History in Action: The Construction of Historical Analogies in Televised Debates Concerning the Iraq War

  • Stephen Gibson York St John University, UK
Keywords: analogies, anchoring, discourse, history, Iraq War, rhetoric, social representations


Recent work has emphasised the centrality of warfare, and particularly of World War II, to people’s social representations of history. However, much of this work has treated social representations of history as relatively static abstract constructs, and even when theoretical approaches to the subject have emphasised narrative, conversation and contestation, the methodological techniques used to study social representations of history have tended to re-introduce a more static conceptualization of social representations. In the present article, I adopt a position informed by discursive and rhetorical psychologies in order to argue that social representations of history should be studied in the context of their use, with particular attention being paid to the actions people are performing when they represent history. This is illustrated using data from a series of televised debates broadcast in the UK during the build-up to the formal declaration of war in Iraq in 2003, with a focus on the ways in which historical analogies were constructed during the course of arguments concerning whether or not military action against Iraq was legal, appropriate and justified.

Author Biography

Stephen Gibson, York St John University, UK

STEPHEN GIBSON is a social psychologist based at York St John University, UK. He has research interests in areas such as peace and conflict, citizenship and national identity, and dis/obedience. Methodologically, his work draws on discursive and rhetorical approaches to social psychology. He is co-editor of Representations of peace and conflict (with Simon Mollan; Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) and Doing your qualitative psychology project (with Cath Sullivan and Sarah Riley; Sage, 2012).