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Managing Meaning: The Use of Metaphor in Criminal Justice Policy

20 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2009  

Sarah Armstrong

Glasgow University

Date Written: June 15, 2009


This paper takes an unorthodox approach to the study of policy, by analysing the use of metaphors in policy documents. Policy language presents an important topic of study because the policy text is an increasingly important technique of governance, aiming at one level to satisfy desires for transparency and public consultation, and, at another, to translate law and norms into technical rules of everyday practice. Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) provides the methodology for exploring the role metaphors play in policy texts. While metaphor is, outside of linguistics, commonly treated as an optional linguistic ornament used to convey an unfamiliar concept in terms of a familiar one, CMT claims metaphors are ever present features of language and fundamental to knowing. Analysis of metaphors in a key (Scottish) criminal justice policy text provides a case study for analysing how metaphors assist understanding a new category of offender – the serious violent and sexual offender. Equally important, the paper considers the possibility that the means of controlling such offenders – risk management – is itself a metaphor.

Keywords: policy analysis, metaphor analysis, rhetoric, risk management, serious violent and sexual offenders, Conceptual Metaphor Theory

Suggested Citation

Armstrong, Sarah, Managing Meaning: The Use of Metaphor in Criminal Justice Policy (June 15, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Sarah Armstrong (Contact Author)

Glasgow University ( email )

Adam Smith Business School
Glasgow, Scotland G12 8LE
United Kingdom

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