Scenario Negotiation in Online Debates about the European Union

Analysing Metaphor in Communication

by Stefanie Vogelbacher (Author)
Thesis 250 Pages


For decades, the focus of Metaphor Studies laid on Conceptual Metaphor and its role in the human conceptual system. This study, however, focuses on metaphor in communication. Its aim is to shed light on how commenters in online debates discuss EU-related topics via Scenario Negotiation, expressing and negotiating their points of view via Metaphorical Scenarios. The study offers a review of current metaphor theory and practical approaches and proposes an Integrated Model of Scenario Negotiation. The results are based on context-sensitive, qualitative analysis of data which stem from a corpus of online debates from the Guardian’s Comment is free section. The discussion illustrates the genre-specific conceptual-communicative functions of Scenario Negotiation in naturally occurring discourse.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Formal conventions
  • Abbreviations
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Theories of metaphor
  • 2.1 Changing views of metaphor
  • 2.1.1 The traditional view
  • 2.1.2 The cognitive view
  • 2.1.3 The discourse-analytical view
  • 2.1.4 Theoretical and methodological issues raised by the discourse-analytical view
  • 2.2 A discourse-analytical framework for metaphor
  • 2.2.1 Steen’s map of the field
  • 2.2.2 Metaphor in language, thought and communication
  • Metaphor in communication and deliberateness
  • Linguistic, conceptual and communicative values in metaphor analysis
  • The three-dimensional framework for metaphor
  • 2.2.3 The three-level grounding of metaphor
  • The experiential grounding of metaphor
  • Image schemas and primary metaphors
  • Correlation vs. resemblance metaphors
  • The cultural grounding of metaphor
  • Cross-cultural variation in metaphorical conceptualisation
  • Culturally salient metaphor as the key to a particular culture
  • The discursive grounding of metaphor
  • The Pressure of coherence and context-induced metaphorical creativity
  • Immediate contextual factors and their impact on metaphor in communication
  • 2.3 Operationalising metaphor for discourse-analytical research
  • 2.3.1 About researching metaphor “in the wild”
  • The discourse-analytical turn and corpora
  • The methodological turn
  • Pragglejaz group and the MIP
  • 2.3.2 Identifying metaphor in language
  • Linguistic metaphor identification
  • Metaphor and conventionality
  • Metaphor and register – how pervasive is metaphor?
  • 2.3.3 Identifying metaphor in communication
  • Deliberateness – metaphor as a perspective changer
  • Metaphor and the dimension of communication
  • The IDem – how can deliberateness be identified?
  • Linguistic criteria
  • Conceptual criteria
  • Textual criteria
  • Communicative criteria
  • 3 Contemporary approaches to metaphor in discourse
  • 3.1 The discourse metaphor approach
  • 3.1.1 Discourse metaphors and metaphorical scenarios
  • 3.1.2 The discourse history of metaphor and cross-cultural variation
  • 3.2 The genre approach
  • 3.2.1 Textual patterns and metaphorical scenarios as mini-narratives
  • 3.2.2 Contextual situatedness and genre-specific functions of metaphor
  • 3.3 The social-scientific/applied approach
  • 3.3.1 Systematic metaphor and metaphor-shifting in talk
  • 3.3.2 Attitudes, affect and alignment via metaphor in interaction
  • 4 The communicative context: Online debating as a genre
  • 4.1 Computer-mediated communication and computer-mediated discourse analysis
  • 4.1.1 From language on the internet to socially situated CMD
  • 4.1.2 CMDA − an approach to researching verbal behaviour online
  • 4.1.3 Technical and ethical aspects of online data collection
  • 4.2 Online debating as a genre
  • 4.2.1 Places of online debating
  • Community of practice
  • Public places for online debating
  • 4.2.2 Genre relationships: New medium – new genre?
  • Letters to the editor and newspaper letter pages
  • Informal face-to-face discussions in public places
  • 4.2.3 Online debating as an interactional practice
  • Macro-level practices
  • Micro-level practices
  • 4.3 The Comment is free section
  • 4.3.1 About The Guardian, guardian online and Cif
  • The Guardian and Guardian Online
  • “Comment is free – but facts are sacred”
  • 4.3.2 Conceptions of online debating at Cif
  • “Text isn’t always a good medium of conversation”
  • “It’s a bit like going down to the pub”
  • 4.3.3 A faceted classification of comment is free
  • Format-specific factors with formative impact on the genre
  • Social factors with a shaping impact on the genre
  • 5 Analysing scenario negotiation in online debates about the EU
  • 5.1 An Integrated Model for analysing metaphor in communication
  • 5.2 The corpus: The My Europe series at Comment is free
  • 5.2.1 Socio-cultural and generic context
  • 5.2.2 ATL and BTL commenting about the European Union
  • 5.3 Methodology
  • 5.3.1 Data collection
  • 5.3.2 Focusing on conceptual-communicative patterns
  • 5.3.3 Research questions and methodological steps
  • 6 Data, discussion, and results
  • 6.1 A journey scenario: securing a place in the slow lane
  • Macro-level perspective
  • Meso-level perspective
  • Micro-level perspective
  • 6.2 A person scenario: europe as a troubled adolescent
  • Macro-level perspective
  • Meso-level perspective
  • Micro-level perspective
  • 6.3 Europe as an experiment – a novel scenario?
  • Macro-level perspective
  • Meso-level perspective
  • Micro-level perspective
  • 6.4 Results of the case study
  • 6.4.1 Metaphor use in the ATL corpus
  • 6.4.2 Scenario negotiation in the BTL corpus
  • 7 Conclusions and suggestions for further research
  • Appendix
  • List of figures
  • List of tables
  • References

1 Introduction

The present study focuses on metaphor in naturally occurring discourse, more precisely in the public discourse about the European Union, as it takes place in the Guardian comment and debate section Comment is free. Political discourse, which manifests itself in parliamentary debates, speeches or newspaper comments about political topics, is generally known to be a productive environment for metaphor. The discourse about the EU, however, is even notorious for its constitutive metaphors. Examples are the metaphor of the common european house or the european family, which are referred to as Discourse Metaphors. They usually help to conceptualise relatively abstract topics in terms of more concrete, often body-related experiences. Discourse Metaphors originate in utterances of individual language users – as is the case for the metaphor of the common european house. First used by Mikhail Gorbachev during a visit in Paris in October 1985, this Discourse Metaphor soon turned into a key framing device for the future relationships between the nations in the European Community. In meetings between representatives of the East and the West, the metaphor provided a common ground for debating international relations, by providing a shared set of presuppositions (Chilton & Ilyin 1993: 17). However, there were differences in the way this metaphor was understood: speakers constructed different Metaphorical Scenarios, which was due to culture-specific concepts of “house” vs. the Russian equivalent “dom”. These differences led not only to different analogical conclusions, but also provided legitimation for different political actions1. From political dialogue, the metaphor of the common european house found its way into newspaper comments, radio or TV programmes and became part of the traditional metaphorical inventory of EU discourse.

With the controversy about Brexit, the public debate about the EU has gained new momentum as politicians and pundits struggle for new shared perspective of Europe’s future. However, having a voice in public discourse has long ceased to be the privilege of journalists and the political elite. The online communication formats which have developed in the World Wide Web over the last decades facilitate user participation at an unseen level, providing a forum ←17 | 18→to basically everyone who is interested in sharing their opinion. One of these formats is Comment is free, which offers a place for exchange and discussion on a variety of topics, among them Europe and the European Union. Registered users can share their personal outlook, comment on others’ contributions and negotiate points of view. The emergence of such online communication formats provides exciting opportunities for researchers to explore the use of metaphor in lay discourse. Of course, the European Union has long been a topic for passionate debate in private conversations, in pubs and at family dinner tables. For evident reasons, private spoken discourse about the EU has evaded any closer analysis so far. However, the new conversational format of public online debates makes for a rich source of naturally occurring metaphor use in discussions about the EU.

Therefore, at the heart of this thesis, there is a case study about laypeople’s use of metaphor in online debates about the EU. The aim of the study is to find out how commenters use metaphor as a common ground, to both express and negotiate their views about EU-related topics. However, what does it mean for a commenter in a debate to use metaphor in discourse? As a working definition, we can say that using metaphor means speaking about one thing in terms of another. Usually, this means speaking about a more abstract thing – such as a political entity – in terms of a more concrete thing – such as a family. In their Conceptual Metaphor Theory, Lakoff & Johnson (1980) define metaphor as a mapping between two conceptual domains, in our case between the domain political entity and the domain family. Mappings consist of correspondences between the two domains, referred to as source and target, which can be exploited for argumentative purposes. Concepts of the source domain, which are more accessible to human experience, correspond to and shed light on otherwise very abstract ideas and relationships in the target domain. For example, there may be very close relationships between family members, hence there’s the notion of the franco-german couple, which frames the relationship between the two nations in more accessible terms. Similarly, it is common knowledge that formerly close relationships may break and a family member may leave for good, hence the idea of the brexit as divorce. For such analyses, the notion of the Metaphorical Scenario (Musolff 2006) provides a useful descriptive tool: It refers to the phenomenon that culturally shared knowledge about the behaviour of couples helps to characterise the relationship between two political entities, by framing the latter as actors in a Metaphorical Scenario: Will they stay together in good times and in bad times? Will their affection cool down? Will they split up? This kind reasoning about an abstract in terms of a more concrete ←18 | 19→scenario is in the focus of my research. The following shall serve as a working definition:

Scenario Negotiation occurs when language users express their point of view in response to and in terms of a Metaphorical Scenario.

However, researching metaphor in communicative situations poses challenges. Since the publication of Lakoff & Johnson’s ground-breaking Metaphors we live by (1980), their cognitive view of metaphor has been the basis for a wealth of discourse analytic research. Here, it shall suffice to say that their Conceptual Metaphor Theory and its follow-up (Lakoff 1993) have provided the theoretical foundation not only for a myriad of studies on how metaphors shape our views of abstract topics, but for the field of linguistic Metaphor Studies as we know it today. Chapter 2 gives an overview of the field, and Chapter 3 introduces the more recent, communication-focused lines of research it has triggered. Looking at these, one might ask if there is anything left to be discovered about metaphor at all. Why another study on metaphor?

My reason for doing this case study is the conviction that in order to understand the workings of metaphor, a new approach is needed. This approach should pay attention to metaphor as a communicative and cognitive phenomenon, in other words, it should integrate the evidence gathered over the last decades into a coherent model of metaphor. Such a model should provide the methodological steps necessary to analyse metaphor use in naturally occurring discourse. Further, my case study is motivated by the idea that combining these two perspectives with a sound generic analysis can generate new questions about and provide exciting insights into the workings of metaphor in authentic communicative situations. In my study, I focused on metaphor in written interaction, as part of an argumentative genre in a discourse in which metaphor is traditionally used as a rhetorical device. Straightforward as it may sound, this phrasing already raises several issues: What counts as metaphor in interaction? How can metaphor be systematically identified in (written) discourse? Can rhetorical uses of metaphor and conventional metaphor be systematically distinguished? Is a metaphor in interaction necessarily understood as metaphor by the addressee? What genre-specific contextual factors are relevant for the analysis of metaphor in discourse?

In short, a series of theoretical and methodological problems had to be solved in preparation for my case study, which is presented in Chapter 6. In fact, preparing the case study resembled the activity of putting together the pieces of a puzzle. The questions dealt with in putting up the research design correspond to Chapters 2Chapter 5 and are outlined below:

←19 | 20→

Chapter 2: Which of the current theoretical models of metaphor provides the most adequate framework for analysing Scenario Negotiation in discourse?

Chapter 2 provides an overview of current metaphor theory. It starts with a sketch of changing views of metaphor, from the traditional Aristotelian via the cognitive to the contemporary discourse-analytical view (Section 2.1). Next, the theoretical framework for the study is introduced along with theoretically relevant notions such as the grammar vs. usage distinction, the notion of deliberate metaphor and of its three-level grounding (Section 2.2). The chapter ends with a discussion of the operationalisation of metaphor for discourse-analytical research (Section 2.3).

Chapter 3: Which practical approaches to metaphor and Metaphorical Scenarios in contemporary research provide useful concepts and tools for the study of metaphor in online debates?

Chapter 3 gives an overview of three contemporary approaches to the study of metaphor in naturally occurring discourse, all of which have been crucial for my case study: the Discourse Metaphor Approach, which is concerned with discourse-specific patterns of metaphor use and the evolution of metaphors over time (Section 3.1); the Genre Approach, which is concerned with textual patterns and their communicative function (Section 3.2); and finally the Social Approach, which is concerned with the interpersonal conceptual-communicative effects of metaphor use (Section 3.3).

Chapter 4: Which contextual factors impact the use of metaphor in naturally occurring discourse, both in terms of genre-specific and discourse-specific constraints?

In order to account for the contextual grounding of Scenario Negotiation, Chapter 4 offers discussion of online debating as a genre, focusing on the Comment is free section of the Guardian Online. After some general background about computer-mediated communication, Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (Section 4.1) and online debating as a genre (Section 4.2), the communicative format of Comment is free is introduced as a Community of Practice and described in more detail along the lines of Herring’s Faceted Classification Scheme (Section 4.3).

Chapter 5: Can the analytical perspectives in contemporary metaphor research be put together to form a coherent model of metaphor? What kind of analytical algorithm can be derived from such a model for the analysis of metaphor in naturally occurring discourse?

Chapter 5 presents the theoretical and methodological details for the case study on Scenario Negotiation, starting with the introduction of my Integrated ←20 | 21→Model for analysing metaphor in communication (Section 5.1). Then I present the specific-purpose corpus of online debates about the European Union is presented, which provided the material basis for the analysis and discussion (Section 5.2). Next, the analytical concepts for the study are introduced, together with the research questions and methodological steps (Section 5.3).

Chapter 6: Finally, what does an integrated approach to metaphor in naturally occurring discourse reveal?

Chapter 6 presents the results of the case study on Scenario Negotiation in online debates from the Comment is free section and offers a discussion of three samples along the lines of the Integrated Model.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (July)
Metaphorical Scenario European Union Computer-mediated Discourse Discourse Analysis Metaphor Studies Metaphor Theory
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019., 250 pp., 1 fig. col., 6 fig. b/w, 24 tables

Biographical notes

Stefanie Vogelbacher (Author)

Stefanie Vogelbacher studied English and Spanish at the University of Heidelberg. She worked as a researcher at the English Department, where she also taught English Linguistics. She completed her PhD thesis on Scenario Negotiation in Online Debates in 2018. Today she teaches English and Spanish at a secondary school.


Title: Scenario Negotiation in Online Debates about the European Union