Book review: Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty.

Book review: M.A. Hogg, D.L. Blaylock (eds)., (2012). Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty. Wiley-Blackwell.

Dr. Thalia Magioglou

EPoPs/Maison des Sciences de l’Homme de Paris and Centre Edgar Morin/IIAC/ EHESS

Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty is addressing a very important question: whether an individual or collective feeling of uncertainty might cause extremism. And the answer is yes.  The authors examine major theoretical perspectives in social psychology and apply them in concrete research fields, investigating the role of uncertainty ay different levels:  between individuals and groups, as well as between groups and society.  A book I will definitely use.

The editors in the preface underline also directions for future research: uncertainty is a problematic construct associated to meaning, threat and anxiety (in p. xxiii). What is the focus of uncertainty and finally its resolution comes as a group or individual process? Extremism, another problematic construct, is considered as something personally and socially harmful, related to social exclusion and violence.

Dialogue with the other social sciences such as history and sociology could offer insights as to the causes of uncertainty. Creativity research and tolerance to “ambiguity” could be considered as the positive side of “uncertainty”. Certainty can also be found in various forms of domination, encouraged by authoritarian systems and exploitation and finally, extremism. How could we arrive to “constructive ideologies” (Staub in this book) and creativity instead of cognitive closure and violence?


Résumés des présentations au First Symposium for Societal Political Psychologie

Organisateurs: Thalia Magioglou et Maria Geka.
Discutantes : Maria Teresa Avila Costa et Helen Haste

Introduction par les organisateurs de l’atelier

1. Thalia Magioglou: “ La “créativité sociale” du sens commun: les représentations innovantes des jeunes grecs pour la démocratie à travers l’analyse narrative de leur discours. 

Common sense thinking as an object of study for Societal Political Psychology

The creative dimension of common sens thinking in the case of the representations of young Greeks for democracy.

Thalia Magioglou
University of Picardie Jules Verne
Maison des Sciences de l’Homme de Paris



Our study focuses on the quality of common sense thinking on democracy : the tradition of public opinion studies present a current –minimalism, according to Sniderman (1998) – that qualifies everyday thinking as defective, bringing attempt, in this way, to the legitimacy of the « people’s choice » to decide for the future of a democratic system. By analyzing non directive interviews on the subject of democracy, we discover two tendencies in common sense thinking : on the one hand, common sense is intimately linked to other ways of social thinking such as ideological and scientific, or logical thinking. Ideology and logic organize what young Greeks think about democracy. On the other hand, although the discourse of a person is organized according to these two principles as a whole, if we focus on particular issues, there are inherent contradictions that appear in each interview. Our presentation is focused on the importance of the contradictory and ambivalent dimension of common sens thinking. This contradictory element is related to the creative character of common sense as a form of social thinking : bringing together ideas that don’t match according to logic or idelogy, allows new combinations and new representations of democracy to appear.

The choice of democracy as an object of study is related to its importance in the contemporary world. The collapse of the communist system and the devaluation of communist ideology, the welfare state crisis in Western democracies and the important role of globalization have an effect on the way people represent and evaluate democracy. In what way do young citizens experience these transformations?

Some elements of theory

Our theoretical approach is situated within the framework of a field that is currently developing in Europe, that of political psychology. We rely on two scientific traditions: the European approach of social psychology, most particularly, that of Social Representations and the studies of public opinion in the United States.

Based on Piajet, European social psychology provides us with an approach that emphasizes that individual thinking is embedded in society and conceives everyday common sense as an inherently “social” type of thinking. The Social Representation’s paradigm (Moscovici, 1961; Doise, 1986), that is part of this tradition, focuses on the way common sense integrates a social object that is new. and narrative for common sense.

When it comes to the “creative” and contradictory aspect of common sense, we stress, with our research findings, the particularity of political objects of study, compared to other research objects. For example, democracy in Greece nowadays is a familiar notion and cannot be studied in the same way as social objects that are « new » and need to become integrated to common sense thinking- bio-technology, …-  Demorcacy is « invented » by common sense on a day to day basis, as we can observe in our research interviews.

Data collection and analysis

We have conducted in-depth, non-directive interviews, with young adults, asking what « democracy » evokes to them. The sample consistes of 30 young people between 18 and 26 years old, men and women, students in different fields, or people who work, coming from different social backgrounds, originally from Athens or the countryside, with different political orientations. The social status of the participants was defined with the combination of educational level, occupation of the parents and the part of Athens they live in. Concerning the definition of their political orientation, we took into consideration the occupation of the parents and the interests of the interviewee.

Our presentation is based on the narrative analysis we propose, based on Bruner’s (2000) assumptions concerning the role of argumentation and narrative for the informal social thinking and Billig’s position on the role of argumentation in everyday thinking (1994).


Our analysis approaches interviews as narratives and focuses on the way contradictions, from a logical and ideological point of view come together to form innovative representations of democracy. We qualify these representations as innovative, compared to what formal political ideologies and different currents of political science define as such. In that way, the dualistic way of thinking is associated to a « metaphysical » representation of democracy, whereas the consensual way of thinking is linked to a « private » or interpersonal representation of democracy. Although both representations recognize the importance of the formal, representative political system, they develop these « new » approaches that dissociate democracy from the public sphere.

Continuer la lecture de « Résumés des présentations au First Symposium for Societal Political Psychologie »

Issues in Societal Political Psychology: Domination and Empowerment

Racisme, xénophobie et formes de reconnaissance modernes

Margarita Sanchez-Mazas
Groupe de Psychologie Sociale – Institut de Sociologie
Université Libre de Bruxelles

Afin de mieux comprendre les processus psychosociaux impliqués dans les représentations et pratiques sociales fondées sur les critères de “couleur”, nationalité, origine “ethnique/culturelle”, désignées le plus souvent en termes de racisme et xénophobie, cette communication proposera un cadre interprétatif général. Recourant à la notion de reconnaissance et relevant la spécificité de celle-ci dans la modernité, ainsi qu’à une perspective historique, l’aptitude de ce cadre à éclairer le caractère à la fois persistant et changeant de ces phénomènes sera soulignée et illustrée au travers d’exemples de recherches américaines et européennes. Il sera avancé que le racisme et la xénophobie sont des instances de déni de reconnaissance servant des propos à la fois fonctionnels et symboliques dans une société donnée. Une approche psychosociale intégrant les apports de sciences sociales voisines sera défendue.

Racism, xenphobia and forms of modern recognition

  In order to better understand the social psychological processes involved in social representations and practices based on criteria such as « skin colour », nationality, ethnic/cultural origin (phenomenon often referred to in terms of racism or xenophobia) the present communication proposes a general interpretative framework. Relying on the notion of recognition and its specific definition within modern times, and adopting a historical perspective, I will posit that this framework allows to shed light on the persistent and changing nature of these phenomena and illustrate this with American and European examples.  It will be argued that racism and xenophobia are instances of different denials of recognition serving both functional and symbolic purposes in a given society. A psychosocial approach integrating contributions from neighboring social sciences will be supported.