Images of organization development

The role of metaphor in processes of change

Authored by: Cliff Oswick , Robert J. Marshak

The Routledge Companion to Organizational Change

Print publication date:  October  2011
Online publication date:  October  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415556453
eBook ISBN: 9780203810279
Adobe ISBN: 9781136680908


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In his seminal work Images of Organization (1986), Gareth Morgan explored the prevailing metaphors which provide “ways of thinking” and “ways of seeing” organizations (e.g. organizations as machines, organizations as organisms and organizations as brains). In this chapter we consider the dominant metaphors that have underpinned ways of thinking about organization development (OD). In doing so, we seek to identify and examine the deeply embedded conceptual metaphors that have guided the formation and evolution of the field. Moreover, we also explore the extent to which metaphorical conceptualizations have simultaneously enabled and constrained OD practice and change processes. For our purposes, a distinction will not be made between metaphor, simile and analogy. We acknowledge there is a subtle difference between these forms of figurative comparison. However, in keeping with previous work, we view “metaphor as a rather broad category, encompassing analogy and mere appearance, as well as a variety of other kinds of matches” (Gentner and Jeziorski, 1993: 452).

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