Metaphor Analysis in Public Policy and Private Practice

Metaphor Analysis in Public Policy and Private Practice

A Social Work Perspective

By: Gerald V. O'Brien

Publication date: 2019
ISBN: 978-0-87101-549-5
Categories: Practice & Policy

In this unique and important work, O’Brien encourages the reader to educate, engage, and make the connection between individual work and policy. Focusing on the emotionally charged issues associated with social work, he shows the reader how metaphors are used to oversimplify complex issues like poverty, immigration, and mental health. He demonstrates how the overt and covert use of dehumanization, objectification, “positive” stereotyping, and fear- and disgust-based metaphors shape public opinion and policy and can damage an individual’s self-worth and perception.

It is essential for social workers and allies of social justice to understand public discourse metaphors if they are to advocate for and treat the vulnerable and oppressed populations that they serve. Engaging at this level helps social workers live up to the code of ethics of the profession, whether they work in public policy, institutions, or private practice.

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Title information

In this time of unparalleled partisanship and negativity, it is impossible to ignore the prevalence and impact of metaphors in the news, politics, and social media. Welfare recipients are “parasites” who “breed” too many children. Those who are in the justice system are “monsters” and “animals” to be feared. Immigrants are “illegals” who are “flooding” our borders. The “War on Drugs” ensures those with addiction are the enemy. When these negative perspectives or feelings are part of the public discourse, they adversely affect marginalized populations and reinforce public policies that oppress and disparage such groups. Furthermore, they can discourage people who care the most—including social workers—to disengage from public discourse.

In this unique and important work, O’Brien encourages the reader to educate, engage, and make the connection between individual work and policy. Focusing on the emotionally charged issues associated with social work, he shows the reader how metaphors are used to oversimplify complex issues like poverty, immigration, and mental health. He demonstrates how the overt and covert use of dehumanization, objectification, “positive” stereotyping, and fear- and disgust-based metaphors shape public opinion and policy and can damage an individual’s self-worth and perception.

It is essential for social workers and allies of social justice to understand public discourse metaphors if they are to advocate for and treat the vulnerable and oppressed populations that they serve. Engaging at this level helps social workers live up to the code of ethics of the profession, whether they work in public policy, institutions, or private practice.

“The author develops the concept of the metaphor as an intellectual tool to guide social workers’ appraisal of public problems and policy debates, as well as a tool to guide social workers in challenging negative stereotypes of policy beneficiaries. He offers productive reconstructions of public problems, ‘victims’ of these problems, and the best strategies for ameliorating the harmful impacts on clients (and others) attempting to meet basic needs and attain well-being.”

James Forte, PhD, MSW
Professor, Department of Social Work
Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD

Pages: 152
Publisher: NASW Press
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