Knowledge Metaphors

Knowledge Metaphors

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8318-1.ch001


Cognitive scientists discovered that the mind is inherently embodied, and that conceptual thinking is largely metaphorical. That means that metaphors are much more than just linguistic tools. They play an important role in our understanding of new concepts and ideas, and in extending the semantic field of some already known. Knowledge is a rather old concept but the emergence of the knowledge economy created new meanings and interpretations for it by using the metaphorical approach. Thus, understanding the new semantic spectrum of the concept of knowledge implies an adequate understanding of the metaphors and their functional structure. The purpose of this chapter is to describe the anatomy of a metaphor and to explain how metaphors contribute to generating new meanings and interpretations for the concept of knowledge.
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In a seminal key address delivered to the participants of the 8th European Conference on Knowledge Management on 6th of September 2007 in Barcelona, Spain, Daniel Andriessen demonstrated how powerful metaphors are in shaping the meaning of the concept of knowledge (Andriessen, 2007). In studying the literature for Knowledge Economy, Knowledge Management, Knowledge Dynamics, Organizational Learning and Learning Organizations, Intellectual Capital, Knowledge-based Organizations or Cognitive Science one can get lost in the rich semantic of the concept of knowledge. That means that there is practically an infinite spectrum of metaphors used by authors to describe and to define this concept. As Andriessen and Boom show:

Knowledge is not a concept that has a clearly delineated structure. Whatever structure it has it gets through metaphor. Different people from different cultures use different metaphors to conceptualize knowledge. They may be using the same word; however, this word can refer to totally different understandings of the concept of knowledge. (Andriessen & Boom, 2007, p. 3)

Different meanings and interpretations come also from people working in different fields of activity and using the concepts of information and knowledge. For instance, people working in the IT sector see knowledge as an extension of information, while people working in natural sciences see information as a degradation of knowledge. In the first instance, the favorite metaphors are the communication channels and the computers, while in the second instance the favorite metaphors are physical objects and their Newtonian motion. Metaphors connect realms of human experience and imagination. According to Cornelissen, Oswick, Christensen & Philips (2008, p. 8), “They guide our perceptions and interpretations of reality and help formulate our visions and goals. In doing these things, metaphors facilitate and further our understanding of the world.”

Knowledge is an abstract concept without any counterpart in the tangible world. People developed from ancient time metaphors to construct the semantic spectrum of this concept in order to answer to the question, “What is knowledge?” From Plato and Aristotle to Descartes and Locke, and from Kant and Hegel to Lakoff and Johnson, philosophers devoted their efforts to discover the essence of this concept of knowledge. More recently, managers, consultants in management, researchers in knowledge management and intellectual capital, and academics invested their time in defining the concept of knowledge in order for firms to operate with the same tool in developing their strategies for achieving a competitive advantage (Allee, 1997; Andriessen, 2004; Boisot, 1999; Davenport & Prusak, 2000; Drucker, 2001; Edvinsson, 2002; Geisler, & Wickramasinghe, 2009; Jashapara, 2010; Leonard-Barton, 1995; Nonaka, 1991; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Nonaka, Toyama & Hirata, 2008; O’Dell & Hubert, 2011; Polanyi, 1974, 1983; Stacey, 2010; Sveiby, 1997; Tiwana, 2002; von Krogh, Ichijo & Nonaka, 2000).

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