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Current policy implications of metaphor in a media-oriented society


Through Metaphor to a Sustainable Ecology of Development Policies (Part #4)


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There is little need to remake points concerning the role of the media in politics or the problems of information overload. In such acontext a vitally important issue for policy acceptance is the process whereby policy proposals are communicated for clarification and approbation. The constraints and opportunities are most evident in the case of politicians and political parties concerned to 'get a message across'. The same may be said concerning the communication of any proposal in a policy forum (Majone, 1989).

Much has been written about the deliberate cultivation of an image by politicians and their increasing investment in media consultants and image makers, following the example of corporations. It has been argued that image is becoming as important as content in politics, if not more important. The need for visionary leadership is stressed (Dror, 1988a). Given the intimate relationship between policies and the politicians presenting them, it is appropriate to ask to what degree policy-making is now 'image-led' as opposed to 'content-led'. For whilst it is possible to formulate policies based on the most appropriate scientific models and the greatest of expertise, it is increasingly recognized that if such policies do not communicate well they have little chance of being either understood or approved.

These points are made, not in order to denigrate sophisticated models and conscientiosuly articulated policies, but in order to suggest that the leading edge of the policy approval process is now the image through which the policy is envisioned and presented. The widespread use of metaphor is increasingly a subject of study (Van Noppen, et al., 1985). An externsive description of the 1988 summit conference was made in terms oa yachting metaphor (*). Conflict between policies is increasingly resolved through image or metaphor. For example, Margaret Thatcher's privatization policy was severely criticized by Harold Macmillan, an earlier UK Prime Minister, as 'selling the family silver'. Thatcher later replied (possibly after consultation with Saatchi and Saatchi) that indeed she was 'selling the family silver' but that she was 'selling it back to the family'.

In the corporate world, very extensive use is made of metaphor to communicate the essence of policies and strategies and responses to competing initiatives. It is interesting to note that in the West, favoured metaphors are derived from ball games (football, cricket, baseball, etc) and military combat, whereas in Japan a required management text is the art of swordsmanship (Musashi, 1982). It is fairly evident that the latter provides more subtle, sophisticated, non-linear metaphors compared to the somewhat mechanistic and linear metaphors of the former. It is appropriate to note that a study has explored how the USA forces were defeated in Vietnam because of their dependence on military strategies modelled on chess in comparison to the Vietnamese strategies modelled on go (*).


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