Publication details [#54422]

Rappert, Brian. 2011. Evidencing similarity: The language of judgement, spin, and accountability. Journal of Language and Politics 10 (2) : 182–203.
Publication type
Article in journal
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Place, Publisher
John Benjamins
Journal DOI


Accusations that some purposefully manipulate information in order to create a favourable impression in others are commonplace in political life. The term 'spin' has emerged in recent decades as a versatile but ill-defined normative charge that signifies a lost fidelity. This article examines a prominent attempt to adjudicate on allegations of it in order to ask how such debates are collaboratively produced and sustained. The case study is the `Butler Inquiry', an investigation established to determine whether the British government distorted intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction capabilities in the build up to the 2003 war. It is argued that the Inquiry and the subsequent debate about it is notable for two features: (i) the multiple and shifting orientations adopted to the standing of language; and (ii) the lack of regard in this dispute about likeness to how determinations of likeness should be argued -a kind of “a-resemblance resemblancing“. Through the multiple ways in which matters of similitude were resolved and deferred, treated as publicly demonstrated and beyond simple verification, rendered knowable and undecidable, the debate about the Butler Inquiry established the conditions for further charges of spin. The failure to attend to how claims about resemblance were being grounded limited the public debate as well as conceptions of political accountability.