Conflict in political discourse

Conflict as congenital to political discourse

Authored by: Peter Bull , Anne-Marie Simon-Vandenbergen

The Routledge Handbook of Language in Conflict

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  May  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138643840
eBook ISBN: 9780429058011
Adobe ISBN:


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In democratic systems, political parties represent different viewpoints on a large number of crucial issues (social, economic, cultural). It is in the nature of the system that in order for their viewpoints to carry weight and to be effective the parties need – through the voices of their representatives – to be heard and believed by the largest possible number of voters. As a result, persuasion is at the heart of political discourse. However, since all parties either want to gain political power through the election process, or at least want to gain enough representation in the legislature to be taken seriously by the parties in power, the political arena is by definition the scene of battles between opposing voices. Rather than looking for commonalities, these voices will highlight the differences between them with one major goal: persuade the electorate of their own “right” and of the opponents’ “wrong”. All parties’ representatives, i.e. all political speakers, hence need to emphasise the strong points of their own programmes and achievements as well as the weak points of the opposition’s programmes and achievements. This leads to clashes between conflicting voices. The public nature of political discourse entails that the stakes for speakers are high: either they convince (part of) the electorate or they fail to do so. All communicative strategies of political speakers will hence be geared towards presenting the best possible image of themselves (as individual representatives of the parties). This requires communicative skilfulness.

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