Metaphors for Knowledge in Knowledge Intensive Groups: An Inductive investigation of how and which Metaphors Emerge in Conversations

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis


We live in a knowledge society. This fact places certain demands on education, cooperation, knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer, knowledge workers, knowledge communication and on management. However it also places demands on our perception of knowledge.
Theory would suggest a number of different answers to what knowledge is. It could be outlined as a dichotomy between tacit and explicit knowledge, as a hierarchy from data over information to knowledge or as orders of reflection upon ones own knowledge in relation to the surrounding world.
In this dissertation the focus is on knowledge as a metaphorical concept in groups of knowledge workers from creative start-ups. The research question of the dissertation is:
How is knowledge conceptualized metaphorically in groups?
This question is investigated from two methodological angles: through the analysis of metaphors in dynamic conversations and through analysis of how a shared metaphorical concept emerges in a group. Combined these two angles on analysis provide a deeper understanding of the complexity and diversity of the concept of knowledge. Further it provides a foundation for implementing appropriate knowledge-sharing strategies.
The dataset of the dissertation consists of six conversations of six creative startups. In addition one case from a large Danish food production company was studied. All seven groups were taken through the same process. First they built three buildings in toy bricks of the brand LEGO Serious Play. Then the group conversed on the concept of knowledge. The purpose of this process was to provide more than words as a mode for communication between the participants in each group. Thus increasing the opportunity for the group to co-create a metaphorical concept of knowledge as the result of a distributed cognitive process rather than a number of individual processes.
The dissertation is a compilation of four contributions in addition to an introductory part on theory and methodology and a concluding part. The four contributions are:
1. A book chapter for Handbook of Language and Metaphor to be published in August 2016. The chapter focuses in how metaphors have been used as a tool in management and managerial and organizational research. For many years metaphors have been looked upon as tools for communication aimed at improving the listener’s under- standing. Recent research has shown a tendency towards using metaphors as tools for understanding employees and their attitude and feelings in e.g. change processes and strategy work. Thus the perspective is dual. Metaphors in organizational development and management can act as both tools for communication and tools for understanding. It is on this foundation the rest of the dissertation is written.
2. The first article is concerned with how metaphors emerge in groups. This article addresses the first part of the research question regarding how shared metaphors emerge in groups. The conclusion from this article is that shared metaphors emerge when a group uses a shared mode. Further it is evident from the data collected that simply making a shared mode available is not enough. Not all groups are capable of co-creating a shared metaphorical concept.
3. The second article is concerned with the diversity of metaphors for knowledge. This article addresses the second part of the research question: Which metaphors for know- ledge emerge in the group conversations? With this perspective on the data, the conclusion is, that groups present many different metaphors for knowledge between both participants and groups. This, however seems uncontroversial to the groups. When working with knowledge in groups it is thus essential to bear in mind that knowledge as a concept is diverse and as a consequence of this fact knowledge sharing and other knowledge related tasks benefit from adjustment to the relevant concept of knowledge.
4. Inthethirdarticlethedevelopedmethodsareappliedonaseventhcompany.Thethird and last contribution of the dissertation shows how the methods presented in articles 1 and 2 can be applied in a different context. The process was applied on a group as an action research project. The results from the analysis were presented to the group and on that basis the group developed a completely new knowledge sharing approach. The conclusion is that a group that is able to express the diversity of knowledge they experience can also detangle the complexity of knowledge and further develop and employ adjusted knowledge sharing strategies.
Based on the four contributions, the conclusion drawn with regards to the research question is that knowledge is conceptualized in multiple ways by groups of knowledge workers. Further, it can be concluded that a multimodal approach to analysis, taking into account the analysis of metaphors in language, gesture as well as joint epistemic action provides the researcher as well as the group itself with a deeper understanding of the complexity of the concept of knowledge.
Hence the answer to the question of how we can improve working with knowledge in a knowledge society is, that it is best done with respect for nuances, diversity and complexity and that knowledge as such calls for joint epistemic action.
Translated title of the contributionMetaforer for viden i vidensintensive grupper: En induktiv undersøgelse af hvordan og hvilke metaforer opstår i samtaler
Original languageEnglish
PublisherAarhus BSS, School of Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University
Number of pages220
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2016

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