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THE POWER OF METAPHOR / Vol. 62, No. 2 (Summer 1995)

Arien Mack, Editor

This issue is devoted to reflections on the power of metaphor in the social sciences. Authors were invited to consider the ways in which metaphors exert control within the social sciences and how a clear concept, for example, one with a precise meaning with a particular science, migrates into the social sciences where its meaning may be diluted without diminishing its power.

This article argues that one of effects of the ignorance of metaphorical thought is the mystification of liberals concerning the electoral successes of conservatives. Of the roughly two dozen conceptual metaphors for morality, most are used by both conservatives and liberals alike. The metaphor with the highest priority in the conservative moral system is moral strength. A major part of the moral strength metaphor has to do with the conception of immorality or evil. Evil is reified as a force that can make you fall, that is, commit immoral acts. Thus, to remain upright, one must be strong enough to stand up to evil. Hence, morality is conceptualized as strength, as having the moral fibre to resist evil.

This article discusses the use of metaphors in economic language. A set of supply and demand curves on a blackboard is a substitute, a map, for a market. Allegories are particularly powerful systems of belief. Marxism combines a metaphor of class struggle with a story of the proletarian journey. Mainstream economics combines a metaphor of free exchange with the story of the bourgeois journey. The free exchange and the bourgeois are not in strict logic connected to each other but in combination make an impressive ideology. A mathematical economist would have no difficulty understanding that economic thought is ranged along an axis from pure narration to pure metaphor.

This article discusses the metaphor of the social organism in sociology. Beyond supporting the general advocacy of naturalistic investigation of society, the organism metaphor was employed to advance more particular methodological positions. For Comte, viewing society as an organism valorized an effort to explain social phenomena in a holistic manner. Sociology contemplates each phenomenon in its harmony with coexisting phenomena and its connection with the foregoing and the following state of human development. Charles Cooley took the holistic conception even further. His organic view of history implied that no single component of the social whole could be conceived as an antecedent explanatory factor.

Unless we believe that we can create a distinct name for every conceivable object, thought, feeling, and action—and persuade everyone else to use the same set of names—we might as well concede from the start that we are necessarily creatures of metaphor. For time and again, we are forced to construct and convey our understanding of things through the use of terms previously reserved for other things, on the basis of some perceived or conjectured similarity between them. Metaphor, in other words, is no mere grammatical or rhetorical device. It is one of the major means by which we steer our way through life.

This article argues that the dialectical and complementary relations between the theater and the machine as political metaphors played a role in the amoralization of behavior. Although at first sight the theater appears to be the more traditional, and the machine a modern metaphor of society or politics, a closer examination reveals a more complex picture. In the age of mass communications, for example, it is the return of a radically modified version of the theater metaphor of society and politics which seems to anachronize the weaken the grip of the machine metaphor in key spheres of social and political life.

This article discusses the use of spatial images and metaphors in sociological theory. The increasing currency spatial metaphors in otherwise very different styles of contemporary sociological theorizing is perhaps not without significance. When used in a strong master theoretical manner, spatial metaphors happen to be anchored in a very specific set of theoretical preferences and an emphatically positive orientation to the natural sciences as a source of inspiration for sociological analysis--thus, also resisting the use of relativistic literary and postmodern metaphors and implicitly preserving some post-positivistic notion of social reality.

This article discusses the function of metaphor in the analysis of holism in the Third Reich. Beginning in 1890, a holistic approach to the life and mind sciences developed in Germany as both part and product of a larger cultural cosmology. Even though holistic science began to identify its basic problems, principles and paradigmatic research findings prior to World War I, the coming and especially the catastrophic loss of the war was a real turning point, a crisis for workers within the science--as it was for intellectuals across society in general.

This article explores the concept of embeddedness in economic sociology. This concept has two interrelated purposes. This first is to make a contribution to the sociology of social science by presenting a history of the concept that suggests some of the cultural and social structural elements of the social system that have influenced that history. The second theme is to make a contribution to the theory of economic sociology by using history to advance toward a better definition of what embeddedness should mean.


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