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Discursive strategies of blame avoidance in government: a framework for analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

  • Sten Hansson
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>05/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Discourse and Society
Issue number3
Number of pages26
Pages (from-to)297-322
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Governments’ policies and actions often precipitate public blame firestorms and mediated scandals targeted at individual or collective policy makers. In the face of losing credibility and resources, officeholders are tempted to apply strategies of blame avoidance which permeate administrative structures, operations and language use. Linguistic aspects of blame avoidance are yet to be studied by discourse analysts in great detail. In this article, I contribute to filling this gap in knowledge by proposing an improved heuristic for understanding typical macroconversational discursive practices adopted by officeholders in the circumstances of blame risk to achieve the goal of positive self-presentation. Based on a multidisciplinary review of scholarly literature, I show how personal and institutional risk aversion involves the application of certain strategies of argumentation, framing, denial, social actor and action representation, legitimation and manipulation. I use concrete textual examples from public statements of UK government officeholders to illustrate how blame avoidance works at the highest level of administration. I argue that to understand blame avoidance as a dominant recurring theme in public communication we should look beyond current linguistic approaches to conflict talk. This could lead to the application of new useful analytic tools within discourse studies and open new avenues of critical research into language use in politics and bureaucratic organisations.