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2010. Vol.1, No.5, 337-348
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2010.15043
Social Representations of Medically Assisted Fecundation
a Study on the Discursive Construction of “Media Texts”
Amelia Manuti, Giuseppe Mininni
Department of Psychology, University of Bari, Bari, Italy.
Received June 29th, 2010; revised July 3rd, 2010; acc epted July 5th, 2010.
The present contribution moves from the theory of social representations (Moscovici, 1961) and focuses atten-
tion on the importance of social communication within negotiation processes of shared meanings. Actually, dis-
cursive psychology (Potter, & Wetherell, 1987; Billig, 1991) has showed that social representation have a narra-
tive nature since they organize the cognitive schemata that people use to give sense to the world (Lazlo, 1997).
In such a frame a crucial role is played by mass media, which do contribute to construct and convey the figura-
tive nucleus of each representation (Mininni, 2004). By adopting this discursive perspective, the present contri-
bution aims at investigating the social debate about assisted fecundation which in Italy has accompanied the
campaign for the abrogation of Law 40. The corpus of data is made up of a sample of 46 media-texts collected
within the weeks before the referendum. The data have been investigated by adopting diatextual analysis (Min-
inni, 1992; 2003; 2005).
Keywords: Media Discourse, Ethical Dilemmas, Discourse Analysis
The construct of “social representation” is ambivalent, since,
for instance, what for its critics is a limitation, that is its vague-
ness (Jahoda 1988; Potter e Litton 1985), for its supporters is
meant as a merit, that is its openness and versatility (Duveen &
Lloyd, 1990; Allansdottir, Jovchelovitch & Shathopoulou 1993;
Voelklein & Horwath, 2005). Actually, the theory of social
representation has paved the way for many research traditions
as well as debates and polemics. In view of the above, it is
worth asking “why it is so difficult to understand it” (Raudsepp,
2005). At the end of her analysis, the researcher acknowledges
that: “the theory of social representations is appropriate for
research questions that concern communicative processes within
groups that are related to the cognitive-emotional construction
of reality, or that concern the use of Social Representations in
inter grou p processes and intra-individual processes for con-
structing social identities” (Raudsepp, 2005: 466).
Nonetheless, apart from any contraposition, the theory of
social representation has gained sufficient agreement within the
literature as to allow the integration with other research perspec-
tives within social psychology and psychology of communi-
cation (Rose et al., 1995).
The aim of the present contribution is to conjugate the theory
with the rationale of discursive psychology (Harré & Gillett
1994; Mininni 1995) and more specifically with a psycho-
semiotic perspective (Lloyd & Duveen, 1990) which is better
specified through the adoption of diatextual methodology
(Mininni, 1992; 2003).
The object of the investigation is the process of sense-mak ing
which has engaged individuals on occasion of the referendum
for the abrogation of law 40 on assisted fecundation. On the
12th and on the 13th of June 2005 Italians have been called to
express their opinion on 4 questions about the different articles
of a law which had been previously approved by the Parliament
as to rule the bio-medical techniques aimed at promoting
fecundation. The bio-ethical issues brought about by the law
and by the consequent referendum engage people in translating
a political choice into a number of beliefs which have a dilem-
matic origin. The special complexity of the social represen-
tations which will be investigated is linked to the process of
production and diffusion which take place on the borders of
different “discursive spheres” (Volli, 2005), that is those enun-
ciative places, where regimes of social participation are deter-
mined and where categories of “questionable issues” are de-
fined and discussed, thus shaping and organizing actual “idio-
matic scripts”, both in terms of lexical and grammatical options
as well as in terms of interaction styles. The diatexts of the
biomedical issues show the role that some social represen-
tations play within a community, as they allow people to de-
velop points of view on very complex questions and engage
them in finding consensus, though fully respecting differences
in enunciative positions and value attributions.
The Semiotic Nature of SR
The theory of social representations shows the variety of
enunciative positions which people could assume upon socially
relevant issues within a specific cultural frame. Alone the
theory cannot explain neither why people adopt different social
representations nor the processes of construction/generation of
these “unities of the semiosphere”. This notion, proposed by
Lotman (1985), highlights all the resources (cognitive as well
as emotive) which can be used within the communicative prac-
tices of a specific semiotic subject (groups, societies, cultures).
Being “components” of the semiosphere, social representations
express also the enunciative dynamic of positions that groups
(and individuals) may display in the “fight for meaning”,
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
generally qualified as “power”.
Actually, social representations are more than just social
psychological tools orienting the understanding of the world
people live in. In supporting particular versions of social order,
they protect the interests of specific groups over others.
Hegemonic representations pervade the dominant social con-
struction of reality while oppositional representations contest
these versions. However, although consensual realities do not
exist in society, a certain degree of consensus exists in specific
areas of the representational field, which are in permanent
interaction with more mobile and unstable elements. Then,
consensus is the outcome of power struggles occurring in the
social arena. Actually, since everyday life is marked by com-
peting versions of reality and power relations, specific social
groups have more access than others to the means for establi-
shing dominant meanings in the public sphere. Moreover, the
location of social representations in institutional settings, such
as in the mass media, stabilise, control and even segregate
social groups and individuals, thus establishing the representa-
tional field where people take up their (often contradictory)
positions. Social representations arise from these contradictions
and it is their very meaning that the theory attempts to
Towards a Dialogical Epistemology of SR
The concept of social representation is multifaceted. On the
one hand, social representation is conceived as a social process
of communication and discourse, in the course of which mean-
ings and social objects are generated and conveyed. On the
other hand, SR are seen as individual attributes, as individual
structures of knowledge, symbols and affect which are shared
with other people in a group or in the society (Moscovici,
This dual view of the concept makes it versatile and gives
rise to various interpretations and uses which are not always
compatible with each other (Allansdottir, Jovchelovitch, &
Stathopoulou, 1993). Its versatility stems a particular openness
of the theory which makes it possible to be appropriated by
other approaches within social psychology. Part of this problem
results from an unfinished discussion about the epistemological
aspects of social representation theory (Wagner, 1995; Markova,
2000; Duveen, 2001). Actually, the key to the problematic
character of SR theory can be found in their nature, which en-
compasses both cognitive operational systems (i.e. processes of
categorization, selection, association, stereotyping and attribu-
tion) as well as interpretative rules. Traditionally, social psy-
chology studied these two systems are separated from each
other since the first is the privileged target of mainstream social
psychology, while the second are mostly approached by phe-
nomenologically- oriented research.
Nonetheless, the bridge between the levels of representations
is social communication, which not only transmits but also
shapes representations and makes them socially shared. Actu-
ally, SR theory is based on two assumptions. First, that the
social world is constructed through the thoughts and concerted
interactions of a group, society or culture (Breakwell, 1993),
and, second, that this social world is constructed through and
thanks to discursive practices (Wagner, 1998). Moreover, by
transforming Durkheim’s notion of collective representations
(1898) into the concept of SR, Moscovici explicitly assumed
the plural nature of social knowledge, that is “the coexistence
of competing and sometimes contradictory versions of reality in
one and the same community, cultural and individual” (Voelk-
lein & Horwarth, 2005: 5). Therefore, SR “provide people with
a code for social exchange and a code for naming and classif y-
ing unambiguously the various aspects of their world and their
individual and group history” (Moscovici, 1973: 17). At one
level, SR are cognitive structures which function to facilitate
communication between members of a collectivity because of
their shared or consensual form. For the individual, their role is
to give novel experiences (people, objects or events) meaning
by setting them in a contextual frame that makes them familiar.
At another level, SR are public rhetoric used by groups to en-
gender cohesiveness to other groups.
Nonetheless, a representation is not a mere reflection or re-
production of some external reality. There is a symbolic space
in the development and negotiation of representations, which is
why all social actors hold creative power and agency in their
formation and use. Such emphasis on the dialectical and dia-
logical nature of social knowledge is also found in the notion of
cognitive polyphasia (Moscovici, 1961), that is the coexistence
within a social group of different and often incompatible cogni-
tive styles and forms of knowledge employed by one and the
same individual (Horwarth, Forster, & Dorrer, 2004;
Jovchelovitch, 2002; Wagner, Duveen, Verma, & Themel,
2000). Depending on the social and cultural settings prevalent
at a particular time, human being can draw on conflicting rep-
resentations. In this sense, cognitive polyphasia refer to the
possibility that different kind of knowledge, inspired by differ-
ent rationalities, may “live side by side in the same individual
or collective” (Jovchelovitch, 2002: 124). As a result, tradi-
tional and modern representations confront rather than replace
Social representations are therefore not only a product of
human agents acting upon their society but are equally pre-
scriptive and coercive in nature. They become part of the col-
lective consciousness, especially once they are “fossilised in
tradition and taken for granted in social practice” (Moscovici,
1984: 13). Yet, this does not mean that social representations
cannot be challenged or changed: as well as they are created by
human beings they can be modified by them.
Recently, the evidence of such a kaleidoscopic and inter-
subjective nature of SR has lead to a re-interpretation of the
concept in terms of sensitising rather than definitive (Liu, 2004).
This turn derives from a different interpretation of natural sci-
ences and social sciences in terms of monological and dialogi-
cal epistemologies (Potter & Wetherell, 1999; Markova, 2000;
2003). Natural sciences are monological because they are con-
cerned with reified and voiceless objects. They analyse things
in terms of what they are and define them in their entirety and
completeness. In contrast, humanities and social sciences are
dialogical since they are concerned with multifaceted and
multi-voiced human minds and languages which are funda-
mentally reflexive and historically, culturally and socially em-
bedded (Duveen, 2007). The aim of humanities and social sci-
ences is then to understand and interpret the dynamics of the
This assumption and the consequent recasting of SR in terms
of dialogical and sensitising concept entail both theoretical and
methodological implications. Theoretically, they help to clarify
some of the critical confusion regarding the vagueness and
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
versatility of the concept without scarifying the openness of the
theory. Methodologically speaking, they highlight the impor-
tance of the study of SR from the actors’ point of view. SR as a
form of social knowledge which is held by social actors cannot
be detached from the knowledge of social actors and of their
symbolic world. SR would have little meaning if they are set
apart from the ways in which social actors elaborate and com-
municate their life-world. In this sense, the point of departure
for the study of SR is not their components and structures sup-
posed by the researchers but the life-world of social actors and
their symbolic communication (Lazlo, 1997).
Themata as Cognitive core of Social Representations
One of the key features of the theory of SR is its being “a
scientific analysis of what is commonly called common sense”
(Moscovici, 1973: IX). In this light, the function of SR is
mostly evident in the changing modern world as people form
shared common sense concepts trying to disentangle and be-
come accustomed with things that are new and unknown
(Moscovici, 1981). Similarly to the myths of traditional soci e-
ties SR form systems of values and beliefs providing people
with a common code for communication (Moscovici, 2001;
Wagner et al. 1999).
A social representation consists of a rather stable central
element and more peripheral changeable elements. It has been
suggested that each social representation has a stable central
core (Abric, 1984; 2001), an organizing principle (Doise, 1984),
a hard core (Mugny & Carugati, 1989) which creates and or-
ganizes the social representation. Around the central core, cen-
tral themata are organized (Liu, 2004; Markova, 2000; Mosco-
vici, 2001), that is “primary conceptions or preconceptions”
(Mosco vici & Vignaux, 2000: 177) which may take the form of
beliefs (the American dream), maxims (we are what we eat)
and social definitions (psychoanalysis is a confession).
Moscovici (1989) explicitly introduced the concept of the-
mata in SR theory in order to understand the genesis and struc-
ture of SR and to investigate their relationship with communi-
cation. In this light, themata are the prototypes of commonsense
knowledge. Some themata may exist implicitly in comm on-
sense and may never be brought to the explicit attention of
social thinking while some other themata may be foregrounded
in public discourse and thus come to operate as source ideas for
SR and communication (Moscovici & Vignaux, 2000).
According to Moscovici (1989) the structured contents and
the genesis of SR are interdependent. This interdependence is
linked with themata: the structured contents of SR rest on an
“initial string of few themata which appear to have a generative
as well as a normative power in the formation of a representa-
tion” (Moscovici: 2001: 30-31).
In this sense, themata are the deep structure of a social rep-
resentation. It is a generative structure and acts as the organiz-
ing principle of the whole representation. In this sense, the
concept of themata is similar to the notion of central core in
Abric (1988). Nonetheless, a themata is generally an antithetic-
cal couple in which the two components of the couple are dia-
lectically interdependent (i.e. fullness/emptiness). Secondly, the
concept of themata focuses explicitly on the dialogical nature of
SR and communication. It implicates the dynamics of social
knowledge which is inbuilt in culture and history and trans-
formed and maintained through discours e.
In the light of the concept of themata SR are not an organized
mass but a polymorphous construction. Therefore, themata refer
to historically embedded presuppositions, culturally shared an-
tinomies and the deeper logic of social thought, which manifest
themselves pragmatically through language and communica -
In accepting the concept of themata a question arises con-
cerning how a representation is socially shared and communi-
cated by the members of a group, society, culture. Moscovici
(1988) distinguishes three ways in which SR can be shared.
They can be hegemonic, namely they are shared by all mem-
bers of a society and thought unquestionable; they can be
emancipated, with a certain degree of autonomy with respect to
the interacting segments of society and they can be polemical,
held only by some groups in society while other groups may
hold opposite views.
According to Moscovici (1988) these three ways are inde-
pendent, differently in terms of the concept of themata a social
representation may involve simultaneously these three different
ways of sharing in a complementary manner (Liu, 2004). This
interweaving process between different ways of sharing SR is
mostly evident with reference to mass media communication.
Diatexts as Discursive Mode of Social Representations
The notion of social representation foregrounds the cognitive
and interactive nature of the processes which is willing to in-
vestigate, leaving in the background any reference to their fun-
damental semiotic and communicative dimension, which is
explicitly recalled by researchers (starting form Moscovici). A
different emphasis on such dimension is cast both on the notion
of “interpretative repertoires” (Potter & Wetherell,1987) as well
as on the notion of “diatexts” (Mininni, 1992; 2003).
The discursive turn of British social psychology has distin -
guished it self in criticizing the theory of social representation
(see for instance among others: Billig 1991). The most relevant
result is the proposal to overcome the theory of social repre-
sentation and to substitute it with the construct of “interpreta-
tive repertoires”. The main advantages of such option derive
from the focus on the communicative nature of what might be
believed by a social group on a specific social object. The “in-
terpretative repertoires”, as well as (or, better, more than) social
representations show that what social groups know about reality
is the temporary result of their encounters and negotiations.
The construct of “diatext” is sympathetic with the conception
according to which “human beings do use language rather are
language” (Volli, 2005). The linguistic (or better semiotic)
texture of each human phenomenon (starting from the self)
derives from the fact that “within everything man does and
possesses, there is language” (Hegel, 1968: 8). The notion of
The dynamic of the relation text-context as sense making
The dialogic of positions expressed by the dialectic between
“logoi” and “antilogoi” which is inherent to each enunciative
The necessity to anchor subjects to the “text” meant as an
enunciative form of coherence, responsibility and signification.
Such notion becomes mostly explicit within the discursive
and cultural turn in psychology, since it is coherent with the
s oc io-constructionist theories which generally inspire it (Duveen,
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
1999). Everything that people (and communities) might
consider as psychologically pertinent is constructed thanks to
the (dia)texts of their interactions.
A very useful specification of the cultural constructive role
played by language is given by the concept of “discursive
sphere”. Actually, discourse – meant as “language between
men” (Volli, 2005: 69)— acts within “very peculiar spaces of
existenc e” (ibidem), which could be tangible and concrete (as
for instance a class for the discursive sphere “education”) as
well as abstract (as for instance a chat room for the discursive
sphere of “virtual communication”). A discursive sphere allows
framing the several types of relations which connect people to
specific enunciative contexts. This is a very general notion,
since it limits it self to highlight that the relationship between
people and their own discursive activities is circumscribable
(actually within a “sphere”), that is it could be thought as a
space of enunciation of sense. The “universes of discourse”,
that is the worlds created within the process of activation of
sign systems are to be distinguished according to a unfinished
list of coordinates, so that the discursive sphere could be
“public vs private”, “open vs closed”, “focused on word vs
focused on image”, “devoted to decision vs devoted to
knowledge”, “serious vs entertaining”, and so on (Volli, 2005:
The social representations of “medically assisted procrea-
tion”, analysed in the present contribution through the diatex-
tual approach, are shaped within a complex intrigue of dis-
cursive spheres since:
1. The generative horizon of positions is political in nature
and refers to “unquestionable issues”, as notoriously are those
posed by bioethics, which unavoidably engage human minds
with moral dilemma;
2. The debated topics object of social representation do refer
to the “private discursive sphere”, since they recall positions
which highlight personal identity, as for instance sexual pref-
erences, religious options, etc.
3. The reference contexts within the process of text pro-
duction are defined in terms of mediated interaction. Actually,
the presence of the media shapes the “public discursive sphere”
by transforming it into a regime of “quasi-interaction” often
characterized by “para-social modalities”.
Diatexts of Private Worlds through Mass Media
The discursive process essential to the formation and func-
tioning of SR occur both at the inter-individual level and the
level of mass media (Mininni, 2004). The mass media very
rapidly disseminate knowledge and other information to the
public creating homogeneous images in a relatively short time
period when compared with inter-individual communication.
Also, the mass media are the most prolific means of informa -
tion dissemination, a mediator between scientific and social
knowledge, and more often than not the first to communicate
new information to the public thereby setting the agenda for
further discursive processes in society (McCombs & Shaw,
1972; McCombs, Shaw, & Weaver, 1997). In this perspective
SR are “discursive contexts”, generally used by the speakers to
make sense and to understand events, which could be also stra-
tegically adopted by the media to shape SR and to orient social
action (Wagner et al., 1999). This is the case of public cam-
paigns concerning ethical issues and/or socially desirable be-
haviour, such as for instance organ donation and transplantation
(Moloney, Hall, & Walker, 2005; Moloney & Walker, 2000)
and new foods (Houtilainen & Tuorila, 2005) or genetically
modified organisms (Castro & Gomes, 2005).
The Study: Aims, Sample and Methodology
The discursive nature of social representations highlighted by
the diatextual approach is particularly evident when giving
voice to the “cognitive polyphasia” of social groups (Moscovici,
1961; Jovchelovitch, 2002; Wagner, Duveen, Verma, & The-
mel, 2000; Cavazza 2005), they intercept the level of “public
opin- ion”. As well known, the construction of such level of
self rep- resentation of society is the result of the profound
economical and political transformations which have charac-
terized moder- nity. What could be argued within the “public
sphere”, aspiring to the agreement with the majority of com-
mun ities’ members, decides the “public opinion” relative to
such issue. Starting from the diffusion of the press, the mass
media have operated as powerful machines for the selection of
social representations, as to elaborate and widespread “public
The discursive dimension of social representations has been
investigated with reference to a very relevant Italian social
issue that is the referendum campaign which has been carried
out for the abrogation of Law 40 on assisted fecundation. Actu-
ally, this law has engendered heated debates pushing the public
opinion to reflect both on the borders of scientific research (as
for the experimentation on stamen embryonic cells) as well as
on the meaning of responsible and ethic behaviour (as for the
issue of artificial fecundation). The special complexity of the
social representations object of analysis is linked to their being
produced and diffused in a very uncertain format of “public
opinion” at the interface of different “discursive spheres”.
The value of human life, the mystery of the biological origin
of the life of man and the sacred root of existence (as a unique
experience of the self) are all traits which will push people to
frame the object of their ideological confrontation within a
private (intimate) discursive sphere. The function of science,
the support of technique and the obligation to self care are, on
the other hand, coordinates which engage people to put it nec-
essarily within a public discursive sphere. The obligation to
decide, the aspiration to the consent of the other and the will to
overcome the other with any mean draw the possibility, for
people, to meet and to discuss about this issue in a polit ical
discursive sphere. The claim to show the essentiality and the
exemplarity of the “human case” and the run up of the excep-
tional (or of what is unusual) are the main features of the dis-
cussion about assisted procreation which takes place within a
mediatic discursive sphere.
The corpus of data is made up of a sample of 46 texts that is
all texts published on the topic of investigation by the national
press and collected within the weeks before the referendum
which took place on the 12th and on 13th of June 2005. The texts
have been collected both from two main Italian newspapers - Il
Corrier e della sera, a newspaper and La Repubblica, a left
wing newspaper - as well as from two weekly magazines -
Famiglia Cri stiana, a very popular catholic magazine and
L’espresso, a popular moderate left wing magazine.
According to the epistemological assumptions of qualitative
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
and hermeneutical analysis, the data have been investigated by
adopting diatextual analysis (Mininni, 1992; 2003; 2005), that
is a specific perspective within the frame of Critical Discourse
Analysis (Van Dijk, 1993; 1997; 1998). The guiding principles
for the diatextual researcher are dialogism, situationism and
olism and all of them enhance the Gestalt nature of discourse.
Though apparently evanescent, intangible, slippery, confused
and impressionistic, the “oversummativity effects” of a par-
ticular discursive practice are the most interesting ones for the
diatextual approach. Communicative events shape their sense
through their being “texts” and, according to one of the most
important Gestalt principles, the diatextual researcher respects
the text so much that he refuses any systemic operation of cut-
ting it in lower analysis units (words, phrases, paragraph, etc.),
assuming that its meaning can be drawn only through a holistic
attitude. Obviously, the analyst may focus on some segment of
the “corpus”, but his main interest is to enhance their contribu-
tion to the “spirit” of the text. Such a holistic approach is sus-
tainable if the researcher is aware of his own fallibility and
partiality. The diatextual scholar is cautious, since he knows
that at any time he can fall into the abyss of over-interpretation.
Anyway s/he starts from the assumption that the meaning of a
discourse could be caught by answering three basic questions:
Who is saying that? Why does he/she say it? How does he/se
says it? These questions have an ethnomethodological valence
since first of all they guide the practices of comprehension of
those who participate to the communicative event. To come into
a dialogical relationship means to grant such an enunciative
contribution of sense, as to show who is speaking, what could
legitimize what she/he is saying and which is its claim of valid-
ity. These questions organize interpretative procedures for a
diatextual researcher, since they suggest that he/she looks for a
series of markers which identify the Subjecti vity, the Argumen-
tation and the Mod ality of discourses and can thus catch the
meaning within the dynamics of reciprocal co-construction of
text and context of enunciation.
The first question (who is saying that?) aims at clarifying the
complex construction of sense production which is part of
every discourse and /or of every communicative event, because
the text speaks of its subjects, thus revealing the complex nexus
between the images the interlocutor has of him/herself and of
his/her ideal addressee. The traits of subjectivity are re cognize -
able within discourse by diatextually looking at:
● Agency markers (i.e. active or passive grammatical for-
● Emotion markers (i.e. proximity, evaluation, specificity
● Embrayage/Debrayage markers (i.e. the use of personal
The second question (why does he/she say it?) identifies a
dimension of semiotic relevance which allows discourse to
“articulate motives”, that is to organize the “meanings-why”, to
give voice to the objectives pursued by the interlocutor saying
what he/she says. The traits of argumentation are revealed by
diatextually looking at:
● Markers of “enjeu” (stakes, interests, etc.);
● Network of logoi/antilogoi, emerging from different narra-
tive and argumentative programmes;
● Meta-discursive markers (attenuating markers, intensifiers,
The third question (how does he/she say it?) highlights the
articulation of the “dictum” to the “modus” of discourse ac-
cording to which the meaning is shaped acquiring a gestaltic
nature which enables comparisons and evaluations like “good
or bad”, “beautiful or ugly”, “efficient or inefficient” etc. The
traits of discourse modality are diatextually recognizable
● Narra t ive markers (i.e. uncertainty, intentionality, coher-
● Markers of discursive genre (i.e. epic, comic, tragic, ro-
● Opacity markers (i.e. frame metaphors).
With reference to the purpose of this contribution, special at-
tention has been paid to the communicative strategies used by
the speakers and revealed by several pragmatic and linguistic
cues (e.g. rhetorical figures, stylistic options, agentivity mark-
ers etc.). This option has finally allowed drawing a more gen-
eral pathway of sense production known as the “semiotic
square” (Greimas & Courtes, 1979).
Discussion of the Results
The corpus of data is made up by 46 “media texts”, that is ar-
ticles published on the Italian national press on occasion of the
campaign for the referendum for the abrogation of Law 40 on
medically assisted fecundation.
These texts are a very vivid example of social communica-
tion campaign, aiming at constructing a totally different social
representation of medically assisted fecundation. The debated
object of the referendum poses very relevant ethical and reli-
gious issues which entail important personal and social impli-
The Social Representation of the Beginning of Life: The
Diatexts of the Embryo
The analysis of the discursive data allows drawing a first ba-
sic distinction between a pro abrogation and an abstention posi-
tion, though a wide range of different in-between and hybrid
The issue of assisted fecundation is discursively shaped as a
relevant ethical dilemma, which engages identities into very
complex and controversial debates, which start at an intraper-
sonal and manifest themselves at an interpersonal level through
discourse. Such evidence is a common trait to all positions
toward this issue (pro, contra and hybrid) and a further confir-
mation about the existence of a common symbolic field of rep-
resentation (a core themata), which is but differently interpreted
according to the social and cultural features of the interlocutors
which give voice to any position.
Therefore, even if with the competing aim to impose one’s
own position as the most socially desirable one, similar rhe-
torical strategies are used.
For instance, all positions use popular and/or authoritative
testimonials as to better ground the claim, to support their ar-
gument and to switch on one of the most famous weapon of
persuasive communication that is social desirability (Cialdini,
1984). In other words, the social relevance of the issue
“pushes” toward the adoption of a position which is congruent
to what is expected most of the people would do. Then, the
opinion manifested by some “others”, which are perceived as
trustworthy interlocutors (the voice of experts) or as most simi-
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
lar to the self (as for age, gender, experience, etc.), becomes a
mean to orient one’s own opinion. In this case, the pro-position
is sponsored by Sabrina Ferilli, a very well-known Italian ac-
tress (the voice of women), and by Prof. Umberto Veronesi, a
popular researcher and past minister of health (the voice of
s cie nce).
1. “The referendum on assisted fecundation will mark the
future of many women. I vote Yes. Let us not miss your vote”
(Sabrina Ferilli, Campaign for the abrogation - committee for
the referendum – Yes to born, to heal to choose)
On the other hand, during the referendum, the contra position
has been carried out by a special committee named “Science
and Life- Allied for the future of man” which encompasses also
very popular personalities from the world of religion, politics,
science and entertainment. In this case, the slogan is:
2. “Life cannot be put to votes. Choose not to vote” (Um-
berto Veronesi, Campaign against the referendum - Life &
Both positions anchor their communicative strategies to an
explicit personal positioning, since the arguments are con-
structed around the involvement of the testimonial: “On the
12th and 13th of June I [Sabrina Ferilli] vote yes” versus “I
[Angelo Vescovi] do not vote”.
Therefore, the enjeu of communication is constructed in
terms of “identity”. Discursively speaking, the emphasis put on
identity manifests itself through the use of embrayage strategies,
i.e. the explicit adoption of the enunciative reference to the “I”
which is aimed at constructing a discursive ground in common
with the interlocutor. Such option contributes to transform a
mere debate between opposed slogans into a dialectical
exchange of personal involvements (“I do not vote” vs “I vote
Yes”). Nonetheless, the use of personal positions is strategically
managed as to construct a subtle argumentative network, where
to explicitly manifesting one’s own orientation toward the issue
becomes an attempt to impose to the public opinion:
3. “Actually are those who have doubts and perplexities sure
about their intention to transform these doubts into prohibition
for all, translating the “I will never do it” into “then nobody
should be allowed to do it”? (Emma Bonino, Corriere della
Sera 8-6-05, p. 8).
The nature of the texts analysed is profoundly argumentative.
Therefore, their aim is not only to inform the readers about the
law and about its implications but rather to convince the audience
to actively take part to the debate by pragmatically manifesting
their being pro or contra through vote or abstention.
To this purpose similarly to what happens in political com-
munication (Cortini & Manuti, 2002; Manuti, 2005) the
discussion about law 40 is discursively constructed around an
dialectic of positions we/they, which entails an implicit categori-
zation in terms of what is to be considered good and what is
judged as bad. In other words, the discussion is framed within
the script of the communicative battle, since each interlocutor
depicts his/her position as the most convincing and rational as
compared to those of the others, thus considering superfluous
any further argumentation.
4. “This law is so wrong that I think it is quite useless to
explain why I vote four times yes” (Daria Bignardi, L’Espresso,
5. “Provocation is a specific juridical word, different from
‘convocation’. In the case of elections the law calls us, therefore
it is a duty to answer. The referendum is different. Some people
(at the beginning 50.000 now 500.000) want to destroy a law
that we have decided through our representatives. What they
are asking us is to stay or not, they are provoking us. And we
can destroy the law as they want or rather we can shield it by
saying no. But we can also leave those 50.000 or 500.000 alone
by refusing their provocation” (Giuseppe Anzani, Famiglia
Cristiana num, 24: 3).
Moreover, such peculiar trait contributes to further highlight
the contractual and dilemmatic nature of identity, which
manifests itself through cognitive polyphasia (Moscovici, 1961),
that is through the endless debate between personal and
collective positions concretely shaped by the discursive cues.
Indeed, the analysis of the data shows that the argumentative
lexicon is very rich and articulated. It is mostly characterized
by metadiscoursive cues (both textual and interpersonal) and
argumentation auxiliaries (para-argum entative expressions and
modalisation). Metadiscourse is the whole of all non proposi-
tional aspects of discourse aimed at facilitating the readers in
organizing the content of communication coherently and in
understanding the author’s point of view by giving him/her
credibility (Crismore, Markannen, & Steffenson, 1993). More
specifically, it could be distinguished into textual (i.e. logical
connectives, frame markers, endophoric markers, evidentials,
code glosses) and interpersonal (i.e. hedges, emphatics, attitude
markers, person markers and relational markers. In this case,
both corpora show the use of logical connectives (that is why),
code glosses (for instance), attitude markers (I agree) and
person markers (we).
6. “Today the supporters of the referendum aim at twisting
law 40. Conversely, the committee science & life wants to
protect it and to let it be carried out. That is why it suggests to
go not voting.” (Committee Science & Life, Allied for the
future of man)
7. “Being an aged man, who has dealt with medical science
and ideology I agree with the claims of the abrogation position.
We should not forget all the disasters caused in the past by
some behaviours of the church, as for instance when physicians
were not allowed to examine women and consequently the
lying-in women died” (Enzo Iannacci, L’Espresso, 16/06/05:
The para-argumentative expressions are those expressions
whose aim is to show their own arguments as convincing and
self-evident as possible so that any further justification or
ground becomes superfluous (i.e ‘it is evident’ in the following
8. “I will vote Yes because it is evident that a liberalization
of the modalities through which assisted fecundation is practiced
and the progress of scientific research would be an advantage
for the whole society” (Andrea De Carlo, L’Espresso, 16/05/05:
The use of modalisation (i.e. ‘rightly’, ‘perhaps’, ‘certainly’)
is aimed at discursively reducing to a minority those who sup-
port a position which is contrary to one’s own by intensifying
or by attenuating arguments.
9. “Among the most debated polemics of these days there is
the issue of abstention, which refers to our declared conviction
that on the 12th and on the 13th of June those who are willing to
protect both women and newborns should abstain and perform
all those good deeds which describe we as the believers.
Actually, an active abstention is to be meant as efficient
participation to the life of the country.” (Famiglia Cristiana,
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
Nonetheless, one of the most evident contrasts between the
pro and contra positions is to be found in the discursive option
which exploits the argument “I was an embryo too”. The possi-
bility to let the “voice of the embryo” be heard is differently
framed within the discussion.
Actually, the political frame of the referendum has led the
Italian public opinion and as a consequence mass media too to
question themselves about “the identity of the human embryo
and about the consequent ethical attitude” (Coda, Repubblica
13-06-05, p. 50). Then, the debate finds one of its highest ver-
tex of dissonance in the interpretation of the ontological statute
of the embryo: is it a “subject” or rather an “object”, is it
someone or is it something.
The pro-abrogation supporters define as “unheard” the claim
to attribute human features to the embryo: the embryo is a form
of life which does not have a voice, since it does not owe any
enunciative modality of the self yet.
10. “The embryo is still an heap of few cells devoid of the
cerebral line” (Rita Levi Montalcini, Corriere della Sera S
8-6-05, p. 9).
On the other hand, the abstention front claims to speak on
behalf of the embryo, arguing the necessity to listen to those
who are not able to let their voice and project of life to be
11. “From a biological point of view, each of us is a human
being since the fecundation that is since the encounter between
the female ovules and the male spermatozoa. Before we did not
exist. Since that moment I have been Angelo Vescovi, embryo,
foetus, baby, child, boy, man. We should pay attention when
we say that some beings might not be considered persons as the
Romans behaved this way with the slaves. Moreover, we
should pay attention when arguing that an embryo does not owe
specific mental functions since an Alzheimer patient might
experience the same situation, and I hope that nobody would
ever think to eliminate him/her.” (Famiglia Cristiana, 22: VII)
Interpretative Repertoires of Social Participation: Fighting
for Civilization or Defending the Law
The referendum and consequently the social participation to
this issue have been differently thematised with reference to the
leading position which has inspired the debate. It is framed as a
“battle for civilization” (Pannella, Repubblica , 10-6-05, p. 44)
by those who are pro the abrogation or as “a defence of the
law” (Campaign against the referendum - Life & Science
committee) by those who are against it.
Though such basic opposition, many other in-between posi-
tions emerge, thus signalling all the complexity of a debate
which refers to very relevant ethical issues.
On the one hand, there is the hybrid position of those who,
although acknowledging that “from an individual point of view
it is right to think about the embryo as a person (…), do not
understand why these conceptions should be imposed to those
who have different ideas” (Berselli, Repubblica 10-6-05, p.
43). On the other hand, there is the stance of those who argue
that to do not vote is the most responsible choice for those who
are willing to oppose “a logic which is dangerous for all the
human and moral fundamentals of our society” (Ruini, Corriere
della Sera 31-5-05, p.3).
The analysis of such discursive positions allows catching the
collision between the opposing representations and the com-
peting discursive spheres (e.g. science vs. religion (morality),
civic participation vs. abstention, trust vs. doubt in science, etc.)
that exist in the context of well-established, socially legitimized
symbolic subsystems (Sen & Wagner, 2009).
Other prototypical examples of this contraposition are the
12. “If embryos are sons and brothers, they have a mother
and a father that is the spermatozoa and the ovules. Therefore
masturbation would be the homicide of millions of possible
parents” (Marco Pannella, Repubblica , 10-6-05, p. 44)
13. “Today, I am Angelo Scola, a man aged 64, because since
my conception I have been that cell, that embryo. We should
come back to the elementary human experience” (Cardinal of
Venice, Repubblica. 10-6-05, p. 45).
The ideology which has inspired Law 40 considers the
embryo as a human life, as a subject who has the same rights as
those who have conceived it. The supporters of the abrogation
highlight the “damages provoked by the metaphysics of the
embryo” (Rodotà, Repubblica 13-5-05, p. 49) and deny to it
“the right to become a person”. The argumentation in juridical
terms is based on the absolute lack of autonomy of the embryo:
that project of life cannot be compared with an individual (the
unique and authentic bearer of rights), “because to become an
individual the embryo needs the welcoming into the body of a
woman (…). Its life depends on the acceptance another life
manifests” (Rodotà, Repubblica 13-5-05, p. 49).
The main inspiring motive of the abrogation position is to
s eparate the interpretative repertoires/social representations of
religion and science, of faith and politics. According to this
position, it is necessary to distinguish the discursive sphere of
biology, which attempts at catching the rhythms and the
developmental procedures of embryos, from the discursive
sphere of moral, which is oriented towards the philosophical
theories and/or towards the religious beliefs, and engaged in
enlighten the conceptual value of human beings:
14. “Science is doubtless able to define the stages of the
development of the embryo and the gradual evolvement of the
most important functions during the embryonic, foetal and
neonatal life. Nonetheless, it is not able to indicate which is the
relationship between the manifestation of such functions and
the use of the concept of subject. The thesis of the manife-
station of a subject since the moment of the fecundation of an
ovule by a spermatozoon, is based not on scientific arguments
but rather on moral, philosophical and theological arguments
(…) upon which scientists have nothing to say as such”
(Azzone, Repubblica. 17-5-05, p. 41)
15. “A liberal democracy cannot answer to an ethical question:
if the human embryo is something or somebody” (Piero
Ostellino, Corriere della Sera 4-6-05, p.1)
Therefore, although concerning a relevant public and social
issue, this referendum has been mainly framed and interpreted
as a socio-political battle between the catholic world and the
laic and progressive world. Consequently, this opposition is
mirrored into the discursive construction of social participation.
The communicative strategies hint ironically to this context of
16. “On Sunday, do not forget to cross yourself. Your vote is
important. On life, you cannot abstain” (Association Luca Co-
scioni. For a free scientific research)
17. “To abstain is not a sin” (Campaign against the referen-
dum - Life & Science committee)
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
Extract n.16 shows the explicit intention to play with the
double meaning of the verb to cross: both a ritual gesture which
attests the participation to religious celebrations and the prag-
matic act of voting. Both events take place on Sunday but refer
to totally different behaviour and thus to different positioning
strategies within the debate on artificial fecundation.
Similarly, extract n.17 which is drawn from the campaign
against the referendum hints, at the religious world, by inter-
preting political behaviour according to the catholic script of
sin/punishment/condemnation. This slogan aims at provoking
the pro-position by attempting at the core meaning of the par-
ticipation to the referendum, meant as both a civil right and
duty. By highlighting that to abstain is not a sin, the contra
position aims at reassuring the interlocutors about the impli ca-
tions of such a choice and thus at justifying them according to a
shared code. Moreover, this slogan sounds ironic since the
author is a catholic journal and hints at the meaning of the verb
with reference to the sexual behaviour in polemic with the “self
made ethic” of the pro position which is judged as irresponsi-
The Discursive Dowels of the Social Represent ation
The social representation of medically assisted fecundation
which emerges from the media texts analysed is constructed
around the pivots of law, scientific research, participation and
civil rights. Nonetheless, though the thematic networks which
embrace the representation of the issue are the same for the two
main positions (pro and contra the abrogation) their discursive
construction changes as long as the identity who gives voice to
any stance changes.
The first example is the presentation of the object of discus -
sion that is law 40 on assisted fecundation, which is described
as unfair, cruel, medieval and unacceptable by the pro-abroga-
tion supporters and as responsible and aware by those who
invite to the abstention, explicitly condemning the referendum
more than the law itself.
18. “Law 40 protects the health of women with gradual and
non invasive interventions. It protects the life of the conceived
by avoiding the overproduction of embryos, their selection and
freezing. This referendum could only worsen things. I do not
vote and you, who side you with?” (Campaign against the ref-
erendum - Life & Science committee)
Another element of the representation which is differently
interpreted is the meaning attached to the referendum itself. For
those who are pro the abrogation, it is meant as an instrument
of democracy, a mean to express freedom and liberty, while its
discursive construction given by the contra abrogation position
aims at presenting it as the attempt to make banal a very serious
19. “The instrument of the referendum is not adequate to in-
tervene on complex issues, rather it risks to make banal them.
Do not vote: a choice of awareness against a wrong referen-
dum.” (Campaign against the referendum - Life & Science
20. I will vote yes. It is shameful how much Italy kneels
down before the Vatican. We live in a laic country, we live the
new millennium and we do not burn witches anymore. This
referendum is a very important date to understand if it does
exist an actual laic, intelligent and tolerant Italy.” (Luca Bar-
bareschi, L’Espresso, 16-06-05: 30)
Another central theme is scientific research whose interpreta -
tion is ambivalent. For the abrogation position research is in-
terpreted as progress while for the abstention position it means
respect of life.
21. “The 12th and on the 13th of June vote to affirm the pro-
gress of scientific research on the cure of serious and wide-
spread illness” (Forum of Young Communist Women- Com-
mittee for the Referendum)
22. “Law 40 warrants a scientific research which fully re-
spects life” (Campaign against the referendum - Life & Science
Similarly, the topic of research recalls the comparison with
the other European countries as for the law on assisted fecunda-
tion. Therefore, for the abrogation position the referendum is an
occasion to mark time with them while the abstention position
highlights once more the importance to respect human dignity.
23. “If the referendum will succeed we will be able to com-
pete with the other countries as for the research on the embryo
stamen cells. We expect huge progress as for the cure of many
degenerative illnesses. Finally we will end the awful page of
Tourism of rights, since many couples have been forced to go
abroad experiencing many obvious economical discrimina-
tions” (Carlo Flamigni, L’Espresso, 16-06-05: 33)
24. “Within the last years many European countries have
promulgated laws as to run after science and medicine. None-
theless, we should not forget that the European parliament has
underlined the necessity to protect human life starting from the
fecundation. According to the European Council both the em-
bryo and the foetus should ever help the respect due to human
dignity” (Famiglia Cristiana, 23: XV)
Therefore, fecundation is also a very important discursive
node, meant both as a gift and as a choice. This thematic nu-
cleus is strictly linked to the different subculture which frames
discourses, that is ethics and science. According to the abste n-
tion position which interprets the debate about medically as-
sisted fecundation as an ethical issue, fecundation is meant as a
gift of life which has to be respected. Conversely, the pro-ab-
rogation supporters argue their own position appealing to sci-
ence and progress, thus interpreting fecundation as a way to
affirm and manifest the self-determination of women. This
aspect of the representation twists the role of women within the
experience of fecundation: in the first case women are passive
that is they almost undergone fecundation which is gift of God,
differently according to the pro-abrogation women are active
actors since they are allowed to choose and make decisions
about their future.
25. “The actual right to have a son would be contrary to its
own dignity and nature. A son is not something which is due
and he/she cannot be considered as an object of propriety.
Rather he/she is a gift, the most important gift of life” (Pope
Benedetto XV, Famiglia Cristiana, 23: XVI)
26. “To vote Yes to the referendum means to erase the norms
which place the rights of the newborn before those of the
mother and deny the principle of self determination of the
woman and the inviolability of the female body. This vote reaf-
firms the right to a free, desired and aware maternity.” (Forum
of Young Communist Women- Committee for the Referendum)
In this light, the participation to the referendum too acquires
different shadings of meaning. For the pro-abrogat ion position
it is interpreted as a civil and active responsibility, while for the
abstention position “to abstain is not a sin”.
27. “I will vote four times yes or better why not? I will go
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
voting with the same spirit of the civil battles for the liberty to
divorce and to abort” (Piero Chiambretti, L’Espresso, 16-06-05
28. “To those who like us think that this law respects life, the
right to embrace the most legitimate, aware and motivated
choice: to abstain” (Famiglia Cristiana, n.23: 2)
Therefore, the analysis of the discursive construction of as-
sisted fecundation reveals the existence of two different inter-
pretative repertoires, which correspond to two subcultures:
science and ethics.
On the one hand, the abrogation position interprets the refer-
endum as an occasion to affirm a civil right and thus to actively
take part to the life of the country, by manifesting one’s own
opinion on the future of the country. Actually, the pivot of the
discussion is science, which should be free from any religious
and political conditioning since it is the engine of progress and
development. Citizens have the right and duty to manifest this
awareness through the vote. As a consequence the most repre-
sentative discursive act which emerges from those texts is to
“awaken and sensitize civic conscience” by inviting to go vot-
29. “On the 12th and 13th of June vote yes four times to avoid
that scientific progress stops in, to avoid that Italy looses rights
and liberties, by humiliating the value of laicism, to allow the
development of our country through debates about new issues
which deals with the life of each of us and that will be even
more important in the future of our society” (Committee for the
referendum- 4 yes to born, to heal and to choose)
On the other hand, the abstention position constructs the
question of assisted fecundation by discursively focusing on
ethics. The object of discussion is presented as an unquestion-
able matter, since not everything which is scientifically possible
is ethically legitimate. In this perspective, the referendum is
presented as an inadequate and wrong instrument, because in-
dividuals cannot decide about such a complex and delicate
question. Therefore, the most representative discursive act is to
“boycott” the abrogation position by undermining its identity
and by presenting its campaign as deceitful.
30. “The date with referendum is coming. The enjeu linked
with the beginning of life is too high to trust to easy and syn-
thetic slogans, which are unavoidable when forcing such a
delicate and complex matter to the yes/no logic” (Famiglia
Cristiana, n.22: I)
The Discursive Construction of Identity: The Semiotic
The traces of subjectivity, argumentation and modality high-
lighted in the texts have been organized according to a coherent
profile, which has allowed the outlining of a more general
pathway of sense production with special reference to the issue
debated. To this purpose, the qualitative tool of the “semiotic
square”, i.e. the figurative representation of the logical articula-
tion of any given semantic category (Greimas e Courtés, 1979),
has been used to further investigate the media-texts collected.
The focus of the analysis has been on the main argumentative
patterns adopted by the speakers. These discursive data have
been finally arranged according to four different identity pro-
files (or speaking positions) each following different interpr eta -
tive schemata for medically assisted fecundation.
The main semantic oppositions which have emerged are
those between “participation”/“abstention” and “general”/ “par-
ticular” (cfr. Figure 1). These traits have revealed four positions
toward medically assisted fecundation accounting for as many
different discursive profiles which could be also differently
interpreted in reference to the positions of the interl ocutors
P A R T I C U L A R
G E N E R A L
DIGNITY vs SACREDNESS
Socially engaged Intransigent
NON SACREDNESS vs NON DIGNITY
Semiotic square of the discursive positions on medically assisted fecundation.
A. M ANUTI ET AL.
towa rd the issue.
According to the semiotic square, texts focusing on the cate-
gories of “participation” and “general” organize meanings
which highlight an interpretation of the referendum as an im-
portant appointment in the social agenda to defend one’s own
civil rights. The identity profile which emerges is that of the
“socially engaged” interlocutor, who is very active and always
ready to get involved in social issues. He/she interprets social
participation as an occasion to stand up for human rights and to
let his/her voice to be heard no matter with reference to what
kind of issue.
31. “I will vote yes four times, because this is a medieval,
violent and offensive law. It invades our personal life with no
respect at all” (Lella Costa, L’Espresso 16-06-05 p.32)
A second group of texts focus on the categories of “partici-
pation” and “particular”. This discursive profile has been
labelled “independent”. It is characterized by interlocutors who
openly declare themselves to be in favor of the abrogation by
appealing to non sacredness of human life. Differently from the
previous profile, the participation both to the social debate and
to the political appointment of the referendum of the “inde-
pendent” interlocutors is linked to the specific/particular fea-
tures of the issue of assisted fecundation.
32. “Four yes against an unfair and contradictory law. To be
on the side of life means to foster the birth of sons, the gift of
maternity and fatherhood and this law makes it difficult” (Ilaria
d’Amico, L’Espresso, 16/06/2005)
33. “I say yes because I cannot stand that the political major-
ity or the Church may decide when and how we are allowed to
have babies maybe also hindering us to do it” (Sabrina Ferilli,
The ‘abstention’ dimension pointed out as in opposition with
participation mark other two discursive profiles. The first one,
characterized by the association between “abstention” and
“general”, has been labeled as “intransigent”. The interlocutors
who express this position declare themselves against the abro-
gation and anchor their claim to the sacredness of life. This
position is oriented toward a rigid defense of the values of the
catholic culture. Similarly to the profile of the “socially en-
gaged”, who manifests his/her need to participate to social and
political debates in general, the intransigent’s contrastive be-
havior refers not only to this issue rather to all those position
which may challenge a traditional asset of social, cultural and
34. “Life cannot be put to votes. I do not vote because I wish
women’s and babies’ health to be protected” (Emanuela Lulli,
Gynecologist, Campaign for the abstention – Science & Life
Finally, the last discursive profile emerges from the inters ect -
tion between “abstention” and “particular”. This argumentative
position, labeled “conservative”, bases itself on the enhance-
ment of the non-dignity of human life. It lies on the opposite
pole of the “socially engaged” profile and similarly it is inter-
ested in defending a social and civil right which, in this case,
refers to the choice of abstention. This position is also similar
to the previous one, the intransigent, but differently it is a laic
position. In common with the “independent” profile, the “con-
servative” anchor his/her position to the specific cultural and
social frame of this event. But, while the independent discuss
the choice of participation referring it specifically to the ethical
issues raised by the debate on assisted fecundation, the choice
for abstention which characterizes this profile leaves out of
consideration the content of the referendum. Rather it opposes
the manipulation that “those who have signed the abrogation
issues” make of the referendum presented as an instrument of
liberty to the public opinion, thus implicitly pushing to the ex-
ertion of this civil right.
35. “To abstain is a right. We mean the challenge of the ref-
erendum as a challenge of some reluctant people (those who
have signed the abrogation issues) that we all have the right and
in this case the civil pride to refuse.” (Giuseppe Anzani, Mag-
istrate, Interview in Famiglia Cristiana, 24: 2005)
Social psychology, meant as action-research on the practices
of humanization of personal and collective experience of life on
earth, revises the main constructs of psychological exploration,
starting from the self. The new interpretative horizons of sub-
jectivities engage psychology in acquiring theoretical instru-
ments as to cope with the complexity of processes and with the
ambivalence of differences which do allow the reciprocal
acknowledgement self/other. A route of “situational under-
standing” (Mantovani, 2005), congruent with such level of
complexity is supplied by the linguistic and semiotic notion of
“dia/text”. In other words, people need texts: texts reveal who
we are. Therefore, identities are constructed by “texts -in-
The corpus of media-texts analysed have showed the possible
positions people (and their cultural communities) assume
within the contestable narrative on the beginning of their life.
Within the debate heated by the referendum the declarations
“on behalf of the embryo” and “on support of knowledge and
health” have derived their claim of validity by two opposed
sub-cultures: that of “ethics” and that of “science”. The discur -
sive construction of such identity positions and thus of the so-
cial representation has answered to the inter-subjective dynamic
aimed at deforming the expectations of reciprocal acknowl-
edgement within the strategic practices of mis-acknowledge-
ment. The inter-understanding process between individuals
(and between communities) demands an agreement at least
embryonic on the fact that any difference (of evaluation) in
objecting the world do not legitimize neither hierarchical clas-
sifications nor solipsistic closures, rather trace an horizon of
possibilities for multiple belongings and fluid identifications,
which are own to our time.
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