Home Metaphor in Conflict Transformation: Using arts to shift perspectives and build empathy

The article explores metaphor embedded in arts artefacts and processes as a highly effective space for transforming the attitudes and behaviours that support conflict.

Metaphor plays a crucial role in human cognition, and is a core component of what makes the arts creative. There is a growing body of evidence showing that arts processes can provide a safe, liminal space for perspective transformation to occur. This not only has implications for peacebuilding, but for a wide range of educative functions played in humanitarian and development action.


The article challenges the status quo of top-down approaches to working with marginalised communities.

Externally-led, top-down processes rarely produce sustainable shifts in attitudes and behaviours that can contribute to conflict and other challenges. By working with local metaphors, and building programmes from the bottom up, a more diverse range of voices can be heard, and participation in the deliberation required for sustainable, positive social change can be built upon a more solid foundation.

Findings suggest metaphor were instrumental in enabling sustainable, significant shifts in conflict repertories (Bar-Tal) by allowing participants to analyse conflict narratives, imagine alternatives, rehearse intended peace repertoires and codify new ideas for easy recall post-workshop. While shifts in repertoire and resulting behaviours were small, they were significant in motivating these Rakhine villagers to reinitiate cautious contact with Rohingya neighbours.

Metaphor in Conflict Transformation: Using Arts to Shift Perspectives and Build Empathy was first published in the The European Journal of Development Research on July 18, 2022.

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Photo credit: An exercise using lolly-sorting as a metaphor for diverse people, Vicki-Ann Ware.

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