Social representations and public life : a study on the symbolic construction of public spaces in Brazil
In this thesis I relate the work of both Arendt and Habermas concerning the public sphere to Moscovici's theory of social representations. I propose a distinction between social representations in and of the public sphere to show that (i) social representations are forms of symbolic mediation firmly grounded in the public sphere, and (ii) public life plays a constituent role in the development of representations and symbols. Drawing on Winnicott's concept of potential space, I show that the constitution of social representations and public life rests neither upon the individual nor upon society, but upon those spaces of mediation that link and separate them at the same time. The concept of public sphere is operationalised along two dimensions: the space of the streets and the arena of politics. The research comprises three empirical studies: (i) content analyses of the Brazilian press, (ii) focus groups with street children, taxi drivers, policemen, professionals, students and manual workers, and (iii) narrative interviews with Brazilian parliamentarians about the impeachment of the former president. The roles of the media, of conversation and of narratives in the shaping of both social representations and public life guide the analyses. The findings suggest that the blurred character of the relationship between self and other in Brazil lies at the very heart of social representations of public life. Threat and fear on the streets and corruption in political life are anchored in older metaphors of corrupt blood and a contaminated, ill, social body. The results suggest that the workings of social representations are inseparable both from the historical features of the society in which they develop and from the processes whereby a community struggles to maintain an identity, a sense of belonging and a location in the world.