Cuts destroy, hurt, kill: a critical metaphor analysis of the response of UK academics to the UK overseas aid budget funding cuts

Cuts destroy, hurt, kill: a critical metaphor analysis of the response of UK academics to the UK overseas aid budget funding cuts

New Publication Out, authored by Dr Maria Grazia Imperiale and Prof. Alison Phipps

Read the full open access article here

On 11 March 2021, the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) body, which leads research funding across the UK, announced a substantial reduction in the international development research budget as a result of the UK government decision to cut the overseas aid budget. Our CUSP Network+ has been affected by the cuts: they had an impact on our project, as we had to pause or reduce our activities for a while.

Nowadays, we know that some projects have been terminated, while for others, funding has been re-instated.

In this article, we analysed news, blogs, interviews that UK-based academics wrote in response to the announcement of the cuts, from 11 March 2021 to 30 April 2021, through Critical Metaphor Analysis (CMA). Metaphors are powerful tools to express concepts and  shape reality. They can reveal language users’ intentions beyond what is said and what is not said. Metaphors are also a common way through which distress can be articulated.


Cuts as an Entity

As an example, we present here what we mean by CUTS ARE AN ENTITY. It is first striking that ‘the cuts’ are often presented as active agents – they abandon, expose, imperil, damage, hinder, destroy, hurt, undermine. The UK government is often mentioned as responsible for the decisions that led to the cuts, however, ‘cuts’ are often used as the subject of sentences. We explain this as CUTS ARE AN ENTITY:

Funding cuts at the United Kingdom’s Global Challenges Research Fund imperil the Rights for Time Network.

The cuts will destroy international partnerships with businesses, governments, and the third sector, as well as the UK’s reputation as a reliable and trustworthy business partner.

We tend to conceptualise things that are not bounded as entities and substances so that we can refer to them and quantify them in an attempt to better comprehend them. Even though ‘cuts’ are a number, and therefore a quantity, the experience of having a project cut is not something we can easily relate to as the consequences are unknown, and as such we might not know how to pin it down. Referring to cuts as entities allow us to identify a particular aspect of it. In addition, using the CUTS AS AN ENTITY metaphor not only helps our understanding but it also allows academics to distance themselves from it; since cuts are an entity of their own, they have their agency and are out of our control. It is the cuts as an entity that destroy, damage, hinder, expose and imperil, and we as academics have limited, if any, agency to stop them.

Cuts are an Illness

Another example, is the metaphor CUTS ARE ILLNESS.

The opposition health/illness has a strong persuasive role since it is evocative of emotions first of all: we associate anyone who is trying to restore health with someone who has the right intentions. Here lies the evocative and persuasive power of health/illness metaphors:

These cuts will not just affect researchers like us: they will hurt the marginalized communities with which we work.

The decimation of this vital funding stream will have drastic impacts.

Research as Connection

In these examples, we can see that metaphors are graded since there are different degrees of health and illness. Stronger evaluations are found in the opposition decimation/vital, whereas hurt may be a milder form of evaluation compared to the other examples on the health/illness spectrum.

It is also important to point out at the time of the cuts, and at the time of writing, the world is trying to re-emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thus, the polarisation between life/death and health/illness in communication has been omnipresent in the last year. Using health/ illness metaphors in this specific moment in time has a strong persuasive and evaluative function – even more so as some research projects that have been cut have a focus on health and medicine, including vital coronavirus research.

As opposed to cuts which are ILLNESS and THREAT, research is what allows us to break walls and barriers, and ultimately to return to health. We identified the following metaphors related to research: RESEARCH AS CONNECTION, RESEARCH AS HEALTH and RESEARCH AS A JOURNEY.

As an example, I discuss here the metaphor of RESEARCH AS CONNECTION.

The GCRF has enabled UK-based researchers to develop new networks and projects in low- and middle-income countries across the world.

Research can bring proximity as it builds networks and as its foundations are relationships of trust built over the years. Research links, while cuts separate. Research is based on relations, on trust, and nowhere more so than research in international development, where paradigms of participatory work and co-design are the normative basis for working with and safeguarding partners worldwide. The implementation of the cuts has broken the trust that academics had in the UK Research and Innovation funding body. This is a very concerning time for the UK academy.


It must also be said that during our analysis we realised that we also need to reflect on how we represent and communicate our work. The experiences of early career researchers, who often are in precarious positions, and the experiences of the international partners, who are the ones most affected by the cuts, have not been spotlighted in the debate. The GCRF (Global Challenge Research Fund) was created to fund and develop ‘equitable partnerships’. We did believe it, and we sought to change research and develop a more ethical approach that allowed partnerships to be considered equitable.

Perhaps this was an illusion. When someone comes with money, and others are at the recipient end, no partnerships can be equitable. When money is taken away, and only some jobs are affected while others are not, partnerships are not equitable either. When the voices we hear are mostly the ones in powerful positions, again we wonder whether we can call these partnerships equitable.

Perhaps then, we might need to change the discourse around partnerships; surely, we can call them ethical, but perhaps international development research is not and will not ever be equitable. But it definitely can be healthy, it can mean connection, it can be a journey undertaken together for the better.

You can download a copy of the full report and watch a short video about the project here via the TeachingEnglish website.

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Exploring teacher agency and identity through the Tree of Life approach

*This project was funded by The British Council as part of their Widening Participation programme.

Exploring teacher agency and identity through the Tree of Life approach

Led by Maria Grazia Imperiale, Lecturer in Adult Education at the University of Glasgow, and previously CUSP Academic Coordinator, Stephen Mander, and Damian Ross conducted a participatory research project as part of The British Councils Widening Participation programme.

The Project

Working with ten early career researchers across five countries, (Armenia, Brazil, Morocco, Nigeria, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories) and using participatory research and decolonising methodologies, the project used a  tree to explore the participants roots, strengths and capabilities as well as their hopes and dreams for the future.

Credit: The British Council

The Findings

The project focussed on four main findings namely:

  • Participants perceive identity as a transformative process, strictly intertwined with agency, (by agency we mean what they are capable of being and doing to change their reality according to their values and aspirations);
  • Participants believe in education for hope and social change, where students can flourish and have a positive impact on their communities and society;
  • In order to achieve change, participants feel they need to work both within and outside the system, since the education system itself may limit teachers’ freedom in constructing the education they aspire to be part of
  • While teachers may experience isolation and even despair, participants raised the need to keep their motivation alive and that one way of doing this is through peer-to-peer collaboration.

Watch the Animation

You can watch a short animation explaining the project’s aims and findings here on The British Council’s YouTube channel.

The Full Report

You can download a copy of the full report and watch a short video about the project here via the TeachingEnglish website.

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Abolishing War is Needed

Abolishing War is Needed



‘We must start talking, imagining, designing a world without war’

On 13 August 2021, Italian surgeon Gino Strada, founder of Emergency,  died at the age of 73.  

A surgeon is how  he defined himself when he received the Right Livelihood Award in 2015; a pacifist, or more precisely as he said himself ‘I am not a pacifist, I am against war!’; an activist who spent his life  curing and treating people in war zones; a thinker, who once wrote that wars do not only destroy infrastructure but destroy human relations; a father, a husband. Gino Strada was a model of humility and perseverance that shaped humanitarian health and a culture of peace since the foundation of Emergency in 1994.  

We remember him at several protests and seeing him during a demonstration in 2004 against the war in Iraq, passing by, greeting people with his Emergency T-shirt and white strip of fabric around his harm, symbolising peace. We used to have one on our backpacks, and stickers with the unmistakable red logo of Emergency. Gino’s work and thoughts have inspired generations of people in Italy and abroad; we were among those.   

His last article appeared in an Italian newspaper on 13 August, the day he passed away, commenting on the dramatic events in Afghanistan. Gino Strada spent over 7 years living in Afghanistan, and since 2001 had been campaigning against the war. He wrote in his latest piece: 

Dicevamo 20 anni fa che questa guerra sarebbe stata un disastro per tutti. Oggi l’esito di quell’aggressione è sotto i nostri occhi: un fallimento da ogni punto di vista. Oltre alle 241 mila vittime e ai 5 milioni di sfollati, tra interni e richiedenti asilo, l’Afghanistan oggi è un Paese che sta per precipitare di nuovo in una guerra civile, i talebani sono più forti di prima, le truppe internazionali sono state sconfitte e la loro presenza e autorevolezza nell’area è ancora più debole che nel 2001. E soprattutto è un Paese distrutto, da cui chi può cerca di scappare anche se sa che dovrà patire l’inferno per arrivare in Europa. E proprio in questi giorni alcuni Paesi europei contestano la decisione della Commissione europea di mettere uno stop ai rimpatri dei profughi afgani in un Paese in fiamme.

20 years ago we said that this war would have been a catastrophe for all. Today, the outcomes of that aggression is under everyone’s eyes: a failure, from all points of view. In addition to its 241,000 victims, and 5 million displaced people, internally-displaced and asylum seekers, Afghanistan is today a country on the verge of another civil war, the Taliban are stronger than they used to be, international troops have been defeated and their presence and authority in the area is weaker than in 2001. And above all, it is a country which is destroyed, where those who can, try to escape even though they know that they will go through hell in the attempt to reach Europe. And precisely in the last few days, some European countries have contested the European Commission’s decision to halt deportations of Afghani asylum seekers to their country, which is in flames.

[our translation]

Moni Ovadia recalls a memory of Gino Strada, when once, after one of the numerous heart failures he had, he was planning to go back to Afghanistan, and Ovadia tried to call him and dissuade him from going. Gino’s answer was: ‘I miei malati mi aspettano’ ‘My wounded people are waiting for me’; Ovadia commented that Gino was indeed a personification of the essence of the Oath of Hippocrates. Gino’s life was led by valuing the ‘Other’, whoever the Other was.  

I suoi malati, his wounded ones, the ‘real heroes’ as he used to call them, were at the heart of what he did over the years, and Gino once said, ‘treating the wounded is neither generous, nor merciful, it is only just. It has to be done’ because we need justice if we want to achieve peace. And we don’t help people because we are good people, but just because it is just.  

During the pandemic, Gino, with Emergency, in addition to putting their knowledge and experience of dealing with pandemics in crisis and emergencies, described how ideal – not utopistic, but feasible – healthcare should be. He referred to the Italian healthcare, but we believe his words would resonate in many other countries: 

universal (it cannot discriminate, it doesn’t look at citizenship rights because it has to be available for everyone; and importantly, healthcare should not be for profit, pointing at the importance of relocating resources that in recent years have been allocated to private profit) 

of high quality in all national territories, and independent (not dependent on religious powers and churches) 

welcoming and hospitable – healthcare is solidarity, all of the community should be a part of this, putting the interests of those who are ill first.  

A giant, with a very small ego. Probably that was what made him so unique, he was a man of the people, a man of the field. It is our duty to continue his legacy – whether we do it in war zones, or with our neighbours, at university or at nurseries, selling clothes, teaching languages, working with people, or with computers.  

Whatever we do in our lives, it is our duty to talk and imagine a world without war. Our children deserve this.  

Che la terra ti sia lieve, Gino.  


Watch his moving full speech to learn about war, health, peace, wounds, and broken hopes, and what we must do to conceive a world without war, starting with imagining and talking about it. 

*Andrea Cagli, Associazione Proletari Escursionisti, Italy 

** Diego Lombardi, University for Foreigners of Siena, Italy 

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Peacebuilding and Books as Mirrors, Windows and Doors

Peacebuilding and Book as Mirrors, Windows as Doors


In the fourth episode of our CUSP Podcast series, Prof. Evelyn Arizpe, Dr Giovanna Fassetta and Dr Julie MacAdam joined Prof. Alison Phipps for a discussion on peacebuilding in relation to the work they do as educators, researchers, and members of their communities. 

In the contexts in which Evelyn, Giovanna and Julie have worked and are working, especially the Gaza Strip and Mexico, physical violence occurs on a daily basis. Gaza is a context of protracted conflict with an ongoing blockade and recurrent military aggressions; and in Mexico, gender-based violence is acute, in particular the incidence of feminicidio (Castañeda Selgado, 2016). Evelyn, Giovanna, and Julie work in the School of Education (University of Glasgow) and they use different creative methods in their research, with a particular interest in books and literature to build peace in these contexts. 

What do books and literature have to do with peacebuilding?  

The phrase ‘Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors’ was coined by Sims Bishop (1990) to describe how children see themselves in books, and why it is important that they can find themselves represented in books and that they can relate to others’ experiences. Literature may not be the solution to a protracted conflict, but it may change our attitudes towards how we perceive difference, building empathy and community (Bishop, 1990).  

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.  

(Bishop, 1990) 

(Thanks Julie, for sharing the powerful work of Sims Bishop during the podcast episode!). 

Building a culture(s) for inclusive and sustainable peace, at the community level, perhaps means to focus on the acts of everyday solidarity and care, small acts but constant and multiple. As Evelyn and Giovanna also mentioned during the podcast – these acts increase non-violent options to conflict. That is, as Evelyn highlighted, we are often exposed to media narratives that ‘take us to more violent solutions’ but perhaps we can choose which door to close and which door to open – and offer different doors to walk through.  

Peacebuilding is multifaceted, there is not only single way to undertake the journey.  

In this podcast, Julie, Evelyn and Giovanna talked about multiliteracies, multilingualism, multimodality, a multiplicity of perspectives, multiculturality – multiple sources can spark our imagination. With our work we try to understand what these multiple sources in local contexts are. Peacebuilding is therefore contextualised, shaped relationally, and built step-by-step and day-by-day, not only with our neighbours and immediate community, but with a wider community of people.   

 As educators, we can promote inclusivity and peace, perhaps starting with the classroom context and then going beyond it, in a perspective that highlights plentifulness and positive relations.  


Bishop S. 1990. Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors  

Castañeda Selgado M.P. 2016. Feminicide in Mexico: an approach through academic, activist and artistic work. Current Sociology. 64(7): 1054-1070. 


Additional Resources on Books 

2021 Ibby Selection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. 


The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Conflict Transformation or Conflict Resolution?

Conflict Transformation or Conflict Resolution? 


Rather than seeing peace as a static “end-state,” conflict transformation views peace as a continuously evolving and developing quality of relationship.  
(Lederach, 2003: para 22)

In CUSP we frame our work within ‘conflict transformation’, inspired by the work of Jean Paul Lederach. Lederach the father of conflict transformation, was one of the first scholar-practitioners that started to use and conceptualise conflict transformation as opposed to conflict resolution.  

In the early 1990s, conflict transformation as an idea was not that common among peace studies and theorists. There was rather a focus on conflict resolution and conflict management. In his earlier work, Jean Paul Lederach (1995) explained that, ‘perhaps unintentionally, [resolution] carries the connotation of a bias toward ‘ending’ a given crisis or at least its outward expression, without being sufficiently concerned with the deeper structural, cultural and long-term relational aspect of conflict’ (Lederach, 1995: 201).  That is, conflict resolution may be more short-term, outcome-oriented, while conflict transformation is process-oriented and hence may take much longer. Conflict resolution is concerned with immediate problem-solving activities while conflict transformation looks at identity building and national reconciliation.  

Diamond (1994) argues that sustainable peace needs conflict transformation and conflict resolution, and those activities move on a spectrum, on a fluid continuum. For example, Notter and Diamond (1996) explain that conflict transformation has to do with systems, and systems cannot ‘be resolved’ but we can perhaps try to transform what we cannot completely fix. These ideas are at the basis of conflict transformation which may also be intertwined with conflict resolution. 

Other theorists perceive conflict transformation as totally different from conflict resolution. For example, conflict is considered a ‘motor of change’ and not just something that needs to be fixed (Lederach, 2003). 

In a nutshell, in his Little Book of Conflict Transformation (2003) Lederach explains these main points:  

  • We need to accept that conflict is normal, it exists in our lives, and we cannot get rid of it.  
  • Conflict can be a motor of change. This is quite shocking as usually, we want to resolve conflict as quickly as possible. However, conflict transformation work recognises that conflict can be an opportunity.  
  • We can build something new out of conflict. We don’t just need to negotiate and find solutions, but we can create new ways of interacting and imagining. How does a future without conflict look? How do we get there? Lederach says that we can try to keep our eyes on the horizon, we cannot reach the horizon, but it is what can stimulate us to move forward.
  • Solving the immediate conflict might be necessary, but we need to get to the roots of conflict. We can continue digging deeper so to walk towards the future without conflict and to try to understand the roots of someone’s perceptions.  
  • Conflict must be out in the open. At times we might need to escalate conflict before starting to work within that. That can be challenging, and it requires open and honest conversations. The process is not linear, we might represent it as a spiral as you might move forward but you may also be pulled back – in constant movement.

In order to transform conflict, change needs to happen at several levels:  

  • Personal, to fully develop individuals’ potential and wellbeing.  
  • Relational, as we can’t transform conflict on our own. Relations to our and others’ emotions are also important and need to be foregrounded.
  • Structural, to understand root causes.
  • Cultural, to identify cultural patterns and build upon those within contextual and cultural settings. 

These bullet points are a very simplified version of Lederach’s (2003) work, but we have used them in our work within CUSP. For a more exhaustive account of conflict transformation, we invite you to consult Jean Paul Lederach’s books. 


Diamond, L. 1994. “On Developing a Common Vocabulary: The Conflict Continuum.” Peace Builder, Vol.1, No. 4, Spring, p. 3. 

Lederach J.P. 2003. The little book of conflict transformation. Good Books 

Lederach, J.P. 1995. “Conflict Transformation in Protracted Internal Conflicts: The Case for a Comprehensive Network.” In Kumar Rupesinghe, ed., Conflict Transformation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.  

Notter, J. & Diamond L. 1996. Building Peace and Transforming Conflict: Multi-Track Diplomacy in Practice. The Institute for Multi-Track diplomacy: Occasional Paper Number 7. 

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

 Are we all vulnerable? Reflections on the term ‘vulnerability’

 Are we all vulnerable? Reflections on the term ‘vulnerability’


‘Vulnerability’ is a contested term. In our project, we work with youths, children, minorities, women, people who have escaped wars and conflicts; those are usually identified as ‘vulnerable groups’. However, overall, within our team we tend not to use this word much, perhaps because the idea of vulnerability is often associated with the stigma of victimhood and risk. 

Vulnerability’ comes from Latin, ‘vulnerare’, a verb that means ‘to hurt’, ‘to damage’, ‘to offend’, but also ‘to break a principle’. In late Latin it was used also as in ‘to break a law’. The adjective then followed, ‘vulnerabile’, as in English ‘vulnerable’. Vulnerability as an analytical concept emerged in environmental sciences (Wisner, 1993) in relation to the effect of natural or economic disasters on human beings (Virokannas et al, 2020). After that, it was rapidly used in other fields, e.g. in health, social care, and policy making (Virokannas et al, 2020). 

Interestingly, in a recent literature review which aimed to shed light on the conceptualisation of vulnerability, Virokannas and colleagues concluded that, after reviewing over 80 journal articles on the topic of vulnerability, that the term was used in a ‘self-evident manner, referring to certain people or groups’ (Virokannas et al, 2020: 335).  Many of the articles mentioned in the review, presented a critique of the term ‘vulnerable’: this could be stigmatising, it could deny the agency and voice of those perceived as vulnerable, and may lead to the responsibility of the state, to prevent vulnerability, being overlooked. However, there are other scholars, especially philosophers, who talk about a universal, human vulnerability. For example, Martha Fineman (2010) writes that human vulnerability ‘arises from our embodiment, which carries with it the imminent or ever-present possibility of harm, injury, and misfortune’ (p. 267).  Fineman argues that vulnerability is both universal and particular, and that the relationship between individuals and society and institutions should be unpacked as to understand the social processes that generated vulnerability and the responsibility that the state carries towards its citizens as to alleviate the causes and consequences of vulnerability. 

Martha Nussbaum also argues that vulnerability is a common trait of humanity: she calls for ‘a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable, and who discard the grandiose demands for omnipotence and completeness that have been at the heart of so much human misery’ (Nussbaum, 2004:17). She acknowledges that all of us as human beings are more vulnerable at some point of our life, for example as a newborn, an elderly person, when we fall ill etc. However, she says, there is no harm in admitting we are ‘needy and vulnerable’, and this does not mean that we should not act to reduce the causes and consequences of vulnerability, nor that the state and its institutions are not to be held responsible about their citizens’ vulnerability. 

The debate on the term is fascinating, and many more things could be said. However, perhaps, for our purpose here, the main point would be that either you choose to use or not to use the word vulnerable, it is interesting to be aware of the whole debate and see whether there is space for common-ground and mutual understanding.  


Nussbaum, M. (2004) Hiding from Humanity: disgust, shame and the Law. Princeton: Princeton University Press 

Virokannas E., Liuski S, & Kuronen  M(2020) The contested concept of vulnerability – a literature review, European Journal of Social Work, 23:2, 327-339, DOI: 10.1080/13691457.2018.1508001  

Fineman, M. A. (2010). The vulnerable subject and the responsive state. Emory Law Journal, 60(2), 251–275. Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 10-130. Available at SSRN: = 1694740 

Wisner, B. (1993). Disaster vulnerability: Scale, power and daily life. GeoJournal, 30(2), 127–140. doi:10.1007/BF00808129  

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).