Metaphors in Policy


Metaphors are not merely ornamental, they fundamentally shape how we know things. The use of passive language and particular prepositions when discussing womens’ offending (see the report ‘Women Offenders: A Safer Way’), for example, is the deployment of a metaphor of women as victims. The metaphors used to describe integration of public sector activities, such as ‘joined up services and  ‘breaking out of silos’, not only help us understand what is meant by terms like multi-agency work arrangements, but are also making the normative case that such arrangements are the best way of doing things (consider the opposite metaphors of these: fragmented services and working in silos).

I am exploring how these insights from cognitive linguists such as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Donald Schön and metaphor specialists Alice Deignan and Jonathan Charteris Black might enrich our understanding of policy and policy discourse. So far I have looked at  the use of metaphors in defining the problem of serious violent and sexual offenders, as well as how the concept of risk management in criminal justice is both explained through metaphors (of machines, building, time and space) and itself might be a metaphor (borrowed from business and financial worlds). I am currently working with Alice Deignan using corpus linguistics and discourse analysis to identify metaphors of payback and punishment in Scottish penal reform.

 Project Documents and Resources Metaphors in Criminal Justice Policy (powerpoint) MACLEAN REPORT Wikipedia entry on Conceptual Metaphors George Lakoff analysing metaphors and the first and second Iraq invasions Managing Meaning: Metaphors in Criminal Justice Policy (2008) (PDF) ‘Payback and Punishment: Meatphors in Scottish Penal Reform (2010) (Powerpoint) presented to RaAM08, Amsterdam (July 2010) and handout listing references