Origins Volume 1, 2000, pp 199-244

Metaphors in the Social Sciences: Making Use and Making Sense of Them

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Ever since scholarly discourse has concerned itself with metaphors the latter have been recognized as something disturbing the order of things and/or the order of words designating the former. Foremost exemplars of the improper, metaphors toy around with correct meanings and conventionalized usages: at best, one holds that they have no relation to true knowledge at all and lets them pass because of their merely decorous role. More often, however, suspecting the worst, one is afraid of their outright deceptive effects. Conventional genealogy cites Aristotle as forebearer for this basic fear and the rejection of metaphors within proper discourse — a philosophy James J. Bono pointedly refers to as the philosophy of a land dweller: suffused with tropes of solidity this philosophy is a “terra firma upon which stable things and determinate, literal, proper meanings can be anchored” (Bono 1997, 9) — to this landscape metaphors simply do not belong.

This article is part of a broader endeavor pursued by Peter Weingart and me. It aims at developing metaphor analysis as a novel tool within the framework of sociology of knowledge. Especially section 3 and 4 contain thoughts and material of our joint publication on “The order of meaning: The Career of Chaos as a Metaphor”, Configurations, 5 (1997), pp. 463 – 520. While I thank Peter Weingart cordially for thoughtful comments on an earlier version of this paper, I am, of course, fully responsible for the result.