Conceptual metaphor theory promotes the view that metaphors are first cognitive, then expressed in language. In this study, an analysis of the conceptual metaphors of four bank executives from Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley was conducted. Specifically, this investigation looked at how these executives framed their roles in the financial system.
Particular attention was placed on how the bank executives delivered their ‘facework’ (public personas) during a period of politically charged and challenging events at two separate hearings: the Congressional Committee on Financial Services Hearing: TARP Accountability: Use of Federal Assistance by the First TARP Recipients held on February 11, 2009 and The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission: First Public Hearing, Day 1 held on January 13, 2010.
The research methodology developed was a combination of Lakoff and Johnson’s conceptual metaphor analysis, Charteris-Black’s critical metaphor analysis, and Rohrer’s method of conceptual domain mapping. The resulting research method helped to minimize the subjective nature of conceptual metaphor analysis and provided a systematic approach to metaphor identification to mitigate the risk of researcher bias. An inter-rater reliability study was also incorporated into the methodology.
The analysis revealed a system of metaphors that was quite consistent across speakers and across hearings. The identified metaphorical system was a complex interrelationship among four different conceptual metaphors and conceptual keys: ECONOMIC BUILDING, FINANCIAL PROBLEMS ARE NATURAL DISASTERS, TARP IS A TEMPORARY SHELTER, and KNOWING IS SEEING. The metaphorical system proposed implies that bank executives deflected any blame for the 2008–2009 financial crisis through the use of the metaphor of an ACT OF GOD. The findings of this research present a better understanding of linguistic strategies that executives used to position their companies while under public scrutiny.
Keywords: conceptual metaphors, critical metaphor analysis, financial crisis, TARP, House Committee on Financial Services, Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, bank executives