Friday, 3 December 2010

Conflict resolution and metaphor

The images of H block point out just how emotively powerful a simple letter can be. However typography can also be used to resolve conflict as well as being able to identify it.
Metaphor is not just a rhetoric trope. It achieves its effects via association, comparison or resemblance and the concept of understanding one thing in terms of another is very powerful. One area that this has been used is in conflict resolution. The diagram below is part of a conversation with an IRA prisoner in one of the H blocks Her Majesty’s Prison Maze.

Each line is numbered so that it can be recorded and easily retrieved. The numbering acts as a spine and the other person in the conversation has their speech set out to the left of the numerical column.
As a conversation evolves the task of the observer (this could be a computer analysing the data) is to highlight the way that metaphors become common to the two speakers.
Lynne J Cameron and Juurd H. Stelma’s paper 'Metaphor Clusters in Discourse' can be found in the Journal of Applied Linguistics, Vol 1, No 2 (2004)

The article points out that they have developed software to examine the clustering of metaphors as they occur but the reality is that they are not a graphic designers and therefore the images created by the software lack clarity and have no sense of how typography can be used to represent voice.
If only a good type designer had been taken on board. This could have been resolved either in moving type by using ideas similar to: Where’s my money? or Who’s on First? or Pirates of the Caribbean text

Or the problem could have been solved using static type in a traditional way and thinking about the grid, typeface, size and colour as ways to structure and point out relationships as metaphors cluster.
The point for me is that this is a really useful tool and that a good typographer could make it even more useful. Lynne J Cameron teaches at the University of Leeds, perhaps someone should contact her and suggest that they could use the services of a good typographer.

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