Collective representations

Collective representations are concepts, ideas, categories and beliefs that do not belong to isolated individuals, but are instead the product of a social collectivity.[1] Durkheim originated the term collective representations to emphasise the way that many of the categories of everyday use–space, time, class, number etc–were in fact the product of collective human evolution:[2] “Collective representations are the result of an immense co-operation, which stretches not only into space but into time as well”.[3] Collective representations are generally slow-changing and backed by social authority, and can be seen as the product of self-referencing institutions.[4]

While largely ignored by other sociologists, Durkheim’s theory of collective representations was taken up by the anthropologist Levy-Bruhl, who argued for seeing magic and religion as the product of collective representations infused with emotional participation (as in powerful rituals).[5]Towards the end of the 20th, Serge Moscovici renewed interest in the concept in the field of social psychology, adapting it to cover social representations that were more limited in scope and time than Durkheim’s collective representations.[6]Seen as shared mental maps of the social world, collective representations continue to affect the ways entities such as Europe are viewed in the 21stC.[7]

See also


  1. E Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (London 1971) p. 9
  2. E Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (London 1971) p.16
  3. W Pickering ed., Durkheim and Representations (2002) p. 16-17 and p. 8
  4. J Sorensen, A Cognitive Theory of Magic (2007) p. 25-6
  5. U Flick, The Psychology of the Social (1998) p. 37-8
  6. J Berting Europe (2006) p. 64 and p. 83
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