The Metaphorical Foundation of Interoperability Artifacts: The Case of Public Services

The Metaphorical Foundation of Interoperability Artifacts: The Case of Public Services

Veit Jahns
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0146-8.ch011
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In this chapter, artifacts designed to facilitate the semantic interoperability between Information Systems are discussed in relation to the so-called metaphor theory. The main assumption of this theory is that the conceptualization of the world is mainly a metaphorical one; i.e., the concepts of a given domain are conceptualized by concepts of a more concrete domain. Based on this theory, selected interoperability artifacts for the modeling and describing public services are discussed and analyzed. In particular, it will be demonstrated how the conceptual metaphor can be used to get a better understanding of the domain the interoperability artifacts are designed for.
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As Whitman and Panetto (2006) pointed out, the design of interoperability artifacts, i.e., artifacts like standards and protocols, which are created to facilitate the interoperability of information systems (Jahns, 2011, p. 232), is influenced by tacit knowledge, e.g., non-explicated assumptions or heuristics like so-called rules of thumb (Whitman & Panetto, 2006, p. 235).

Another source of tacit knowledge is the manner of conceptualization of the world by humans. In this respect, research in cognitive science including cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistic came to the conclusion—or at least it can be seen as their main assumption this theory is built on—that the manner of conceptualization the world by humans is mainly a metaphorical one. I.e., abstract concepts like time, state, category, or service are conceptualized by the means of more concrete concepts, e.g., by concepts grounded in bodily experiences (Kövecses, 2009, pp. 10–13; Lakoff, 1994, p. 52; Kirmayer 1992; Gibbs, 1990).

To give an example, the metaphor “time as a moving object” is considered. Here, the concept of time is conceptualized by concepts of space. I.e., particular times are considered as objects and passing of time is considered as the motion of these objects. This consideration becomes apparent in expressions like “the time has come”, “the time has arrived”, or “the coming week”. Actually, a “week” is not coming and a time does not arrive; at least not in a physical sense. But there are correspondences between the concepts of space and time that enable an understanding of the concepts of the one domain by the concepts of the other domain. Here, the person experiencing time corresponds to the observer with a fixed location and time corresponds to the object that moves towards the observer. This similarity between a moving object and time is important here and allows a conceptualization of time by the concepts of space (Lakoff, 1994, pp. 56–58).

Furthermore, metaphors have also an effect on the way how humans behave and make decisions, as recently shown by Thibodeau and Boroditsky (2011). In their study, people were given a report regarding the increasing crime rate in an American city and were asked to propose a solution to this problem. However, one group got a version of the report using the metaphor “crime as virus” to describe the problem and the other group got a version using the metaphor “crime as beast”. What they observed was that the measures proposed by the people were different for both groups. The first group proposed more likely measures of social reforms (diagnosing the root cause, development of prevention programs, etc.) and the second group proposed more likely measures of enforcements (more police and jails, more draconic laws, etc.). To summarize, the first group chose more likely to cure the disease of crime, and the second group chose more likely to hunt down the beast of crime.

As interoperability artifacts are the results of the decisions and actions of humans it is the intention of this chapter the creation of interoperability artifacts is considered from the perspective of metaphors—influencing the decisions and actions of the interoperability artifacts’ designers. Furthermore, it is the intention to identify the underlying metaphors in existing standards and protocols, how they are related to the purpose these interoperability artifacts were made for, and how these metaphors became visible in these interoperability artifacts.

With respect to the intention explained above, the chapter is organized as follows: (a) the research design applied in this chapter is explained and justified, (b) related work is discussed, i.e., where and how the concepts of analogy and metaphor have been used to design or evaluate IT related artifacts in the past, (c) the fundamentals of the concept of conceptual metaphor are outlined, and (d) interoperability artifacts for describing and modeling public services are analyzed using the concept of conceptual metaphor. A short summary followed by concluding remarks will finish this chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Isomorphism: A mapping from a source set to a target set that preserves the relational structure of the source set. I.e., if two elements of the source set are related, then the corresponding elements of the target set are related in the same way.

Interoperability Artifact: A man-made artifact to enabled or facilitate the interoperability of information systems. This includes standards as well as protocols for the exchange for data between information systems.

Duality: A type of relationship between conceptual metaphors with the same target domain, but with source domains where one source domain is the opposite of the source domain of the other metaphor.

Conceptual Metaphor: A metaphor is a partial isomorphic mapping of a source domain’s concepts to the concepts of a target domain.

Simultaneity: Characteristic of conceptual metaphors that they can be used at the same time in the same linguistic expression.

Partiality: Characteristic of a conceptual metaphor that not all correspondences between the source and the target domain have to be applied or activated by the conceptual metaphor.

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