Semiotics of Behaviour Change: Decoding the Community Narrative

Amrita Sood

Simon Pulman-Jones


Much discussion about the future of qualitative research has been concerned with examining how to develop our ability to immerse ourselves in the world of the individual, understanding the stories and narratives that underlie beliefs and attitudes.

This paper will argue for the importance of going beyond individual narratives to focus more on the communities through which individuals find meaning and identity. We will suggest that in the post economic crisis world it is increasingly important to understand the dynamic way in which people make use of their communities of reference to develop attitudes and perspectives, particularly on the most difficult or contested social issues.


The point of departure for this paper comes from a dual sense of being in changing, transitional times. In our UK-based social research practice we began to recognize a significant shift in the objectives and challenges of the government behaviour change communication initiatives on which we were working: a shift from individually focused lifestyle change to more complex and contested social issues. And the inescapable consequences of the global economic crisis started to make it clear that the preceding period of economic growth and stability had lulled us into some habits and assumptions about research that might need to be reconsidered or overturned as we move into the post-crisis era.