Exploring Morgan’s Metaphors: Theory, Research, and Practice in Organizational Studies


Anders Örtenblad, Kiran Trehan & Linda L. Putnam

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright


    Gareth Morgan

    Let me begin with a word of thanks and appreciation.

    It’s wonderful and at the same time humbling to have one’s work and ideas provide the focus of a book such as this, and I am truly grateful to the editors for initiating and steering the project, and to all the contributors for the insights, critiques, and ideas for future development provided in their various papers. There are many powerful voices and perspectives represented here. They all stand as important and provocative contributions on their own account and, collectively, demonstrate the depth and sophistication of current thinking about the role of metaphor in theory, research, and practice in the field of organization studies. They also illustrate many of the controversies and debates currently in play.

    The editors have asked me to write this brief foreword to create a bridge between my early work on metaphor, especially as presented in the various editions of Images of Organization (1986, 1997, 1998, and 2006) and I’m delighted to do so. That said, it is by no means an easy task because of the huge amount of circularity of interpretation that’s involved. Simply put, authors write books which are then effectively re-authored through the interpretations of the readers from their point of view. Hence any commentary on the interpretations, which is effectively what I am being asked to provide here, always runs the danger of running full circle and simply restating what has already been said, perhaps in just another form. This, in turn, then typically provides the basis for another round of reinterpretation. And so it goes.

    I want to avoid this circularity as far as I possibly can, and recognize that all I can really do here is offer a personal point of view on how I see some of the current challenges relating to the use of metaphor in the field of organization studies, while making as many links as I can to some of the ideas presented in the papers in this volume. A warning, though—there are so many diverse points of view and insights being expressed that I can’t possibly do justice to them all. In other words, no shortcuts here! You have to read the papers. And I know that you will be well rewarded in doing so.

    On the Paradoxical Nature of Metaphor and Its Use in Images of Organization

    So let’s start with a few “bridging” comments on what I was seeking to do in writing Images of Organization. The detailed story is presented in a paper I wrote on this topic in 2011, now reproduced here in Chapter 2. In essence, the main purpose of the book was to illustrate how all of organization and management theory and practice is shaped by metaphors that have simultaneous strengths and limitations. Though theorists and practitioners often believe that they are viewing and acting in relation to the world as it is, they are in fact relating to a world that’s filtered and shaped through creative metaphors that have become embedded in their thinking, language, and everyday practice. This creates ways of seeing and acting that are simultaneously ways of not seeing and of not acting. No surprise, therefore, that the theory and practice of organization and management—as with other areas of professional practice—often has many unintended consequences that typically create new problems with which we then have to deal.

    To understand the deeper issues and problems that are involved here, it is important to recognize at least three things. First, that while we are living in a complex, multidimensional world where any given situation combines many different elements and dimensions existing at one and the same time, most of our thinking, theories, and acting tends to be unidimensional—because we are typically just engaging and acting in relation to small elements of what’s actually present. In other words, we are always dealing with partial understandings and need to recognize that no single theory or perspective will ever be giving us a comprehensive and fully accurate view of the situations with which we are involved.

    Second, because our theories are metaphorical, our ways of seeing always involve simultaneous insights and distortions. Hence, we are not just seeing and acting in relation to fractions of what’s actually present. We are also doing so in a way that has inherent blind spots and distortions. We tend to get attracted by the insights conveyed by the metaphorical way of seeing while ignoring or dismissing the limitations and potential downsides. As discussed in Chapter 2, this is what I describe as the paradox of metaphor. Insights and distortions are intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. Your favored implicit or explicit metaphor (e.g., treating an organization as if it is a machine, an organism, a brain, a culture, a political system, an instrument of domination) may be helping you to understand and deal with the issues that are a focus of your attention. But there will also likely be some kind of intrinsic downside, because the organization is not a machine, an organism, a brain, etc.

    Third, and a corollary of the above, this means that our seeing, understanding, and acting is always biased. It’s skewed by the partiality of the engagement, and by the interests or intent that lead us to favor one particular metaphorical way of engaging situations over others. The skewing plays a major role in generating future issues and problems with which we then have to deal, since in acting on the insights associated with our modes of engagement we often have impacts on the hidden or neglected dimensions of the multidimensionality. This can catalyze all kinds of actions and reactions that reverberate in unexpected ways as other human and nonhuman stakeholders in the overall situation adjust and respond to what we are doing.

    These paradoxical qualities and impacts of metaphor are illustrated throughout Images of Organization. For example, each chapter exploring how a given metaphor has shaped the nature of organization and management theory and practice shows how the specific strengths of its way of thinking are always accompanied by inherent limitations that are a direct consequence of the strengths. To take a simple example, if you think about organizations in mechanistic terms and organize in a mechanistic way you can create an efficient operational structure. But you also create rigidities and patterns of behavior that hamper the ability to adapt to change. In other words, the actual strength creates a limitation. The book as a whole constantly plays with the paradox that if you are theorizing and acting in one way, you are failing to see and act in another, and how the benefits resulting from one’s way of seeing and acting may be creating negative impacts elsewhere. Consider, for example, how the instrumental form of rationality embedded in management orthodoxy through use of mechanical, biological, and a variety of supporting metaphors (e.g., brain, culture, and political) can simultaneously create institutionalized modes of domination that can exploit the workforce, local communities, society, and the planet at large. This dynamic continues to be played out at a global level as the strengths of the mechanical and other metaphors powering industrialization and much of modern corporate life simultaneously create new social and planetary problems, (e.g. in the form of structural unemployment, inequality, global imbalance, various kinds of social decay and dysfunction, air, water and land pollution, and climate change).

    While the focus of Images of Organization is on the role of metaphor in shaping organization and management theory and practice, it is important to recognize that its relevance goes beyond this particular domain. The basic thesis is that all theory, all thinking, and all acting relating to that thinking is shaped metaphorically. Hence the corollary is that all of science and all of our understandings and actions in everyday life are shaped by processes that create simultaneous insights and distortions.

    To appreciate the significance of these claims it is important to recognize and understand the nature of metaphor and the role it plays in everyday life. As argued in Images of Organization (and further discussed in my article in Chapter 2, and in the excellent papers by Cornelissen [Chapter 3] and Tsoukas [Chapter 11]), while metaphor is commonly seen as just a linguistic device for embellishing discourse, its significance is much greater than this. Metaphor is ontological. It is a way of being in the world where we fuse one element of experience with another, using the one to engage, grasp, understand, and deal with the other. In other words, metaphor is fundamental. It’s not optional. It captures the way we are! This ontological process produces metaphors (note the “s”) as epistemological constructs that shape the content of our knowledge.

    Viewed in this way, we are obliged to see that all our theories are just social constructs, tapping into the world in different and partial ways with different effects according to the metaphors that are used. And, as discussed earlier, because of the ontological multidimensionality that’s involved in any given situation, we should always act on the premise that no single approach can ever give us a complete, all-purpose point of view.

    This is the epistemological position taken in Images of Organization, leading to the argument that the best we can do is to learn to read the ontological complexity of the situations with which we are faced through the medium of multiple theoretical perspectives. Hence the book counter-poses the insights of one metaphorical view of organization with another . . . then another, then another . . . highlighting the potential strengths and limitations of each, without ever advocating the intrinsic superiority of any given view. The invitation, in short, is to embrace rather than deny the complexity of organizational life, and be open to the learning and action opportunities that can emerge from different and potentially contradictory points of view.

    To understand the spirit of Images of Organization and the overall objectives that I was trying to achieve, I can do no better than refer you to the essay by Hari Tsoukas in this volume (Chapter 11). It provides an excellent and truly insightful account of the general intent of my work in promoting a more reflective way of thinking that can begin to deal with the relativistic and contingent nature of knowledge. I particularly appreciate the parallels that he draws with the work of John Dewey and the challenge of developing the art of “suspended conclusion”—by simultaneously engaging and remaining open to new interpretations of a situation that may provide better ways of dealing with the situations we face. This is precisely what my approach to “reading” organizations seeks to achieve. As Tsoukas shows so well, the challenge is to overcome the “mental inertia” that’s so often associated with conventional thinking and acceptance of “received categories” of interpretation, and actively deal with the complementary and contradictory insights that can emerge by approaching situations with an open mind that can lead to deeper understandings and a broader range of action possibilities.

    Joep Cornelissen (Chapter 3) also adds very important insights here, showing us how our metaphors connect us with our realities and are always driven by some kind of intent. In effect, our favored metaphors act as tools that help us get things done in ways that other metaphors are unable to do. Thus in addition to their practical contributions, they also have ideological, ethical, and political dimensions. The metaphors that become established in public consciousness tend to be those that rationalize particular ways of viewing the world and that can mobilize and justify action in relation to shared beliefs, aspirations, or needs. As Cornelissen suggests, we see this in how so much organization and management theory is built around concrete, instrumental metaphors that put managers or powerful individuals “in the driving seat,” offering the hope of at least some measure of control of the situations being faced.

    Consider, for example, the current dominance of institutional theory in organization studies, which, in its various forms, tends to view organizations as institutional actors and/or economic agents striking agreements and contracts, having specific corporate identities and legal rights, and acting in general pursuit of various corporate goals as if they are abstract human beings. As Cornelissen notes, this underlying metaphorical view is ideally suited for CEOs and others in power who want to emphasize their agency role in exercising control over people, resources, and at times, government legislation—all in the interests of the corporate “being” that they are appointed to lead. Just as the image of rational economic man has exerted an incredible influence on overall economic and social life, the parallel metaphor of the organization as a rational economic entity is having an equal, if not more important, impact. Yet the fundamental metaphorical assumptions involved here are often hidden and unquestioned, unless challenged by theorists, commentators, and practitioners favoring completely different metaphorical ways of representing what is happening in the corporate world—especially through variations of what I have described as the “psychic prison” and instrument of domination metaphors.

    Our discussion here leads us into the issue of critique and why different metaphors come into play and have their day, and in terms of organization studies and science at large, the question of whose biases and interests are being served. These are obviously huge topics, raised in various ways in several papers in this volume. (See, for example, Cornelissen [Chapter 3], Bhatnagar [Chapter 5], Klein and Huber [Chapter 9], and Case et al. [Chapter 12]). Space constraints prevent full discussion here. So I’m going to tackle the issues by restricting myself to some general comments in relation to Images of Organization with regard to (a) potential biases in its view, use, and selection of metaphors; and (b) the continuing relevance of its “eight metaphors” for understanding organizations and organizational life in today’s world.

    On the Issue of Bias

    The issue of bias is an important one and can mean many things (e.g., prejudice, partiality of perspective, unfairness, favoritism, predisposition, preconception, preference, a blocked view, and so on). As discussed at various points above, in a multidimensional world bias is inevitable in trying to make a definitive statement about anything because of both the partiality of perspective and the general intent in relation to what one is seeking to achieve. It is useful to think about the former as kind of bias by default—a bias that arises because of what we leave out, because, for one reason or another, it is outside our horizon of awareness and understanding. The second—bias by intent—may incorporate the former but also involves explicit omission or disregard of elements of a situation that are not consistent with our conscious prejudices and beliefs or the specific objectives we may be seeking to achieve. Both types of bias are often in play and, as we all know, the critique of any given position (e.g., of a statement, a viewpoint, a judgment, a theory, or appropriateness of a given metaphor) typically involves some kind of evaluation of what has been left out of account, or has been explicitly distorted in some way.

    Critique of any position is thus crucially important. But it is also important to realize that the position of the critic can be critiqued in a similar way, because all critique typically involves one or both types of bias. Hence, the really important questions on both sides of any discussion hinge on whether one is aware of one’s biases, and whether one can consciously take them into account in what one is saying and doing, as opposed to locking into “I am right . . . you are wrong” circular and self-fulfilling arguments of justification based on the assumptions underpinning each proponent’s point of view. In other words, critique as an end in itself is not enough. If one is interested in some form of genuine inquiry it is also important to find what’s missing from both points of view and deal with the paradoxes that are involved when one way of seeing and understanding the situation at hand precludes the other.

    If we view Images of Organization and the debates generated by its publication in these terms, we see the relationship between bias and critique being played out in many forms.1 And, as pointed out in several papers in this volume, the book can be seen as incomplete or biased in several specific ways. For example, as Bhatnagar points out in Chapter 5, my choice of metaphors can be seen as overemphasizing the negative side of organizations and human nature, as opposed to focusing on hope and optimism and the potential for organizations to be “enablers of happiness.” Klein and Huber in Chapter 9 argue that I do not give enough attention to the political use of metaphors. Case et al. in Chapter 12 point out the Anglo and potentially colonial bias, and how the use and interpretation of metaphors is crucially dependent on cultural context. And so on.

    There are many great points of specific critique here and, clearly, there is a lot more that Images of Organization could have said on all these issues. But, for immediate purposes, I am going to focus on two related but more general themes found in many critical discussions of the book. First, the issue of whether it is overly biased toward a managerial perspective. Second, whether it overplays the significance of seeing and “reading” organizational life, as opposed to “authoring,” feeling, and other tactile modes of experience.

    The issue of managerial bias is a really interesting one, since the book is often critiqued from outside management circles for endorsing and promoting a Western management view that gives too little attention to gender, race, and a variety of class-based ideological, material, and political issues. It is also frequently critiqued from within conventional management theory for having a subversive influence that undermines the authority of established management thinking. Interestingly, I agree with elements of both.

    There is definitely a management bias in that the primary aim of the book was to demonstrate the metaphorical basis of organization and management theory, which, at the time of writing the original edition in 1986, was overwhelmingly dominated by a management view.2 There is also a second source of managerial bias, in that to gain the attention of organization and management theorists and practitioners as a core audience, the whole book was framed around a core challenge facing managers and decision makers in all walks of life: that of effectively reading and acting in relation to the situations being faced. In order to do this, I also formulated a method of “diagnostic reading” through which one can improve the art of reading and re-reading organizational situations with effective action in mind. This was illustrated through the “Multicom case” using an approach that parallels the process of open-ended interpretation described by Hari Tsoukas in Chapter 11 of this volume.

    That said, in doing the above I also sought to write a book that, simultaneously, could play a role in deconstructing existing organization and management theory and thinking. (See my article in Chapter 2 for further discussion.) This was achieved in four ways:

    First, and most obviously, by showing how all management views are metaphorical social constructions with no absolute claims to authority (achieved by counter-posing the insights of different metaphors, highlighting strengths and limitations while trying to minimize absolute judgment on my part, and trusting that the counter-positioning could itself help to deconstruct dominant thinking and theoretical perspectives).

    Second, by extending the range of metaphors explored beyond what was typically covered in conventional organization theory at the time. (The psychic prison, flux and transformation, and instrument of domination metaphors were explicitly developed to challenge the core premises of traditional organization and management.)

    Third, my analysis of the “Multicom case” also showed how all metaphors of organization can be used to serve completely different objectives according to the intent of the user. (To do this, I counter-posed the readings and actions that could emerge from a diagnostic reading on the part of a conventional manager or management consultant on the one hand, as opposed to that of a social critic on the other.)

    Fourth, as discussed by Tsoukas in Chapter 11, the book as a whole sought to offer an alternative kind of text that could encourage and support a different approach to teaching in the field of organization and management studies. Instead of offering a definitive position on what organizations are and how to manage them using conventional concepts focused, for example, on relations between organizational structure, strategy, culture, technology, leadership, power, group behavior, etc., I suggested that (a) all of these factors are intertwined, not discrete entities ; (b) given the absence of an absolute, authoritative, non-metaphorical base that all of organization and management theory should be just seen as offering a way of thinking; and (c) that responsibility for interpretation and action ultimately rests with the reader-practitioner as opposed to being found in specific recommendations or instructions within the book itself. The aim was to “foster a kind of critical thinking that encourages us to understand and grasp the multiple meanings of situations and to confront and manage contradiction and paradox rather than pretend that they do not exist” (Morgan 1986: 339).

    So these are among the main reasons why the book can be simultaneously critiqued by management theorists who see it as a subversive text, and also by more “radical” critics who feel that it is overly biased toward a managerial view. Personally, I am very comfortable with the tensions here, and recognize that there may be substance in the critiques from all sides. Different readers and different critics tend to engage with different elements or potentialities of the text according to their interests, objectives, and the organizational situations and challenges with which they are involved. It’s exactly the same issue that I mentioned above in relation to the Multicom case. What resonates, what one learns, what one embraces or critiques, and the conclusions that are drawn are always the product of two-way processes involving both the reader and the text. The really important questions here seem to hinge on what we can learn from this, how we can add meaningful insight to each other’s positions; how we can overcome the oversimplifications and biases present on all sides. For example, what can the conventional management theorist or practitioner learn from “radical” criticism of the exploitative consequences of their thinking and practice? What can the radical critic learn from excellent management practice that enhances the quality of human life? Or just staying with the aims of radical critique, how can one take it further? How can one “flip” its orientation and potential impact? For example, instead of just settling for a critique of the exploitative aspects of existing organization and management, can one develop a new kind of pragmatic organization and management theory for the exploited? In other words, how can we go beyond polarized critique to launch powerful new possibilities?

    So with this in mind, let’s move now to discussion of the second theme relating to potential bias: whether Images of Organization overplays the significance of seeing and “reading” organizational life, as opposed to authoring, feeling, and other tactile modes of experience. The issue is raised specifically in the paper by Case et. al. in Chapter 12, and also underpins some of the discussions of metaphor found in the papers by Cornelissen (Chapter 3), Kerr et. al. (Chapter 8), and in the excellent work that they and others have done in adding to the general literature on the role of metaphor more generally.3My view is that there is definitely a visual bias in my treatment of metaphor that gets played out in many different ways. For example, in Images of Organization and my other work, I make a great deal of the notion that metaphors give us “ways of seeing, and of not seeing”; can “reveal,” “illuminate,” “obscure,” or “hide”; can generate different kinds of “insight”; provide different interpretive “lenses”. And in the first edition, I also discussed how use of different metaphors can provide us with a kind of “binocular vision” that can add to our depth of insight in understanding a phenomenon. I actually say that “when we look at the world with our two eyes we get a different view from that gained by using each eye independently. Each eye sees the same reality in a different way, and when working together, the two combine to produce another way” (Morgan, 1986, p. 340). The visual dimension also underpins the whole idea of “reading” organizations and social life as a kind of text. As Marshall McLuhan (1962, 1964) observed, the printed word is an extension of the eye and in effect privileges the visual sense as opposed to audio, oral, and tactile modes of experience. When we read something we in effect create some kind of visual image of what we are reading about in what is sometimes described as the “mind’s eye.”

    So the visual bias gets played out in many ways, and as John Shotter (1990) pointed out in an early commentary, my emphasis on “reading” organizational life inevitably raises the question of “authoring.” This latter metaphor takes us much more into the detailed processes through which we actively “write” and produce organizational life—a topic that easily justifies a book on its own account. It is also explored in work related to the social construction of reality and the creation and maintenance of different forms of dialogue in various organizational contexts. (See, for example, Cooren, 2004; Gergen, 2001; Grant, Hardy, Oswick & Putnam, 2004, Putnam 1996, Shotter; 2008 & Taylor & Van Every 2000).

    Hence my overall conclusion with regard to all these issues is that while the visual bias underlying my work has served useful purposes in helping us use different metaphors to see, highlight, and read dimensions of organizations that we often don’t see, it does run the danger of overemphasizing the seeing dimension. Hence, I agree fully with the spirit of Shotter’s critique. If we restrict ourselves to using metaphors as just lenses—as often happens in the teaching of these ideas—we implicitly put ourselves in the role of an external observer “looking at” something exterior, and underplaying the ongoing relationship between seeing and acting, and also the reverse. The important challenge, and one that I have recognized in all editions of Images of Organization, is to emphasize the interconnection between seeing, thinking, and acting without asserting any particular sequence here. Seeing can lead to particular ways of thinking and acting. Acting can lead to new ways of seeing and thinking. And so on. All are intertwined.

    For these reasons, and as discussed earlier and in Chapter 2 of this volume, it is important that we treat metaphor as an ontological process of engagement linking interior and exterior worlds, generating metaphors as frames (i.e., epistemological constructs) that shape the nature of specific modes of engagement. I have developed my ideas on the nature of engagement in various ways, most notably in Morgan (1983a, 1996, 2011) and at a practical level in Imaginization: New Mindsets for Seeing Organizing and Managing. This book explicitly develops and illustrates the relationship between reading and writing organizational life with managerial practice in mind. The aim is to show how we are active readers and authors at one and the same time, and how the process of organizing always embodies some form of creative human imagination. These and related issues are also explored in various ways in the discussions and refinements of metaphor offered by Cornelissen (Chapter 3), Grant and Oswick (Chapter 10), and Tsoukas (Chapter 11) (e.g., in emphasizing the “blending” of relations between subject and object, ‘“source and target domains,” etc. In our various ways, we are all emphasizing the interconnected nature of ontology and epistemology, illustrated, for example, in Tsoukas’s discussion in Chapter 11 of the emergent nature of interpretation and action and how the insights generated through metaphor are not just subjective readings but also belong to the nature of the situation explored. Stated in the words I used in Images of Organization, “reality has a tendency to reveal itself in accordance with the perspectives through which it is engaged” (2006, p 339). Different metaphors help us to engage and deal with different aspects of the multidimensionality that’s present. Or as Tsoukas puts it “multiple interpretations of organization-as-text belong to the possibility of the text: the interpretation is not external to the text.” The issues involved here are important ones defining, in the terms used by Grant and Oswick (Chapter 10), an important point of our “journey” in understanding metaphor and its role in understanding organizational life.

    The Continuing Relevance of the Original Eight Metaphors

    This discussion brings us to an issue raised in several papers in this volume about the continuing appropriateness of the frames of analysis offered in Images of Organization (for various perspectives here, see Cornelissen [Chapter 3], Bhatnagar [Chapter 5], Grant and Oswick [Chapter 10], and Case et al. [Chapter 12]). For example, Grant and Oswick suggest that given the rapidly changing world in which we live, it is important to ask whether the eight metaphors of organization are as relevant as they used to be. Case et al. highlight the Western Anglo-bias of these metaphors and do an excellent job deconstructing their meaning and ethical implications when viewed from a variety of international perspectives. They also rightly point out that there is a danger of reifying the metaphors if we see them as static, self-referential entities, as opposed to appreciating their role in more dynamic forms of thought and interpretation.

    My position here is that I fully agree there is danger in treating the eight metaphors as offering a fixed framework, or as offering some definitive “set” with predefined meanings. Though my work has sometimes been interpreted in this way, I have always presented the eight metaphors as just illustrative, inviting people to recognize and embrace the role of metaphor in our thinking and acting, and to use my method of analysis flexibly in reading and understanding the contextual nuance of the situations we are dealing with. (See Tsoukas [Chapter 11] for a clear exposition of this.) While the discussion in Images of Organization inevitably evokes and describes a particular configuration of meaning in connection with each metaphor that’s explored, there can be no doubt that the significance and meaning of any metaphor, hence its resonance and power in understanding and shaping situations, is always going to be context dependent, and needs to be understood in this way. To endorse the relevance and importance of this message, you need look no further than the international analysis presented by Case et al. (Chapter 12). This clearly demonstrates how the meanings of metaphors can always vary. For example, as they illustrate, when we evoke and use what may seem to be a fairly straightforward metaphor in an Anglo Western context (e.g., viewing organizations as machines or organisms) in other ethnic contexts the partner to our conversation or analysis may have great difficulty in making sense of what is being said. Often, the metaphor in question can only be grasped or made intelligible through a constellation of other metaphors that often have very different meanings. In other words, user beware—there are always important social constructions involved in the use of metaphor.

    That said, and recognizing that all metaphors and analytical schemes should be used flexibly with the above considerations in mind, I think that the eight metaphors discussed in Images of Organization are still of considerable relevance because they continue to tap into key elements of the multidimensionality shaping the evolution and character of so much of social, economic, and political life. As Grant and Oswick suggest in Chapter 10, new metaphors are definitely needed to capture and deal with how organizations and the global economy have changed over the last thirty years. But this does not necessarily negate the existence and value of many of the metaphors we already know and use. To illustrate, consider the contemporary relevance of the machine metaphor. If we just associate it with traditional bureaucratic, hierarchical forms of organization, then yes, we may feel that it is getting out of date. But looking more closely to the new, flatter, and more automated forms of organization that have emerged, we can often see mechanistic principles shaping the very basis of what they do. Nobody may be talking about Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management or the principles of Classical Management Theorists anymore. But their thinking has become deeply sedimented in everyday mindsets on what it means to streamline and organize efficiently, and in the operation of many of the automated information and control systems being used to achieve cost effectiveness and customer service as a primary goal. As we know, Frederick Taylor was an engineer whose breakthrough contribution rested in explicitly using his engineering mindset to engineer the conduct of work. He would be truly astonished to see how his conscious and unconscious aims continue to be realized in the modern workplace.

    We could examine the relevance of all eight metaphors in similar terms. Space limitations preclude this here, but it is clear how the organismic metaphor is relevant for understanding the different species of organization that have emerged and their success and failure in dealing with the rapidly changing environment; how brain-like learning is a key for success in times of change; how all organizations are cultures comprised of a network of subcultures, operating within national or international cultural milieu; how political dynamics shape organizational life and the contexts in which they operate; how different approaches to organization and leadership styles may embody deep psychoanalytic and other dimensions; how many organizations continue to use and exploit people and the resources of the planet for selfish corporate ends. And so on.

    Hence, the fundamental issue is not whether the eight metaphors are still relevant as frames for understanding the multidimensionality of organizational life, so much as what new metaphors are also needed to deal with new or neglected challenges. The papers by Cornelissen (Chapter 3), Örtenblad (Chapter 4), Bhatnagar (Chapter 5), Süße et al. (Chapter 6), Virtanen (Chapter 7), Kerr et al. (Chapter 8), and Grant and Oswick (Chapter 10) all address this issue, adding valuable ideas for making progress here.

    However, that said, it is important to realize that we do not need new metaphors for the sake of finding new metaphors. This typically just results in new free-standing epistemological constructs generating new epistemological debate. I agree fully with what Grant and Oswick say in relation to these issues. The fundamental challenge is to find ways of engaging what’s new and of overcoming the deficiencies of our existing modes of understanding. In other words, the quest should be driven ontologically by the phenomena that we are seeking to understand; not just by an epistemological concern for novel theory. The resonance of new generative metaphors in fostering meaningful understanding and action (i.e., in what they allow us to see, capture, and create) is what’s key, along with deep appreciation of their strengths and limitations, and associated ethical, political, ideological, and other considerations.

    Some Concluding Remarks With Regard to Teaching, Research and Future Development

    One of the major aims of the current volume is to bridge Images of Organization with day-to-day teaching in the domain of organization studies and the conduct of future research. So, by way of conclusion, what are some of the key points that need to be made here?

    On the teaching front, I’m just going to refer you again to the paper by Tsoukas in Chapter 11. This summarizes the challenges so well. In today’s world, the most valuable thing we can do for our students, whether they are studying on academic courses or in professional settings, is to help them see, think, and act reflectively, with broad appreciations in mind. As Tsoukas shows, this kind of openness is an eminently achievable goal if we can help them develop the art of “suspended conclusion.” As he puts it, when we recognize that given the multidimensionality of organizational life “there is no Olympian summit from which we may obtain a definitive view,” we are encouraged to adopt multiple perspectives that can bring “extra informational depth” from which new more holistic insights and actions can emerge. This, in a nutshell, is what the use of metaphor and the “reading” methodology offered in Images of Organization helps us to do.

    At a practical level, I see the process of helping students and practitioners gain skill in open-ended reading of the situations being faced as a two-stage challenge. The first and most important objective is to help them appreciate the legitimacy and value of adopting multiple perspectives in understanding any complex situation. They already know this in everyday life. But when it comes to any domain of academic or professional study, a belief about expertise often seems to take hold (e.g., in the idea that there is some definitive theory or technique that will sort out the issues). By using simple case studies or situations from daily life to engage and illustrate the multidimensionality and show and discuss how different metaphors bring different kinds of insights, each with their own inherent limitations and blind spots, the way can be opened to more flexible thinking. In achieving this one has already made a major pedagogical breakthrough compared with more conventional modes of teaching focused on communicating research on specific theories or sets of abstract concepts that, more often than not, just oversimplify how we see and deal with a much more complex reality. In contrast, I believe that it is far more important to invite students to a way of thinking. If one can do this the second objective flows—students become more aware that they have, in effect, to become their own theorists, taking responsibility for interpretations and actions as opposed to relying on abstract concepts and the theories in and of themselves. When given the opportunity to apply ideas in understanding their own situations, with a little luck and encouragement, this empowering message really hits home.

    Moving on to the issue of the role of metaphor in future theory development in organization studies, it is clear that significant developments still need to be made. As Cornelissen notes in Chapter 3, while the metaphorical basis of theory and research is now well recognized in the field at large, relatively little attention has been given in mainstream theory to the fundamental implications of this. As will be evident from virtually every chapter in this volume, great work has been done in understanding more about the operation of metaphor and related tropes by specialists in this area. But as far as mainstream theorists are concerned, many just seem content to recognize that their theory and research is using a metaphor and leave it at that.

    Clearly, this is insufficient. If we recognize that theory is metaphorical, and that because of the multidimensional nature of what we are studying no single theory will ever give us a comprehensive, correct, authoritative point of view, this is something with which mainstream theory needs to deal. As I have discussed throughout this foreword, at minimum, it means that we need to give explicit attention to the partial nature of our theories and what we are doing; to recognize and deal with the inherent limitations of any given point of view and the consequences that result; and be more explicit about the biases that always accompany our theorizing and research because of the personal and institutional intent underlying what we are trying to do.

    On one level, these issues can just be seen as highlighting the socially constructed, ethical, political, and ideological implications of our craft, and be dismissed as providing just one more radical critique. But, more fundamentally, they speak to the essence of what is required to create a more reflective approach to our discipline that can deal with the emerging challenges of our time. As discussed earlier, this requires that we find ways of engaging what’s new in the world, and also overcome the deficiencies of our existing modes of understanding.

    The former is often seen as the more attractive path because it opens the possibility of new theoretical vistas. But the latter is equally important because of the deficiencies and unintended consequences of our existing theories and points of view. As noted earlier, these deficiencies often generate lots of critique. But more often than not it gets polarized in terms of “I am right . . . you are wrong” positions instead of recognizing that both stances can have strengths and inherent limitations. In appreciating this we can often create springboards for more holistic modes of understanding that can help us overcome the blind spots, distortions, and unintended consequences of our thinking. Consensus may never be achieved, especially given the multidimensionality with which we are typically dealing. But something of value can usually be learned from the process. If we can move closer to a view that as theorists and researchers we are just developing and using imperfect tools for understanding the phenomena with which we are engaged, the way can be opened to a degree of constructive self-criticism on which the art of “suspended conclusion” depends and thrives. One of the most important resources that we have as human beings rests in our ability to see, think, and act reflectively with broad appreciations of situations in mind, and to have the wisdom and flexibility to modify and deal with the limits and distortions of our thinking when the world is in effect “telling us,” via the consequences of our actions, that other approaches may be more appropriate. This, in my opinion, captures the open and reflective stance that needs to be further developed in our approach to theory, research, and all aspects of organization, leadership, management, and decision-making practice.

    Finally, to close our general discussion here, I’d like to return to my views on the overall nature and aims of Images of Organization. In their paper in Chapter 12, Case et al make a very interesting comment on the book, suggesting that it can be seen as “the last modern organization theory text and also one of the first postmodern texts.” They also provocatively suggest that while appreciating its contributions it “might ultimately go down as the last gasp of modernist organization studies.” They do a great job deconstructing the Western Anglo bias of the book’s eight metaphors, and I love the modern–post-modern contradiction they highlight because I think they are absolutely right. One can see Images of Organization as an attempt to make a comprehensive statement on the nature of organization theory as a discipline, and its “reading methodology” as offering an integrative perspective that seeks to mobilize competing viewpoints as part of a coherent whole. Very modernist indeed. But for me, just a strategy for gaining the attention of mainstream modernist theory while at the same time deconstructing it.

    As I have noted earlier in this foreword in my discussion of managerial bias, I sought to achieve this deconstructionist aim through all kinds of counter-positioning within a book that ultimately invites us to a mode of thinking that offers a measure of deconstruction of each theory or position it presents, while avoiding final closure around any individual point of view. As discussed in my paper in Chapter 2 of this volume, I like to position my approach as that of a constructive postmodernist—one who recognizes the tentative, biased, incomplete, and contradictory nature of knowledge, but who at the same time seeks to embrace the relativism and do more than just critique every other’s point of view. I am going to leave that essay to give more detail on what I mean here.

    And as to the specific issue of whether Images of Organization represents “the last gasp of modernist organization studies”? In line with what I have said above I’d prefer it to be seen as a work seeking to advance organization and management theory while deconstructing it. The challenge is whether the approach initiated in 1986 can continue to encourage and legitimize a more diverse and open approach to inquiry that respects the complexity and competing interests embodied in the phenomena with which we have to deal. Needless to say, I think we can continue to rely on a loyal ally here. It’s called metaphor—a process that helps us to construct and deconstruct our thinking at one and the same time.

    Adler, P. (Ed). (2010). The Oxford handbook of organization studies. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
    Alvesson, M. (1992). Critical management studies. London, England: Sage.
    Alvesson, M. (2003). Studying management critically. London, England: Sage.
    Alvesson, M., Bridgman, T., & Willmott, H. (Eds.). (2009). The Oxford handbook of critical management studies. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
    Alvesson, M., & Willmott, H. (2012). Making sense of management. London, England: Sage.
    Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (Eds.). (2011). Metaphors we lead by: Understanding leadership in the real world. New York, NY: Routledge.
    Boxenbaum, E., & Rouleau, L. (2011). New knowledge products as bricolage: Metaphors and scripts in organizational theory. Academy of Management Review, 36, 272296.
    Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (1979). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis. London, England: Ashgate.
    Cooren, F. (2004). Textual agency: How texts do things in organizational settings. Organization, 11, 373393.
    Cornelissen, J. P. (2004). What are we playing at? Theatre, organization, and the use of metaphor. Organization Studies, 25, 705726.
    Cornelissen, J. P. (2005). Beyond compare: Metaphor in organization theory. Academy of Management Review, 30, 751764.
    Cornelissen, J. P. (2006). Metaphor and the dynamics of knowledge in organization theory: A case study of the organizational identity metaphor. Journal of Management Studies, 43, 683709.
    Cornelissen, J. P. (2008). Metonymy in language about organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 45(1), 7999.
    Cornelissen, J. P., & Durand, R. (2014). Moving forward: Developing theoretical contributions in management studies. Journal of Management Studies, 51, 9951022.
    Cornelissen, J. P., & Kafouros, M. (2008). The emergent organization: Primary and complex metaphors in theorizing about organizations. Organization Studies, 29, 957978.
    Cornelissen, J. P., Kafouros, M., & Lock, A. R. (2005). Metaphorical images of organization: How organizational researchers develop and select organizational metaphors. Human Relations, 58, 15451578.
    Cornelissen, J. P., Oswick, C., Thoger Christensen, L., & Phillips, N. (2008). Metaphor in organizational research: Context, modalities and implications for research introduction. Organization Studies, 29(1), 722.
    Gergen, K. (2001). Social construction in context. London, England: Sage.
    Grant, D. C., Hardy, C. Oswick, & L. Putnam. (Eds.). (2004). The Sage handbook of organizational discourse. London, England: Sage.
    Grant, D., & Oswick, C. (Eds.). (1996). Metaphor and organizations. London, England: Sage.
    Grey, C., & Willmott, H. (Eds.). (2005). Critical management studies: A reader. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
    Inns, D. (2002). Metaphor in the literature of organizational analysis: A preliminary taxonomy and a glimpse at a humanities-based perspective. Organization, 9, 305330.
    Inns, D., & Jones, P. J. (1996). Metaphor in organization theory: Following in the footsteps of the poet? In D. Grant & C. Oswick (Eds.), Metaphor and organizations (pp. 110126). London, England: Sage.
    Lakoff, G. (1993). The contemporary theory of metaphor. Metaphor and Thought, 2, 202251.
    Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
    Mangham, I., & Overington, M. A. (1987). Organizations as theatre: A social psychology of dramatic appearances. Chichester, England: Wiley.
    McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg galaxy. London, England: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
    McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media. London, England: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
    Morgan, G. (1980). Paradigms, metaphors and puzzle solving in organization theory. Administrative Science Quarterly, 25, 605622.
    Morgan, G. (Ed.). (1983a). Beyond method: Strategies for social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    Morgan, G. (1983b). More on metaphor: Why we cannot control tropes in administrative science. Administrative Science Quarterly, 27, 601607.
    Morgan, G. (1986, 1997, 2006). Images of organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    Morgan, G. (1993). Imaginization: The art of creative management. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (Republished as Imaginization: New mindsets for seeing, thinking and organizing, and managing, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 1997).
    Morgan, G. (1996). Is there anything more to be said about metaphor? In D. Grant & C. Oswick (Eds.), Metaphor and organizations. London, England: Sage.
    Morgan, G. (1998). Images of organization: The executive edition. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
    Morgan, G. (2011). Reflections on images of organization and its implications for organization and environment. Organization & Environment, 24, 459478.
    Morgan G. (2016). Commentary: Beyond Morgan’s eight metaphors. Human Relations, 69, 10291042.
    Oswick, C., & Grant, D. (1996). Organization development: Metaphorical explorations. London, England: Pitman.
    Oswick, C., Keenoy, T., & Grant, D. (2002). Metaphor and analogical reasoning in organization theory: Beyond orthodoxy. Academy of Management Review, 27, 294303.
    Oswick, C., Putnam, L. L., & Keenoy, T. (2004). Tropes, discourse and organizing. In D. Grant, C. Hardy, C. Oswick, & L. L. Putnam (Eds.), The Sage handbook of organizational discourse (pp. 105127). London, England: Sage.
    Pinto, J. (2016). “Wow! That’s so cool!” The Icehotel as organizational trope. Human Relations, 69, 891914.
    Putnam, L. L. (1996). Commentary: Situating the author and text. Journal of Management Inquiry, 5, 382386.
    Putnam, L. L., & Boys, S. (2006). Revisiting metaphors of organizational communication. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, T. B. Lawrence, & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Sage handbook of organization studies (pp. 541576). London, England: Sage.
    Putnam, L. L., Phillips, N., & Chapman, P. (1996). Metaphors of communication and organization. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of organization studies (pp. 375408). London, England: Sage.
    Sackmann, S. (1989). The role of metaphors in organisation transformation. Human Relations, 42, 463485.
    Sandberg, J., & Tsoukas, H. (2011). Grasping the logic of practice: Theorizing through practical rationality. Academy of Management Review, 36, 338360.
    Schoeneborn, D., Vasquez, C., & Cornelissen, J. P. (2016). Imagining organization through metaphor and metonymy: Unpacking the process-entity paradox. Human Relations, 69, 915944.
    Schön, D. A. (1963). Invention and the evolution of ideas. London, England: Tavistock.
    Schön, D. A. (1993). Generative metaphor: A perspective on problem-setting in social policy. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and thought (
    ed., pp. 137163). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1979)
    Shotter, J. (1990). The manager as author. In: Knowing of the Third Kind, Utrecht, 21726.
    Shotter, J. (2008). Dialogism and polyphony in organizing theorizing in organization studies: Action guiding anticipations and the continuous creation of novelty. Organization Studies, 29, 501524.
    Taylor, J. R., & Van Every, E. J. (2000). The emergent organization: Communication as its site and surface. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    Townley, B. (1994). Reframing human resource management. London, England: Sage.
    Tsoukas, H. (1991). The missing link: A transformational view of metaphors in organizational science. Academy of Management Review, 16, 566585.
    Tsoukas, H. (1993). Analogical reasoning and knowledge generation in organization theory. Organization Studies, 14, 323346.
    Tsoukas, H. (1994). Refining common sense: Types of knowledge in management studies. Journal of Management Studies, 31, 761780.
    Tsoukas, H. (2005). Complex knowledge: Studies in organizational epistemology. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

    1 As discussed in Morgan (1996) and in the Reflections paper reproduced here in Chapter 2, Images of Organization has been critiqued from many perspectives. For example: because it gives too much attention to organizations as physical entities; because it encourages the use of metaphor as opposed to promoting more literal modes of understanding; because it does not offer a definitive view and is open to many interpretations; because responsibility for interpretation is left with the reader; because it overplays the role of metaphor as opposed to other tropes; because it is too relativist and subjectivist in approach; because it is too idealistic; because it encourages a form of “libertarian anarchism”; because it implies there is a “supermarket” of metaphors open to selection according to consumer choice; because it creates superficial as opposed to depth understandings; because it undermines rational explanations of social life; because it can foster and support ideological distortions; because it ignores or underplays the role of power in shaping all aspects of life; because it attributes too much power to individuals in shaping their realities; because it gives too much attention to “reading” as opposed to “authoring” situations; because it underplays the role of gender; because it does not give prominence to racial issues; because it has a Western bias; because it is too oriented to a management view. And so on. While these may all be valid points that can contribute to valuable learning—especially when gaps in knowledge and argument and various forms of intent / interest-based bias are being pointed out—all I want to suggest here is that in evaluating the critique we also take a close look at the metaphors and biases shaping the critic’s point of view since bias exists on both sides of the argument in question (i.e., with both critic and critiqued). The interesting question is whether it is possible to embrace key elements of both points of view without throwing out the proverbial “baby with the bath water.” However, that said, while it may be possible to learn from each other’s views, complete reconciliation or consensus often remains beyond reach if the protagonists are locked into fundamentally different ontological and epistemological positions. In these circumstances the one side often fails to “hear” the other because what is said is typically heard and interpreted within the dominant frame of the hearer. And vice versa. (See Chapter 2 in this volume, Morgan (1980, 1983a, 1996), and Burrell and Morgan (1979) for further discussion of this issue in relation to the nature of organization and management theory in a multi-paradigm world.)

    2 It is important to note that the last thirty years have seen a huge extension of organization theory into the domain of critical management studies building on a variety of Marxian, Radical Weberian, and other social critiques developed through the Frankfurt School and the work of Foucault and other deconstructionist critics. See, for example, Adler (2010), Alvesson (1992, 2003), Alvesson and Willmott (2012), Alvesson et al. (2009), Grey and Willmott (2005), Townley (1995). Though sometimes incorporated within mainstream organization and management theory, the insights of the critical management theorists often remain in a kind of parallel universe because of the underlying differences in worldview, ideology, and the paradigm issues discussed in Burrell and Morgan (1979). My discussion of the psychic prison, flux, and transformation and instrument of domination metaphors in Images of Organization specifically drew on some of these alternative theoretical foundations and, as discussed in Chapter 2 of this volume, sought through a counter-position of perspectives to provide some measure of deconstruction of more accepted organization and management metaphors (i.e., offering a form of critique from within not just from outside).

    3 See, for example, Alvesson & Spicer, 2011; Boxenbaum & Rouleau, 2011; Cornelissen, 2004, 2005, 2006; Cornelissen and Durand, 2014; Cornelissen and Kafouros, 2008; Cornelissen, et al., 2005, 2008; Grant and Oswick, 1996; Inns, 2002; Lakoff, 1994; Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Mangham and Overington, 1987; Morgan, 1983, 1996, 2016; Oswick and Grant, 1996; Oswick et.al., 2002, 2004, 2011; Putnam and Boys, 2006; Putnam et al., 1996; Sackmann, 1989; Sandberg and Tsoukas, 2011; Schon, 1963, 1979; Tsoukas, 1991, 1993, 1994, 2005. A lot of work has also been conducted on the significance of other tropes alongside metaphor, (i.e., metonymy, synecdoche, and irony, For further discussion see Cornelissen, 2008; Morgan, 2011, 2016; Oswick et al., 2004; Pinto, 2016; Schoeneborn et. al., 2016.


    This edited volume serves two main purposes. First, it pays tribute to Gareth Morgan’s seminal book, Images of Organization, on its 30th anniversary. In particular, it recognizes the critical role that this book has played in management circles, especially its reach to a broad audience of readers—students, scholars, and practitioners. To this end, the editors asked the contributors to this volume to reflect on 1) how they first came in contact with Images of Organization (hereafter Images), 2) how they used the book, and 3) what the book meant to them and to the field of organizational studies. While page limits prohibit reproducing the full set of responses, the comments that contributors made clustered into five key categories of influence: inspiring scholars and students, developing teaching and training strategies, bridging disciplinary boundaries, enriching theoretical and conceptual discussions, and reflecting on the field at large.

    Inspiring Scholars and Students

    A number of contributors pointed out how Images served as a source of inspiration for them and their students through “opening their eyes,” “developing curiosity,” “questioning,” and “challenging dominant thinking.”

    • Joep Cornelissen: The book was a real eye opener, in that in a single master stroke, it laid out how our theories and thinking about organizations [are] fundamentally metaphorical.
    • Turo Virtanen: [Images] is a source of inspiration. . . . [It] opened my eyes for metaphorical thinking . . . [and] shows that there are alternative ways to do research.
    • David Grant: I liked the way that Images posed as many questions as it provided answers, and [I was] inspired by its use of metaphor in playful, provocative, and imaginative ways that opened up new possibilities. Since those days, whether in relation to my teaching or research, I’ve always been grateful to the book (and therefore to Gareth) for giving me the courage to question and challenge dominant thinking about organizational theory and practice.
    • Cliff Oswick: I first read Images in 1988 when I was an HR practitioner and part-time lecturer. For me, [it] acted as an intellectual tipping point. Within a year, I was [a] full-time academic and my love affair with metaphor as a central theme of my research and critical component of my teaching had started (and it shows no signs of abating). It is fair to say that Gareth Morgan’s work has impacted my thinking in a very deep and profound way.
    Developing Teaching and Training Strategies

    Related to this inspiration, several contributors recognized Morgan’s Images as “the best textbook” in organizational studies. It achieved this acclaim through its accessibility, novel approach, engaging rhetorical style, and translation of complex ideas for novices and for multiple audiences. In this way, the book has been adopted in a variety of pedagogical and training circles.

    • Ron Kerr, Sarah K. Robinson, and Carole Elliott: We have used Images extensively in our teaching, for example, [with] second-year students about how [the field] characterizes organizations. We wrote it into Open University courses. . . . It’s an important contribution because it makes organizational studies accessible. Some of our Open University students found studying the metaphors [in Morgan’s book] to be the watershed moment [for them that] enabled them to move from experiencing organizations to studying and theorizing about them.
    • Vitor Hugo Klein Jr.: [Images] was extremely important in our training . . . it presents a wide range of perspectives in the field of organization theory in an accessible way. At the same time, its rhetorical style and the many examples used in the book were, from a practitioner’s point of view, very important in making complex issues within theory useful . . . for organizational analysis.
    • Bernd-Friedrich Voigt:Images has guided a number of my international executive trainings. Participants, especially from Asian countries, value Morgan’s mind-opening variety of unbiased organizational perspectives.
    • Vikas Rai Bhatnagar: As a practitioner [who was] leading the HR function of a multinational corporation, . . . I was mesmerized by Images and drew immense insights for strategizing HR interventions. I remember carrying out an action research project . . . in which I operated from the adaptive metaphor of an organism . . . and the group executive officer operated from a strong metaphor of a machine. . . . [In this situation, I asked ] “How do I create a process that blends two opposing metaphors . . . and make an impact to the initiative of leadership development?” We were successfully able to develop leadership as well as create knowledge by being informed on how metaphors play in the context of organizations. . . . [Images is] one of the finest books in the field of organization behavior . . . [and has] immense practical implications for making a difference to the lives of people in organizations.
    Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries

    Our contributors also pointed out how Morgan’s Images crossed disciplinary boundaries and became an excellent resource for interdisciplinary teaching, research, and practice.

    • Uta Wilkens: The book is of high value for interdisciplinary teaching. It helps us understand different mental models and bridge different views, especially between business and engineering . . . or business studies and linguistics.
    • Bernd-Friedrich Voigt: Today the book also enhances our interdisciplinary research activities on understanding the logics of organizing for integrated solutions.
    • Christian Huber: I find [the book] inspirational for looking at the ways [that] management accountants see the world—which is one of numbers, not always just a machine. I think this illustrates part of the power and appeal of the book—its ideas are not restricted to a single discipline or field.
    Enriching Theoretical and Conceptual Discussions

    Scholars also employed Images to engage in theory building and develop new concepts in an array of organizational arenas, such as corporate identity, organizational communication, organizational transformation, imagination, and the nature of metaphor itself.

    • Thomas Süße: For me, this book enriches the theoretical discourse of organizational research by its highly inspiring style of discussing and reflecting on organizational phenomena.
    • Linda L. Putnam:Images was the inspiration for several chapters that I co-authored on the role of communication in organizational studies. It enabled me to challenge the dominant notion that communication is merely a conduit for transmitting or exchanging information and to embrace the critical role of multiple metaphors, such as symbol, voice, linkages, and performance in the development of a field.
    • Uta Wilkens: Since the time when we were students, Morgan’s Images have always been a guideline for understanding and distinguishing organizations. But it took a while until we started to make use of the concept actively in our empirical research. That was when we had to explain the organizational transformation from product-based companies to integrated product-service systems (IPSS) with their ambiguous demands.
    • Vitor Hugo Klein Jr.: My interest in Morgan’s work was renewed . . . when I started to develop a curiosity about the role of imagination in organizations. Reading Images of Organization again and, this time [with] an understanding [of] other studies of metaphors produced since Morgan’s seminal work, I was surprise[ed] to find out that very little was written about imagination.
    Reflecting on the Field

    These theoretical discussions led to ways of using Images to reflect on the field of organizational studies. Contributors to this volume employed Morgan’s Images as “a summary of perspectives,” “a map of the field,” and “an analytical tool” for reading organizations. Some of them highlighted how the pluralistic stance of this book illuminated the notion of paradigms and the role of multiple lenses in depicting the development of a field.

    © iStockphoto.com/avalon1973

    • Bernd-Friedrich Voigt:Images provides an easy access [and] overall summary of perspectives in organizational studies. . . . The book is placed on my desk—not in the book shelf.
    • Anders Örtenblad: As an undergraduate student in 1989, I [took] a course on organization theory [and used Images as the textbook]. It felt as if the book was written directly for me. . . . Immediately I felt that I had gotten “adjustable multiple glasses”/“trial frame” to understand all the other literatures. . . . Since then, these glasses have been my map of organization theory (even of the world).
    • Vitor Hugo Klein Jr.: Published in the 80s when writing (and talking) about metaphors was considered something rather eccentric in the field of organization theory, Images came as an insightful contribution. The book . . . gave way to a vision of pluralism of perspectives. Despite being harshly criticized at the time, Morgan’s option for pluralism was fortunate. Organizational studies are marked today much more by pluralism than by paradigmatic consensus.
    • Christian Huber: When PhDs in Germany or Austria receive their training in methodology, the story almost always starts with Kuhn’s paradigms. That’s a nice idea but usually students find it difficult to see the point. [Morgan’s Images] makes this point vivid and understandable. . . . If I had to highlight one single achievement of the book, it is that it has enabled a pluralistic form of organization studies as a discipline to become legitimate.
    • Turo Virtanen: [Images provides] a conceptual structure that makes understandable the main differences between . . . schools of organization theory; students use the metaphors as analytical tools in group work when they read a book about organizations and try to find elements consistent with the main ideas of Morgan’s metaphors.

    Overall, the collective voices of the contributors to this volume underscored the value of this book, the reason it has stood the test of time, and the many uses of Morgan’s Images. As several authors pointed out, prior to the 1980s, metaphor was a literary and linguistic device that was foreign to organizational studies. Now, as Tsoukas notes in Chapter 11, metaphor has become normalized as a way “to read” organizational life.

    A second main purpose of this volume is to provide exemplars of the vastly different ways that scholars, students, and practitioners have used Images to engage in organizational analysis, to conduct research, and to extend theory/concept development. To this end, the book contains chapters that provide theoretical explanations and frameworks, such as Chapter 2 on Morgan’s views of metaphor and Chapter 3 on how metaphors work. It also contains empirical studies (see Chapter 6 on IPSS and Chapter 7 on leadership) and case studies and exemplars that examine the role of images in the visual and digital turns in organizations (Chapter 8) and in the international arena (Chapter 12). It includes essays that set forth new metaphors (Chapters 5 and 10), presents typologies for using metaphors in organizational analysis (Chapter 4), and sing praises as well as provide critiques of Images (Chapters 11 and 9, respectively).

    To aid in using this edited volume, each chapter provides a list of key terms and learning points that capture insights from the readings. Furthermore, the volume contains an overall glossary that consolidates definitions of key concepts across the book. In this way, it could be used as a companion to Morgan’s Images. In particular, Chapters 2 (Morgan) and 3 (Cornelissen) of this volume expand on and develop ideas from Chapter 1 of Images, particularly in updating Morgan’s insights on how metaphors function as ways of seeing and shaping organizational life. Chapter 4 (Örtenblad) of this volume also extends Chapter 10 of Images and explicates alternative ways to use metaphor for conducting diagnostic readings and organizational analyses.

    Chapters in this volume also illustrate as well as apply key concepts from Morgan’s book. Specifically, Chapter 5 (Bhatnagar) applies action research to predate, inform, and contribute to culture as a metaphor and thus, it could be used in conjunction with Chapter 5 of Images. Chapter 6 (Süße, Voigt, & Wilkens) develops a triangle of three mutually reinforcing metaphors (i.e., the brain, organism, flux and transformation) to explain connectivity and information flows in organizational environments and could be used in conjunction with Chapters 3, 4, and 8 in Morgan’s book.

    Both Chapters 7 and 8 of this volume interface with multiple chapters in Morgan’s Images. Chapter 7 (Viranen) applies the machine, organism, brain, political system, and culture metaphors (Chapters 26 of Images) to an analysis of leadership and Chapter 8 (Kerr, Robinson, & Elliott) develops a case exemplar that draws on Chapters 4 (brain), 7 (psychic prisons), and 8 (flux and transformation) of Images and offers an example similar to Morgan’s Chapter 11.

    Table 1 Alignment of Chapters With Morgan‘s Images

    In the final section on reflections and commentaries, Chapter 9 (Klein & Huber) sets forth a critique of imagination that could be used in conjunction with Chapter 6 (political systems metaphor) and Chapter 9 (instruments of domination) of Images as well as the entire book. Exploring a new metaphor, Chapter 10 (Grant & Oswick) extends ideas developed in Chapter 8 (flux and transformation) of Morgan’s book. The last two chapters of the edited volume (Chapters 11 and 12 by Tsoukas and Case et al., respectively) also address applications of Morgan’s book for reflective thinking, reading organizations as texts, and using Images in international contexts.

    In summary, we hope that the readers of this book might see metaphors and Morgan’s Images in a new light. Chapters in this volume serve as a compendium for the vast work on metaphors and organizations and as stimulus to explore new terrains that might lead to the development of alternative metaphors. It also provides exemplars of the multifaceted ways that scholars are using Morgan’s Images for organizational analysis, research, and theory development. Above all, it pays tribute to a seminal book that in many ways has transformed management thinking about the complexities of and possibilities for organizations.

    We close this preface with a special thanks to our contributors, our publisher, and our reviewers who helped make this book possible. The following reviewers vetted manuscripts that scholars submitted for possible publication in this volume and provided excellent feedback to the authors in revising their chapters. Special thanks to the following reviewers:

    • Andrea Bernardi, Manchester Metropolitan University
    • Orlando E. Blake, University of Arizona, South
    • Pavel Bogolyubov, Lancaster University Management School
    • Gibson Burrell, Leeds University
    • Marya Doefel, Rutgers University
    • Albert G. Elam, International Business Academy
    • Tammy Fitzpatrick, Argosy University
    • Steve Fox, Queen Mary University
    • Christeen George, University of Hertfordshire
    • Francis Green, University of Birmingham
    • Jim Gritton, University of Greenwich
    • James E. Harris, St. Norbert College
    • Mary Jo Hatch, University of Virginia
    • John Johnson, University of Kentucky
    • Sue Kavli, Dallas Baptist University
    • Yeonsoo Kim, University of Nevada Las Vegas
    • Melrona Kirrane, Dublin City University
    • Joseph Kretovics, Western Michigan University
    • Jeffrey Lewis, Pitzer College
    • Renee Maday, Arizona State University
    • Sarah Marshall, Central Michigan University
    • Ivan Matic, University of Split
    • Regina L. Garza Mitchell, Western Michigan University
    • John Nirenberg, Walden University
    • Östen Ohlsson, University of Gothenburg
    • Anita Pankake, University of Texas Pan-American
    • Gary Pheiffer, London Metropolitan University
    • Roberto Hugh Potter, University of Central Florida
    • Murray James Pyle, Marywood University
    • Joe Raelin, Northeastern University
    • Hans Petter Saxi, Nord University
    • Chrysavgi Sklaveniti, Strathclyde University Business School
    • Patricia Sotirin, Michigan Technological University
    • Basak Ucanok Tan, Istanbul Bilgi University
    • Scott Taylor, University of Birmingham
    • Jeffrey Treem, University of Texas at Austin
    • Richard Vail, Colorado Mesa University

    Our thanks as well to Niels Pflaeging for the idea to include a quote by Gareth Morgan alongside his photo.

    —Anders Örtenblad, Linda L. Putnam, and Kiran Trehan

    About the Editors

    Anders Örtenblad is professor of organization and leadership at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Nord University, Norway. His main research interests are fashionable management ideas and their travel in space and time, organizational learning and the learning organization, management education, and the use of metaphors for and in the study of organizations and education. He has published articles in journals such as Human Relations, Management Learning, and International Journal of Management Reviews and he has edited books published by Edward Elgar, Routledge, and SAGE.

    Kiran Trehan is professor of leadership and enterprise development at Birmingham University. Her research interests are leadership, emotions, and diversity in organizations. She has published a number of journal articles, policy reports, books, and book chapters in the field. Her work has been supported by grants from research councils, government departments, regional and local agencies, and the private sector. She has been a guest editor for multiple journals and serves in national advisory roles that shape debates and policy in leadership, diversity, and enterprise development.

    Linda L. Putnam is a research professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her current research interests include discourse analysis in organizations, negotiation and organizational conflict, and gender. She is the co-editor of 12 books, including The Sage Handbook of Organizational Communication (2014) and Building Theories of Organization: The Constitutive Role of Communication (2009), and she is the author/co-author of over 180 journal articles and book chapters. She is a Distinguished Scholar of the National Communication Association, a Fellow of the International Communication Association, and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Academy of Management.

    “It is impossible to develop new styles of organization and management while continuing to think in old ways.”

    Gareth Morgan

    Courtesy of Gareth Morgan

    Gareth Morgan is Distinguished Research Professor at the Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, Canada. He is author or co-author of several books on social and organizational theory and research, including Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis (with Gibson Burrell), Beyond Method, Images of Organization, Riding the Waves of Change, and Imaginization: New Ways of Seeing, Organizing and Managing. His work has been published in numerous leading journals including Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Human Relations, Organization and Environment, and Organization Studies. He has a particular research interest in the challenges of turbulent environments and transformations related to digital technology and been elected Life Fellow of the International Academy of Management for his international contributions to the science and art of management.

    About the Contributors

    Vikas Rai Bhatnagar is a visiting faculty member at the Indian Institute of Management (Indore) and the Jaipuria School of Business (Indirapuram), both in India. His research interests include leadership, employee happiness, and organizational change. He was the recipient of the World HRD Congress HR, Researcher of the Year Award in 2013. Prior to this, he held key roles in multinational corporations such as GE, Aventis, and Bayer. He leads an action research firm in India, providing action research services to diverse organizations.

    Mikael Holmgren Caicedo is associate professor at Stockholm Business School, Stockholm University, Sweden. His research interests are on the organization of management accounting and control and the poetics and rhetoric of organizational and accounting practices, specifically the structures and forms that are advocated by formal and informal standard-setting communities. His work has been published in journals including Culture and Organization, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, and Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Organizational Change.

    Peter Case is professor of organization studies, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England. He also holds a part time chair at James Cook University, Australia. His research interests encompass organization theory, organizational ethics and international development. He served as general editor of Culture & Organization (2007-10) and has published widely in such journals as Organization, Human Relations, Journal of Management Studies and Management Learning.

    Joep Cornelissen is professor of corporate communication and management at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, The Netherlands. His research focuses on the role of corporate and managerial communication in the context of innovation, entrepreneurship and change, and social evaluations of the legitimacy and reputation of firms. His work has been published in the Academy of Management Review, Journal of Management Studies, Organization Science, and Organization Studies, and he has written a general text on corporate communication (Corporate Communication: A Guide to Theory and Practice, Sage) that is now in its fourth edition.

    Carole Elliott is professor of HRD at the University of Roehampton Business School, UK, and a Visiting Fellow at George Washington University, Washington, DC. Her research interests are in management and leadership learning, with a focus on the critical examination of women’s leadership. Other projects include the development of critical hermeneutic and visual methods; this work is now extending to examinations of the role of websites in creating revisionist histories of organizations. She is editor-in-chief of Human Resource Development International.

    Hugo Gaggiotti is principal lecturer at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, UK. His current research centers on issues relating to ethnographic analysis of professional mobility, nomadic management, and forms of organizing in the borderlands. His work has appeared in a range of interdisciplinary journals, including Annals of Anthropological Practice, Culture and Organization, Journal of Organizational Change Management and Journal of Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management. His latest book is Un Lugar en su Sitio: Narrativas y Organización Cultural Urbana en El Espacio Latinoamericano (Doble J, 2006).

    Jonathan Gosling is an independent academic, Emeritus Professor at Exeter University, and visiting positions at universities in Canada, China, Denmark, and Slovenia. His current research examines the leadership of malaria elimination programs, Chinese philosophical influences on management and business, and the relations of shame and remorse to “responsible leadership.” His most recent books are a study of power tactics, based on the career of Napoleon Bonaparte and modern comparators; and a textbook on “One Planet Business.” He is lead faculty at the Forward.Institute, co-founder of coachingourselves.com, and a director of Pelumbra Ltd.

    David Grant is pro-vice chancellor at Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Australia. His research focuses on how language and other symbolic media influence the practice of leadership and organization-wide, group, and individual-level change. He is a co-editor of the SAGE Handbook of Organizational Discourse (2004), Metaphor and Organizations (1996), and Organisation Development: Metaphorical Explorations (1996) and is a co-founder of the International Centre for Organizational Discourse Strategy and Change.

    Christian Huber is a lecturer at the Helmut Schmidt University–University of the Federal Armed Forces, Hamburg, Germany. His research interests include imagination, mindfulness, management accounting, risk management, public sector organizations, valuation, and the use of literature in organizational theory. His work has been published in journals such as Human Relations, Management Accounting Research, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Journal of Management Inquiry, and the Journal of Business Ethics.

    Ron Kerr is senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Business School. His research interests include the application of Bourdieu’s concepts to management and organizations, discourse and leadership in organizations, and the role of the Scottish banks in the global financial crisis. He has published in journals including Critical Discourse Studies, Human Relations, Organization Studies, Organization, and the British Journal of Management.

    Vitor Hugo Klein Jr. is assistant professor at the Department of Public Governance at the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina, Brazil. He is a member of Strategos (Strategy and Organizations) research group at the Escola Superior de Administração e Gerência (Esag). His research interests include organizational behavior, leadership, and risk management. He is currently investigating the role of imagination in organizations.

    Cliff Oswick is professor of organization theory at Cass Business School, City University London. His research interests focus on the application of aspects of discourse, dramaturgy, tropes, narrative, and rhetoric to the study of management, organizations, organizing processes, and organizational change. He has published over 140 academic articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is the European editor for Journal of Organizational Change Management and associate editor for Journal of Change Management.

    Sarah K. Robinson is a reader in management and organization studies at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. She has a long-standing interest in visual and digital approaches to organizational analysis and her research includes applications of critical hermeneutics to management and organization studies. She has published widely, including in Human Relations, Organization Studies, Organization, British Journal of Management, and Management Learning.

    Thomas Süße Research and Teaching Fellow at the Chair for Human Resources and Work Process Management at the Institute of Work Science, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany. His research particularly concentrates on issues about organizational learning and renewal in the context of highly ambiguous and dynamic business environments. In that regard, he mainly focuses on the trend of servitization of production toward integrated product-service systems (IPSS), on digitalization of work processes and the emergence of new forms of organizing.

    Haridimos Tsoukas is the Columbia Ship Management Professor of Strategic Management in the University of Cyprus in Cyprus and a Distinguished Research Environment Professor at University of Warwick, UK. His research interests include knowledge-based perspectives on organizations, the management of organizational change and social reforms, organizational becoming; practical reason and the epistemology of practice, and meta-theoretical issues in organizational theory. He is the co-founder with Ann Langley of the annual International Symposium on Process Organization and co-editor of the Perspectives on Process Organization Studies, published annually by Oxford University Press. He is the author of Complex Knowledge: Studies in Organizational Epistemology (Oxford University Press, 2005), If Aristotle were a CEO (in Greek, Kastaniotis, 2012, 4th edition), and Philosophical Organization Theory (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

    Turo Virtanen is adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki. His research interests are in management and leadership of universities, knowledge management, human resource management, theory of social action and power, organizational and leadership culture, and public management. He has undertaken numerous external roles as a member or chair of many panels assessing the quality of academic research, accrediting study programs, reviewing institutions, and assessing quality assurance systems in Finland and many European countries.

    Bernd-Friedrich Voigt is a research and teaching fellow at the Chair for Human Resources and Work Process Management at the Institute of Work Science, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany. His research focuses on measuring and managing heterogeneity. He is also founder and owner of Managing Organizations, an internationally operating consulting, training, and researching company that engages in executive leadership development, competence portfolio management, and diversity management.

    Uta Wilkens is professor of human resources and work process management at the Institute of Work Science, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, and was a research fellow at MIT and the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Her research is on dynamic capabilities, organizational change, individual competencies, new employment relationships, and new fields of business such as product-service systems. From 2008 to 2015, she was the Ruhr-Universität Bochum vice rector for teaching, continuous education, and international affairs. She is a reviewer for international journals in management studies.

  • Glossary1

    Actively viewing contemporary organizations:

    A combination of reading the text, seeing the visual elements, and looking for omissions.

    Actor-network theorists:

    Scholars who employ a theory in which language comprises networks of interaction between human and nonhuman actors; thus, nonhumans have the capacity to act or participate in networks.


    A socialized impulse, driving how people interact and connect with one another in social situations, often in seemingly spontaneous and unpredictable ways; a new metaphor that generates alternative understandings of new forms of organizations.


    A person who studies an organization or a set of organizations either to develop it or to do research on it.

    Animate or inanimate:

    Having or lacking the features of living beings.

    Applied metaphor approach:

    A research approach in which metaphor is applied to organizational analysis.

    Applied research:

    Systematic inquiry that involves the application of scientific theories and methods for a specific purpose.


    Words or grammatical forms that express appreciation or approval of the speaker.

    Big Data:

    Data sets so vast or complex that they defy conventional methods of analysis.

    Bureaucratic leadership:

    Inspired by the machine metaphor, refers to centrality of rules, hierarchical power, and active supervision.

    Cognitive perspective:

    An approach that focuses on knowing and perceiving; relying on cognitions or mental states.


    The quality of being concise or economical in generating ideas.

    Comparison model:

    Comparing two concepts to identify discrete properties that apply to both of them; an alternative explanation for how metaphor works.

    Complex metaphors:

    Using conceptual blending and elaboration to fit small pieces of a metaphor into a large whole.

    Complexity science:

    The continual producing and reproducing of an organization out of a complex and causal interplay of forces.

    Connectionist images:

    Images related to treating mental or behavioral processes as products of interconnected networks.

    Connotational field:

    A setting in which a certain word is given a particular meaning.


    Integrating ideas through linking them across cultures, knowledge, industry, and economic boundaries.

    Critical theory:

    A theory that addresses power, domination, and oppression and aims for human emancipation.

    Cultural artefact:

    An object that conveys information and meaning about the community of humans that developed it.

    Dead metaphors:

    Metaphors that are taken literally and no longer function as symbols.

    Descriptive metaphor:

    A metaphor in which the target and domain concepts are very similar; a metaphor aimed at describing rather than generating images.

    Digital turn:

    An increased academic interest in and focus on the digital and social media of organizing and organizations.

    Discriminant analysis:

    A statistical method used to find a combination of features/variables that separate one object from other objects for classification and interpretation.

    Discursive approaches:

    Research approaches grounded in language and discourse processes.

    Dis-integrated organizations:

    Transnational corporations that are assemblages held together by contracts, subcontracts, and sub-subcontracts.


    A particular field of action or thought.

    Domains-interaction model:

    A framework of extending meaning through a comprehensive connection between source and target domain for a specific organizational application.


    An expression that contains an offensive meaning about either the subject matter or the audience.


    The amount of overall variance that a dimension in a factor analysis explains; a criterion used to determine a dimension and to eliminate nonrelevant factors.

    Embodiment hypothesis:

    The preference for metaphors linked to the human body or human motor action.


    Focusing on a local point of view in exploring and recovering knowledge; understanding practice from an indigenous perspective.

    Emotional labor:

    Requiring individuals in an organization to engage in specific emotional displays in performing their roles and organizational tasks.


    Distributing power and responsibility from leaders to followers.


    To bring a phenomenon into being through performing or representing it.


    To act in a pithy, satirical, or witty way.

    Ethical relativism:

    A belief that what is morally right or wrong varies from person to person or from society to society.


    Judging another culture through employing the values and standards of one’s own culture.


    The systematic study of an organization or community from the viewpoint of the people within that culture; data collection that employs participant observation, interviews, and archival data.


    Inventing the novel and unreal through reorganizing elements found in reality.

    Fast capitalism:

    A rapidly changing, knowledge-based and global economy, driven by technological change and high levels of connectivity.

    Figurative vehicle problem:

    Using the wrong metaphor; problems in making linkages between the source and target domains.


    Creating a frame of reference; positioning elements in the figure as opposed to the ground of a mental frame.

    Generative metaphor:

    Developing metaphor to create new insights and develop new meanings; metaphor in which the target and source domains are very distinct.

    Generative value:

    The application of something, in this case metaphor, in ways that generate or cultivate new meanings and understandings.

    Generic structure:

    The encoding of a metaphor (source domain) and the related target domain; the results or output of the first step of the domains-interaction model.


    The features of one concept that become shared with another one in a metaphor.


    A feeling of joy, accompanied by higher levels of connectedness, love, compassion, fairness, pleasure, and satisfaction.


    The process of interpreting texts; treating organizational life as a text that is to be read and interpreted.

    Homologous logic:

    A logic that emphasizes similarities between divergent structures, positions, or states (e.g., between society and nature).

    Human relations leadership:

    Inspired by the organism metaphor, a style of leadership that focuses on developing and nurturing social relationships.


    A multidimensional space.

    Ideal types:

    Hypothetical constructions as prototypes that are based on ideal characteristics.


    A visible representation, form, or likeness, existing physically or conceptually; in persuasion, a rhetorical strategy that appeals to competing views.


    Creating images or concepts not immediately apparent to the senses; using images to sustain, elicit, or impose ways of organizing.


    Using imagination.


    Intertwining the concepts of organization and imagination; to organize is to imaginize; using different approaches to organization to identify different images of organization.

    Inferential structure:

    Using metaphor to make interpretations that flesh out rich organizational concepts.

    Instituting imaginary:

    Situating new meanings in values, beliefs, and actions that alter established ways of organizing.

    Integrated product-service systems (IPSS):

    A complex system that integrates and tailors products and services to meet individualized customer demands.

    Integrated value proposition (IVP):

    A solution-oriented system of combining products and services that involves the customer in a value creation process to address specific business problems.

    Integrating way of organizing (IWO):

    Transforming traditional organizations through shifting toward integrated value propositions; developing new routines of customer integration in patterns of organizing.


    The process of one entity acting on or influencing another.

    Interpretative approaches:

    Research that places the meaning-making practices of human actors as the focal point for scientific investigations.


    The incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs in a situation.

    Knowledge economy:

    An economy in which the accumulation of wealth and value is based on the exchange of knowledge.

    Knowledge interest:

    The reason or primary need that underlies the desire to know or understand something.

    Knowledge work:

    Work that is grounded in knowledge-related tasks or information management; knowledge as the output or mode of work.

    Laissez-faire leadership:

    The absence of active leadership through ignorance, neglect, or laziness; reactive rather than proactive leadership.

    Language game:

    Enacting language patterns deemed incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with a given system.

    Latent dimension:

    A set of variables that form a category inferred from analysis of data rather than being directly observed or measured.


    Relating to language and the use of language.

    Literal target problem:

    Using the wrong conceptualization of organizing and organization to develop metaphors; metaphors that fail to capture rapid changes and new forms of organizing.

    Magical metaphors:

    Using metaphors grounded in mystery, the mystical, or the enchanted to exert influence.

    Master tropes:

    Four primary classifications of figures of speech composed of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony.


    An overarching metaphor that encompasses or serves as a category for other metaphors.


    A process of using one element of experience to engage and understand another. Linguistic and other epistemological constructs characterized by the transfer of information from a relatively familiar domain (known as a source, base, or vehicle) to a new and relatively unfamiliar domain (referred to as a target).


    Applying a metaphor to phenomena, activities, behaviors, expressions, imagination, or theory development.

    Metaphorical analysis:

    The deciphering or developing of metaphors in organizational contexts.

    Metaphorical behaviors:

    Actions that illustrate the practices embodied in a particular metaphor.

    Metaphorical expression:

    Phrases and words presented in metaphorical form.

    Metaphorical imagination:

    Working across alternative images to create and engage with metaphors.

    Metaphorical theory:

    Theorizing about organizations through using alternative images or metaphors.

    Metaphors of the field:

    Metaphors offered intentionally or unintentionally by actors in the field that the analyst studies; metaphors derived from doing fieldwork.


    Adjective form of metonymy.


    Using words that represent parts or elements of a phenomenon to stand for the whole (e.g., using the term crown to refer to the kingdom); one of the four master tropes.

    Mimetic objects:


    Mimetic qualities:

    The imitative characteristics of metaphor.

    Mobilize the imagination:

    Productive use of imagination to engage people to organize in a desired way.

    Modern period:

    An era or period of scholarship grounded in the inevitability of progress; the belief that science, philosophy, and religion form the foundation for the pursuit of truth.


    The source term in a metaphor that sets up a particular meaning for the target or subject. In the metaphor “the river of time,” “river” is the modifier and “time” is the target, indicating that time is “like” a river.


    The concept of motion, carriage, or transference integral to a metaphor; “a carrying over” or transference of meaning.

    Multifaceted replication:

    Reproduction or imitation based on multiple features.

    Network leadership:

    Inspired by the brain metaphor, a style of leadership that focuses on connections and interdependencies with other people.

    Ocular view:

    Using the eye or seeing as a perspective.

    Ontological challenge:

    Questioning the fundamental sense of being.

    Ontological relativism:

    Adopting a relative stance to address questions related to existence and the nature of reality; a stance that varies by framework or situation.


    The study of being, existence, or the nature of reality.

    Organizational actors:

    Individuals who work, interface with, and belong to organizations.

    Organizational analysis:

    The study of an organization or set of organizations either to develop it or to do research on it.

    Parallel structures:

    The semantic connection between a source and a target domain; developing a generic structure in the first step of the domains-interaction model.


    Using the senses and cognitions to recognize and interpret stimuli or information.

    Philosophical accounts of metaphor:

    Using metaphorical images to reveal truths or principles.


    Acting morally, perceptively, and intelligently in a particular situation.

    Political leadership:

    Inspired by the political systems metaphor, a leadership style grounded in power, competition for positions, ideologies, negotiations, and victories.

    Positive psychology:

    A branch of psychology that focuses on the strengths and virtues of people that enable individuals, communities, and organizations to thrive.


    An era or period of history that denies or critiques the foundational assumptions and universalizing tendencies of the modernist period.

    Power relations:

    Ways in which different individuals and groups influence or control each other.

    Primary metaphors:

    A basic and automatic way of forming links between target and source domains; the beginnings of developing metaphor.

    Productive imagination:

    Treating imagination as a force that creates, distorts, or forges images beyond what was experienced.

    Rational economic man:

    Treating humans in a mechanistic manner that maximizes self-interest through rational thinking; an approach that focuses on cost-benefit analysis.

    Reading as metaphor:

    Being open to new understandings, reflecting on assumptions, and adopting an attitude of learning about organizations.

    Reflective judgment:

    Using criteria or general principles to evaluate a particular case.

    Reflective thinking:

    Maintaining a state of doubt, examining facts and prior knowledge, and critically examining one’s own practices.

    Reflexive social anthropological stance:

    Reflecting on and being aware of how cultural conditioning influences interactions with people in other cultures.


    The process of projecting human attributes or characteristics onto something that is nonhuman.

    Root metaphor:

    A type of metaphor that underlies or lies at the foundation of other images.

    Seeing as:

    Using metaphor as a frame of reference for interpreting an organization.

    Semi-metaphorical expressions:

    Literal expressions tied to the features or elements of certain metaphors (e.g., “increased efficiency”).

    Social constructionism and socially constructed:

    A view of reality that treats it as constructed from interactions and meanings among people and groups.

    Social imaginary significations:

    Assumptions that do not correspond with “real” referents shared by a society or an organization.

    Social physics:

    A method for understanding behaviors based on analyzing Big Data.

    Social systems:

    Groups of patterned relationships within an organization or entity.

    Solution-oriented value proposition:

    Focusing on individualization or tailoring to customers, but with little mutual integration of product and service elements.

    Source domain:

    The familiar or well-known concept in a metaphor that contains information to aid in understanding the target; see also modifier and vehicle.

    Standardized value proposition (SVP):

    Focuses on equal product or services to a large number of different customers, but with little integration of products and services and a low degree of customer integration.

    Standardizing way of organizing (SWO):

    Refers to how a business strategy grounded in a value proposition shapes routines, processes, or structures; aims to increase efficiency and optimization.


    Using metaphor to function as organizational theories or paradigms.


    The substitution of the whole for the part (e.g., using the term “to Google” as a substitute for an Internet search); one of the four master tropes.


    Being characterized by synecdoche.

    Systemic economic man:

    Treating human beings as physical, emotional, cognitive, social, cultural, and spiritual selves embedded in systemic interactions; creating personal as well as economic capital.


    Prohibited practices; actions too sacred or too dangerous for lay people to perform.

    Target domain:

    The unfamiliar or less well-known concept in a metaphor; the concept that becomes understood through aligning it with a source.


    A classification system of related concepts based on general principles; scientific classification of key concepts; see also typology.

    Temporal continuity:

    Characteristics of organizations that exhibit sameness over time.

    Totemic characteristics:

    Features and qualities of totems.

    Totemic identification:

    The act of identifying with a totem.

    Totemic metaphors:

    Metaphors that have acquired the status of a totem.

    Totemic selection:

    The act of choosing a totem.


    Mythic structures that mirror the natural and the social; presupposed meanings that translate language, objects, and forms across cultures.

    Tour de force:

    An exceptional performance or achievement.

    Transformational leadership:

    A style of leadership characterized by inspiration and intellectual stimulation that challenges the status quo and encourages followers to explore new ways of doing things.


    Activities in which organizational members interact and connect with one another.

    Trompe l’oeil:

    Tricking of the eye through using point of view or angle of vision to assume that an object is real.


    Figurative words, phrases, or images; a group of linguistic expressions such as metaphor, irony, metonymy, synecdoche, exaggeration, and understatement.


    A categorization based on dimensions of a concept used in social sciences; typically includes ideal types; see also taxonomy.

    Unreflexive ontological position:

    A stance on “what is reality” that is taken for granted or presumed as self-evident.

    Value creation:

    Actions that increase the worth of goods, services, customer relations, or an entire business.

    Value proposition:

    A promise of a specific value that a customer delivers and acknowledges that is connected to an organization’s business strategy.


    Treating metaphor as a given, focusing on obvious and similar features between source and target domain; also see seeing as.


    A medium through which something is carried, conveyed, or expressed, such as meaning from a source to a target domain; see also modifier and source domain.

    Visual turn:

    Focusing on the visual aspects of organizations, such as branding, images, and representations.


    Producing distinct, colorful, and intense images; acting clearly and vigorously.

    Web 3.0:

    Smarter and individually tailored web-based products that deliver relevant content to users in automatic ways.

    1. The definitions of these concepts correspond to their uses in particular chapters of this book. These terms may be defined differently in other books and articles.

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website