Social Representations and Ideology: Theories of Common Sense About COVID-19 Among Middle-Class Brazilians and Their Ideological Implications


  • Luiz Gustavo Silva Souza
  • Emma O’Dwyer
  • Sabrine Mantuan dos Santos Coutinho
  • Sharmistha Chaudhuri
  • Laila Lilargem Rocha
  • Luciane Pessanha de Souza


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of billions of people worldwide. Individuals and groups were compelled to construct theories of common sense about the disease to communicate and guide practices. The theory of social representations provides powerful concepts to analyse the psychosocial construction of COVID-19. This study aimed to understand the social representations of COVID-19 constructed by middle-class Brazilian adults and their ideological implications, providing a social-psychological analysis of these phenomena while the pandemic is still ongoing. We adopted a qualitative approach based on semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted online in April-May 2020. Participants were 13 middle-class Brazilians living in urban areas. We analysed the interviews with thematic analysis and a phenomenological approach. The social representations were organised around three themes: 1) a virus originated in human actions and with anthropocentric meanings (e.g., a punishment for the human-led destruction of the environment); 2) a dramatic disease that attacks the lungs and kills people perceived to have “low immunity”; and 3) a disturbing pandemic that was also conceived as a correction event with positive consequences. The social representations included beliefs about the individualistic determination of immunity, the attribution of divine causes to the pandemic, and the need for the moral reformation of humankind. The discussion highlights the ideological implications of these theories of common sense. Socially underprivileged groups are at greater COVID-19-related risk, which the investigated social representations may contribute to conceal and naturalise.