Abstract : The theory of social representations developed by the French school of Moscovici is presented with a new formalism based on combinatory analysis. This formalism of "relativity complete" describes simply the propagation of social representations in populations, and their pragmatic functions. Upon this formalism, we build a theory for extracting the basic constitutive elements of a representation from large corpora of statements in natural language. This theory is then applied in the form of a methods and techniques to collect and analyse textual data.
These techniques are first applied to 2 corpora about “ eating ” coming from, respectively, free associations by 2000 French adults, and 500 definitions from a large dictionary. These analyses yield similar results : “ eating ” is made out of six nuclei of meaning : libido, intake, food, meal, filling up, living.
Analysis of free associations about “ eating_well ” by another sample of 2000 French adults then enlightens the theoretical relationship between representation and behaviour. From, among others, a deep field study on 1600 French households (several hundreds of questions), the main types of eating behaviour and representations of the French are described, and the extent of influence of representations upon behaviour is measured.
Finally some new hypotheses on the developmental laws of individual representations are suggested, among which the “ trophism ” (development of the most used aspects), and on the ecology of social representations as populations of individual representations