The rhetorical investigation of multimodality in political discourse is a growing concern for discursive researchers adopting critical approaches. The study of political cartoons is a prime example of how both visual and linguistic meaning can be constructed and interpreted based on its prevailing social, cultural and political settings. Adopting a multimodal critical discourse analysis (MCDA) approach, this chapter further pursues the study of multimodality in political communication by examining a corpus of political cartoons—drawn from the UK and beyond—concerned with the UK’s Referendum on membership of the European Union and the subsequent vote to leave in 2016. We analyse how the rhetoric of these cartoons flags the construction of national identity, otherness and belonging, lending themselves to condensed ideological messages seeking to frame Brexit. It is argued such cartoons can be seen as micro-instances of the anchoring of Brexit as a self-referential political divide defined by oppositional discourses and their accompanying intellectual legacy. A phenomenon, which, we contend, is richly explained by the rhetorical communication of the visual alongside the linguistic. We conclude the chapter by reflecting on how MCDA can assist our understanding of political communication and contribute to the critical tradition of discursive psychological work.
- Political cartoons
- Critical discourse analysis
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Abell, J., Condor, S., Lowe, R., Gibson, S., & Stevenson, C. (2007). Who ate all the pride? Patriotic sentiment and English national football support. Nations & Nationalism, 13(1), 97–116. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8129.2007.00268.x
Abell, J., Condor, S., & Stevenson, C. (2006). “We are an island”: Geographical imagery in accounts of citizenship, civil society, and national identity in Scotland and in England. Political Psychology, 27(2), 207–226. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2006.00003.x
Ana, O. (1997). Empirical analysis of anti-immigrant metaphor in political discourse. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 4(1), 318–330. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/pwpl/vol4/iss1/19
Ana, O. (1999). ‘Like an animal I was treated’: anti-immigrant metaphor in US public discourse. Discourse & Society, 10(2), 191–224. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926599010002004
Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Rev. edn). Verso.
Annabell, T., & Nairn, A. (2019). Flagging a “new” New Zealand: The discursive construction of national identity in the Flag Consideration Project. Critical Discourse Studies, 96(1), 96–111. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2018.1521857
Barnes, R., Auburn, T., & Lea, S. (2004). Citizenship in practice. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43(2), 187–206. https://doi.org/10.1348/0144666041501705
Billig, M. (1987). Arguing and Thinking: A Rhetorical Approach to Social Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Billig, M. (1995). Banal nationalism. Sage Publications.
Billig, M. (2005). Laughter and ridicule: Towards a social critique of humour. Sage Publications.
Billig, M., Condor, S., Edwards, D., Gane, M., Radley, A., & Middleton, D. (1988). Ideological dilemmas. Sage Publications.
Billig, M., & MacMillan, K. (2005). Metaphor, idiom and ideology: The search for ‘no smoking guns’ across time. Discourse & Society, 16(4), 459–480. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926505053050
Capdevila, R., & Callaghan, J. (2008). “It’s not racist. It’s common sense”. A critical analysis of political discourse around asylum and immigration in the UK. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 18(1), 1–16.
Charteris-Black, J. (2006). Britain as a container: Immigration metaphors in the 2005 election campaign. Discourse & Society, 17(5), 563–581. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926506066345
Charteris-Black, J. (2013). Analysing political speeches: Rhetoric, discourse and metaphor. Palgrave Macmillan.
Cohen, R. (1994). Frontiers of identity: The British and the others. London: Longman.
Colley, L. (1992). Britons: Forging the nation 1707–1837. Yale University Press.
Condor, S. (2000). Pride and prejudice: Identity management in English people’s talk about ‘this country’. Discourse & Society, 11(2), 175–204.
Condor, S. (2010). Devolution and national identity: The rules of English (Dis)engagement. Nations & Nationalism, 16(3), 525–543. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8129.2010.00441.x
Condor, S., & Gibson, S. (2007). ‘Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion’: Ideological dilemmas of liberal individualism and active citizenship. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17(2), 115–140. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.885
Condor, S., Tileagă, C., & Billig, M. (2013). Political rhetoric. In L. Huddy, D. O. Sears, & J. S. Levy (Eds.), Oxford handbook of political psychology (pp. 262–300). Oxford University Press.
Cruse, I. (2008). Library note: To call attention to the concept of Britishness in the context of the cultural, historical, constitutional and ethical tradition of the peoples of these Islands. House of Lords Library. Retrieved from https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/LLN-2008-015/LLN-2008-015.pdf
Edwards, D., & Potter, J. (1992). Discursive psychology. London: Sage Publications.
El Refaie, E. (2009). Metaphor in political cartoons: Exploring audience responses. In C. Forceville & E. Urios-Aparisi (Eds.), Multimodal metaphor (pp. 75–95). Mouton de Gruyter.
Fairclough, N. (1989). Language and power. Longman.
Fairclough, N. (2001). Critical discourse analysis as a method in social scientific research. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse analysis. Sage.
Fairclough, N., & Wodak, R. (1997). Critical discourse analysis. In T. van Dijk (Ed.), Discourse studies: A multidisciplinary introduction (Vol. 2, pp. 258–284). Sage.
Gamson, W., & Stuart, D. (1992). Media discourse as a symbolic contest: The bomb in political cartoons. Sociological Forum, 7(1), 55–86.
Gibson, S., & Hamilton, L. (2011). The rhetorical construction of polity membership: Identity, culture and citizenship in young people’s discussions of immigration in Northern England. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 21, 228–242. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.1087
Goodman, S. (2017). How to conduct a psychological discourse analysis. Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines, 9(2), 142–153.
Goodman, S., & Burke, S. (2010). “Oh you don’t want asylum seekers, oh you’re just racist” A discursive analysis of discussions about whether it’s racist to oppose asylum seeking. Discourse & Society, 21(3), 325–340. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926509360743
Goodman, S., & Johnson, A. (2013). Strategies used by the far right to counter accusations of racism. Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines, 6(2), 97–113.
Goodman, S., & Narang, A. (2019). “Sad day for the UK”: The linking of debates about settling refugee children in the UK with Brexit on an anti‐immigrant news website. European Journal of Social Psychology, 49(6), 1161–1172. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2579
Guibernau, I., Berdún, M., & Rex, J. (2010). Introduction. In The ethnicity reader: Nationalism, multiculturalism and migration. Polity.
Iedema, R. (2003). Multimodality, resemiotization: Extending the analysis of discourse as multi-semiotic practice. Visual Communication, 2(1), 29–57. https://doi.org/10.1177/1470357203002001751
Jewitt, C., & Oyama, R. (2001). Visual meaning: A social semiotic approach. In T. In van Leeuwen & C. Jewitt (Eds.), Handbook of visual analysis (pp. 134–156). Sage.
Joyce, C., Stevenson, C., & Muldoon, O. (2012). Claiming and displaying national identity: Irish travellers’ and students’ strategic use of ‘banal’ and ‘hot’ national identity in talk. British Journal of Social Psychology, 52(3), 450–468. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8309.2012.02097.x
Kaiser, W., & Varsori, A. (Eds.). (2012). European Union history: Themes and debates. Palgrave.
Kilby, L., & Horowitz, A. (2013). Opening up terrorism talk: The sequential and categorical production of discursive power within the call openings of a talk radio broadcast. Discourse & Society, 24(6), 725–742. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926513503270
Kilby, L., Horowitz, A., & Hylton, P. (2013). Diversity as victim to ‘realistic liberalism’: Analysis of an elite discourse of immigration, ethnicity and society. Critical Discourse Studies, 10(1), 47–60. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2012.736398
Kilby, L., & Lennon, H. (2018). Charlie Hebdo and the Prophet Muhammad: A multimodal critical discourse analysis of peace and violence in a satirical cartoon. In S. Gibson (Ed.), Discursive psychology perspectives: Discourse, peace, and conflict (pp. 303–321). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-99094-1_17
Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary communication. Arnold.
Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading images: The grammar of visual design (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Krzyżanowski, M. (2019). Brexit and the imaginary of “crisis”: a discourse-conceptual analysis of European news media. Critical Discourse Studies, 16(4), 465. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2019.1592001
Levine, P., & Scollon, R. (Eds.). (2004). Discourse & technology: Multimodal discourse analysis. Georgetown University Press.
Lynn, N., & Lea, S. (2003). ‘A Phantom Menace and the New Apartheid’: The social construction of asylum-seekers in the United Kingdom. Discourse & Society, 14(4), 425–452. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926503014004002
Maccaferri, M. (2019). Splendid isolation again? Brexit and the role of the press and online media in re-narrating the European discourse. Critical Discourse Studies, 16(4), 389–402. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2019.1592766
Machin, D. (2013). What is multimodal critical discourse studies? Critical Discourse Studies, 10(4), 347–555. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2013.813770
Macphee, G., & Poddar, P. (2007). Nationalism beyond the nation-state. In G. Macphee & P. Poddar (Eds.), Empire and after: Englishness in postcolonial perspective. Berghahn Books.
Mazid, B. (2008). Cowboy and misanthrope: A critical (discourse) analysis of Bush and bin Laden cartoons. Discourse & Communication, 2(4), 433–457.
Meredith, J., & Richardson, E. (2019). The use of the political categories of Brexiter and Remainer in online comments about the EU referendum. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 29, 43–55. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.2384
Moore, M., & Ramsay, G., (2017, May). UK Media Coverage of the 2016 EU Referendum campaign. Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power, The Policy Institute, King’s College London. Available from http://www.media-diversity.org/en/additional-files/UK-media-coverage-of-the-2016-EU-Referendum-campaign.pdf
Müller, G., Özcan, E., & Seizov, O. (2009). Dangerous depictions: A visual case study of contemporary cartoon controversies. Popular Communication, 7, 28–39.
Musolff, A. (2004). Metaphor and political discourse: Analogical reasoning in debates about Europe. Palgrave.
Musolff, A. (2019). Brexit as ‘having your cake and eating it’. In V. Koller, S. Kopf, & M. Miglbauer (Eds.), Discourses of Brexit. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351041867
Parekh, B. (2000). Rethinking multiculturalism: Cultural diversity and political theory. Macmillan/Palgrave Press.
Politico. (2016, June 25). Cartoonists draw Brexit. Retrieved from https://www.politico.eu/interactive/brexit-eu-referendum-leave-david-cameron-boris-johnson-nigel-farage-ukip-cartoons/
Popoviciu, S., & Tileaga, C. (2019). Subtle forms of racism in strategy documents concerning Roma inclusion. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 30(1), 85–102., ISSN: 1052-9284. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.2430
Rosie, M., MacInnes, J., Petersoo, P., Condor, S., & Kennedy, J. (2004). Nation speaking unto nation? Newspapers and national identity in the evolved UK. The Sociological Review, 52(4), 437–458. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2004.00490.xfm
Silaški, N., & Ðurovic, T. (2019). The journey metaphor in Brexit-related political cartoons. Discourse, Context & Media, 31, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2019.100318
Stevenson, C., & Abell, J. (2011). Enacting national concerns: Anglo-British accounts of the 2002 Royal Golden Jubilee. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 21(2), 124–137. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.1070
The Guardian. (2016, March 20). European Cartoonists on the EU. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/20/brexit-silly-walk-best-political-cartoons-eu-europe-referendum
Valdés-Miyares, R. (2018). The strategies of ultranationalist discourse: This is England and Brexit. Open Cultural Studies, 2, 50–60. https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2018-0006
van Dijk, T. (2001). Multidisciplinary CDA. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse analysis. Sage Publications.
van Dijk, T. A. (2015). Critical discourse studies; A sociocognitive approach. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse analysis (3rd ed., pp. 63–85). Sage Publications.
van Leeuwen, T. (1999). Speech, music, sound. Macmillan Press Ltd.
van Leeuwen, T. (2005). Introducing social semiotics. England: Routledge.
van Leeuwen, T., & Jewitt, C. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of visual analysis. Sage Publications.
van Leeuwen, T., & Wodak, R. (1999). Legitimizing immigration control: A discourse-historical analysis. Discourse Studies, 1(1), 83–118. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445699001001005
Ward, P. (2009). The end of Britishness? A historical perspective. Journal of the British Politics Society, 4(3), 3.
Wetherell, M., & Potter, J. (1992). Mapping the language of racism: Discourse and the legitimation of exploitation. Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Wodak, R., & Meyer, M. (Eds.). (2015). Methods for critical discourse analysis (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.
Wooffitt, R. (2005). Conversation analysis and discourse analysis: A comparative and critical introduction. Sage Publications.
Xenitidou, M., & Morasso, S. (2014). Parental discourse and identity management in the talk of indigenous and migrant speakers. Discourse & Society, 25(1), 100–121. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926513508858
Zappettini, F. (2019). The Brexit referendum: How trade and immigration in the discourses of the official campaigns have legitimised a toxic (inter)national logic. Critical Discourse Studies, 16(4), 403–419. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2019.1593206
Editors and Affiliations
© 2020 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Lennon, H.W., Kilby, L. (2020). A Multimodal Discourse Analysis of ‘Brexit’: Flagging the Nation in Political Cartoons. In: Demasi, M.A., Burke, S., Tileagă, C. (eds) Political Communication. Palgrave Studies in Discursive Psychology. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60223-9_5
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-030-60222-2
Online ISBN: 978-3-030-60223-9