The sociological concept of interpretative repertoires (Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984) was imported into social psychology by Potter and Wetherell (1987) to understand the ‘register of terms and metaphors drawn upon to characterize and evaluate actions and events’ (1987:138). That is, when people think and talk they tend to borrow already available linguistic resources such as quotations, metaphors and figures of speech, so that they can achieve a shared social understanding. Within this communication process, coherent common sense patterns or interpretative repertoires can be seen. We can see two of these in the debate about whether children should be taught about violence against women. Reader’s responses (Extracts 1-4 below) to the Daily Mail’s article ‘Pupils aged 11 debate rape, pornography and prostitution’ provides two quite distinct interpretative repertoires about children in common circulation.
I would be appalled if my thirteen year old daughter was given stuff like this in school, let alone an eleven year old. I’m still trying to let her have her innocent childhood – there’s plenty of time to learn about stuff like this later.
– Anne, Wimborne, Dorset, 24/5/2010 12:32
Well I have an innocent 11 year old who really doesn’t need to read stuff like this! We discuss things together and when she asks I’m honest – she certainly doesn’t need it rammed down her throat before she’s ready! To be brutally honest, why on earth does she need to know about genital mutilation at 11?????????
– Welsh Woman, Wales, 24/5/2010 9:53
I have a 14 year old daughter and the things she tells me about other girls exploits makes me wish there was more education about it. They see rape scenes on TV, they see sexualised music videos and they can see hardcore porn on the web…. we need to counter balance this!
– Becki, High Wycombe, 24/5/2010 11:05
I hate to say this but it’s true, girls at 11 are indeed already sexualised. As a 17 year old, I can remember hearing in Year 7 at the age of 11 that a few of girls had already lost their virginity and a couple actually openly admitted it.
So an article like this comes as no surprise to me. Sad but true.
– Annie Kalmes, Essex, 24/5/2010 11:52
The first interpretative repertoire can be seen in Extracts 1-2, in which children are portrayed as ‘innocent’ and unknowing of sexual matters ‘there’s plenty of time to learn about stuff like this’. By comparison, the second interpretative repertoire (Extracts 3-4) is richer and more complex. It typically includes details of how children are knowing of sexual material ‘They see rape scenes on TV, they see sexualised music videos and they can see hardcore porn on the web’ and already sexually active ‘I can remember hearing in Year 7 at the age of 11 that a few of girls had already lost their virginity and a couple actually openly admitted it’. What is also evident is that these two repertoires are drawn upon in a number of ways including stating what children are ‘really’ like and what others have said. Although throughout the 40 comments originally posted there was a variety of perspectives, there is a high degree of consistency in terms of how children were constructed. Therefore their importance for social psychology is in providing us with an understanding of the limitations that exist for the construction of self and other.
Pupils aged 11 debate rape, pornography and prostitution
Phenomenology and Critical Social Psychology: Directions and Debates in Theory and Research
Discourse Analysis and interpretive repertoires