Governance through Metaphor
- / -
Paper submitted a workshop of the Project on Economic Aspects of Human Development
(EAHD) of the Regional and Global Studies Division of the United
Nations University ( Geneva, 25-27 June 1987). Appeared in excerpted form in The
, March 1988, pp. 3-21 [searchable PDF version
II Contemporary crisis of governance
III Metaphor as an unexplored resource
IV Governing metaphors and metaphors of governance
V Governance through metaphor
VI Envisioning governance in the future
Figures 1-8 (not included as of this posting).
The experience of the past decades in designing and implementinginternational
development-related strategies and governing the process through which they become
possible is not especially encouraging. Major disaster has been averted but the early
hopes are far from being fulfilled. The situation has become worse for many and the risks
of major disaster have increased for everyone. Particularly tragic is the recognition that
the international system of institutions is defective in its management of the development
process, riddled with inefficiencies and lacking in credibility, especially in the eye of
public opinion. This situation has just recently been officially documented for the first
time for the United Nations system by Maurice Bertrand of the Joint Inspection Unit (1).
It is within the constraints of this context that the economic aspects of human
development need to be considered.
This paper follows earlier work on the challenges of collective comprehension of
appropriateness and the special constraints it imposes on the design and implementation of
any development initiative (2). The paper addressed the resulting challenges for
'governance'. This term has been resuscitated by John Fobes, former Deputy
Director-General of UNESCO, in order to promote a reconceptualization of the commonly used
terms 'governing' and 'government'. In recent remarks to a Club of
Rome conference he states:
'The concept of governance emphasizes that order in society is created and
maintained by a spectrum of institutions, only one of which is known as government. By
examining that spectrum at all levels of society, we can obtain a broader sense of
'governability' as it is exercised in policy-making, in providing services and
the application of law. Order is certainly part of governance. But I believe that one
should also consider governance, at least at the international level, as a global learning
exercise. By so doing, politicians, practitioners, activists and academies may expand
their thinking beyond the traditional concepts of government, of international
organizations and of the exercise of sovereignty'. (3)
Those remarks have contributed to the initiation of a multi-year project on the future
of world governance, distinct from the many previous initiatives focusing on world
Of special value in Fobes' remarks in his creative response to the complexities of the
situation. He recognizes that the processes of governance have become increasingly complex
and are no longer strictly limited to governments. He points out that the fact that so
many individuals and groups, whether NGO's or IGO's, at all levels, want to 'get into
the act' of learning, if not governing, is both hopeful and chaotic. It is for this
reason that he points to the need to re-examine attitudes to different 'learning
modes'. 'Learning, and learning to 'govern', or to participate in
governance, on the part of citizens and their civic and special interest groups, have
become part of the survival skills for nations and for humanity as a whole.' (3)
The focus in this paper on the use of metaphor in governance is one response to the
recognition articulated by Fobes that: 'The stresses from social change that
require a broader sense ofgovernance have called into play Ashby's 'law of requisite
variety' (which may be interpreted as stating that 'the regulators or
governors of a system must reflect the variety in that system in order to be of service to
The question explored here is that of the need to provide a sufficiently rich medium
for the communication of complex insights in a world in which the possibilities of
governance are constrained by the explanations and proposals that can be made meaningful
to public opinion. The complexity of econometric and global models in their present form
make it improbable that they can be of any significance to those who must justify their
actions to public opinion.
II. Contemporary crisis of governance
Clusters of dilemmas
This section endeavours to order the principal factors contributing to the contemporary
crisis of governance. Such factors may be clustered in different ways. The number of such
clusters it is useful to select is partially determined by the following constraints, as
explored in earlier papers (4):
- too few clusters, and the set either omits significant factors or these are too
implicit in the clusters actually selected, thus increasing their ambiguity and
diminishing their operational relevance, however appropriate the simplicity may appear for
communication and decision-making purposes;
- too many clusters, and the number of explicit factors, especially for purposes of
communication and learning, exceeds the limit on the processing power of the brain (namely
seven plus minus one), without having to be re-clustered.
In order therefore to maximize the number of explicit factors identified as
contributing to the crisis of governance the following eight clusters have been isolated:
- (a) Simplicity: Governance, to be feasible, requires that the number of factors
or issues on which a mandate is sought, or for which policies must be developed, should be
limited in number and defined simply enough to be meaningful. They should be interesting
rather than boring. Failing this the preoccupations of governance lose their focus, and
the governing body becomes vulnerable to loss of its mandate in favour of some other
coalition whose focus is appropriately simple. Conventional strategies in response to this
- only focusing on those issues which through their identification can conveniently come
to be perceived as important as the result of a self-fulfilling process;
- onlyfocusing on a few macro-issues which lend themselves to a multiplicity of simple
descriptions, whilst failing to encompass their inherent complexity.
- (b) Complexity: Governance, to be practical, must necessarily deal with the
complexities and crises of the real world, whether or not they lend themselves to any
meaningful ordering or pattern of mandates for specialized agencies. Failing this
governance is overwhelmed by the many pressures of the moment and becomes vulnerable to
loss of its mandate in favour of some other coalition that can deal with them.
Conventional strategies in response to complexity and the associated information overload
- elaboration of an array of administrative procedures, plus filtering and delaying
mechanisms for every conceivable circumstance;
- displacement of new issues and pressures by other issues and pressures for which
procedural responses already exist.
- (c) Requisite variety: Governance, in order to be able to exert some long-term
degree of control over the dynamics of society, must itself be sufficiently varied in its
policy-making capacity to respond to the variety of issues which may emerge. Failing this
the governing body is caught off-balance by the dynamics of the society and is vulnerable
to loss of its mandate in favour of some appropriately dynamic coalition. Conventional
strategies in response to this challenge include:
- emphasis on short-term issues and programmes to disguise any lack of ability to handle
- emphasis on publicizing long-term projects, whilst disguising the degree to which they
themselves will aggravate other problems for which no remedy has been envisaged.
- (d) Operational relevance: Governance, in order to be credible to those mandating
it, must be able to formulate its policies in a form which is readily implementable,
especially in response to issues which call for immediate action. Failing this the
governing body is perceived as irrelevant to the solution of pressing issues and is
vulnerable to loss of its mandate in favour of some more practical coalition. Conventional
strategies in response to this requirement include:
- emphasis on short-term remedial programmes, irrespective of whether these effectively
respond to the problem which evoked their creation; - focusing attention away from the
more obvious solution onto the necessity for some alternative programme of effective
remedial action (for which an appropriate mandate may not be obtainable).
- (e) Complementarity: Governance, in order to attract support from a plurality of
unrelated (or even mutually hostile) sectors, must be able to configure those sectors into
a pattern such that they appear as complementary to one another. Failure of the governing
body to establish such a context, or community of interest, leads to fragmentation and
erosion of its support, rendering it vulnerable to any coalition of wider appeal.
Conventionalstrategies in response to this requirement include:
- promotion of superficial consensus in such a way as to disguise irreconcilable
differences between sectors;
- cultivation of distinct communications with each sector, concealing any contradictions
between the undertakings made.
- (f) Difference: Governance, in order to respond effectively to disagreement,
critical opposition and alternative insights, must develop some means of dealing with
incommensurable positions. Failure of the governing body to develop such skills makes any
form of co-existence with its opponents unstable and renders it highly vulnerable to
attack. Conventional strategies in response to such differences include:
- disparagement, neutralization or suppression of any dissidence (possibly through
judicious manipulation of information), implicitly denying any merit in such viewpoints;
- efforts to persuade the dissident group to modify its position or to coopt its members.
- (g) Containment: Governance, to be able to maintain its domain of influence, must
reinforce a certain order within definable boundaries. Failure of the governing body to do
so results in an open system vulnerable to the effects of uncontrollable variations in
external influences. Conventional strategies in response to this requirement include:
- strengthening of boundaries and gate-keeping functions, justified by the necessity of
excluding 'undesirable' influences;
- limiting freedom of action in order to facilitate the maintenance of the favoured order.
- (h) Empowerment: Governance, to be able to encourage the growth and development
expected by those who mandate it, must be able to empower people and groups to undertake
and sustain new initiatives of their own accord. Failure of the governing body to do so
results in stagnation and disaffection rendering it vulnerable to replacement by a
coalition encouraging such initiative. Conventional strategies in response to this
- mobilization of people and groups in support of some defined programme, irrespective of
the initiatives they would otherwise choose to take;
- manipulation, subversion or cooptation of initiatives if they achieve any degree of
Fourfold principle of uncertainty in governance
As argued elsewhere (5), especially in the light of epistemological problems in the
social sciences which suggest that a generalized Heizenberg principle operates in the
social sciences (6), the dilemmas of the previous section could well be summarized in a
four-fold principle of uncertainty as follows:
- A governing mode in which it is easy to say 'no' overtly, makes it very
difficult to say 'yes' except covertly, whereas one in which it is easy to say
'yes' overtly makes it very difficultto say 'no' except covertly.
- A governing mode which encourages overt declarations of consensus has great difficulty
in accepting fundamental differences in practice except covertly, whereas one in which
differences are realistically accepted has great difficulty in establishing consensus
- A governing mode of requisite variety for long-term continuity has great difficulty in
elaborating appropriate short-term programmes except covertly, whereas one in which
operationally relevant short-term programmes are easily elaborated has great difficulty in
ensuring any policy of long-term significance except covertly.
- A governing mode which can be made meaningful and inspiring has great difficulty in
taking into account the full complexity of a practical situation except covertly, whereas
one which takes into account that complexity in all its operational detail cannot be
meaningful and inspiring except covertly.
Use of the terms 'overt' and 'covert' could be considered as
unnecessarily value-loaded. Alternatives might be 'formal' and
'informal' or else 'public' and 'private'.
The merit of using 'covert' is that it emphasizes the potential for
procedural abuse and manipulative processes in certain situations, namely insidious
corruption. These points are perhaps well illustrated by the difference between the overt
processes in international organizations and those occurring behind the scenes (and
covered by security clauses in employment contacts).
Whilst there is much overt discussion of the efficiencies in the overt processes (as in
the recent reviews of the United Nations and UNESCO), the dysfunctional features of the
covert processes are only discussed in corridor gossip and newsworthy exposés. There has
never been any overt study by an international body of corruption in governance at all
levels, and especially of corruption in such international bodies. Yet
'corruption' is frequently cited in informal reports as a cause of
inefficiencies in the implementation of programmes.
This paper is not about corruption but about the inability to fully encompass
conceptually the processes of governance in an adequate model or set of models. This
results in grey areas in which dysfunctional processes proliferate, however carefully the
overt processes are defined. These are the shadow side of governance. Any attempt to
envisage new approaches to governance that neglects this dimension, or fails to come to
terms with it, must necessarily fall victim to the ways in which it undermines
Tools of Governance
In the fluid situation indicated above, the process of governance is based on the use
of a spectrum of tools. These may be usefully clustered for comparison in Figure 1 in
terms of the dilemmas noted above.
From the table it is clear that no single tool permits a satisfactory response to all
the dilemmas. Just as: 'It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time;
you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people
all the time' (Abraham Lincoln), so governance should not fool itself. Governance can
rely on all those tools some of the time, on some of those tools all the time, but cannot
rely on all of the tools all the time.
Each of the tools has strength and weaknesses which are highlighted differently by the
different dilemmas. The fluidity of the situation brings out the point that whilst
governance may rely on those tools, it cannot be wholly identified with them. The
fundamental challenge of governance would appear to be in the art of when to rely on which
combination of tools, and for how long.
Sustaining development: the epistemological challenge of
Sustainable development is usually conceived as a problem of instrumentality - namely
deploying the available organizational and conceptual resources to achieve what seems
appropriate. An earlier paper (2) argues that this approach fails completely to recognize
the inherent difficulties in comprehending the instrumental design which is appropriate -
and of communication that comprehension, with all its members through the processes of
The following hidden assumptions were listed to illustrate this failure:
- That the mode is inherently better in some absolute sense in that,
- conversely, the old mode must necessarily be permanently abandoned as historically
- the defects in the new mode will not eventually prove to be as significant as those
under the old mode.
- That the new mode is equally appropriate to all societies and to all sub-cultures within
those societies, especially if adapted to local contexts and requirements.
- That, if it can be comprehended, represented and discussed within one frame of
reference, the mode can nevertheless be of sufficient complexity to respond to the
concerns perceived by constituencies preferring other frames of reference.
- That an appropriate new mode can be readily articulated in its entirety, rather than
necessarily provoking a set of partial comprehensions which people, of whatever level of
competence, experience considerable difficulty in integrating/reconciling, even if they
are motivated to do so.
- That an appropriate mode can be readily implemented by a consistent pattern of actions,
rather than requiring set of seemingly inconsistent and incompatible actions, each
favoured or condemned by some different configuration of constituencies.
- That the coherence and integrity of an appropriate modederives from a hierarchical
relationship between its components, as opposed to other possibilities with
characteristics such as:
- configurations of incommensurable conceptual or organizational groupings in which the
hierarchical dimension, if any, is secondary or implicit;
- cyclic phases of emphasis over time;
- alternation between seemingly opposed or contradictory policy modes.
- That credible articulations of a seemingly attractive approach do not effectively
obscure hard realities to which the advocating group may be insensitive (or anxious to
avoid discussing in order to further some hidden agenda).
- That any readily devised approach will not necessarily provoke counter-strategies or
strategies which exploit the situation created by the implementation of the new approach,
undermining it and eventually rendering it ineffective.
- That, during the implementation of the appropriate new mode, it is possible for any
given constituency to avoid being trapped into recognizing any necessary practical
strategy in either a 'positive' of a 'negative' light, and
consequently to be entrained to further or oppose that partial strategy, without
consideration of whether such effort is excessive in the light of the contextual mode to
which it contributes.
- That the essence of being human, and of human development, involves processes free from
ambiguity, paradox and counter-intuitive phases, permitting an appropriate new mode to be
articulated in an manner free of such non-rational characteristics.
The remainder of that paper considered the probability that the appropriate global
socio-economic mode of organization is necessarily more complex than can be recognized or
comprehended within any particular frame of reference - whether conceptual or
organizational. The question here is how to describe and handle this epistemological
challenge for governance.
The question has been helpfully highlighted by the recent study prepared by Development
Alternatives (New Delhi) on 'A transcultural view of sustainable development; the
landscape of design' as a contribution to the final deliberations of the World
Commission on Environment and Development (7). The study outlines 'transform grammar
of design' based on a 'phase space' model using a n-dimensional space to
show the evolution of a system (where n is the number of degrees of freedom, or
independent variables, needed to describe the system at the level of recursion or
aggregation of the model under study). The work draws on recent theoretical advances,
including those of Shannon (1962), Ashby (1956), Beer (1979), Prigogine (1985), Zadeh
(1965) and de Laet (1985).
The study uses four dimensions to describe systems of interest: and can be partially
represented in two dimensions (see Figure 2), in which the dimensions are variety
(x-axis), productivity (y-axis), wealth (z-axis) and time. The four corners of the
X-Yplane then correspond closely with four basic states of society:
- preservation: homeostasis - stabilizing, maintaining and protecting
- assessment: stasis - evaluating, appraising and monitoring
- administration: growing - ruling, governing and cultivating
- conservation: developing - adapting, innovating and anticipating
The interesting feature of the space so defined is that the trajectory of a social
system can be plotted on it to yield valuable insights into its behaviour and potential.
The space is characterized by gradients which represent various forces of nature and
society. The study identifies 16 generic transforms acting upon any system and attracting
it towards one of the four fundamental conditions.
The study points out that such transforms are like the topography of a landscape
(changing as the resultant of successive action and feedback) which can direct and channel
the movement of a river - hence the subtitle of that paper. Such an approach is in
sympathy with the fruitful work by Waddington based on an 'epigenetic
landscape'(8), and developed by Erich Jantsch (9,10) with respect to policy related
questions. The study does not attempt to relate these to the 16 'archetypal'
morphologies identified by Rene Thom in examining related questions (11).
But whilst the Development Alternatives' study sharpens the focus, the result is a
model. The authors themselves express reservations about the past uses of such models,
although they are optimistic about their own. A step further can however be envisaged (and
has been the subject of lengthy discussion with them prior to the preparation of this
It is apparently necessary to 'freeze' any such 'epistemological
landscape' into a well-defined model in order to navigate over the landscape. And
within the short time scales (and electoral periods) characteristic of the majority of the
problems of governance (and the budgetary periods of international organizations) such a
landscape may legitimately be considered to be unchanging. Governance can then endeavour
to move the social system over the landscape.
The epistemological problem lies in the fact that different constituencies are
sensitive to different dimensions of the 'n-dimensional phase space' out of
which the model is extracted or abstracted. Consequently the epistemological landscape
perceived by one group may be very different from that which is meaningful to another -
such that each may be the basis for the strategies and programmes of a different
intergovernmental agency. This has the further consequence between agencies of reinforcing
incompatibilities, contradictions, competition for resources and even the undermining of
one strategy by another - as has been noted on many occasions, and most recently by
Maurice Bertrand (1). It is therefore less fruitful to focus initially on anyparticular
way of viewing the n-dimensional phase space. Rather it would seem more appropriate to
consider the epistemological challenge of how to open up any 'window of
comprehension' onto such complexity - and how to perceive the relationship between
such windows, whether used simultaneously (by different groups) or consecutively.
Before taking the argument further it is necessary to avoid the trap of using the phase
space notion itself as a fundamental window. It is a powerful tool but not necessarily
convenient for all. 'Complexity' has itself recently attracted attention in its
own right (12). 'Chaos' is now a key descriptor for some interesting
breakthroughs in mathematics (13,14). Although it would be incompatible with the theme of
this paper to favour any one such description, it is important to recognize the range of
attempts to indicate the epistemological attributes at this level of abstraction.
It is somewhat ironic that the earlier Greek philosophers made use of the Greek term
'hyle' (matter) and viewed such matter as fundamentally alive, either in itself
or by its participation in the operation of a world soul or some similar principle.
Characteristically they did not distinguish between kinds of matter, forces and qualities
nor between physical and emotional qualities, making any such distinction with an
important degree of ambiguity.
The contemporary epistemological challenge remains one of dealing with a form of
'conceptual hyle' or 'mindstuff' within which the variety of possible
models and concepts is implicit and from which they may be explicated, as described by
David Bohm (15). This is not to suggest that the 'hyle' is purely conceptual. As
contemporary studies of this intimate relationship between consciousness and fundamental
understanding in physics are clarifying, there is a matter-consciousness continuum of
perhaps greater significance than the space-time continuum. Relevant insights from Eastern
philosophies are also increasingly (16,17) noted. The comprehension of features explicated
from the 'hyle' is as much constrained by the realities dear to materialists as
it is by individual (or collective) ability to formulate appropriate models of requisite
variety and to communicate them.
The challenge of governance is to enable society to navigate through the
'hyle', avoiding catastrophic disasters in a manner such as to sustain a process
of 'development' over the long-term - whatever 'development' is
understood to mean in the short-term under different circumstances, within different
cultures and at different stages of that process. But since governance is above all
constrained by daily practicalities, there is a dramatic problem of ensuring some kind of
meaningful epistemological bridge between the multi-dimensional fluidity or ambiguity of
the 'hyle' - with all the innovative potential that implies - and the concrete
socio-political realities to which it must respond effectively or be called into question.
III. Metaphor as an unexplored resource
Metaphor: a keystone function?
Metaphor is a classic device through which a complex set of elements and relationships
can be rendered comprehensible - when any attempt to explain them otherwise could easily
be meaningless. It is the peculiar strength of metaphor that it can convey the essential
without excessive oversimplification, preserving its complexity by perceiving it through a
familiar pattern of equivalent complexity.
A metaphor according to Nelson Goodman, 'typically involves a change not merely
of range but also of realm. A label along with others constituting a schema is in effect
detached from the home realm of that schema and applied for the sorting and organizing of
an alien realm. Partly by thus carrying with it a reorientation of a whole network of
labels does a metaphor give clues for its own development and elaboration... A whole set
of alternative labels, a whole apparatus of organization takes over a new territory... and
the organization they effect in the alien realm is guided by their habitual use in the
home realm. A schema may be transported almost anywhere. The choice of territory for
invasion is arbitrary; but the operation within that territory is almost never completely
so... which elements in the chosen realm are warm, or are warmer than others, is then very
largely determinate. Even where a schema is imposed upon a most unlikely and uncongenial
realm, antecedent practice channels the application of the labels.' (18, pp. 72-74)
In relation to governance it is useful to distinguish two basic functions of metaphor,
as represented in Figure 3.
- Initiatory function: the importance of metaphor in relationship to creativity,
whether in the arts or the sciences, has been frequently noted. Through exploration of
'lateralthinking', for example, this has been extended to management (20). In
such cases metaphor is the vehicle of insight and provides the first ordering of a
previously inchoate set of possibilities and constraints. It is thus a vital tool for
concept design. Through a metaphor the earlier confusion is seen in a new way. Once this
is possible, other tools may build on this foundation. In the case of governance, this may
mean the formulation of a strategy, a slogan, a model, etc. Any such formulation may well
make no reference to the triggering metaphor.
- Communicative function: once a concept has been formulated, it usually has to be
communicated to people and groups who are unfamiliar with the specialized jargon in which
it is embodied - and quite possible completely disinclined to learn it. In such a
situation, metaphor can be called upon to convey the essentials of the concept. In the
case of governance, this may mean the presentation of a model or a strategy. Such
presentation may, or may not, use the same metaphor as that through which such a strategy
The use of metaphors for communicative purposes clearly has an important integrative
function in relating the governors and the governed. But it is the initiatory function
which is of prime importance to the internal processes of governance. In a sense metaphor
here has a 'keystone' function as the ordering pattern or matrix through which
strategies, models and programmes take form. It provides the implicit bridge between the
disparate tools of governance.
Governance, especially when faced with the complex challenge of sustaining development,
makes use of metaphor (whether explicitly or implicitly) in ordering its priorities and
strategies. It is such fundamental metaphors imposed upon the 'hyle', which give
form and stability to a 'landscape' on which the hazards and opportunities of
governance are mapped. A major attribute of governance is the skill required to traverse
such a terrain, possibly whilst under attack from hostile or destabilizing forces. But of
equal importance, especially in the long-term, is the ability to switch to a new metaphor
through which the epistemological domain is ordered. For, given the inherent complexity of
the 'hyle', no one metaphor can adequately encompass the dimensions to which
governance must respond.
To fulfil its function governance must be able to orient itself in terms of a
succession of more appropriate 'landscapes'. It is possible for a single root
metaphor to last the duration of a period of government (and electoral period) and
engender a variety of needed strategies. But in a highly turbulent socio-political
context, such a single metaphor is more then likely to prove inadequate. Governance then
requires the skill to move between a set of metaphors each capable of rendering
comprehensible certain sets of dimensions of the hyle. For this skill to become
communicable it must itself be embodied in a metaphor.
Challenge for communication devices
There are many aids to communication, as identified in the Formsof Presentation
sub-project of the UN University's project on Goals, Processes and Indicators of
Development (22). Each form obviously has both strengths and weaknesses, depending on a
number of factors but especially on the subtlety or complexity of what needs to be
communicated and to whom. The question is whether it is possible to devise some means of
by-passing the desperately slow learning cycle associated with research-education-policy
formulation-implementation in a world in which the education gap is increasing rapidly.
If the current crisis is to be taken seriously, people need to acquire access to an
appropriate response by some other means. The unfortunate characteristic of answer
propagation in response to the global problematique, as currently practised with all the
skills of media specialists, is that it is conceived in terms of mechanical metaphors such
as 'hitting' a 'target' audience and achieving 'impact'.
This is the approach used both by the public information programmes of the United Nations
family of organizations and by grass-roots initiatives such as the recent Planetary
Initiative for the World We Choose. This could be described as a 'particle'
approach acting to achieve the displacement of people from one mind-set to another.
Arguments presented elsewhere (23) suggest the need for a complementary 'wave'
approach acting to achieve the entrainment of people in terms of their current
mind-sets. Propagating an answer by resonance may prove to be a more appropriate mode in
dealing with the 'field' of world opinion. Particle propagation tends to be
considerably slower than wave propagation, as well as being easily blocked or deflected.
The challenge is to make available something simple enough to be comprehensible and yet
'seductive' enough to retain peoples involvement. On the other hand, if it is to
be of any value at this time, it must also be sufficiently complex and coherent to
encompass the complexity of a social reality in crisis, and yet empower people to act
together to contain the crisis in such a way as to be transformed by the unique learning
opportunity it constitutes. This is a tall order, far beyond the capability or ambition of
conventional international programmes.
Under the circumstances it is appropriate to look at unconventional possibilities. One
approach is through existing processes, penetrating all levels of society, which already
hold most peoples attention, transform their awareness, and govern their actions. The
challenge would then be whether it was possible to 'code' onto these, as a kind
of 'carrier', a second level of meaning. The 'double meaning' should
then offer a totally new set of insights suggesting new patterns of action.
Some possibilities for this approach are: popular music and dance, spectator
competitive sports, strip cartoons, rumour and scandal, humour, astrology and divination,
myths and legends, fables and parables, sex, courtship and family life, nature and weather
patterns. The merit of the last possibilities is that they effectively involve coding
the world problematique back onto the world and onto human beings, which would seem to
be a conceptually elegant response to the problem of self-reference (24,25) in a society
if constantly shifting patterns of meaning.Whether we like it or not, as Hilary Lawson
notes in reviewing the 'post-modern predicament':
'No assertion is simply an assertion, for it carries within it the unsaid
awareness that it cannot be asserted. In this sense reflexivity is no longer a form of
self-reference, a paradoxical puzzle, or a philosophical argument, but an inescapable
movement which is still present in the movements of apparent stillness. It is as if
(speaking metaphorically!), we are caught in the metaphors of language and there is no way
to halt their shifting character.' (26)
There is also merit in relating a conscious pattern of significance to a substrate by
which people are usually governed unconsciously. In Jungian terms this is an appropriate
and fruitful form of marriage between conscious and unconscious elements. Humanity's
inability to relate creatively to aspects of these unconscious elements (eg the
environment and the reproductive instinct) severely aggravates the problematique (eg
environmental degradation and the population explosion.)
Metaphors as a short-cut
The approach advocated therefore involves exploration of the possibility of activating
new metaphors which can enchant, empower, explain and orient approaches to the
problematique through the user's own comprehension of each metaphor's significance,
whether amongst the governors or the governed. Such a use of metaphor is only new in that
metaphors have not been deliberately used in this way before, despite the fact that
everyone has access to them. In Kenneth Boulding's words: 'Our consciousness of
the unity of the self in the middle of a vast complexity of images or material structures
is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity of a group, organization, department,
discipline, or science. If personification is only a metaphor, let us not despise
metaphors - we might be one ourselves.'(28, p.345) Or, as the poet John Keats
puts it: 'A man's life is a continual allegory - and very few eyes can see the
mystery of his life - a life like the scriptures, figurative.' The charm of it,
as Bateson stated in concluding a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human
adaptation, is that: 'We are our own metaphor.' (29, p.304).
Unfortunately we have over-identified with the metaphor and have been unable to see
ourselves in perspective. The lack of such self-reflexiveness could well prove to be an
important contributory factor to the current uncontrolled attitude to procreation which is
at the root of many current problems.
Metaphors are much used in every culture by people of every kind as vital short cuts to
the communication of nuance and complexity. There is a desperate need for any such short
cuts at a time when new intellectual and other insights are virtually inaccessible to most
people unfamiliar with the professional jargons in which they are formulated. Metaphors
have the tremendous advantage of being grounded in what is familiar, often at a gut level.
As such, not only do they facilitate rapid comprehension, but they often suggest new
dimensions to what is being conveyed through them. These unforeseen dimensions can provide
subtle poetic linkages between isolated mechanistic concepts, as well as totally new
insights to be explored.
The natural environment, for example, gives perceptible, concrete, three-dimensional
illustrations of the kinds of subtle distinctions which the mind is capable of making.
Metaphors based upon any such phenomena therefore firm up intuitions of relationships
between non-physical phenomena - rather than reducing them to simplistic, mechanistic
forms (as tends, to happen when the natural environment is destroyed, impoverished or
inaccessible). They thus offer insights into the management of differences. Metaphors have
a unique ability to enchant people and capture their imagination - at a time when
alienation andcynicism are the rule. This in fact is what has made them extremely suspect
in the eyes of professional intellectuals. As with any tool, however, the issue is really
one of learning when and how to use it, and to what purpose.
Comprehension of problems and their possible solutions, for example, may lie in
understanding how their metaphorical equivalents may be interrelated. Lakoff and Johnson
cite the example of a foreign student of theirs who, on encountering the expression
'solution of your problems', assumed that this was a well-recognized chemical
metaphor. Through it he had immediately obtained an understanding of the set of problems
as being made up of some dissolved into a solution whilst others had been precipitated out
(perhaps later to be redissolved again). In this light problems never completely
disappear, some are perceptible, whereas others have been temporarily 'solved'.
Any attempt to solve some problems may quite probably precipitate out others. As Lakoff
and Johnson say: 'To live by the chemical metaphor...rather than direct your
energies towards solving your problems once and for all, you would direct your energies
toward finding out what catalysts will dissolve your most pressing ones for the longest
time without precipitating out worse ones.'(30,p. 143-144).
Resurgence of metaphor
Since the early 1970s there has been a progressive increase in the study of metaphor,
accompanied by a number of breakthroughs in understanding about the function of metaphor.
A bibliography of post-1970 publications on metaphor records 4193 items (19).
It is interesting that this rise in interest should occur in the same period as the
widespread recognition of information overload and fragmentation of the body of knowledge.
The historian Frances Yates in her study of the art of memory (31), points out that modern
intellectual endeavour has inherited from scolasticism its devotion to the rational and
the abstract as the true pursuit of rational beings and 'banned metaphor and poetry
as belonging to the lower imaginative level' (31,77). She states: 'To move, to
excite the imagination and the emotions with metaphorical seems a suggestion
utterly contrary to the scholastic puritanism...' (31, p. 77).
Since the current crisis of governance involves both the dimensions of comprehending
complexity and of motivating people, it is intriguing that Yates should demonstrate the
key role of metaphor in the neglected art of enhancing memory skills. Yates asks whether
it would not be easier to remember a multitude of actual facts (propria) rather
than use metaphors (metaphorical) as a means of ordering them. She salutes Albertus
Magnus (across) the ages for his concern: (1) 'that images are an aid to memory; (2)
that many propria can be remembered through a few images; (3) that, although the propria
give more exact information about the thing itself, yet the metaphorical move the
soul more and therefore better help the memory' (31, p.77).
In these terms the challenge to memory is the underlying problem posed by complexity
and for governance. More complex processes call for a longer collective attention span. 'Something
has been left out all along the line and it is memory' (31, p.89). The need for
memory aids may indeed be a major factor in the rise in interest in metaphor.
It is now recognized that metaphors permeate use of both everyday language and the
jargons of many disciplines including physics (32,33). As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
note: 'Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the
rhetorical flourish - a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language...most
people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the
contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought
and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is
fundamentally metaphorical in nature.' (30, p.3)
Lakoff and Johnson demonstrate this with many examples which are confirmed in Roger
Jones study of Physics as Metaphor (33). The authors conclude that 'If we
are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way
we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of
metaphor.' (30, p.3) They started their work from a concern that the
understanding of meaning as explored by Western philosophy and linguistics had very little
to do with what people found meaningful in their lives and quickly discovered that the
assumptions of those disciplines precluded them from even raising the kinds of issue they
wished to address. 'The problem was not one of extending or patching up some
existing theory of meaning but of revising central assumptions in the Western
philosophical tradition. In particular, this meant rejecting the possibility of any
objective or absolute truth... It also meant supplying an alternative account in which
human experience and understanding, rather than objective truth, played the central
role.' (30, p.x)
The authors show how metaphor reveals the limitations of objectivism, namely the
assumption that the world is made of distinct objects with inherent properties and fixed
relations between them. In a subsequent paper Lakoff takes the investigation a step
further with an extensive exploration of classical assumptions about categories and
cognitive models. He concludes: 'Changing our ideas about categories will require
changing our ideas about rational thought, the nature of the mind and its relation to the
body, and, in the process, changing our conception of man. Rationality, rather than being
disembodied, purely mental, asocial, unfeeling and mechanical, is something which
essentially involves the body, the senses, the emotions, social structure, interactions
with other people, the imagination, and the capacity for idealization and for
understanding based on the totality of experience. And the use of many partial models,
some of which are inconsistent with each other, to comprehend experience is not
irrational, but rather fits the paradigm of human rationality.' (34)
This does not necessarily imply that objectivist categories and models should be
abandoned. It does suggest, as argued elsewhere (23), that these constitute only one form
of language and that there are others on whose resources society can draw at this critical
It is interesting that the current explorations of the function of metaphor are
clarifying its traditional use in conveying subtleties which are denatured by conventional
categorization, namely the kind of altered modes of awareness, whether associated with
religious experience (36) or other forms of peak experience characteristic of certain
approaches to human development (36). J-P Van Noppen points out that 'while it is
becoming clear that metaphor is not a panacea providing the final answer to all questions
raised by human attempts at framing a transcendent mode of being in man-centred language,
the present evolution traces paths of thought and investigation which deserve to be
pursued and which are...being trodden with a great deal of enthusiasm.' (37, p.4)
This has been stimulated by explorations of the mechanism whereby man's words could be
'stretched' beyond the usual limits of this worldly reference. He stresses
however thatexponents of metaphor have not been blinded to the limitations of the medium.
The contributors to the reader edited by Van Noppen repeatedly emphasize that the metaphor
'should not be taken beyond its point, i.e. should remain subordinate to the
insight it was coined to express, and perhaps even be adapted when the actual insight is
blurred or swamped by secondary associations.'(37, p.4)
Models, analogies and metaphors
There is an ongoing debate in the philosophy of science concerning the status of models
and analogies in relation to scientific 'explanations' (38). Sharp distinctions
have been made by some between models, analogies, metaphors and isomorphs in this debate.
As a technical term, analogy has been used to designate a kind of predication midway
between univocation and equivocation. For many years it was therefore of no interest to
scientists who perceived themselves as dealing only in univocal terms. But research in
fundamental physics involving phenomena only describable by complex equations has given
increasing legitimacy to analogy and metaphor as tools with which to create, comprehend
and communicate complex intangibles. Analogy and metaphor, however they may be
distinguished, have thus come to serve the same function as they have traditionally had in
theology where metaphor has been used to focus the mind on the dynamic real (36).
There is therefore a shared recognition that univocal language cannot satisfactorily
express the degree of complexity or subtlety which has been found necessary to embody the
relationships affecting human understanding of man's relation to the universe. There is
recognition that not only is human experience metaphorical in nature, but also that
metaphor is an essential constituent of the structure of human experience. That is, part
of the meaning of any experience is elusive, and it is the use of metaphor that formulates
this elusive meaning and makes available an understandable figure of speech (35). Mutual
interaction between the metaphor tenor and vehicle has been discovered to be the paragon
of all coherent experience in which sensation is able to achieve a state of resonance with
some residuum from the experiencer's heritage of remembrance (39).
This paper has avoided any exercise in defining metaphor. Indeed it is questionable
whether this would be fruitful - point raise by V V Nalimov who holds that it cannot be
given a good definition (95, p.78). For the purpose of this discussion it is important not
to restrict the idea of metaphor to the literary sphere. It is not possible here to
explore the complex relationship noted by various disciplines between metaphor and other
forms such as analogy, myth, allegory, parable, ritual, and literary, symbols (as distinct
from a mere sign or indicator.)
The relationship between metaphor and symbol is much discussed. According to many
authors any symbol-sentence is a metaphor in the sense that it transfers to one subject
what was originally associated with another (36, p.133). But Avery Dulles notes that: 'When
a metaphor is used simply to illustrate what is already known in a nonsymbolic way, it
does not function heuristically as a symbol. Going further, some literary critics... hold
that every living metaphor is too personal and evanescent to be called a symbol - a term
which in their view connotes greater objective density and firmer rootedness in the stable
forms of biological and communal existence. Although their view of symbol may be too
narrow, we may agree with these authors that the power of metaphor depends on the prior
presence of meaningful structures in the events and realities to which the metaphor
refers.' (36, pp. 133-134)
In addition to discussion within the literary and artistic disciplines, there is also
extensive debate amongst those preoccupied with the philosophy and methodology of science
concerning the relationship and status of models, metaphors, paradigms and symbols. It
should not of course be forgotten that a significant proportion of such debate is between
schools of thought in which the ability to establish new distinctions and disparage those
of other schools is much appreciated. Of special interest however, are those studies which
endeavour to bridge the gaps between their use in science, art and religion.
Ian Barbour, for example, states that: 'A metaphor proposes analogies between
the normal context of a word and a new context into which it is introduced... There is a
tension between affirmation and negation, for in analogy there are both similarities and
differences... A metaphor can order our perception, bringing forward aspects which we had
not noticed before... a novel configuration has been produced by the juxtaposition of two
frames of reference... It is a new creation for which there are no rules, and its meaning
survives only at the intersection of the two perspectives which produced it. One must
maintain an awareness of both contexts illuminating each other in unexpected ways.'
(83, pp. 12-13)
Literary critics, according to Barbour, have debated at length as to whether the
metaphor's assertion of significant analogies can be reduced to a set of equivalent
literal expressions, giving the metaphor a purely decorative and rhetorical function with
no distinctive cognitive content - a psychological role but not an indispensable logical
one. The opposing view, which he supports, holds that a metaphor is open-ended and can not
therefore be reduced to such a set of statements - it has an unspecifiable number of
potentialities for articulation which it is up to the user to explore (83). Efforts have
been made to program computers to translate political and economic metaphors into
equivalent literal statements (84).
Scientific models, Barbour argues, are also based on analogies which are open-ended and
extensible, although they tend to be more systematically developed than metaphor. Unlike
scientific models, metaphors, especially in poetry, tend to have emotional and valuational
overtones. They evoke feelings and attitudes. They are dynamic and involve the user as a
participant, encouraging him to draw from various dimensions of his own experience.
Metaphor is expressive of the poet's experience and evocative of the listener's. But the
presence of these non-cognitive functions does not require that cognitive functions be
absent. Metaphors influence perception and interpretation as well as attitude. A poem is
judged by its faithfulness to concrete human experience.
For Barbour many religious symbols seem to be metaphors based on analogies with man's
experience. He argues that poetic metaphors are used only momentarily, in one context, for
the sake of an immediate impression or insight, whereas religious symbols become part of
the language of a religious community. They are then the expression of man's emotions and
feelings, and are powerful in calling forth his response and commitments. They arise
frompersonal participation, rooted in man's experience as an active subject, not detached
observation. He further points out that religious models, like literary metaphors,
influence attitudes and behaviour and also alter ways of seeing the world. They serve as
organizing images which give emphasis, selectively restructuring as well as interpreting
He seems to be unnecessarily absolute in his claim that metaphors are only used
'momentarily', whereas models are used in a sustained, systematic fashion (83,
p.16). This is somewhat inconsistent with his later points noting the exact parallelism
perceived by certain philosophers between models and metaphors in their heuristic uses
(83, p.43). There are also an increasing number of arguments by scientists suggesting that
science itself is metaphor (40). In this sense metaphor is clearly not specially limited
in the time dimension. As Donald Schon argues, both offer programmes for exploring new
Unfortunately those assuming responsibility for advocating and implementing new
policies in response to the social problematique do not consider the social system to
involve problems of comprehension as complex as those encountered in fundamental physics
and theology. They continue to believe that policies of requisite complexity can be
envisaged using non- metaphoric language, with the consequence that such policies tend to
be simplistic, inadequate, incoherent (except to those involved) and incapable of arousing
the enthusiasm of broad constituencies. However, when it is a matter of practical
politics, politicians make considerable use of metaphor in communicating their positions
to the masses (eg 'nuclear umbrella', 'Star Wars', 'green
revolution'), as the studies cited by Van Noppen show. Instead of policy-makers using
richer metaphors to envisage more imaginative policies of an inherently more integrative
nature, policy-making is done using a sterile administrative jargon (legitimated by its
academic equivalent). The simplistic product is then discussed and communicated to a wider
public using metaphors which fail to conceal the poverty of the imagination on which the
policy is based (eg 'umbrella').
Metaphor and truth
Astronomer Hanbury Brown points out that: 'physicists have come to realize that
because our descriptions of the 'real' world are metaphors based on limited
abstractions from a more complex reality, it is possible to arrive at quite different,even
contradictory concepts of the 'thing' which is being observed' (40,
p.139). Such a change in perspective is surely of interest in assessing different theories
of development and different ideologies, especially since Brown continues: 'This
new view of reality shows us that all our descriptions of objects are not of what they are
'like in themselves', as was envisaged in mechanical philosophy, but are
descriptions of how they 'behave' in response to the observations we choose to
make' (40,p. 140)
He summarizes the current approach to scientific truth in the following terms: 'Thus
we can think of our whole scientific picture of the physical world... as a metaphor which
describes what we observe of a complex, perhaps incomprehensible, reality in terms which
we can grasp and use. This picture is limited, not only by our understanding, but also by
our tools of observation, so that it is always incomplete, always unfolding and always
provisional. It can never claim to be the absolute truth, but at any given time it is the
best picture we have.' (41, p.140).
Such considerations are highly relevant to any attempts to model the development
process, or to formulate development strategies. Part of the current tragedy is that the
advocates of ideologically 'incompatible' development strategies do not
recognize that, as Brown puts it, what is excitingly new about these epistemological
developments in science is that they have significant practical consequences: 'Surely
it is a valuable step forward to be able to demonstrate to anyone, no matter how
sceptical, that our description of the world actually does dependupon how we choose to
observe it, and that in consequence there can be more than one valid way of describing the
same thing' (40, p.141).
From the point of view of the arts in response to the key question of the relation of
metaphor to truth, Nelson Goodman in a study of 'Ways of Worldmaking',
states that: 'Truth, moreover, pertains solely is what is said, and literal truth
solely to what is said literally. We have seen, though, that worlds are made not only by
what is said literally but also by what is said metaphorically...' (41, p.18).
Also: 'metaphorical truth differs from metaphorical facility much as literal truth
differs from literal falsity' (41, p.31). And in response to the need to
distinguish between valid and invalid multiple possibilities: 'Not only does
countenancing unreconciled alternatives put truth in a different light, but broadening our
purview to include versions and visions that make no statements and may not even describe
or depict anything requires considerations of standards other than truth' (44,
p.107). In a study of the 'Languages of Art' he notes: 'Truth of
a metaphor does not, indeed, guarantee its effectiveness. As there are irrelevant, tepid
and trivial literal truths, there are far fetched, feeble, and moribund metaphors'.
(41, p.79) He also notes: 'A frozen metaphor has lost the vigour of youth, but
remains a metaphor. Strangely, though, with progressive loss of its virility as a figure
of speech, a metaphor becomes not less but more like literal truth.' (41, p.68)
IV. Governing metaphors and metaphors of governance
There is of course a multitude of metaphors on which politicians draw to increase the
power of their communication and these havebeen extensively studied (see refs 42 to 52),
including metaphors implicit in the Communist Manifesto (53). It has even been said that
'The politician without metaphor is a ship without sails' (54). But such uses of
metaphor tend to correspond to the communicative or illustrative function noted above.
There seem to be very few studies of the use of metaphor in economics (55), public
policy-making (56), strategic planning (57) or decision-making (58), namely the internal,
initiatory processes of governance. The challenge for governance is to discover whether
there are not some key 'root' metaphors, each especially applicable under
certain circumstances. Of even greater value would be the existence of any systematization
of them relevant to the problems of governance. The existence of such root metaphors has
been reviewed in work by the geographer Anne Buttimer (based in Sweden).
Buttimer examines geographic thought and practice in terms of a contemporary trend away
from observation (of reality) to participation (in reality). This trend is not so much a
linear or chronological progression as a conceptual (even ideological) transformation,
involving epistemological, dialectical and hermeneutical phases (59,60). Her basic
approach is inspired largely by Stephen Pepper's theory of world hypotheses by which four
distinct world views are claimed to have stood the test of time in Western intellectual
history: formism, organicism, mechanism and contextualism (61).
Each or these hypotheses about the nature of world reality grounds its claims to truth,
and its categories of analysis, on a 'root metaphor'. In geography she sees a
reflection of these macro world views in the root metaphors of 'map',
'organism', 'mechanism' and 'arena'.
Thus: formism grounds itself on the common sense experience of similarity and a
correspondence theory of truth, expressed in the case of geography in a preoccupation with
mapping. Mechanism, based on a causal adjustment theory of truth, takes the machine as
root metaphor, resulting in a preoccupation with special systems and functional mechanisms
in the case of geography. Organicism, based on a coherence theory of truth, regards every
event as a more or less concealed process within an organic whole. Finally, contextualism,
based on an operational theory of truth, sees the world as an arena of unique events.
Buttimer points out that creative thinkers move quite freely between the different
styles of these root metaphors. Each of them 'spells a distinct design for the
physical and functional arrangements of space, time, and activities on the ground; their
often incompatible demands eventually becoming legible in the texts and textures of urban
life. Which metaphor, or combination of metaphors, will endure or dominate at any
particular will, of course, be a function of economic and political power
interests...' (59, p.92).
Buttimer recognizes that this set of root metaphors may not be exhaustive, but stresses
its heuristic function. But although her geographical and planning concerns touch on those
of governancein general, they focus more on how geographers have been dominated by
particular metaphors at particular times in the development of the discipline, rather than
on the insights they provide for the government of a territory or institution.
Pepper's root metaphors have features similar to Magoroh Maruyama's four
epistemological 'landscapes' (62,63):
- (a) Homogenistic, hierarchical, classificational;
- (b) Heteregenistic, individualistic, random;
- (c) Heterogenistic, interactive, homeostatic;
- (d) Heterogenistic, interactive, morphogenetic.
But again, despite Maruyama's cybernetic concerns, it would appear that his work
focuses more on the variety of ways in which a control situation might be analyzed rather
than the implication for how it might be controlled or governed. He does however recommend
a 'poly-ocular' shift between these alternative mindscapes.
The difficulty here is that both Pepper's and Maruyama's sets are essentially sterile
in this form. As analytical modes they fall victim to the same impotence as many other
interesting sets of academic categories. Indeed these two sets of four have strong points
of comparison with that described earlier from Development Alternatives (7), derived quite
independently. But metaphor, in the sense of this paper, has an essential feature which is
absent from these sets which appear here to have a 'paradigmatic' dimension.
Buttimer herself says: ' Metaphor, it has been claimed, touches a deeper level
of understanding than 'paradigm', for it points to the process of learning and
discovery - to those analogical leaps from the familiar to the unfamiliar which rally
imagination and emotion as well as intellect' (p.50). Furthermore she points out
that (citing Cassirer and Lange): 'This propensity to make symbolic transformation
of reality is the most characteristically human activity of all' (59,p.90). She
quotes Doctorow: 'The development of civilizations is essentially a progression of
These insights still do not focus sufficiently on the ways in which root metaphors
might be used in governance. Taking Buttimer's point, how does the creative thinker move
creatively between the different styles of such root metaphors? What is required are some
clues to the projection of such fundamental metaphors into the decision-making context of
governance -clarifying how to select and shift between them in the process of handling the
socio-political hyle. Transforming Doctorow descriptive's approach into the operational
challenge of governance: How is the progression of metaphors to be designed in order to
Examples of metaphors in governance
Is it possible to locate some key metaphors that are currently of fundamental
significance to governance and especially to that of the international community? Whilst
many are mentioned in relation to polities none are identified in relation to government
in Van Noppen's bibliography (19). To the extent that the eight clusters of dimensions of
governance in Figure 1 are an appropriate guideline, it would indeed be fruitful to
indicate any associated metaphors.
Examples of such metaphors might include:
- (a) Containment cluster: 'guardian of the people', 'nuclear shield',
- (b) Simplicity: 'One Earth';
- (c) Complementarity: 'global village', '100 flowers blooming';
- (d) Difference: 'evil empire', 'enemy of the people';
- (e) Empowerment: 'grass roots', 'mobilization of public opinion';
- (f) Operational relevance: 'in the field', 'Band Aid';
- (g) Complexity: 'Gaia', 'information explosion';
- (h) Requisite variety: 'cultural heritage', 'folk wisdom'.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of the use of metaphors in governance is in relation
to military-questions. The whole approach to thinking on such matters is affected by such
notions as 'nuclear shields' and how they are to be 'penetrated',
especially in a 'star wars' context. Whilst some metaphors are identified by
opponents of an approach (e.g. 'nuclear freeze'), others are developed within
the military, as in the names given to military projects and secret operations (e.g.
'Thunderbolt'), as well as to weapons systems themselves (e.g.
'Starfighter','Trident'). Are such names intended to motivate those
who decide on their use, those who operate them, those provide funds for them, or those
who will hopefully be intimidated by them?
It is also interesting how some of the operational groups working for global harmony,
have deliberately cultivated certain metaphors, possibly reinforced by images and symbols.
Thus the 'One Earth' image and the Gaian metaphor, and especially
'grassroots' approaches and operations 'in the field'. It is even
useful to ask to what extent the whole vocabulary of development action is based on
metaphor: 'organization', 'programme', 'task force', etc.
But although these are clear examples of the extensive use of metaphor in relation to
governance or in support of it, the question remains whether the role of metaphor is
limited to a public relations function, namely, to the communication function noted
earlier. The examples above may affect the way people think about the governance of
complex issues (e.g. references to Reagan's 'John Wayne'/'Rambo'
approach to governance), but do they affect the processes of governance itself and the way
choices are made? The literature cited above provides ample evidence of the use of
metaphor by politicians in parliamentary debate to clarify an issue or attack the position
of the opposition. Criticism of Thatcher's policy of privatization was recently given a
very sharp focus through former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's phrase 'selling off
the family silver'. Thatcher's subsequent reply in justifying and reiterating that
policy was 'selling the family silver back to the family'. This is a good
example of policy clarification at the metaphoric level.
But such examples, even though significant in parliamentary debate, do not indicate
whether metaphors are used in the initiation or elaboration of policy. This is the
difference between cabinet level debate and parliamentary debate. But even cabinet level
debate is about policies already outlined in draft form through the services of
secretariat professionals who normally make great effort to avoid metaphor in an effort to
present texts 'professionally' (in dry administrative jargon.) However such
secretariats are supposedly the infrastructure of governance, so the question remains how
actively metaphor is used in the 'smoke filled rooms' where policy options are
conceived and mulled over, prior to being formulated on paper and in feasibility studies.
What are the conceptual processes through which such policy options are conceived by those
taking new initiatives in governance? And what part does metaphor play in such processes?
In the case of President Reagan, the 'most powerful man in the world', it has
frequently been pointed out that he prefers to receive information in the form of video
films and imagery in general, rather then through briefing documents (especially those in
excess of one page, as is the case with most politicians). Is it possible that the kinds
of policy which he supports are limited by the kinds of metaphors to which he is
sensitive? Would more appropriate policies become credible if their conception could be
supported by richer metaphors? How is the richness andquality of metaphors such as
'John Wayne' and 'Star Wars' to be compared with those such as
Insights: From classical metaphors ('the body
The specific use of metaphor in relation to statecraft has a long history. Chinese use
of metaphor has been noted above. The human body was of special importance as a metaphor
for statecraft in the Renaissance (73).
As noted above, the attempt to code the social system (and its problems) back on to the
human being would seem to be a conceptually elegant response to the problem of
self-reflexiveness. There is also merit in relating a conscious pattern of significance to
a substrate by which people areusually governed unconsciously. In Jungian terms this is an
appropriate and fruitful form of marriage between conscious and unconscious elements.
Humanity's inability to relate creatively to aspects of these unconscious elements (e.g.
the environment and the reproductive instinct) several aggravates the problematique (e.g.
environmental degradation and the population explosion).
Such an approach is not as incongruous as might be suspected. It has been suggested
that the body is an 'ideological variable' (74). Mary Douglas, an
anthropologist, has argued that the organic system provides an analogy of the social
system which, other things being equal, is used in the same way and understood in the same
way all over the world. The human body is capable of furnishing a natural system of
symbols, but the problem is to identify the elements in the social dimension which are
reflected in views of how the body should function or how its waste-products should be
judged (75). In a more recent study she points out that according to the 'purity
'the more the social situation exerts pressure on persons involved in it, the
more the social demand for conformity tends to be expressed by a demand for physical
control. Bodily processes are more ignored and more firmly set outside the social
discourse, the more the latter is important. A natural way of investing a social occasion
with dignity is to hide organic processes'. (76, p.12)
But such dignity, despite its value, is essentially static and conservative, denying
the dynamics of development, decay and renewal - more effectively contained by the
essentially human, and often 'vulgar' folk rituals of carnival, etc. It is then
easier to understand how oversimplified and 'inhuman' our highest ideals become
when they reject such bodily functions as digestion, excretion and intercourse. Douglas
points out how uncomfortable some religions are with the association of such processes
with a deity and consequently the difficulty they have in dealing with whatever they
reject. Similarly in society's major institutions, there is no explicit conceptual link
with that of themselves which they reject. The attitude towards bodily waste products is
indicative of the degree of creative acceptance of the 'loss' portion of any
Douglas identifies four distinctive systems of natural symbols, namely social systems
in which the image of the body is used in different ways to reflect and enhance each
person's experience of society:
1. Body conceived as an organ of communication:
'The major preoccupations will be with its functioning effectively; the relation
of head to subordinate members will be a model of the central control system, the
favourite metaphors of statecraft will harp upon the flow of blood in the arteries,
sustenance and restoration of strength.'
2. Body seen as a vehicle of life:
As such 'it will be vulnerable in different ways. The dangers to it will come...
from failure to control the quality of what it absorbs through the orifices;fear of
poisoning, protection of boundaries, aversion to bodily waste products, and medical theory
that enjoins frequent purging.'
3. Practical concern with possible uses of bodily rejects:
As such it will be 'very cool about recycling waste matter and about the pay-off
from such practices... In the control areas of this society controversies about spirit and
matter will scarcely arise.'
4. Life seen as purely spiritual, and the body as irrelevant matter:
'In these types of social experience, a person feels that his personal relations,
so inexplicably unprofitable, are in the sinister grip of a social system. It follows that
the body tends to serve as a symbol of evil, as a structured system contrasted with pure
spirit which by its nature is free and undifferentiated. The millennialist... believes in
a Utopian world in which goodness of heart can prevail without institutional
devices.' (76, pp. 16-17)
Clearly such distinct attitudes can well determine distinct political tendencies. It is
unfortunate that Douglas did not broaden the scope of her study to include sexual
behaviour. For although she recognizes its fundamental importance (76, p.93), she confines
her concern to the significance of attitudes to the waste-products (of a single body) in
determining behaviour within family systems. An equivalent focus on sexual behaviour would
provide insight into the ways in which attitudes to alternation between perspectives are
similarly encoded and into the possibility of employing courtship and sexual symbols to
enrich understanding of alternation processes in society.
The limitation of such approaches, as they have been developed, is that they are
essentially descriptive and deterministic. In their present form they do not show how
people can deliberately use such metaphors in the processes of governance.
Insights: From corporation strategy making
As has been frequently noted, many large corporations are economically of comparable or
greater significance than the smaller nation-states. The strategic and management problems
of such corporations have many points of similarity to those of governance in general.
Presumably, with the current enthusiasm for Japanese management models, some Western
management education programmes offer courses on the traditional metaphor-based manuals of
strategy discussed earlier. This would be the exception however, for although management
literature, as with most literature, makes extensive use of metaphor, this tends to be
present purely for communication purposes. Indeed, as with any professional literature,
efforts are made to avoid the deliberate use of metaphor.
The situation is very different in verbal interchanges between managers and those
concerned with corporate strategy. Extensive use is made of metaphor to clarify strategy.
Of special interestis the extent to which sporting and military terms are used as
metaphors. Again the question is whether such metaphors have a purely communicative
function or whether they are essential to the kinds of strategy that are formulated. Is
the famous question of the Duke of Wellington: 'The battle of Waterloo was won on
the playing fields of Eton' to be understood as signifying that the strategic
skills were honed and defined through sport which then became a metaphor through which the
battle was perceived and conducted? Is it in this sense that the merit of character
formation through sport is to be appreciated - as providing a neurolinguistic
understanding of certain metaphors?
Whilst sport, whether in the intricacies of American football or the subtleties of
cricket, can provide a rich source of metaphors, the question remains whether such
metaphors offer the variety and the richness appropriate to governance of complex
societies. It is possible that Japanese skills in governance are superior, at least within
their own culture, precisely because they draw on metaphors of greater depth and richness.
These points also raise the question as to the best methods for enabling students to
acquire access to metaphors which will be valuable to them subsequently in strategic
decision-making. Sport and military service may in this sense have greater relevance than
poetry. The special advantage of the Japanese lies in their blending of martial arts
(aikido, kendo, etc) with poetics, philosophy and the aesthetics of the tea ceremony, as
exemplified by bushido as a whole approach to human and social development.
Insights: From traditional guides to governance
In considering the problems of governance in sustaining development, it is appropriate
to bear in mind the fundamental differences in attitude towards action in the Occident as
compared to the Orient. In the West action can be characterized in terms of achievement of
a goal, advance from A to B. In the East, action has an important cyclic component.
Progress, if any, can be characterized by improvement in the quality of the cycle of
action. These contrasting attitudes are reflected in chess and the games of go (or weigi).
It is worth noting that one study of the Vietnam war has demonstrated how the Chinese won
by employing strategies characteristic of go (presumably in contrast to Western approaches
to strategy which tend to be associated with those of chess). Since sustainable
development must necessarily embody cyclic features, it is appropriate to examine
traditional guides to governance which embody them.
One such guide is The Book of Changes, otherwise known as the I Ching
(66). This has been a major influence on Chinese thinking for 3000 years, providing a
common source for both confucian and Taoist philosophy. As noted by R G H Siu: 'For
centuries, the I Ching has served as a principal quide in China on how to govern a
country, organize an enterprise, deal with people, conduct oneself under difficult
conditions and contemplate the future. It has been studied carefully by philosophers, like
Confucius, and men of the world, like Mao Tse-Tung' (67). For this reason the
popularity of its (ab)use as an oracle should not be confused with the philosophy and
insight embodied in its structure, or theuses to which it was put by those in power.
At the more fundamental levels of interpretation of the Book of Changes, as its
title implies, the concern is with the way things change. In this sense it purports to
show the different forms of change in what was identified earlier as the hyle, which could
also be related to Bohm's 'holomovement' (15).
Although the I Ching identifies specifically some 384 transformational pathways
between 64 basic conditions of the 'hyle-human' relationship, these are grouped
into 8 basic patterns or rhythms of change. Each such pattern of change can engender or
sustain a certain kind of structure within the psycho-social system. Change or movement in
this sense is the essence of the most significant kinds of structure. These basic patterns
can therefore be understood as the forms of change to which governance must respond and,
if it is to guide the developmental process, must embody into the processes of governance
(if Ashby's Law of requisite variety is to be respected).
In the words of David Frawley: 'Motion and structure cannot be regarded as two
different and contradictory things in a universe where everything is constantly changing.
Where everything is changing any true structure can only be through change, not against
it... To understand change as structure is to understand the world as change and to begin
to interiorize the world back into ourselves' (68, p.151).
The I Ching itself is replete with characteristic metaphors through which those
of Chinese culture have been assisted in their understanding of these different processes
of change. There can be little doubt that in this way the Chinese processes of governance
were directly assisted by the metaphors and the manner in which they were interwoven
within the I Ching. Such metaphors appear quite alien to the Western mind, so there
is little point in presenting them here. Contemporary Chinese political terminology
continues to make extensive use of number-based metaphors, such as the '9 stinking
There remain the insights offered by the I Ching into the eight fundamental
patterns of change which the human mind can supposedly perceive in the hyle. An earlier
paper presented the results of an exercise in translating the 64 conditions of the
hyle-human relationship described in the I Ching into Western management jargon
(70). Each of the eight fundamental patterns of change groups eight of these conditions
together as phases of that pattern. In Figure 4, the eight patterns are presented with the
labels resulting from that translation exercise.
According to David Frawley each of the eight phases in a pattern has a distinct
(1) The essential state of a force which transcends its subsequent movement on one hand
and imitates it on the other;
(2) The phase in which the manifestation, movement or changes of a force first begin in
incipient rather than definite form;
(3) The phase in which the actuality of the force becomes apparent as a fact rather
than as a tendency;
(4) The phase in which the force merges with its opposite, engendered by its own
emergence as the balancing factor, required to sustain the development of any force;
(5) The phase in which the force reinitiates movement, as a dynamic reorigination, on a
move intense level after having derived energy from its complement;
(6) The phase in which the force reaches its maximum point of development through which
its limits are encountered;
(7) The penultimate phase in which the force begins to return to its essential form;
(8) The ultimate phase in which the significance of the whole pattern is established
and through which it is transformed into its original form.
Do such suggestions offer real insights into the challenge for governance? It could be
argued that each pattern is a schematic substrate which lends itself to allegorical
illustration of the different styles of governance. Metaphors of greater current relevance
to the international community could then presumably be used to interpret the patterns and
The economic successes of Japan have so traumatized Western managers, that great
attention has been focused on works which guide them in their strategic thinking. The 394
precepts in the Chinese classic Sun Tzu's The Art of War (71) are considered of
relevance not only in modern military academies but also to corporate strategy. It is
considered required reading for any corporate strategist in the Far East. Clearly it is
not difficult to use the problems of successful warfare as a metaphor for the corporate
warfare of economic competition.
Much closer to the subtleties of Japanese strategy is The Five Rings, a
classical study of the art of swordsmanship. A recent English translation appears with the
subtitle 'The Real Art of Japanese Management (27). This makes very extensive
use of metaphor to develop understanding of subtle strategies for dealing with an
opponent. They too are fruitfully interpreted as metaphors for strategic problems. It is
somewhat extraordinary to the Western mind to find in such a book on strategy a whole
section devoted to the practitioner's relationship to 'emptiness', namely the
realm which cannot be known or experienced as an independent reality - although this is a
theme central to the work of Russian mathematician V V Nalimov (80).
Experiencing the nature of this relationship is identified there as being the ultimate
key to effective strategy. In the terms of this paper relating to such an
'emptiness' raises problems of the same order as that of relating to hyle or
Bohm's holomovement. It is interesting that the Institute of Cultural Affairs, an
international nongovernmental organization with world-wide community development
programmes, has made extensive use of SunTzu in elaborating their strategic thinking and
of The Five Rings in elaborating their tactical approach. Figure 5 exercises is a
metaphorical presentation of their insights.
Sun Tzu's set of precepts noted above draws attention to those compendia of fables and
stories which have been used over the centuries to clarify strategic opportunities for a
community or nation. They range from the Fables of Aesop, Lafontaine and Krylov, through
the Mulla Nasrudin 'teaching stories' deliberately developed by the Sufi's, to
the Pali Buddhist Jataka tales. Such a format has stimulated Russell Ackoff, professor of
systems science, to produce his own set of 'fables', many of which are highly
relevant to the problems of governance (72). The exploration may even be extended into the
relevance of myths and legends to governance. Certainly in the absence of theory, such
sets of insights have had to play a vital role in guiding the development of understanding
about the opportunities and constraints of governance in a variety of fairly well-defined
situations which are as real today as they were when they were formulated.
Insights from the arts: fiction, poetry and music
It is one of the recognized functions of the arts to give form to visions of new ways
of organizing perceptions of the world. The arts are therefore an important resource in
exploring newvisions of social organization and visions of the future. As such it might be
expected that they would suggest new approaches to governance.
In the case of fiction this has taken the form of description of utopias or, more
recently, the scenarios explored in works of science fiction. To the extent that
literature fulfils its function of prefiguring new modes of governance, it is from such
writings that insights should be available. But despite an incredible range of scenarios
covering the far distant future of a multitude of galaxies, the main innovations explored
The social innovations tend to be more the consequences of adaptations to alien
environments rather than significant innovations in the way humans might organize their
relationships. But most disappointing is the poverty of insight into new modes of
governance. Writers tend to project onto the distant future modes of governance
characteristic of the classical Roman Senate, the US Government and the United Nations,
reinforced by electronic gimmicks (many of which are already available) - or fall back on
governance through a mega-computer. This is regrettable because such literature reinforces
the poverty of expectations with respect to governance and is no stimulant to creative
thinking on the matter.
One situation explored by a number of writers is however of relevance to comprehending
complexity. That is the problem of piloting or navigating a spacecraft through
'hyperspace' or 'sub-space', as imagined in the light of recent
advances in theoretical physics and mathematics. Because of the inherent complexity of
such environments, several writers have explored the possibility that pilots and
navigators might choose appropriate metaphors through which to perceive and order their
task in relation to that complexity - for example, flying like a bird, windsurfing,
swimming like a fish, tunnelling like a mole, etc. The mass of data input, otherwise
completely unmanageable is then channelled to the pilot in the form of appropriate sensory
inputs to the nerve synapses corresponding to his 'wings' or this
'fins'. The perceptions through the chosen metaphor are assisted by artificial
intelligence software. The pilot switches between metaphors according to the nature of the
hyperspace terrain. Such speculations do at least stimulate imagination concerning a
possible marriage between metaphor and artificial intelligence in relation to governance.
Given the key position of poetry as a source of metaphor, as well as the subtlety of
insights attributed to poets, one might expect the existence of poetic insights into the
problem of governance. One interesting initiative in this connection is the multi-lingual
compilation by V S M de Guinzbourg entitled the 'Wit and Wisdom of the United
Nations' (77). Whilst on the staff of the UN Secretariat, he collected proverbs
and apothegms on diplomacy, some of them poetic in form. Of greater interest is the little
known novel by the English Poet Laureate, Robert Graves, entitled
Seven Days in New Crete (78). This is in effect a study of governance through
In explaining why 'we are our own metaphor', biologist Gregory Bateson
pointed out to a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation that:
'One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because
in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don't
ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry
the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we're not
usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and
about ourselves, because of this mapping from complexity to complexity.'
Bateson is thus pointing to the advantages of poetry in providing access to a level of
complexity in people of which they are not normally aware. This could well be of
significance for the governance of social processes characterized by patterns of
relationships normally too complex for the mind to grasp. Of special interest in
comprehending non-linear cyclic processes in relation to linear thinking, are the
potential insights arising from the relation of rhythm to metre in poetry. In this sense
the current 'spastic' development of society, as a victim of economic cycles,
may be seen as resulting from an a-rhythmic approach to governance.
The insights to be derived from music in this connection have been explored by Jacques
Attali, a key advisor of François Mitterand. In a study entitled 'Bruits',
he demonstrates how the forms of musical organization pre-figure historically the
acceptable forms of social organization and governance (79). The organization of music
thus functions as a metaphor through which new social patterns become acceptable: 'On
peut montrer que l'essentiel de la politique du XXe siècle est dans la science
économique du XIXe siècle, elle-même contenu dans la musique du XVIIIe, que la crise de
l'harmonie à Vienne au début du XXe siécle annonce celles des grands équilibres
économiques, que le hit parade préfigure aujourd'hui l'évolution de l'économie dans
les sociétés industrielles.'
The question is how society can make better use of such artistic insights, before
rather than after suffering spastically through crises, for which those insights offer
remedial patterns of organization of a more appropriate order of complexity - and which
touch and motivate people more effectively.
V. Goveranance through metaphor
Phases in the metaphoric cycle
Although it is clear from the earlier sections and from an extensive literature (19),
that metaphor permeates daily speech, even in professional milieux, it is important to
distinguish between 'superficial' uses of metaphor and those of significance to
governance. An initial distinction was made above between a 'communicative'
function and an 'initiatory' function. This needs to be articulated to a greater
degree to clarify the range of uses of metaphor, especially if this helps to show how
metaphors emerge and acquire progressively greater significance for the core processes of
As a first step in this direction, Figure 6 is a further adaption of a table originally
presented elsewhere (23) as an adaption of work by Arthur Young (81). His work constitutes
a novel approach 'g-a' to the learning cycle as a learning action cycle througha
new interpretation of the set of 12 'measure formulae' through which material
phenomena are observed, acted upon and controlled in physics and engineering. These he
portrays as corresponding to a series of interdependent phases in a learning-action cycle.
Of special interest in connection with sustainable development is, the significance he
attaches to the sequence of movement around the cycle:
(a) one direction involving essentially unremembered experience-without-learning
(implying subsequent recapitulation: 'Those who cannot remember the past are
condemned to repeat it');
(b) the other direction involving conscious-learning-action
(implying rediscovery as in T S Eliot's: 'And the end of all our exploring will be
to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time').
The version of the table presented here has been adapted by introducing into each of
the 12 phases the relationship to metaphor and the manner in which it is used. Additional
labels to the columns have been given on the basis of Buttimer's clustering of
professional roles in relationship to planning or government service (60), namely:
- (a) Poesis: evolving a sense of place, meaning of landscape and civilization;
- (b) Paideia: teaching and documentary work;
- (c) Ergon: practical application of discipline to solution of social and environmental
- (d) Logos: promotion of analytical rigour and theory building;
Additional labels given to the rows are:
- (a) Responsiveness: implying sensitivity to condition;
- (b) Patterning: involving imposition of pattern, in this case metaphor or patterns of
- (c) Identification: implying identification with a metaphor or embodiment of it.
The earlier distinction made between the 'communicative' and the
'initiatory' functions determine whether the phases are encountered, in Young's
terms, in an unconscious action-without-learning mode or in a conscious learning mode.
These correspond to the much-quoted distinction made in the report to the Club of Rome
'No limits to learning' (82) between 'maintenance learning'
(associated with adaptive action) and 'innovative learning' (especially
associated with change in response to crisis): 'Innovative learning is problem
formulating and clustering. Its main attributes are integration, synthesis, and the
broadening of horizons. It operates in open situations or open systems. Its meaning
derives from dissonance among contexts. It leads to critical questioning of conventional
assumptions behind traditional thoughts and actions, focusing on necessary changes. Its
values are not constant, but rather shifting. Innovativelearning advances our thinking by
reconstructing wholes, not by fragmenting reality... (44, p.42). The labels
'maintenance learning-action' and 'innovative learning-action' have
therefore been added to distinguish between the two sets of labels at the top of each
column. In a sense each phase may be encountered either without conscious awareness of
So, for example, in Phase 2 the discovery of an adequate metaphor may involve either of
(a) Purely communicative skills, selecting among ways of clarifying a point to
facilitate communication, through the use of old metaphors familiar to the communicator -
simply as a figure of speech, for decorative of rhetoric purposes. This phase would tend
to follow Phase 3 in the action cycle in which commitment to some underlying metaphor had
already been made and is not brought into question by the purely illustrative use of
metaphor in Phase 2.
(b) Creative discovery of a new metaphor to order a set of phenomena. This phase would
tend to follow Phase 1 in the learning cycle in which the problematic nature of the
disordered phenomena has been a challenge. The new metaphor offers insight into a way of
ordering which can be the basis for subsequent phases in the learning cycle (Phases 3,4,
In order to bring out the significance of the maintenance and innovative approaches
more clearly in relation to the dimension of Figure 6, a summary of functions associated
with governance is presented in Figure 7.
In the case of Poesis (Phases 1-3 of Figure 6), for example, the maintenance or
adaptive mode is characterized by the use of metaphor by public relations in all its
forms, ranging from the most positive (eg. UN campaigns) to the most manipulative (eg.
sloganeering, 'hate campaigns', etc), designed to mobilize public opinion. The
innovative mode is characterized by metaphor creation (especially involving poetry, music
songs, imagery and symbols), typically associated in the mind of the creator with
conversion to a new mode of perception or even to obsessive enchantment. (The high level
of creativity involved in quality public relations may of course come under the second
category for those involved in that creative process, but distribution or consumption of
the product of process would come under the first category.)
The organization of the table is not supposed to suggest that the maintenance level is
dysfunctional compared to the positive functions of the innovative level. Each has vital
positive functions as well as lending itself to abuses and excesses. Again in the case of
poesis, there is at present an excess of public relation of dubious value to the process
of sustaining development, whereas although much creative effort is devoted to imagery,
literature and song illustrative of the problems of development, its relationship to the
process of governance receives little attention, thus encouraging creativity of a kind,
which is completely unrelated to the epistemological challenge of governance.
Figure 7 may also be used to illustrate the opportunities and problems in the relation
between the four functions. Several patterns of relationship may be distinguished in the
(a) Maintenance-learning orientation: this stresses the link between public relations,
training, task execution and technocracy. This is a highly prevalent pattern in the
international community's approach to sustaining development. It has been much criticized.
At this point in time it is being reinforced by the trend towards right wing policies, on
the other hand there is increasing international recognition that 'cultural
development' has been totally neglected in exploring approaches to sustainable
(b) Innovative-learning orientation: This stresses the link between creativity,
education, change agents and statesmanship. It has been much favoured in various forms by
alternative movements as a necessary corrective to the insensitivity and
'soulnessness' of the previous pattern. The advocates of this pattern often fail
to perceive the practical necessity of the elements in the previous pattern, as a result
this innovative-learning pattern is easily represented as idealistic and unrealistic.
(c) Adaptive exploitation of innovation: This focuses on the adaption of innovation in
such forms as creativity training, management education, promotion of technological
innovation (venture capital etc), and personality endorsement campaigns (personality
cults, fashion setters, guru-based groups, etc). Although often highly successful in
economic terms, there is little recognition of the weaknesses inherent in the limited
focus and inability to establish a relationship to the cycle as a whole.
(d) Regressive exploitation of innovation: This is the use of creative insights and
innovations to reinforce reductionist tendencies.
Modes of metaphor identification
For metaphors to be of more active and explicit significance togovernance, great care
must be taken to distinguish between 'casual' use of metaphors for ad hoc
illustrative purposes and 'deliberate' use of metaphor to order the perception
of whole systems of relationships, whether for the discussion of an agenda point, for the
duration of a conference, for the implementation of a strategy or for a complete cycle of
governance. Clearly any casual use can easily be dismissed with the pejorative phrase
'mere figure of speech', which can be easily be seen as indicative of
unprofessional argument in any formal decision-making environment. It is certainly not
something which professional support staff are free to indulge in during their
presentations - however much such metaphors are used by politicians and statesmen in
For those holding that science is a metaphor, the question arises as to how paradigms
and models are related to such metaphors. Again, as Buttimer notes: 'Metaphor, it
has been claimed, touches a deeper level of understanding than 'paradigm', for
it points to the process of learning and discovery - to those analogical leaps from the
familiar to the unfamiliar which rally imagination and emotion as well as intellect'
There are the vested interests in manipulating and defending the distinctions between
metaphor, symbol, paradigm, model and analogy. As David MacDermott points out in
identifying a set of axioms concerning metaphors: 'Grammarians, literacy scholars
and rhetoricians have been defining, refining and confining the basic process of metaphor
for so many centuries, that now they have a whole catalog of esoteric terms, such as:
synecdoche, mimesis, paradigm, metonymy, analogy, prosopeia, hyberbole... This
proliferation of particulate terms may bring joy to the hearths of those who belong to the
cult of specialism, but it can only result in disappointment for others who, like myself,
want to become aware of generic characteristics, in addition to those which are specific
' (96). Some assumptions must therefore be made to extract those insights of
relevance to governance. Perhaps the best compromise lies in assuming that some metaphors,
at least, can be used as symbols, paradigms, models and analogies, whether simultaneously
or under different circumstances. The kind of metaphor of value to the processes of
governance would then be one which:
(a) clarified the dimensions of a new framework, as an organizing image - the paradigm
(b) provided a sustained and systematic elaboration of that framework - the modelling
(c) indicated specific analogies (or isomorphisms) which could be usefully explored;
(d) constituted an attractively evocative symbol of a coherent and internally
but without losing the characteristics, so important to metaphor, of evoking feelings,
attitudes, participation and commitment, whilst remaining faithful to concrete human
The vital importance of the latter dimensions to those who mould the major policy
options through various processes of governance has been strongly emphasized by Harold
Lasswell: 'Why do we put so much emphasis on audio-visual means of portraying
goal, trend, condition, projection, and alternative? Partly because so many valuable
participants in decision-making have dramatizing imaginations. They are not enamoured of
numbers or of analytic abstractions. They are at their best in deliberations that
encourage contextuality by a varied repertory of means and where an immediate sense of
time, space and figure is retained' (97)
It is important to stress that the focus on the metaphoric dimensions does not in any
way deny the importance of the modelling function when conceived non-metaphorically as a
purely conceptual device (e.g. as in econometrics, global modelling, etc.) The point is
rather that in order to present and explain such models successfully to those preoccupied
with the many dimensions of governance, they must anyway be imbued with metaphoric
dimensions - however distasteful this may be to modelling purists. But for those concerned
with governance, it is precisely through imbuing the models with metaphoric dimensions
that they become meaningful and can be related, through the political insight and
experience of the governors to concrete realities which models, as abstractions, do not
fully take into account. It is the ability of the governors to project themselves into the
metaphor which enables them to find ways of fitting the model to the decision-making
realities of the world they are dealing with and to the mindsets of the governed. Both
model and metaphor are epistemological crutches - one facilitating left-hemisphere
information processing and the other right-hemisphere processing. As Jeremy Campbell says:
'Another kind of context supplied by the right brain comes from its superior grasp
of metaphor' (98)
Expressed in these terms, it becomes clearer that many of the inadequacies of modelling
for governance are precisely due to the lack of attention to the need to imbue them with
metaphoric dimensions. Equally many of the inadequacies of metaphors for governance are
due to the lack of attention to the need to imbue them with modelling dimensions. In
metaphorical terms, the former furnish clothes of appropriate strength, but which are so
uncomfortable and ugly, that nobody is inclined to try them on or be seen wearing them.
Whereas the latter furnish clothes which are a delight to try on, but cannot be taken more
seriously than fancy dress, because they are not appropriate to the varieties of weather
conditions which they must withstand. This is a problem of design.
For both the governors and the governed it is a question of the extent to which they
are able to 'get into' the 'metaphor-model'.
In this light Figure 5 and Figure 6 can be interpreted as indicating different degrees
and kinds of participation in the metaphor-model ranging through:
- (a) Poesis (Phases 1 to 3): Indicative, allusive and enchanting and possibly abusive;
- (b) Paideia (Phases 4 to 6): Descriptive and explanatory, and possibly disinformative;
- (c) Ergon (Phases 7 to 9): Motivating and heuristic, possibly reinforcing habitual
- (d) Logos (Phases 10 to 12): Paradigmatic and world-view.
This question of 'getting into' recalls Buttimer's reference, noted, above to
the most profound transformation in twentieth century knowledge being the movement from
observation (of reality) to participation (in reality) - a theme explored by Michael
Polanyi (99). What degrees of 'epistemological participation' does a
'metaphor-model' offer? Are there more powerful forms of participation, or at
least forms more powerful in different circumstances? These need not be trivial questions
for governance, because in a sense epistemological participation can be more powerfully
attractive than participation limited to political processes, which it effectively
It is interesting, with respect to such collective learning questions, that the
American Cybernetic Society award for the best paper of the year has just gone to Kathleen
Forsythe, for a paper entitled: 'Cathedrals of the Minds; the architecture of
metaphor in understanding learning'. In it she points out, citing Bohm (15), that
the issues of content and process are no longer the key issues in the new ways of thinking
about learning. But content and process are now to be seen as two aspects of one whole
'The fundamental difference in this new view of learning is to see analogical
thinking as the architecture and analytical thinking as the engineering of our mind's view
of the world. Thinking and learning become a dynamic 'open' geometry (Fuller,
101) characterized by increasing complexity and transformation as a dissipative structure
(Prigogine, 102) based on a kinetic, relational calculus (Pask, 103). The meta design is
not built on inference and syllogism but on analogy and relation thus allowing form to
develop from an underlying logic - the morphogenesis of an idea. (Sheldrake, 104).
Knowledge is seen not as an absolute to be known but always in relation to agreement and
disagreement, to coherence and distinction in terms of individual, cultural and social
points of view. The language we use to communicate then takes on a heightened importance
(Wittgenstein, 105)) whether that be the language of words or the metaphor language of
pattern (Alexander, 106). take
Fruitful avenues for further investigation
Possibilities for further research include:
(a) Identification of hidden policy metaphor: This could involve the development
of a methodology to determine what metaphors were influencing or constraining the
formulation of new policies. Such work can be seen as an aspect of that on work-related
values as pioneered by Geert Hofstede (100). His work is more general however so it is a
question of whether it is possible to identify particular metaphors which effectively
engender and interrelate the sorts of values that he isolates;
(b) Identification of metaphors implicit in symbols of national identity: Each
country, as well as many large international agencies, invests considerable resources in
legitimating the symbols by which it identifies itself in the eyes both of those it groups
and of equivalent groupings, with deliberate efforts to anchor such symbols as a focus of
its cultural heritage or, more recently, its 'corporate culture'. This includes
accordingspecial significance to national mottoes of which some examples are:
- USA: E pluribus unum;
- UK: Honi soit qui mal y pense;
- France: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité;
- USSR: Proletarians of the world unite.
The question is whether such mottoes are purely decorative devices or whether they are
indicative of hidden metaphor influencing or constraining the fundamental approach to
governance of a given country;
(c) Identification of metaphor implicit in any set of specialized agencies or
government ministries: As pointed out in an earlier paper (4), it is not recognized,
when advocating or imposing the use of particular sets of values, needs or programmes,
that these effectively compete as functional substitutes in traditional societies with
other sets of qualities and modes of action symbolized by hierarchies of gods or spiritual
beings governing those qualities. The fundamental sets society now attempts to implant,
whether embodied in the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations or the equivalent
government ministries, are indeed designed to perform many of the regulatory functions
previously ascribed to supernatural beings or potencies. Given the ersatz quality of the
academic and administrative approaches to legitimating such initiatives, in contrast with
the cultural richness popularly associated in the past with pantheons or Camelot, for
example, it is not surprising that public information programmes have relatively little
success in arousing enthusiasm and generating 'a political will to change'.
The question is therefore how such agencies could make creative use of the metaphoric
and symbolic dimensions to counteract their superficial and 'bloodless' images,
and give credibility to their initiatives. Given the criticisms of inefficiency and
fragmentation, such investigations could uncover ways in which the metaphors governing
agency action could be seen as components of a self-organizing organic pattern of
fundamental significance - even to the governance of the planet as a whole. Such
investigations could highlight the necessary functional complementarity between the
metaphors in any such pattern;
(d) Investigation of problems as metaphors: It is seldom realized that a
societal problem, as such, is a problem (at least to some degree) precisely because it
escapes any attempt to encompass it within any conventional set of categories. Such
problem cannot be 'defined' in any scientific way (21). Global modelling
initiatives do not model problems. Any problem emerges from human interpretation of the
significance of the relationships modelled under certain conditions - they are not
embodied in the model. As a psycho-social reality, people claim, however, to perceive
problems. But as abstractions escaping definition, such problemscould well be better
understood as metaphors. It is indeed possible that metaphors offer a more fruitful way of
handling them. It is arguable that the Chinese currently, emphasize this approach.
Investigation is required into the strengths of this approach and its weakness (possibly
as illustrated by Reagan's 'evil empire' metaphor). Of special interest are the
metaphors through which the global problematique may be perceived. Extremes include the
'billiard ball' metaphor, the 'network' metaphor (21), the 'field
metaphor' (with characteristic analogous to electromagnetic fields), and the
'wave metaphor' (with problems emerging into prominence and then disappearing,
as with political issues). Better metaphors, or more developed metaphors, could suggest
more coherent strategies;
(e) Investigation of metaphors implicit in the vocabulary of development action:
It is seldom realized that a significant proportion of organization vocabulary results
from innovations made by the Cistercian Order of monks after the 12th century in an early
form of transnational organization. The notions of 'assembly',
'commission', 'constitution', 'agenda' and
'ballot', for example, derive from that context (86). Given the key role played
by the limited vocabulary of international action and development action in general, it
would be appropriate to explore what metaphors are hidden in that vocabulary -
'organization', 'programme', 'congress', 'in the
field', etc. In some cases tracing the metaphor may enrich understanding (e.g.
'organization'), in others dangerous limitations may become apparent (e.g.
'project', 'mobilization'). Such investigations may suggest the
possibility of a richer vocabulary more appropriate to 'marshalling' resources
in support of development action;
(f) Investigation of metaphors implicit in management and policy-making jargon:
As noted earlier managers, entrepreneurs and change agents make intensive use of metaphor
in discussion their initiatives and the associated risks. One interesting example is that
describing an initiative as 'taking off', whether it then 'flies' or
'crashes', and whether it was flown 'by the seat of the pants'. It
would be interesting to investigate whether the richness and value of this metaphor could
be further developed by imbuing it with modelling dimensions (as suggested earlier).
Whether as an airplane or a bird, further dimensions could be added to increase the match
between the concrete actions, controlling initiatives and feedback requirements, and the
way in which these are integrated within the flying metaphor. Developing such metaphors
could offer a whole new approach to educating people in the art of taking initiative and
entrepreneurship. Other interesting examples include 'in the field' and
(g) Investigation of metaphors characteristic of complementary management team
roles: A limited amount of research has been undertaken on the personality
characteristics associated with the distinct roles required to build a successful team.
Typically much of the earlier work focused on building crews for strategic bomber planes.
The more interesting recent work on management teams has identified eight roles or
functions (87). The question requiring investigation is whether managers performing
suchdistinct roles can further increase their effectiveness by their use of more powerful
metaphors, both as a personal creativity aid and as an aid to communication between
members of the team. One of the advantages of such metaphors is that they can be used to
encode both the positive qualities of the role and the characteristic weakness. An example
of this is the 'resource investigator' role involving a capacity for contacting
people and exploring anything new, especially in response to a challenge. This is a
well-known informal role in an army platoon during war-time (the person who can
'obtain' a camera inside a prisoner of war camp.) Many metaphorical terms are
used to describe it. The point is whether the distinct metaphors used are complementary or
mutually undermining. At the community level the use of different animal totems within an
Indian tribe as symbolizing a special function could provide insight of relevance to
governance of contemporary society. At the international level is there any significance
for governance in the relationship between the 'eagle' (USA) and the
'bear' (USSR)? What sort of 'menagerie' or 'ecosystem' is
the United Nations in these terms?
(h) Investigation of metaphors characteristic of complementary management styles:
As noted above at several points, although metaphors are frequently used even in
management, the problem remains of establishing their use to the policy-making processes
of governance. At this level distinct styles of management may be active or available as
opportunities. One recent study by Charles Handy of the London Graduate School of Business
Studies ('The Gods of Management; who they are, how they work and why they
fail' (88)) uses four Greek deities to characterize the different styles of
management. The four gods (and the associated organizational styles) are: Zeus (club),
Apollo (role), Athena (task) and Dionysus (existential). He notes: 'Each of the
four gods gives its name to a cult or philosophy of management and to an organizational
culture. Each of these cultures has also got a formal, more technical name, as well as a
diagrammatic picture. The names, picture and Greek God each carries its own overtones, and
these overtones combine to build up the concept I am trying to convey. They also help to
keep the ideas in one's memory. These names and signs and Gods do not amount to
definitions, for the cultures cannot be precisely defined, only recognized when you see
them... It is important to realize that each of these cultures, or ways of running things
is good - for something.' (88, pp. 25-26). As he stresses the problem is to know
how to choose which god for which circumstances. It is the constraints and opportunities
of the process of choosing that need to be embodied in metaphor and which call for further
(i) Investigation of the use of metaphor in management education: Considerable
resources are devoted to management education in the form of programmes in creativity
training, lateral thinking and the like. Although educational material to encourage use of
metaphors could easily be developed to enrich peoples response to their social
environment, such material does not appear to exist. The only exception appears to be the
workbooks explicitly designed by W J Gordon to increase use of figurative language in
creative thinking (89,90). He and others described the significance of metaphor for
learning (91,92). But there appear to have been no studies of its relevance for societal
learning - a major concern of the United Nations University - nor for learning in and
through the process of governance. Initial investigation is needed to establish the
limitations in the manner in which metaphor has been introduced in educational
environments in order to identify opportunities for further investigation, especially in
relationship to creativity in governance.
VI. Envisioning governance in the future
Much has been made in recent years of the emergence of the 'information
society'. Enthusiasts have envisaged this resulting in a 'global village',
given the facility of information access and transfer. Great care must be taken in
building on such hopes in envisioning new forms of governance.
In order to identify the opportunity for the emergence of a form of governance which
responds with requisite variety to the issues identified in this paper, it is useful to
distinguish three sets of arenas as presented in Figure 8, originally developed for an
earlier paper on the information society (93). The table identifies 9 arenas and groups
them into an: Adaptive Group (I-V), an Innovative Group (VI-VIII), and a Transformative
Group (IX). Most effort and attention concerning the information society focuses on the
Adaptive Group. Some effort is devoted to the Innovative Group, whilst very little is
devoted to the Transformative Group.
For there to be a real breakthrough in processes of governance, there has to be a real
breakthrough in the movement of meaning in society. The mere movement of information (as
represented by the Adaptive Group) will not suffice, even if its is described as the
'dissemination of knowledge'. It leads to information overload and information
underuse (a project of the United Nations University).
It is at the Innovative Group level that new key concepts emerge and, in the case of
the international community, result in new programmes and institutions with new emphases.
The manner in which this occurs at the moment is inadequate to the challenge. One useful
way to envision the governance of the future is in contrast to Johan Galtung's insightful
but disillusioned analysis of 'concept careers' within the UN system, meaning
both how innovative concepts undergo a career of stages or phases, a life-cycle in other
words, and how concepts may move from one organization to another. Thus, as to their
life-cycle at present, he notes:
- a fresh concept is co-opted into the system from the outside (almost never from
the inside because the inside is not creative enough for the reasons mentioned). The
concept is broad, unspecified, full of promises because of its (as yet) virgin character,
capable of instilling some enthusiasm in people who do not suffer too much from a feeling
of déjà-vu having been through a number of concept life cycles already. Examples: basic
needs, self-reliance, new international economic order, appropriate technology, health for
all, community participation, primary health care, inner/outer limits, common heritage of
- the organization receives the concept and it is built into preambles of
resolutions; drafters and secretaries get dexterity in handling it. The demand then arises
to make it more precise so that it can reappear in the operational part of a resolution. A
number of studies are commissioned, very carefully avoiding too close contact with people
and groups behind the more originalformulations as 'they do not need to be
convinced.' The concept thus moves from birth via adolescence to maturity, meaning
that it has been changed sufficiently to become structure and culture compatible (it will
not threaten states except states singled out by the majority to be threatened); the idiom
will be that of the saxonic intellectual style, rich in documentation and poor in theory
and insights; very precise but limited in connotations and emotive overtones;
'politically adequate' meaning that it can be used to build consensus or
dissent; depending on what is wanted where and when.
- From maturity to senescence and death is but a short step: the concept thus
emasculated can no longer serve the purpose of renewal as what was new has largely been
taken a away and what was old has been added in its place - except, possibly, the term
itself. Even the word will then, after a period of grace, tend to disappear, those who
believe in it now no longer identify with it; those who did not get tired of saying
'we knew it would not work, it did not stand the test of reality'. In this phase
outside originators of the concept may be called in for last ditch efforts of
resuscitation, usually in vain. There is no official funeral ceremony as the concept will
linger on in some resolutions, but there will be a feeling of a void, of bereavement.
Consequently, the search will be on, by concept scouts, for new concepts to kindle
frustrated and sluggish consciences. And as a result-
- a fresh concept is co-opted into the system from the outside, e.g. one that has
already been through its life cycle in another part of the UN system. For the rest read
the story once more.
Nevertheless, each concept leaves some trace behind, more than its denigrators would
like to believe, less than the protagonists might have hoped for. If this were not the
case the cognitive framework for the system would have undergone no change during the 35
years of its existence'. (58)
In the light of the arguments of this paper, the weakness of the system highlighted by
Galtung is that it is focused on concepts as they move into and out of fashion, rather
then on the metaphor-models through which concepts emerge and may be associated. Effort is
made to create the impression that such 'concepts' as self-reliance should be
understood as meaningful in their own right, as the product of academic, political and
administrative expertise. At the same time, in order to communicate their significance and
ensure support for them, they form the subject of public information programmes,
documentaries, propaganda and sloganneering. Through this process they also become
metaphors (as well as symbols of an approach which others attack). The problem is that as
such these metaphor-models are not very rich. As conceptual models, they may be, but those
dimensions are not well reflected in the metaphorical presentation that migrates through
the field of public opinion - they were not designed to be. They do not excite the
imagination of many as metaphors can.
These points make it possible to suggest that a desirable form of governance will focus
its attention on the emergence andmovement of policy-relevant metaphor-models in society.
Instead of regretting or resisting the life-cycle that Galtung identifies, many
possibilities lie in enhancing and ordering that movement, which is better conceived as
the life-blood of the international community. The challenge lies in bonding metaphors to
concepts to provide vehicles for the latter to move effectively through information and
institutional systems - as motivating concepts rather than solely as part of the streams
of information processed.
Governance is then fundamentally the process of ensuring the emergence and movement of
such 'guiding' metaphor-models through the information system, as well as their
embodiment in organizational form. Such stewardship also requires sensitivity to the
decreasing value of any metaphor-model (at the end of its current cycle) and the need to
adapt institutions accordingly. The stewardship required of the metaphor-model 'gene
pool' is analogous to that currently called for in the care of tropical forest
ecosystems - as the richest pools of species and as vital to the condition of the
The merit of this vision of governance is that it does not call for a radical
transformation of institutions - which is unlikely in the absence of any major
catastrophe. Rather it calls for a change in the way of thinking about what is circulated
through society's information systems as the triggering force for any action. At present
governance in the international community is haunted by a form of collective schizophrenia
- a left-brain preoccupation with 'serious' academic models and administrative
programmes, and a right-brain preoccupation with the proclivities of public opinion avid
for 'meaningful' action (even if 'sensational'). This schizophrenic
battle between models and metaphors could be resolved by legitimating the metaphoric
dimensions already so vital to any motivation of public opinion as a vehicle for the
models. The needs to be a two-away flow however from model-to-metaphor and from
metaphor-to-model, as in any interesting learning process.
In a sense this proposal is only radical in that it advocates the legitimation and
improvement of processes which already occur -if only in the sterile and demotivating
manner highlighted by Galtung. New metaphors are constantly emerging in the arts and
sciences. They are used by politicians. Presumably some of them are used in the existing
policy-making processes of governance. But the ecosystem of metaphor-models is an
impoverished one. It is totally divorced from the cultural heritage of the world. In terms
of Figure 7, there is a need to shift the level of analysis to the Transformative Group
(Arena IX). This shift is consistent with the analyses of the 'post-modern'
The shift itself could be usefully clarified using metaphor-models, of which some 80
examples are given elsewhere (21).
It is possible to elaborate a vision of desirable form of governance based on the
meaningful movement of metaphor-models as discussed above. It was emphasized that the
radicalness lay essentially in the approach to information rather than in institutional
change. The apparent similarity to the prevailing system, with all its defects, was also
This suggests the possibility of the emergence, or the existence already in some form,
of highly undesirable forms of governance based on the deliberate design and manipulation
of metaphor-models and the control of their movement through the international community.
Because of the prevailing focus on conceptual models, whether for academic or ideological
reasons, little attention is paid to the manner in which they lend themselves to
manipulation as metaphor. If, as has been argued in this paper, metaphors can exert a more
powerful influence than paradigms, then the international community is highly vulnerable
to manipulation at the metaphoric level. This is vaguely perceived in disguised form in
concerns with 'cultural imperialism' and various forms of
'disinformation'. But current processes of governance are more or less important
in responding to them because the metaphoric level cannot be taken seriously at this time.
It could be argued that 'Dallas' and 'Coca Cola' have a more powerful
impact on the collective imagination than all the programmes of the international agencies
This suggests the value of exploring the vulnerability of the world community to a
modern equivalent of the metaphoric manipulation so successfully carried out in Nazi
Germany. The dividing line between 'manipulation' and 'challenging approach
to human development' is difficult to establish using conceptual tools alone.
'Dallas' and 'Coca Cola' are perceived by many as desirable symbols of
the American Way of Life. As the many analyses of the cult phenomenon in the West have
shown, people are powerfully attracted by the metaphors embodied in such cults, more so
than by sterile establishment concepts. Presumably the way is wide open for groups, with
somewhat greater skills in manipulating metaphors, to mobilize society in totally
unforeseeable ways and to ends quite in contrast with those currently conceived as
The problem is that any positive shift in the approach to governance will create
awareness of the manipulative opportunities. So whether such a shift is initiated to
counteract such manipulation or not, such manipulation will become increasingly evident.
Many would argue that in current approaches to government, considerable attention is
devoted to such covert manipulation, whatever the concepts or models overtly debated and
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