Mud, metaphors and politics: Meaning-making during the 2021 German floods

Brigitte Nerlich, Rusi Jaspal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


On 14 July 2021 the western states of Germany, Rheinland Palatinate and North- Rhein-Westphalia, experienced major flash floods and about two hundred people died. This article explores how those affected and journalists they spoke to created meaning from the mayhem of an unprecedented disaster and how social representations of flooding emerged in which language, politics and values were intimately intertwined. Combining thematic analysis with elements of social representations theory, and analysing a sample of articles from a national news magazine, we show how social representations of the floods were shaped by the objectification of the floods through metonymy (mud and debris) and the anchoring of the floods through personification and metaphors (natural and mechanical forces), thus adding a new dimension to the existing body of work on flood and metaphors. We claim that the immediate focus on the extreme force of the 2021 floods, on the one hand, and the weakness of political response, on the other, may entrench feelings of helplessness and divert attention away from more systematic and long-term engagement with flood dangers in the context of climate change, including extreme weather events.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Values
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2023


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