The field of social representations is concerned with the explanations which people give for phenomena which they encounter in the social world. The objective of the approach is the systematic study of common sense thinking. The originator of the theory, the French social psychologist Serge Moscovici states its purpose: "These are the questions then to which we hope to find answers: What goes on in people's minds when they are faced with life's great enigmas such as illness ...? How do the systems of social representations ... ome into being and then evolve? "
A concern with how individuals arrive at common representations of phenomena, such as illnesses, lies at the heart of the theory. People's commentary on the world, the spontaneous philosophies they concoct in cafes, offices, hospitals and laboratories is presumed to build up their sense of reality. The chatter that surrounds people - in newspapers and on the television, in the snippets of conversation overheard on the bus - acts like a material force.
It is just as "real" an environment to people, and as influential on the course of their actions, as more physical entities: "where reality is concerned, these representations are all we have, that to which our perceptual, as well as our cognitive, systems are adjusted. " Social representations are about different types of collective cognitions, common sense or thought systems of societies or groups of people. They are always related to social, cultural and/or symbolic objects, they are representations of something.
There is no clear-cut definition used by the advocates, and Moscovici himself gives a number of definitions: Social representations concern the contents of everyday thinking and the stock of ideas that give coherence to our religious beliefs, political ideas and the connections we create as spontaneously as we breathe. They make it possible for us to classify persons and objects, to compare and explain behaviours and to objectify them as part of our social setting. While representations are often to be located in the minds of men and women, they can just as often be found “in the world”, and as such examined separately.
Moscovici studied the entry and diffusion of psychoanalysis within the French public of the 1950s. The theory initially dealt with the role of scientific knowledge in society and was later extended to a theory of social knowledge and practices in general. A contemporary issue of great significant is climate change in which we can observe how science, politics, mass media and everyday knowledge meet and new social representations emerge. According to Moscovici (2000) also individuals contribute to the formation of social representations in the interplay between social structure and individual.
In modern so-cieties the individual has some autonomy and assimilating social representations may simultaneously modify them. Individuals are “set free” from traditional binding social structures such as family, social class, and religion, which earlier guided thinking and behaviour. There is a greater degree of choice concerning alternative ways of living and of strategies for how to get there. As put by Moscovici: “Individuals are confronted with a great variety of specialized knowledge on the part of groups to which they belong. Each individual must make his selection at a veritable open market of representations. ”
By definition, homosexuality is attraction to members of the same sex. Homosexuality has always been a taboo topic. Nowadays the grounds for existence of homosexual identities can be questioned: in an increasing number of societies we can witness that homosexuality loses its identity constructing capacity. Homosexuality usually becomes visible and finds its way onto the media agenda when it is perceived as a scandal. Even after Second World War the issue of homosexuality continued to be primarily the subject of psychological and psychiatric studies and practically absent from public media discourse.
Official psychiatry and medicine treated homosexuality as a psychological disorder. They were an invisible minority thought of in terms of sexual perversion and mental disorder. Today though the whole spectrum of lesbians, gays, and bisexual and transgender crowd do enjoy a certain amount of acceptance but they still suffer identity crisis, are meted with rejection, and are stereotyped and so on. The LGBT crowd laments that they often have to suffer from sensationalization, stereotyping and marginalization. Homosexuals live in constant fear of facing stigma.
Prejudice, rejection, and conservatism, lack of healthy mentality in society: the fact that “homophobia is a characteristic part of the majority identity”; always force them into secrecy about their true self. In a survey in Hungary on gay individual it was found that half of them suffered physical or verbal mistreatment at least once in their life because of their homosexuality. In six cases problems at the workplace were mentioned: when one’s homosexuality was discovered, one was fired, did not get the promised promotion or became isolated.
In one case the husband’s homoerotic attractions were used against him in a divorce, in another case one was banned from his religious community when discovered, and in one extreme case one got imprisoned with homosexual charges. When trying to come out, they suffer identity threats in the form of doubts about one’s “true homosexuality” raised by oneself or by others including friends and parents with “comforting” remarks such as it is only a temporary phase, or you will grow out of it.
Stereotypical misconceptions of what it means to be gay could not only contribute to non-accepting attitudes of others, but also be internalised by gays themselves. Though attitude towards homosexuality is changing, albeit in a superficial level may be with the media coverage being more generous towards it. It is but time can only tell how these social forces can help create a more healthy consciousness in the masses about homosexuality.