Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Roads and Riddles? Western Major Power Metaphors of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Roads and Riddles? Western Major Power Metaphors of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution

Article excerpt

Our conceptual systems are metaphorical in nature: We understand complex issues by comparing them with relatively straight-forward and familiar ones. Renowned experts of nonviolent problem solving, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Luthuli, and Martin Luther King, Jr., have structured difficult conflicts in terms of roads, gardens, building projects, and riddles. The conflict rhetoric of leaders of the major Western powers--the United States, Britain, and France--is most often studied in violent contexts, vis-a-vis epic battles and tragic catastrophes. However, when dealing with mundane disputes among fundamentally like minded parties, disagreements with petty challengers and debates with major powers with different political systems, for example, US, British, and French leaders employ many of the metaphors that nonviolence activists do. Understanding and expanding this sphere of comic conflict resolution--where ingenuity and reflection instead of black-and-white juxtaposition are the norm--is essential in the search for a more peaceful, yet vibrant world. Keywords: nonviolence, conflict, metaphor, comic rhetoric, great powers

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Western words of war, metaphors included, are unfortunately rather familiar to the world audience. Recently, for example, the war against terrorism around the globe has been framed as an epic battle against evil and the war in Sudan as a tragic catastrophe. Official major power formulations are important: Even when contested, they tend to set the agenda of world politics and determine the movements, or nonengagement, of the world's mightiest armies. Because of the tendency of headline news and (perhaps also of research on international relations) to focus on wars and catastrophes, one might conclude that this is what the major Western power leaders are there to do and do best on the foreign policy arena: formulate definitions as powerful, convincing, and unequivocal as possible to inherently violent chains of events. Less attention is often paid to their mundane activities, such as everyday problem solving in various contexts where denouements turn out to be nonviolent.

This article studies the rhetorical strategies employed by US, British, and French leaders in foreign policy conflicts where a nonviolent approach is chosen. More specifically, it seeks to understand the metaphorical logic of non-violent conflict resolution: to pinpoint some of the Western metaphors and to consider the way they function. The argumentation rests on the assumption that both the Western leaders and their audiences make sense of the world through metaphorical reasoning. Metaphors order chaotic reality, both when consciously chosen or realized to do so and when appearing automatic and literal. Metaphors may be designed to support a specific policy at a specific moment, but metaphors work in subtle and unpredictable ways: They may structure thinking and physical moves without being paid much attention to by either the speaker or the audience. Moreover, the "success" of an individual metaphor is never guaranteed: All kinds of metaphors may be accepted or rejected in a specific context by the listeners.

As a foundation for the study of nonviolent Western conflict metaphors, the article first briefly discusses metaphors as cognitive tools in general and then turns to Western metaphors of violent conflict of various kinds. Also, the idea of the three classic plots as alternative conflict resolution strategies is introduced. Next, to guide the search for peaceful problem-solving potential in the speeches of the US, British, and French leaders, the example set by certain renowned proponents of nonviolence is contemplated. The purpose here is not to offer immediate models for the Western leaders or to conduct a minute survey of the political philosophy or language of Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Luthuli, or Martin Luther King, Jr., but to find ways of thinking about conflict that have led to systematically nonviolent action. …

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