Living with Uncertainty: Metaphor and the Dynamics of Empathy in Discourse

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: CREET


The programme of research into the dynamics of empathy will investigate the role of language, and in particular metaphor, in the construction and shifting of people's attitudes to others in times of uncertainty.

Project outcomes will include a new model of empathy and methodology for metaphor analysis usable by social science researchers.

The research has implications for how official communication, media discourse and fiction contribute to fostering empathy and building positive relations between social groups in times of uncertainty. 

Activity during the three-year Fellowship includes a book on Metaphor and Reconciliation (in post-conflict Ireland) and analysis of the expression of empathy in focus groups talking about social issues in the context of terrorism, from UK, US and Brazil.

Data on how people respond to information about human rights abuse will be re-analysed through metaphor for the expression of and resistance to empathy. Discussions with leading UK sociologists will reflect on how metaphor impacts on doing and using research.

A PhD studentship will investigate how contemporary fiction influences readers’ empathy towards marginalised social groups. 

The Open University will host the Empathy Network which will bring together researchers, postgraduate students and research users connected with the project.




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