Reflection on Research

Format Image


Is deep necessarily focused and narrow?


Metaphor has always been known as a powerful way to communicate. In recent dacades it has been investigated as a mechanism of thought (Lakoff, G. Johnson, M. 1980, 1999). A metaphor maps one thing onto another in order to imply attributes. They give the example of the metaphor: argument as war and point to how that gets embedded in language: (1980:4)

• “Your claims are indefensible
• He attacked every weak point in my argument.
• His criticisms were right on target”
and so on. The point is that, when we accept a metaphor in out conceptual system we accept the mapping of attributes from the source of the metaphor onto the subject we are thinking about or discussing. “we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments”. For example, if you are told that the criticism of your work was on target, you skulk away to do better. You accept the metaphor. Then the authors play a very entertaining trick. They postulate a culture which uses the metaphor of argument as dance. In such a culture, “people would view arguments differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently. But we would probably not view them as arguing at all” The result would have the goal of being “balanced and aesthetically pleasing”

So I would like to dance around the topic of research and, particularly research in depth. This came up because a proposed bibliography of mine seemed to have too many references and surely mining or drilling down to the depths of the subject should necessarily require focus. This, without being explicit, implies the metaphor of research as mining (or perhaps well drilling). The metaphor has merit in many (perhaps most) contexts and the comment was a welcome and useful caution not to wander off topic. (remember, we are dancing here, not warring).


I dutifully reflected on this and wondered why it seemed best to have a large bibliography. Indeed, I seem to need one and it is growing as I work. One thought is that my work is both cross disciplinary and, within each discipline spans a number of topics. I feel more like a hunter gatherer seeking berries and fruits wide and far for dinner than a miner. I think that is a more fitting metaphor for the task at hand. It seems that depth comes from completeness as much as it comes from a laser focus. That said, reflecting on mining, that metaphor will also serve as long as I’m mining for something very valuable (diamonds?) or very sparsely spread. Yes, an open pit mine will do.

Regardless, the caution was well intended, apt, and something to keep an eye on. This tiny paper is simply a different caution: that we should be very careful when we apply metaphor, particularly when they are implicit and not something we have consciously explored.

References and Rights


• Lakoff, G. Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Live By Chicago: University of Chicago Press

• Lakoff, G. Johnson, M. (1999) Philosophy in the Flesh New York: Basic Books


• Cover image: “Open pit of the Rio Tinto Rössing uranium mine, Namibia” by jbdodane uploaded to Flickrused under the creative commons Attribution- NonCommercial 2.0 Generic licence