Managing Meaning: Metaphor in Criminal Justice Policy

Published: 2009

Armstrong, S. (2009), Managing Meaning: Metaphor in Criminal Justice Policy. SCCJR Working Paper.


This paper analyses the use of metaphors in policy documents. Policy language presents an important topic of study because the policy text is an increasingly important technique of governance, aiming at one level to satisfy desires for transparency and public consultation, and, at another, to translate law and norms into technical rules of everyday practice. Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) provides the analytical framework for exploring the role metaphors play in policy texts. While metaphor is commonly thought of as an optional linguistic ornament used to convey an unfamiliar concept in terms of a familiar one, CMT claims metaphors are ever present features of language and fundamental to how we come to know the world. Analysis of metaphor in a key criminal justice policy text, The MacLean Committee’s Report on Serious Violent and Sexual Offenders, reveals that alongside an explicit argument about the need for policy change, there flows an implicit discourse that re-shapes our understanding of violent and sexual offending, risk, and legal judgement, among other things.

Key words: policy analysis, metaphor analysis, rhetoric, risk management, sex offenders, Conceptual Metaphor Theory