Making sense of "absence": Towards a typology of absence in social representations theory and research

Identifying, locating and interpreting both what is present and what is not present in theory and data lies at the core of scientific practice. Most experienced researchers know that social reality and psychological phenomena cannot always be apprehended directly, and that the forces that shape them must often be inferred rather than positively demonstrated. Yet, the important analytical problems raised by “absence” have rarely occupied the centre stage in professional journals. The aim of this paper is to sensitise researchers to the problem of absence. It considers the various guises in which absences may appear, their repercussions in the research process, and the solutions that researchers have used to render absences visible. The paper focuses on the issue of absence as it appears in theory and research on social representations. A typology of absence, structured in terms of the research process, is proposed. The typology is intended purely as a heuristic tool. It identifies and discusses forms of theoretical, methodological, empirical and analytical/interpretive absences. This typology is used to explore forms of absence and their interrelationships throughout the research process in three studies on social representations. The discussion as a whole contributes to reaffirming the radical character of the theory of social representations by stressing how the latter locates the space of explanation at the interface between individual and collective representations, between social and cognitive processes, between intentional and non-conscious dynamics, and between material and symbolic realities
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DOI 10.1111/1468-5914.00111
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