalists, bank leaders, university professors, teachers, unskilled workers, farmers, pensioners, the unemployed, prisoners) are examined in the context of social change.

The respondents were asked to estimate the power hierarchies prevailing in various socio-political conditions by means of diagrams embodying different type of social structures.

The basic idea of this paper was to interprete such images as social representations.

Most conflicted were the representations about the recent past.

The representations about more distant past were less clear and not so unanimous.

The representations of current social structure were in the sharpest conflict with the representations of the future society close to the perceived ideal social structure.

Most explicit and stable were the representations of those groups who possessed power (MPs, heads of banks), while prisoners saw inequality in all conditions.