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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

“Flatlined” economy

"Flatlined" economyOct 6, 2011According to today’s Guardian, the economy has “flatlined”. This is a medical metaphor for clinical death. When mapped onto economic metaphors of “flatness” (“flat” growth, “flat” demand, etc) we have a frame. The frame affects how we think about “the economy”.

As I noted in a previous piece, Harriet Harman used the “flatlining” metaphor in BBC’s Question Time (22/9/2011). The context was revealing – an audience member had queried the premise that economic “growth” was necessary. Harman replied by saying the deficit can’t be cut “if the economy is flatlining”. She didn’t expand on this.

In a way, Harriet Harman didn’t need to expand, because the frame provided its own set of inferences:- lack of growth is “flatness”, and “flatness” is death, and death is to be avoided. The inferences here are metaphorical, unstated and unconscious. Excluded (by metaphor, not conscious thought) is consideration of ways in which lack of economic “growth” may be beneficial.

Note that “flatness” is not literal in any economic sense. It’s a metaphor enabling us to think about statistical abstractions – it appears only on graphical representations of accumulations of data. We need such metaphors in order to be able to think at all about complex or abstract issues – but we also need to be aware of the consequences of using a particular metaphorical frame. What does it focus our attention on? What does it hide? What inferences does the metaphor smuggle in under our noses?

In the same Guardian article that reported a “flatlined economy”, David Cameron’s diagnosis was quoted: “there’s too much can’t-do sogginess around”. And his proposed treatment: “Let’s show the world some fight… we can turn this ship around”.

Alternative headlines:

Written by NewsFrames

October 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

2 Responses

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  1. Just wanted to offer a general thanks for your work on this page. I check it often and find it very useful in decoding the shite I feel compelled to read on a daily basis.


    October 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    • Thanks Andy, kind of you to say so. Much more to come, and we’ve only scratched the surface so far…


      October 10, 2011 at 11:19 am

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