Metaphor and the Dynamics of Empathy in Discourse

Living with Uncertainty is a research fellowship project funded by the ESRC and AHRC as part of the wider RCUK Global Uncertainties Programme.

Rationale for the project

Increasingly mobile and transient societies present increasing needs for people to understand others who they may find, not only very different from themselves, but also holding attitudes and beliefs which may be difficult to accept. This kind of understanding across difference and emotional ambivalence is ’empathy’. Positive empathy opens up possibilities for alternative responses to uncertainty than apathy, hardening of attitudes or violence.


Empathy is constructed, negotiated and resisted through discourse, including the everyday language of social interaction, the rhetoric of politicians, and the language of fiction, song, and news media. 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..