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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Professor Jonathan Charteris-Black (University of the West of England) in dialogue with Professor Andreas Musolff (MLAC): Metaphors as models of political leadership

12th May 2008, 17:15 to 19:15, Institute of Advanced Study, Cosin's Hall, Durham University

This is part of the Metaphors as Models Interdisciplinary Dialogues series.

Politicians employ metaphor to express an understanding of adaptation to social change by concepts based on the gain, loss or restoration of control. They communicate power through the use of metaphors that highlight their role in reducing uncertainty by establishing control – especially in situations when it is threatened. These metaphors serve to represent them as legitimate forces for the creation of order and the elimination of disorder. Metaphors reflect the rhetorical need of politicians to give voice to uncertainties arising from change and therefore contribute to a rhetoric that prioritises the preservation of a political order based on establishing a moral order. I will illustrate this particularly with reference to metaphors that are cognitively motivated by force dynamics, motion and event structure.

An explanation of the role of metaphor in political contexts is that it facilitates understanding of the complex and often frightening processes associated with change by resolving moral and emotional disharmony. While metaphor is used by the politically powerful to restore balance in the public world, it is used equally by the powerless to regain illusions of control. I will illustrate this particularly with reference to ‘container’ metaphors as they are employed by the political right. Metaphor contributes to the moral order by reducing uncertainty and to the emotional order by expressing uncertainty: it is therefore central in models of political leadership.

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