Reviews & Endorsements


Monster Metaphors: When Rhetoric Runs Amok

New York: Routledge, 2023

This book draws our attention to ‘monster metaphors’ that have gained illegitimate domination of discourse in certain domains, such that our conception of the field is dangerously narrowed. The spheres of public discourse in which the author finds such metaphors reigning are: mental health, economics, the sciences, and gender relations. 

The opening chapter tells an engaging story of how monster metaphors rampage over the discursive landscape, destroying rival metaphors at every turn. Chapter 2 reviews the main theories of metaphor and explains the author’s preference for seeing the connotations of one domain being ‘mapped’ on to another domain. Chapter 3 shows how major metaphors are buttressed by associated instances of synecdoche and metonymy that tie the metaphor into its context. Chapter 4 highlights the creative potential of metaphor for explaining complex topics and stimulating our imaginative faculties, and chapter 5 outlines how a metaphor ‘turns nasty’ and grows, like a cancer, to reign over the whole domain. The first case study (chapter 6) examines the process by which psychological distress has come to be referred to, by analogy with physical illness, as ‘mental illness’ and details the damaging implications this analogy has had for diagnosis, treatment, and how we all, including those who experience them, conceive of a great range of mental conditions. The second case study (chapter 7) recounts the story of how metaphors from hydraulics were introduced into economics in the 1940s to 1960s and were seized on and promoted by neoliberal economists to become the dominant metaphor, with ‘free-flowing’ being specified as the ideal. The third case study (chapter 8) recounts how science has, over the centuries, come to be depicted as ‘the mirror-of-nature’ and has resisted all attempts to unseat it. The use of this metaphor, Adams argues, has legitimized the monster metaphors in psychiatry and economics that he has previously discussed. The last case study, ‘men as naturally superior’ (chapter 9) is rather different, in that it springs from his own research as a clinical psychologist on the justifications that men who have been violent to their partners offer for their behaviour.

In the concluding chapters, he outlines the commercial and social forces that have helped to foster the monsters, including the role of Big Pharma in insisting that ‘mental illness’ can be treated by chemical means as physical illness can. He highlights strategies we may employ to resist them and promote monster-free environments, such as peeling away the synecdoche and metonymy of muscular strength that bolster the ‘men as superior’ metaphor, and adopting plural metaphors around key social topics, which allow multiple perspectives on them. Among the many strengths of the book are: the major social implications of the case studies; the breadth of the author’s knowledge of the fields he explores; the vivid stories he tells about the origins of each monster metaphor; the references to his personal experience (for instance, working in a traditional psychiatric hospital as an eighteen-year-old); the occasional humour; and the vividly engaging style with which it is written.

Dr Michael Hanne, Language and Society, Volume 52(5), pp. 917-18

Other References

  • More on rhetoric
  • [CHAPTER] Towns, A., Adams, P. Discursive psychology and domestic violence. Chapter 3 in Stephen Gibson (ed.) Discourse, Peace, and Conflict: Discursive Psychology Perspectives. New York: Springer pp. 49-66. Read more
  • [ARTICLE) Towns, A., P. Adams (2015) “I didn’t know if I was right or wrong or just bewildered.” Ambiguity, responsibility, and silencing women’s talk of men’s domestic violence. Violence Against Women. 22(4) 496-520. Read more
  • [ARTICLE] Towns, A. & Adams, P. (2009) Staying quiet or getting out: some ideological dilemmas faced by women who experience violence from male partners. British Journal of Social Psychology. 48, (4) 735-754  Read more
  • [CHAPTER] Adams, P., Towns, A., & Gavey, N. (2003). 3). Dominance and entitlement: the rhetoric men use to discuss their violence towards women. In K. Atkinson & D. Atkinson (Eds). Language and Power in the Modern World(pp. 184-198). Edinburgh University Press. Also published as an article in Discourse and SocietyRead more
  • [CHAPTER] Towns, A., Adams, P. & Gavey, N. (2003). Silencing talk of men’s violence towards women. In L. Thiesmeyer (ed.) Discourse and Silencing: Representation and the Language of Displacement. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.  Read more
  • [PhD THESIS] Adams, P. J. (1991). A Rhetoric of Mysticism. Unpublished PhD dissertation, School of Psychology, University of Auckland. Read more