Research Seminars

Research seminars

'Riots Engulfed the City': An experimental approach to the legitimating functions of fire metaphors in discourses of disorder


Christopher Hart (Lancaster University) 

Much has been made of the ideological and legitimating functions of metaphor in critical discourse analysis.  Recently, however, the extent to which metaphors in discourse genuinely activate a different (source-) frame and, therefore, the extent to which metaphors in discourse achieve framing effects, has been called into question.  In this paper, starting from a qualitative analysis of observed discourse data, I report a recent experiment testing the legitimating effects of FIRE metaphors in discourses of disorder.   Specifically, due to associations with WATER in the FIRE frame, I tested whether this metaphor affected legitimacy ratings for police use of water canon in response to public disorder.  Results suggest a significant effect.  The presence of fire in literal images of protest and metaphorically invoked mental imagery have similar effects in facilitating support for police use of water canon. These results lend weight to claims made in critical metaphor analysis as well as to simulation theories of metaphor more generally.