Social Representations and Education: Anchoring, Objectification and Cognitive Polyphasia as Basic Processes

SR of history embrace shared images and knowledge about the past, elaborated, transmitted and conserved by a group through interpersonal (e.g. family transmission) and institutional communication (e.g. history education). These representations serve to preserve a sense of ingroup continuity and to cultivate values and norms that prescribe behaviors within the group (Pennebaker, Paez, & Rime, 1997). Importantly, SR imply a process where lay beliefs assimilate more elaborated, frequently scientific or philosophical, discourses (Jodelet, 2006). In consequence, both historiographical traditions (in a biased manner) and national narratives transmitted by history textbooks and teachers are reflected in a shared image of the world’s past. Furthermore, understanding of such processes as anchoring, objectification and cognitive polyphasia, relevant in emergence of SR (Jodelet, 2011; Lautier, 2001; Tutiaux-Guillon, 2012), may also be necessary for strengthening competences in historical thinking.

Anchoring involves the ascribing of meaning to new information by means of integrating it into existing worldviews, so it can be interpreted and compared to the “already known”. For instance, students learning history anchor the information they receive in their experience, group membership and values. Because of anchoring processes, young migrants are less interested in European nations’ history than majority youth, and Muslim young migrants are more critical about Holocaust issues compared to non-Muslims (Grever, 2012; Lautier, 2001).

In turn, the process of objectification turns something abstract into something almost concrete. These processes are present in historical understanding: historical events are reified in figures (e.g. Hitler representing the Nazi evil in Second World War (WWII)) and images (e.g. Columbus’s three ships as a figurative image of the “Discovery”) (Lautier, 2001). In this text, we will examine the relationship between specific examples of such processes, which shape the content of SR, for competences in history education and learning.

Finally, cognitive poliyphasia implies a dynamic coexistence of the distinct modalities of knowledge. That is, cognitive polyphasia permits the coexistence of logical and a pre-logical thinking or causal and “magical” thinking (Moscovici, 1976).

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