As part of a developing paper on metaphorising the research process, and its capacity to insight alternative research concepts through creativity, reflexivity and imagination, Professors Mats Alevesson (Lund University) and Jörgen Sandberg (University of Queensland Business School) delivered a lively and engaging presentation under WOW’s Seminar Series banner on Tuesday 25 March which challenged both researcher and higher degree student alike.

Informed by Gareth Morgan’s research (2006, Sage), Mats explains their inspiration:

“When we study organisational phenomena we always use, implicitly or explicitly, an image or metaphor…or model…. Applying metaphors [consequently fosters]…more innovative work by unlocking rigid thinking, as well as a more appealing and interesting read!”

Professors Jorgen Sandberg (left) and Mats Alvesson

Professors Jorgen Sandberg (left) and Mats Alvesson








Professor Sandberg comments further:

“[Morgan] releas[es]…an understanding that the organisation as ‘machine’ is in fact…something more”.

So what are they, and how can metaphors be applied to the research process?

“Metaphors involve what Aristotle called ‘giving the thing a name that belongs to something else’. If a metaphor is taken literally, it usually appears absurd”, says Mats. “Metaphors are intended to be understood [however]; ‘they are category errors with a purpose, linguistic madness with a method’ [Aristotle]. Metaphors must be approached and understood as if they were true at the same time that we are aware that they are fictitious — created and artificial.”

Once this is understood, metaphors can then be applied to all areas of the research processes — its ingredients: the formulas, the phenomena under consideration, the literature review process, research design, the choice of language used, the analysis of data etc..

Mats and Jörgen additionally discussed the need to understand how researchers position themselves in their work and how this can be identified in the literature (known as ‘gap-spotting’) so as to develop new research questions in response.

A third consideration then naturally evolves from the process: why do researchers ‘gap-spot’ in the first place?

“What makes…[this third point] interesting”, says Professor Alvesson, “is that they are challenging…assumptions” by simply seeking out the gaps. It is, he notes, important to consider the inevitable resistance to assumptions when they are identified too, as well as target the audience/ reader’s own assumptions.

Mats and Jörgen concluded their presentation by encouraging researchers and readers to identify and make explicit, the metaphors dominant in a sub-/ field of research and to employ alternatives; to ask, through a reflexive process, what is missing from the research; and be open to the playfulness and creativity that reconfiguring the research process may bring.

For a copy of Mats’ and Jörgen’s work-in-progress paper, their PowerPoint presentation or a recording of this session, please contact the Centre Manager at WOW: [email protected] or phone 07 3735 3714.