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Developing a social psychology of poverty: social objects and dialogical representations

Chauhan, Apurv (2016) Developing a social psychology of poverty: social objects and dialogical representations. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis develops a social psychological approach to researching poverty. Critiquing the existing models of poverty research in psychological sciences, it conceptualises poverty as a social object whose meanings are generated socially and dialogically. Using the theory of social representations and a dialogical framework informed by G.H. Mead’s work on the social Self and the thesis of dialogical mind, it examines both content (social representations) and processes (dialogicality) of meaning-making on poverty in the Indian public sphere at two levels. First, in a village in Bihar, India, 41 poor and 25 elite participants were interviewed over a period of six months to understand meaning-making in a local community setting. Second, 424 news stories on poverty in two national newspapers were sampled to explore the broader public sphere of India. The research found that poor participants represented poverty in three domains: their present state of being in poverty, their plans to escape poverty, and the social actors responsible for facilitating their escape. Representations in the first two domains allowed poor people to cope with the harsh realities of poverty whereas representations in the third domain allowed coping with their failure in escaping poverty. Elite representations were also organised in three domains: the descriptions of poverty, the reasons why poverty existed, and the possibility of poverty amelioration through improving healthcare and education provisions for the poor. The primary symbolic coping function of the elites’ representations was of absolving their Selves from any blame for the existence poverty — this was achieved by ascribing the responsibility for poverty on the Government and the poor people themselves. The newspapers represented poverty in four ambivalent domains as: an objective reality, a threat, a barrier, and as a political opportunity. Symbolic coping in the mass-media involved features of both poor and elite groups’ representations. In terms of the ‘processes’ through which these representations are generated, the research synthesises how meanings are developed both in terms of and through the Ego–Alter dialogical interdependence, which is also shown to be the link between the content and the processes of social representations. On the basis of its findings, this thesis demonstrates that the representation of poverty — and by extension, of all social objects — is necessarily contingent on the realisation of the Ego’s relationship with Alters in the social world. In this direction, the role of Social Acts, as conceptualised by Mead, is explored in-depth. Finally, the overall representational field of poverty is presented in terms of its stable thematic core and malleable periphery while demonstrating that the relationship between the core and periphery is dialogically mediated. As a whole, this thesis develops a novel approach to studying social problems like poverty in the discipline. In doing so, it also advances links between the theory of social representations, Mead’s work, and the thesis of dialogical mind.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Apurv Chauhan
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Law
Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Supervisor: Campbell, Catherine

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