The use of symbolic resources in developmental transitions

Tania Zittoun, Gerard Duveen, Alex Gillespie, Gabrielle Ivinson, Charis Psaltis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Citations (Scopus)


This paper introduces the idea of symbolic resources as the use of cultural elements to mediate the representational work occasioned by ruptures or discontinuities in the smooth experience of ordinary life, moments when the ‘taken-for-granted’ meanings cease to be taken for granted. In particular we are concerned with the use of symbolic resources in moments of developmental transitions, that is, the mobilization of symbolic elements ranging from shared bodies of knowledge or argumentative strategies to movies, magazines or art pieces. The paper begins with a brief theoretical sketch of these ideas, and then presents three case studies, each of which involves the use of a different type of symbolic resource within a particular age group. In the first, children are observed in interaction with a peer about a conservation problem. In the second, adolescents are observed negotiating the meaning of their art productions with their peers, teachers and parents. The third example looks at Western tourists searching for spirituality, adventure and freedom in Ladakh as an alternative to the materialism of modernity. In each case the analysis of the symbolic resources employed indicates the significance of the gaze of the other in the construction of meanings, and of the various constraints operating within specific situations. The analysis also reveals different modes of use of symbolic resources, linked to changing forms of reflectivity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-448
Number of pages33
JournalCulture and Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003


  • constraint
  • culture
  • development
  • reflectivity
  • symbolic resources
  • transitions


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