1. Q. How does the Metaphor Project know what words, phrases, images or metaphors or widely accepted cultural themes are commonly used in American political communication now?
A. The Metaphor Project bases all the resources it offers on an ongoing review of the best contemporary theory, research and polling in the fields of American studies, American political communication, framing and cognitive science, and studies of metaphor in culture and social change, among a number of other subject areas. See Selected Sources.
2. Q. Why does the MP assume that there are any enduring American cultural themes and values? Isn’t our society changing rapidly all the time?
A. There are many modern studies that document the remarkable staying power of some basic American cultural themes and values. But we also know it from our own experience. For example, in the U.S., progressives are themselves aware of constantly struggling with the continuing negative power of the so-called “individual responsibility” frame. Progressive initiatives to use the equally enduring American “opportunity” theme are a way to respond.
Much of the social change we see occurs on the surface of society only, reflecting shifting priorities about which enduring cultural themes and values to highlight, given contemporary circumstances. For example, after 9/11 the free wheeling 90’s seemed to shift suddenly to the security conscious 00’s on the surface, but there are many well-documented areas of American life where the “free wheeling” spirit remains very much alive. For more on this topic, see About Speaking American.
3. Q. Do you have any proof that framing “big ideas” by “speaking American” works?
A. The history of successful social change activism in America is the history of successful “speaking American.” For example, one of the greatest social changes in our history was the end of slavery. Before the actual Civil War, organizers repeatedly invoked the language of our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights about freedom, rights, and equality to gain support for abolition. The first feminists in our history based their case for suffrage on the same documents and language. All of our modern civil rights movements, including trade union and other socio-economic justice rights, have taken the same path. More recently, environmentalists have claimed the right to clean air, soil, food, and water on the same basis. LGBTQ activists have had their greatest success so far with a frame of this type: ‘marriage equality.’
4. Q. What is the relationship of George Lakoff’s work to the Metaphor Project?
A. The Metaphor Project began in 1997, at a time when the growing planetary ecosystem crisis and its implications for peace and justice were the most obvious overall progressive issues. We had noticed how disastrously little match there was between very useful American metaphors or story elements and the way advocates were framing the sustainability message for the public. By late 1997 The Metaphor Project started providing methods, tools, and resources for a better way of talking to all Americans, based on well-known principles of modern communication theory as well as other fields of knowledge. Our first web site went up in the spring of 2000.
At the time and since, we have found useful support for our focus on metaphor in politics in George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s 1980 book Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff’s Moral Politics, and his many subsequent books on political framing.Although the Metaphor Project has carried out its own calling to help progressives learn to mainstream their messages since 1997, we are often perceived as applying and extending Professor Lakoff’s ongoing work as well.