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Metaphor Analysis in Public Policy and Private Practice
A Social Work Perspective
Gerald V. O'Brien
ISBN: 978-0-87101-548-8. 2019. Item #5488. 152 pages.
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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.
About the Author

Chapter 1: Metaphors and the Social Work Profession: A Brief Overview

Chapter 2: Metaphors and Denigration: Social Justice Implications

Chapter 3: Metaphors and Social Welfare Policy

Chapter 4: Metaphors That Dehumanize and Objectify

Chapter 5: Metaphors That Evoke Threat and Fear Responses

Chapter 6: Implications for Social Work Study, Practice, and Policy Advocacy

Gerald (Jerry) V. O’Brien, PhD, is a professor in the Social Work Department at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he has taught for the past two decades. He received his BSW from the University of
Missouri – St. Louis, his MSW from the University of Missouri – Columbia, and his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign.

Dr. O’Brien teaches classes in community organizing, policy analysis, research and disability studies at both the undergraduate and the graduate level. His research focuses on disability history and policy, with particular emphasis on eugenics, as well as metaphor analysis in relation to social injustice and stigmatization. His articles have been published in Social Work, the Journal of Social Work Education, the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, Metaphor and Symbol, and other journals. This is his third book, following Framing the Moron: The Social Construction of Feeble-Mindedness in the American Eugenic Era (Manchester University Press, 2013) and Contagion and the National Body: The Organism Metaphor in American Thought (Routledge, 2018).
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