The beginning of 'the Age of Austerity'

a critical stylistic analysis of David Cameron's 2009 spring conference speech

Matthew Evans, Brian Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Word forms can wield significant power in political discourse. They may connote a whole complex of meaning that is subtly different from the everyday usage of the same word, and work as a kind of shorthand for a whole ideological stance. Building on previous critical stylistic studies that demonstrate how word forms take on particular ideological meanings in media and political discourses (see, for example, Evans and Jeffries 2015; Evans and Schuller 2015; Jeffries and Walker 2018), this study investigates David Cameron’s use of austerity in his keynote speech (as leader of the opposition) at the 2009 Conservative Party spring conference.

The word austerity has strong connections with 1940s and ’50s Britain, when the consumption of food and clothing and other goods was regulated and reduced via rationing and controls on pricing. Jeffries and Walker (2019) show that austerity was frequently used in parliamentary discourse in the House of Commons during the 1940s, and that it then re-emerged as a socio-political keyword during the build-up to the 2010 general election when then Conservative leader David Cameron (and George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor) repeatedly used the word, seemingly in an attempt to evoke past days of supposed national unity. Their veneration of austerity asserted the ideology that public spending cuts, rather than additional public spending, were a fit solution for the financial crisis. Those who disagreed with this ideology found themselves in the position of having to argue against a nebulous idea, with little clarity as to what exactly austerity meant.

The paper will outline the methodology for the systematic analysis of a complete text, report on linguistic patterns in the data, and finish by drawing conclusions about the status of austerity as a socio-political keyword.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 27 Sep 2019

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public spending
discourse
ideology
leader
conservative party
national unity
rationing
clothing
financial crisis
pricing
opposition
election
food
linguistics
methodology

Cite this

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title = "The beginning of 'the Age of Austerity': a critical stylistic analysis of David Cameron's 2009 spring conference speech",
abstract = "Word forms can wield significant power in political discourse. They may connote a whole complex of meaning that is subtly different from the everyday usage of the same word, and work as a kind of shorthand for a whole ideological stance. Building on previous critical stylistic studies that demonstrate how word forms take on particular ideological meanings in media and political discourses (see, for example, Evans and Jeffries 2015; Evans and Schuller 2015; Jeffries and Walker 2018), this study investigates David Cameron’s use of austerity in his keynote speech (as leader of the opposition) at the 2009 Conservative Party spring conference. The word austerity has strong connections with 1940s and ’50s Britain, when the consumption of food and clothing and other goods was regulated and reduced via rationing and controls on pricing. Jeffries and Walker (2019) show that austerity was frequently used in parliamentary discourse in the House of Commons during the 1940s, and that it then re-emerged as a socio-political keyword during the build-up to the 2010 general election when then Conservative leader David Cameron (and George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor) repeatedly used the word, seemingly in an attempt to evoke past days of supposed national unity. Their veneration of austerity asserted the ideology that public spending cuts, rather than additional public spending, were a fit solution for the financial crisis. Those who disagreed with this ideology found themselves in the position of having to argue against a nebulous idea, with little clarity as to what exactly austerity meant.The paper will outline the methodology for the systematic analysis of a complete text, report on linguistic patterns in the data, and finish by drawing conclusions about the status of austerity as a socio-political keyword.",
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