Long Live the Past: A Multiple Correspondence Analysis of People’s Justifications for Drawing Historical Analogies Between the Paris Attacks and Past Events


  • Djouaria Ghilani
  • Olivier Luminet
  • Andreea Ernst-Vintila
  • Nicolas Van der Linden
  • Pit Klein
  • Olivier Klein


Comparing present and past situations by means of historical analogy is prevalent in political and public discourses. But when researching this phenomenon, scientists often use reception paradigms, where they ask people which past event is most applicable to a current situation or issue. In these paradigms, analogies are treated as unequivocal—rather than flexible—in their meanings. In this paper, we use a production paradigm to examine why European citizens (in France, Belgium, and Germany) selected historical analogies and justified their meanings following the two 2015 terrorist attacks in France. We find that most participants tend to mention a relatively small number of past events, characterized by similarities in time (recent), space (geographically close) and type (terrorist attacks) with the current attacks. However, a multiple correspondence analysis indicates that, even when they overwhelmingly agree about the relevance of a particular event (the attacks of September 11th 2001) for the present situation, participants confer widely varying—even conflicting—meanings to the “same” analogy, which align with different socio-political attitudes. We suggest that these variations do not just represent the emphasis that different participants place on particular sets of similarities between the past and the present attacks: They also embody specific, and conflicting, stances on salient and controversial issues surrounding the topic of contemporary terrorism (e.g., why were ‘we’ attacked, who deserves to be grieved, how should the government respond). Results are discussed in light of the literature on social representations of both history and terrorism.