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Metaphor and the Embodied Mind: An Engine of Organizational Inquiry

Author(s): Richard J. Boland, Jr. | Ramkrishnan V. Tenkasi

Journal: Sprouts : Working Papers on Information Systems
ISSN 1535-6078

Volume: 1;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 21;
Date: 2001;
Original page

Keywords: Organizational Inquiry | Metaphor

In its most general form, the question our paper aks is: why, after a question has been asked and answered, does a conversation of inquiry continue, and not just stop?" Why, in our conversations within and about organizations, do certain topics like control and structure get visited and revisited with images that alternate between opposite poles? (Barley and Kundra, 1992) We propose that the answer has to do with the reciprocal and metaphorical quality of language, especially the dialectic interplay between a few bodily based, orientational metaphors that structure and guide our conversations of inquiry. These bodily based, orientational metaphors reflect ontological dilemmas that undergrid organizational life and fuel the semantics of everyday speech (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). We argue that this system of reciprocally related metaphorical referents and their dialectic interplay provides a kind of engine for organizational inquiry. The pursuit of inquiry through one metaphor brings with it a subsidiary reference to another that progressively grows in interpretive power and reframes the inquiry with an opposite valency. We explore how a few metaphorical oppositions such as up/down, light/dark, and surface/deep provide an engine of inquiry for some recurring topics in organizational studies.

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