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madness are acquired early in life). In discussing the process of objectification Moscovici
refers to the figurative nucleus of a social representation, "an image structure that reproduces
a conceptual structure in a visible manner" (Moscovici, 1981). The most graphic examples of
iconic aspects of social representations of gender in our work concern children's evocation of
sexuality in their play. Indeed, sexuality is evoked precisely as the union of bipolar opposites, and once established is celebrated through the rituals of marriage and domestic life.
Indeed for these children there is a syncretic fusion of sexual relations, the institution of
marriage and the complementarity of gender roles in domestic life. The structure of a bipolar
opposition is the connecting thread between these different elements, each of which implicates the others, so that when one element is evoked in play it can lead to the evocation of the
The figurative nucleus of bipolar opposites also supports a conceptualisation of social life
in terms of two complementary but exclusive categories. This conceptual structure influences
how children interpret the world around them, while their participation in collective life
provides a scaffolding which confers further legitimacy on this conceptual structure. In
sexuality, or more precisely heterosexuality, difference is both asserted because it depends on
the presence of bipolar opposites, and also overcome at the same time through the union of
these opposites. Sexuality, therefore can take on a privileged status for young children
because it offers the clearest resolution to the problem of difference. As we argued earlier, the
image of bipolar opposition connects sexuality with marriage and domestic life, and in their
play children's engagement with this theme expresses and celebrates a certain understanding
of the world. In this understanding sex and gender are reduced to a single dimension, and it
is the difference between the categories of masculine and feminine which are emphasised,
while differences within each of these categories are obscured.
Our observations suggested that children are often the most conservative elements in the
gender culture of the classroom. The image of bipolar opposition as the figurative nucleus of 5 6 G. Duveen their social representations of gender suggests why this should be so. As an image it offers a
degree of clarity and simplicity which is also consistent with their limited capacity for any
cognitive elaborations which requires greater sophistication. Children's resistance to any
influence of an egalitarian voice in representations of gender is also a resistance to losing this
clear and sharp image of the world.
Thus the image of bipolar opposition crystallises for the child a state of understanding
which also fuses the form of knowledge (its categorical structure) with the content of knowledge (the...
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This note was uploaded on 12/13/2012 for the course PSYCHOLOGY 107 taught by Professor Neascu during the Spring '12 term at UMass (Amherst).
- Spring '12
- Social Psychology