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Project activities

Phase 1 A new model of empathy and metaphor

To develop an initial model of empathy, and a metaphor-based method for analysing attitudes to other social groups

1.1 Building empathy through dialogue: 'Metaphor and Reconciliation'
Completion of book manuscript using data from a project on reconciliation between an IRA bomber and a victim. Metaphor analysis was used to investigate the process of increasing mutual understanding and empathy.

1.2 Perceptions of other people in times of threats: Empathy and metaphor in focus group discussions
Re-analysis of data from an ESRC-funded project about terrorist threat in people's everyday lives. Beyond the scope of the original study, this work identified how people express empathy towards other groups through metaphor and other language strategies.

Phase 2: Testing and refining the model and methods through collaborative studies

In the second phase, the model of empathy and metaphor analysis were further refined through four collaborative projects. With social psychologist Dr Bruna Seu at Birkbeck College London, data on how people respond to information about human rights abuse was re-analysed through metaphor. Exchange visits with metaphor scholar Dr David Ritchie from Portland State University, USA extended metaphor analysis with narrative analysis, using his data about police communication with ethnic minority groups. Exchange visits with Dr Ana Cristina Macedo and colleagues in cognitive linguistics and social sciences at the Federal University of Cear√° and Universidade de Caxias do Sul, Brazil supported a new study in which people talked about the threat of urban violence in their everyday lives, providing a partial replication of the UK study in a situation of greater uncertainty and risk. This study also tested out and developed ideas about empathy and metaphor in a different language and culture. The fourth collaboration built research capacity in the social sciences through continuing collaboration with the research methods node at Manchester; training in metaphor analysis for researchers and monitoring its implementation on their 'Realities' project maximised the applicability and accessibility of the method. Discussions with leading sociologists reflected on the implications of metaphor use, not just by participants in research, but by researchers themselves, exploring how metaphor can influence data collection, and whether metaphor makes research findings more interesting, accessible and relevant to potential users.

Phase 3: Consolidation and completion

The third phase of the project saw completion of articles and other publications on metaphor and empathy.

A linked Phd studentship is currently investigating how contemporary fiction influences readers' empathy towards marginalised social groups.

For further information please contact:

Principal Investigator:
Professor Lynne Cameron
The Open University

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