In his 1998 article Antal Borbely places the “psychoanalytic concept of metaphor” at the center of psychoanalytic theorizing. The psychoanalytic concept of metaphor links the past and the present metaphorically, making it an intrinsic part of analyzing transference. He argues that metaphor is more than just a linguistic tool, it is a form of mentation. This conceptualization of metaphor has implications for theorizing about organizations and organizing.
Metaphors help researchers understand and interpret organizational processes in several ways. First, they direct how and where we look for data. Second, researchers may examine how metaphors are used by members of the organization, an important data point for understanding how they perceive the organization and attach meaning to it. Metaphor is also way to observe how members communicate across boundaries within an organization, both horizontally and vertically. Metaphors allow researchers to develop, organize, and understand observational and experiential data. However, metaphors may also restrict a researcher’s perspective on research; narrow research questions, and cause important data to be excluded from analysis (see also Lakoff and Johnson, 1980 and Morgan, 2006).
According to Borbely, metaphor is linked to both learning and creativity indicating that the metaphorical process, whether conscious or not, is important for understanding how we view organizing and develop theories about organizing. Researchers and practioners may be well served by articulating and examining the metaphors that they use to understand people and processes in organizations as a starting point for reflecting on their epistemology, methods, and theorizing.