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collective representations Simply put, these refer to the ideas, beliefs, and values elaborated by a collectivity, and which are not reducible to individual constituents. They are central to Émile Durkheim's search for the sources of social solidarity. In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912), these representations are seen as being created through the intense interaction of religious rituals, and being richer than individual activities they come to be autonomous of the group from which they emerged. Collective representations help to order and make sense of the world, but they also express, symbolize and interpret social relationships. The concept supersedes Durkheim's earlier notion of ‘collective conscience’, since collective representations come to inhibit and stimulate social action. Their force or authority comes from their being within all of us and yet external to the individual. Durkheim explained great value transformations (such as the propagation of Enlightenment values in the French revolution) by reference to the power of this ‘coming together’ (or dynamic density), whereby the religious world is rooted in collective life, leaving the profane to the individual. Assembly of an intense kind generates collective representations, which then survive the disintegration of this higher collective life as sacred and therefore morally coercive beliefs, values, and symbols.
Collective representations. A theoretical term closely associated with Durkheim, referring to forms of knowledge which exist over and above any particular member of society. Religious and moral systems, categories of space, time, and the person, even much scientific knowledge, have sui generis characteristics. As traditions, they transcend individuals: people come and go, traditions live on.