Örtenblad, Anders; Kiran Trehan & Linda Putnam – Exploring Morgan’s Metaphors

  • Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis. Elements of the Sociology of Corporate Life. This is the book written by Gareth Morgan in collaboration with Gibson Burrell in mid-1979 that lays the foundation to a matrix with two axes: subjectivist/ objectivist (i.e. the nature of social science) and stability/ change (i.e. the nature of society). From their interesection, four quadrants (a fourfold table) result, comprising 4 paradigms: 1) the structural functional paradigm (objectivist + stability); 2) the symbolic interpretative paradigm (subjectivist + stability); 3) the radical humanism paradigm (subjectivist + change) and 4) the radical structuralism paradigm (objectivist + change)
  • Images of Organization. This book, written only by Gareth Morgan in the 1980s, presents 8 metaphors, as images that exemplifies the 4 paradigms presented earlier. In fact, each paradigm is exemplified with two images (metaphors) in what in social sciences could be named micro-level (individual) and macro-level (society): the first four metaphors are chosen for the dominant paradigms competing at that time – the structural functionalist paradigm versus the symbolic-interpretivist paradigm; the last four metaphors are examples for the other two paradigms – the radical humanism paradigm versus the radical structuralism paradigm. Therefore, the 8 images are: 1) the machine, 2) the organism, 3) the brain, 4) the culture, 5) the political system, 6) the psychic prison, 7) the flux and transformation, and 8) the instrument of domination. Parenthetically, it could be stated, with a certain precision, that the 8 metaphors are like the 8 legs of a spider
  • Exploring Morgan’s Metaphors. Theory, Research and Practice in Organizational Studies. This book has three parts: the first part and the last part are situated at the meta-level (like a manual presenting a spider): the first part comprises three chapters referring to the “introduction” of the book “Images of Organization”; and the last part contains four chapters pointing to the “conclusion” of the same book, “Images of Organization”. In between those parts, we can find another five chapters that are not arranged at the meta-level, but at the level position (they are the spider: its parts working alone or in conjunction). Those five chapters in the middle of the book are important for the following reason: the 4th chapter presents an overview of the following four chapters where some of Morgan’s metaphors are used as source for different targets such as: 1) the happiness (chapter 5th), 2) the integrated product-service systems (chapter 6th), 3) the leadership (chapter 7th) and 4) the digital turn and the dialogic turn (in chapter 8th). See Table 1
  • all in one, and one in all. The metaphor (the image) is one of the four master tropes, along: synecdoche, metonymy and irony. And their relationship is regulated by this rule: “All in one and one in all”. That is, in the nature of metaphor are the “seeds” for the other three tropes: the synecdoche, the metonymy and the irony. Sliced in a certain way, the metaphor became either the synecdoche (in fact, a metaphor is composed at least from three synecdoches), or the metonymy (and there are two types of metonymies in a metaphor), or the irony. See Image 1
  • the spider, the webs and the drugs. Burrell & Morgan had advanced 4 paradigms – like four spider webs; and 8 images of them – like the legs of a spider. The images of spider and its webs are proposed by me, for simplicity and plasticity. And there are some studies, starting at the end of the World War II, concerning the effects of drugs on spiders and the ways they are weaving their webs. First, the functionalist paradigm is like the web weaved by spiders unde the influence of amphetamine. In this case, the spider spin a spiral which has the usual shape but then he zigzags like an unsteady walker. Secondly, the interactionist paradigm is when the spider is weaving a web under the influence of marijuana: this drug does not produces disturbances of the sense of direction, but it cause the spider to omit the first part of the spiral. Thirdly, the web produced under the influence of caffeine is the image for the radical humanism paradigm. Caffein is toxic to spiders – in fact, some researchers suggested it could be a natural insecticide. And finally, the paradigm of radical structuralism is like a web made by the spider under sedatives. In this case, the web is so sketchy and simple because the spiders didn’t even try to weave it. See Image 2

Table 1:

Image 1:

Image 2:


  • Anders Örtenblad, Kiran Trehan & Linda Putnam (2015): “Exploring Morgan’s metaphors. Theory, research and practice in organizational studies”, Sage Publications, Inc
  • Gibson Burrell & Gareth Morgan (1979): “Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis”, Heinemann Educational Books, Ltd
  • Gareth Morgan (2006): “Images or organization. Updated edition of the International Bestseller”, Sage Publications, Inc
  • David Noever, Raymond Cronise & Rachna Relwani (1995): “Using spider-web patterns to determine toxicity” in: “NASA TechBriefs. The digest of new techology”, Official Publication of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 19 (4), pp. 106

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