Gerard Steen conducts research into figurative meaning in language and communication. He has developed various methods for the identification and analysis of metaphor, drawing on social science techniques to test their reliability. Currently, Steen is also working on building an interdisciplinary metaphor processing model that will combine approaches from the fields of linguistics (structural-functional grammar, cognitive linguistics, relevance theory), psychology (psycholinguistics, cognitive psychology, social psychology) and the social sciences (communication science). Embedded in a more comprehensive approach to all language and communication, as based on genre knowledge and genre acts, the model will be used to investigate structures and processes of metaphorical meaning in their situated context of use and to tap the resulting knowledge for practical applications in language and communication – such as text design and editing. Beyond this, Steen is also studying applications in the fields of literature and stylistics.
In 2010, Steen established the Metaphor Lab. An expertise centre for multidisciplinary fundamental and applied research into figurative meaning, the Metaphor Lab holds databanks of metaphor in natural English discourse and of visual metaphor in advertisements, cartoons and other multimodal media. The lab also hosts research on the deliberate use of metaphor (a PhDs in the Humanities programme), on the characterisation of metaphor in discourse and in visual media (a Marie Curie project) and on the use of figurative framing in public discourse, looking at metaphor, hyperbole and irony (a Veni project).
Looking ahead, Steen aims to situate his research within the nexus of metaphor and argumentation. Specifically, he intends to study avenues of resistance against metaphoric language cognition and communication in such domains as health communication, the media, organisation and management and the economy.
Steen has been professor of Language and Communication at VU University Amsterdam (VU) since 2013, and before that held the VU chair in Language Use and Cognition. He has led an NWO Vici programme on metaphor in discourse (2005-2010) and an Open Competition programme on visual metaphor (2009-2014). Steen is also chair of the Board of the Netherlands National Graduate School of Linguistics (LOT).