Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

“Detroit is a Blank Slate”: Metaphors in the Journalistic Discourse of Art and Entrepreneurship in the City of Detroit

“Detroit is a Blank Slate”: Metaphors in the Journalistic Discourse of Art and Entrepreneurship in the City of Detroit

Siobhan Gregory

In the current discourse about Detroit’s renewal, metaphoric language often reflects tensions between ideas about the physical, economic, and the emotional “landscape” of the city: abandonment vs. investment, stagnation vs. movement, physical change vs. ideological change. This paper investigates metaphoric language in two Detroit discourse communities, artists and business entrepreneurs, to reveal ideas about race, class, identity, and sense of place. Local and national news sources and independent online publications from 2009 to 2011 are reviewed for themes reflecting metaphorical content. These sources include the Time. Inc, Detroit Blog, Time Magazine Online, Assignment Detroit, The New York Times Online, Huffington Post Detroit, and the online publication Model D. The analysis is shaped utilizing Lakoff’s and Johnson’s three key frameworks for metaphorical concepts: orientational metaphors, ontological metaphors, and structural metaphors. A literature review of metaphors in gentrification discourse provides a background for this discussion. The metaphorical language of Detroit, particularly at this period in its history, serves both to confirm and challenge existing metaphors evident in gentrification discourse. Key metaphors are identified: DETROIT AS OUT-OF-PLACE, dissolving, vacant, and unbounded; DETROIT AS A SUICIDE VICTIM who, responsible for its own demise, can only to be brought back to life through the help of outsiders; DETROIT AS A SEXUALIZED FETISH, a prize to be both exploited and guarded, and which, in a state of submission and reckless abandonment, is aestheticized and glamorized. The local and national media attention to these discourse communities creates a prevailing narrative of the city that parallels the metaphorical construct of GENTRIFIER AS PIONEER, GUARDIAN, and SALVATIONIST. 

April 18, 2012 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I am drawn to the “invention” metaphor. Since inventions like mass-produced automobiles are what put Detroit on the map, “re-inventing Detroit” has positive resonance. Good luck, have fun!

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 23, 2012 | Reply

  2. I think that you did a great job on that composition or essay or whatever it is, Siobhan Gregory! It’s brilliant.

    Comment by Bonnie J | June 13, 2012 | Reply

  3. I understand that this work addresses journalistic discourse and that it may be/have been impractical to do actual fieldwork in Detroit. It may be that the paper itself acknowledges the constructed (at-a-distance, not-on-site) nature of the discourse(s) analyzed, though that does not seem to be made explicitly here. Even so, especially where questions of representation (how discourses talk about people) and race are concerned, I get nervous letting the “mouthpieces” be the only, prime, or even central concern of an analytical effort. (Reported speech in discursive texts is not necessarily a convincing window “to the street”.) Please understand, I’m not accusing this paper of not being what I’d rather it were or ignoring that it arose in an anthropology class where these issues have long been important topics. I am saying that what attentiveness to those problems of representation are explored in the paper could be more clearly stated in the abstract.

    Comment by Snow Leopard | June 13, 2012 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: