Why analyse metaphor?
Metaphor is recognised as an important way of thinking – constructing analogies and making connections between ideas – and an important way of using language – to explain abstract ideas or to find indirect but powerful ways of conveying feelings. By investigating people’s use of metaphors, we suggest that we can better understand their emotions, attitudes and conceptualisations, as individuals and as participants in social life (excerpt taken from the OU Metaphor analysis project website).
What are metaphors?
The metaphor expert on the day was Professor Lynne Cameron from the Open University and she introduced the basic definition of metaphors, which was very useful:
“the phenomenon whereby we talk and potentially think about something in terms of something else” (Semino, E. 2008 Metaphor and Discourse. Cambridge. CUP).
It was also very interesting that Lynne explained further that metaphors could be grouped/connected by shared topics and in this way you could identify big patterns (she referred to this as systematic metaphors). For example, talking about life as a journey is a very common pattern. Another one is talking about time as money; i.e spending time, value the time, counting hours etc.
Then we all had a go at identifying metaphors in a data extract and the extent to which language is littered with metaphors soon became apparent. My use of “littered” in the previous sentence is an excellent example of a metaphor.
Why use metaphor analysis?
I found the practical exercises really useful and reading my data/text very closely meant paying attention to the ways people are using language/metaphors. I see it as a practice that can underpin (yet another metaphor!) the thematic analysis I already undertake on qualitative data. There was also a feeling that themes already identified in a data set could be explored in more detail by then looking in more detail at the metaphors and any big patterns to emerge from the data.
It was also suggested that metaphors could be useful in guiding how data was written up, as they can be great tools for communicating abstract ideas, complexity and connections.
More on the metaphor workshop details
A classic text dealing with metaphors is “Metaphors we live by” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Read more on conceptual metaphor.