, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 45–64 | Cite as

Busy as a Bee or Unemployed?: Shifting Scientific Discourse on Work



Changing images of work in discourse both portray and co-constitute the shift from an industrial to a postindustrial economy. Specifically, work metaphors appear in extra-scientific and intra-scientific discourse on workers and work structures in the natural and social world. An analysis of the entomological discourse from the late nineteenth century to the present shows changes in these metaphors that overlap with the discourse of change in human work and organizational structures. For instance, the metaphor of a busy bee within an efficient hive had traditionally evoked a comparison to the modern industrial workplace. The discourse on the hive currently more closely resembles a postindustrial conception of work. Discourse analysis can illustrate the role of language in co-constructing shared changes in image of work.


Work metaphors Social insects Postindustrial Discourse analysis 



I would like to thank Matt Lammers and Cassandra Crawford for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I also very much appreciate the insights and encouragement of the anonymous reviewers for Minerva in helping me to further strengthen my argument.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology DepartmentNorthern Illinois UniversityDeKalbUSA

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