European / International Joint Ph.D. in
Social Representation and Communication

Theoretical Background

On the theoretical level, the research program is inspired by the Social Representations Theory (Moscovici, S., 1961, 1976, 2000) and other psycho-social constructs such as Social Identity and Social Memory (G. Bellelli, D. Bakhurst, A. Rosa, (eds.) 2000; de Rosa, A.S. & Mormino, C. 2000).

The EuroSKYCompass project departs from two assumptions:

a. The relativity and conventional character of geographic parameters

This assumption was vigorously sustained by the German cartographer Arno Peters (1974), who in various studies documented how current geographic maps are the fruit of a cartographic colonialism via which the “North” reaffirms its economic supremacy by altered spatial proportions that emphasize Europe and North America and reduce the dimensions of South Africa, South America and Australia. As an alternative to these euro-centric distorted projections, Arno Peters proposes new cartographic projections based on three criteria: area, axis and position equivalence.

Without getting into the merits of comparing traditional geographic maps and the method proposed by Peters, in the light of the Social Representations Theory, his criticism assumes a notable heuristic value in the inspiration of our research program. In fact, according to the prospective of the social construction of knowledge, geographic visualization tools not only reproduce but also induce different social representations of the world’s North, South, East and West. Citing Duveen (2000), we can say, for example, “Imagine you are looking at an outline map of Europe, with no features marked on it except for the city of Vienna near the center, and to the north of it the city of Berlin. Where would you then locate the cities of Prague and Budapest? For most people who have grown up since the end of the Second World War both these cities belong to the eastern division of Europe, while Vienna belongs to the West, and consequently both Prague and Budapest should be to the east of Vienna. But now look at a map of Europe and see the actual locations of these cities. Budapest, to be sure, lies further east, downstream along the Danube from Vienna. But Prague lies in fact to the east of Vienna.

This small example illustrates something of the phenomena of social representations. Our image of the geography of Europe has been reconstructed in terms of the political division of the Cold War, in which the ideological definitions of East and West have come to be substituted for the geographical definitions of East and West have come to be substituted for the geographical ones. We can also observe in this example how patterns of communication in the postwar years have influenced this process and stabilized a particular image of Europe (…) Whenever knowledge is expressed it is for some purpose; it is never disinterested. When Prague is located to the east of Vienna a certain sense of the world and a particular set of human interests is being projected”.

Assuming that geographic maps are tools designed to express and, with all the power of visual language, at the same time to influence representations of geopolitical balances, new questions are at the starting point of this research program. In particular:

  • How different and changeable will mental maps be in reference to the cardinal points North-South-East-West as orientation elements in the European Union, including spatial [obtained via indices of a spatial-graphic nature] and thematic [obtained via the content of the free associations] anchoring to representations of relationally linked objects such as “world”, “Europe”, “Nation”?
  • In function of the modification of geopolitical borders introduced by the European Union’s enlargement and new geopolitical balances in the Mediterranean area, what changes will be occur in borders, axis orientation and relational positioning of various entities important for the subjects (oneself, one’s own country, favorite foreign country, the EU)?
  • According to a criterion of representativity and in function of different attitudes noted on the part of the subjects, which nations will compose the map of dislocated countries on the EuroSKYcompass quadrants?
  • What are the links between these representations and the subjects’ knowledge/experience?


b. Identity as a multidimensional construct

In our research project, identity is taken as a multidimensional and relational construct, understood not only in terms of the subjects’ socio-demographic characteristics or as the product of a social and cognitive categorization but, rather, on the basis of the sense of the subjects’ “belonging”. This concerns their own nation, the EU, Europe and the subjects’ attitude patterns, inclusive or exclusive, based on the processes of integration/differentiation of the different countries in relation to their geographic and political dislocation and the reciprocal position in the subjects’ mental maps.