European Ph.D on Social Representations and Communication
La psychanalyse, son image et son public: fifty years later

This research programme is a follow-up after fifty years on Moscovici’s seminal study (1961 and 1976) as a special opportunity to investigate the stability and possible transformations of social representations of psychoanalysis in the changed socio-historical, ideological and communicative contexts (de Rosa, A.S., 2011).

This follow-up does not consist in the mere cloning of the baseline research, but introduces innovative elements in terms of:

  • objects of representations: not only psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts, but also psychiatry and psychiatrists and mental illness;
  • populations: not only lay people, but also psychoanalysts and psychiatrists;
  • countries: two cultural contexts (Italy and France), taking into account the reform of the psychiatric system in Italy 30 years after the “Basaglia Law” (1978) and the debate recently generated in France by the anti-psychoanalytic literature (Onfray, 2010);
  • new techniques (besides the original interview–questionnaire) aimed at integrating field study with media study. The latter includes content analysis not only of traditional media, like the press, but also of spontaneous online conversations in the most popular social networks: Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo Answer.

An exploratory analysis of a corpus of spontaneous conversations, selected by keywords relevant to the research purpose, has been carried out between 1 March 2010 and 1 March 2011 in two popular social networks (Facebook and Yahoo! Answers). The aim is to:

  • explore continuity and changes of social representations of psychoanalysis with respect to those illustrated in Moscovici’s Opera Prima (1961/1976);
  • extend the investigation to encompass also psychiatry and mental illness;
  • highlight persistence or change in the communication systems of diffusion, propagation and propaganda, regarding specific social groups and communicational styles;
  • compare the social representations elaborated in the two social networks, considering their different communicative constraints and characteristics.

The results show the benefit of undertaking research on social representations which – besides the traditional media and contexts for social interactions – takes account of social networks as new arenas for the social transmission and elaboration of knowledge through social exchanges among the members of the thinking society.