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General Statement of Research Interests

In what ways is knowledge of metaphor useful in better understanding what people are talking or writing about, and specifically in understanding and resolving conflict, mediating disputes, or negotiating differences?  Because we want to know not just what people say, but how they think, and because metaphor is central to thinking, we may certainly expect that knowledge of metaphor will be useful and perhaps found essential.

Can we define conflict in metaphor terms?  Are certain metaphors more conducive to discovering new alternatives?  When two people use the same metaphor are they more likely to agree, or is it more important that metaphors somehow complement each other, cluster, or mutually stimulate metaphor play?  Is familiarity with a wide range of conventional metaphors useful, or is it how completely a metaphor is fleshed out into its various mappings, its aspectual or event sequential structure?  Is it better to focus on governing metaphors that frame the overall conflict in thematic terms, or to look for patterns in the use of primary conceptual metaphors?  Is general knowledge of how metaphor works - its architecture or anatomy - valuable to understanding what a person means, and more specifically to a mediator or negotiator in understanding conflict?

Are there certain metaphors that produce better results?  Some conflict resolution specialists want to know the metaphors that, if used, will work best in mediation and negotiation.  Are gardening metaphors more effective than sports metaphors?  Is it helpful to familiarize oneself with the metaphors common in particular subcultures, or to introduce metaphors that suggest certain forms of solutions?  I noted that in the field of education there is a lively interest in what metaphors are most useful to teach certain subjects.  There is a body of literature on the most effective metaphors to use in psychotherapy.  Journals of business management debate what metaphors are most appropriate to lead high technology companies in a global marketplace.  Lawyers and judges ponder the constraining effect on judicial decisions when certain metaphors are used in arguing a case.  

In relatively more complex situations or disputes, are some metaphors more likely to be used than Others?  More helpful than others?  If resolution of conflict depends on disputants understanding highly complex situations more clearly, are certain metaphors or innovative mappings of common metaphors likely to aid in comprehension of the complexity?

What are particular advantages of detecting the hidden metaphors in spontaneous discussion?  Rapport, self-determination, and an open-ended approach to interpersonal communications are considered very important in general and specifically in conflict resolution.  A wide range of mediation experts seem to agree that only the disputants themselves know what their particular conflicts are about, and genuine progress depends on this knowledge.  So the disputants' versions are to be elicited with as little external framing and structure as possible in order to learn about their relevant subjective experience.  To what extent is knowledge of metaphor valuable when trying to hear the different people’s definitions of a situation, help them disclose their points of view, and broaden their sense of what to do or where to go?

How does one learn to detect metaphors implicit in dialog?  Special knowledge of metaphor is simply not necessary to understand what people mean.  We are accustomed to hearing a metaphor source mixed with literal discourse and other figurative forms and we understand meaning without consciously making such distinctions or identifying metaphors.  But if we want to gain facility with metaphor and use this to understand more, how do we overcome the habit of ignoring metaphor so as to develop metaphor-awareness skills?

Is professional practice dominated by certain metaphors that enable and constrain it?  Perhaps nowhere is the understanding of metaphor more important than in the literature of a teaching-learning community where experienced experts are imparting their understanding of a complex subject to those with less experience.  Such literature records the experts’ insights, theories, techniques and research on how to conduct their profession.  Through such literature a profession makes progress in developing and refining its practices and teaching those who are moving forward in their careers.  To what extent is this literature, and the training formats derived from it, dependent on unconsciously-used metaphor that, in turn, supports, contradicts, confuses, limits, or enhances the end result?  Can changes in these metaphors enhance practice?

Research In Progress


Major Metaphors in a Professional Literature {Mediation): Metaphors Purportedly Used in Conflict Resolution and Those Actually Used

Per Deigman, (p. 179): "...tease out underlying attitudes and make explicit various persuasive devices" that convey the writers' understanding of what [each type] of mediation is.

- Several papers already drafted or written (see Articles/Workshops) on this; also predecessor of Iberica which is long RAAMV.


Metaphoric Understanding of Conflict


Metaphors of Complexity: Metaphors for Teaching About Complex Systems

Papers and Articles Proposed/In-Progress (in various stages of completion; see Articles and Workshops for completed papers)  

Papers intended for conflict resolution journals:


Metaphoric Framing of Conflict in the Mediation Literature (Metaphoric Frames in Conflict Resolution Discourse) Metaphors of Conflict


Case Examples of Using Metaphor in Family Mediation (intended for Family Courts Review)


Three Modes That Mediators Use Metaphor


Metaphor Structure and the Structure of Conflict


Power in Negotiations - As Literally and Metaphorically Understood:
Power, The Metaphor of Power and the Power of Metaphor

Papers intended for journals publishing on metaphor research:

Changes in Metaphor To Frame Changes in Understanding (Do New Metaphors Come With New Understanding?)


Metaphors for the Purpose of Teaching About Dynamical Systems




Learning Conceptual Metaphor Workbook

Notes on what conflict resolution scholars seem to want to know about metaphor


Metaphor Workshop Series




. . . More Detail (as of 05/08)

Papers and Articles (in various stages of completion)


Using Metaphor in Mediation and Negotiation (later re-written; go here for draft of paper originally submitted to Conflict Resolution Quarterly)


Case Examples of Using Metaphor in Family Mediation (intended for Family Courts Review)

'Less theory (I love the theory but it is difficult at first glance) and more practical and how you have used it.'


Metaphors of Conflict: Professional Literature of Mediation Explains It Figuratively (How the Trainers Tell Us What Conflict Is):  A publishable version of IACM 2007  If “Journeys” and “Things” Frame Our Thinking, Can We Adequately Reason About The Nature of Conflict?

The Nature of Conflict as Metaphorically Understood.

Intro making intro points of RaAM paper.

Jones and Hughes comparison with metaphoric understanding of time.

Summarize research in IACM 2007, leaving out the dynamical systems literature since this comparison is not the point here, more an explication of metaphors found in first corpus, partial answer to Jones and Hughes’ question.

Corroborate with a few quotes that show abstract, figurative language.  Is this typical?  How dependent are we on metaphors?  What are implications for training, understanding of particular conflicts and resultant conduct of negotiation/mediation, development of conflict resolution field?

Method, Findings...

What metaphors?  What different ones?  Coherence? Match/mismatch with literal statements?  Clarity?  Unexpected intent revealed or suggested?  Adequately complex to be useful in the real world?  Does it allow generalizations?  Are available generalizations the kind that can translate readily into best practices?


Metaphoric Frames in Conflict Resolution Discourse

Based on IACM 2007 plus IACM 2005 but intended for metaphor/linguistics journal (see below):

Combine the last 2 IACM papers’ findings; see if the 1st can’t be a logical extension of the 2nd in that it uses lexicons related to the findings of the 1st (could do some re-analysis of the 1st with lexicons based on material objects, personification…).  The main idea would be (1) almost same set of conventional metaphors in both professional mediation literature and transcripts of negotiations, (2) and the frequent calls for better metaphors to advance conflict resolution theory and practice, (3) unconscious choices of metaphors, if they show innovation, are in the sub-mappings (finding especially good, new domains is not what happens), (4) on argument that coherence and picking up on and aligning with metaphors in play might be beneficial, elaboration of existing metaphors makes sense, (5) contrast with research trying to account for which metaphor instantiations are most commonly used and sound normal, to try to argue for useful meaning when unusual sub-mappings are broached.

Could add NJ findings as adjunct sub-analysis of one (widely familiar) negotiation dialog that shows some evidence of elaboration, perhaps, from journey to game or to construction, journey to survival to parent-child, boss-employee, director-actor.

What I really want to get at is the relative effectiveness of extensions and expansions of metaphors already in play [could conceive of lab study where information communicated using both novel metaphors and expanded sub-mappings, test for differences in comprehension and creative problem-solving].

Present evidence that it is not new or novel metaphors, but expansions and special uses of conventional ones, that occur in expert literature (2nd study); that negotiators use the metaphors as extensions of literal, as frames to help literal proposals make sense… (1st study).  (corresponds with Lakoff Moral Politics in that mappings make so much difference)


Do (Our) Metaphors Change When (Our) Understanding Advances?

So far taking various forms.  Trying to understand if, when, how metaphors change as understanding of a topic develops or changes, such as when the understanding of a topic or target domain becomes more complex or dynamic.

Pedagogical metaphors used by savvy sub-culture; extend IACM-2007 to include psych, etc. & explore dynamical images from other fields.

Possible Steps:

Find metaphors initially used; analyze literature, dialog...

Find metaphors used after developments made, dialog advanced, paradigm introduced (e.g., dynamical systems).

Explore what experts or lay people use when tasked to communicate the developments, advancement, more complex paradigm.

Passive, unconscious.

More active, or response when asked.

Tested for effect of introduction of metaphors believed to be effective (which tests might be whether multi-factors included, how things change over time, overall more comprehensive understanding...).


Additional thoughts:

Review evident acceptance of the idea that metaphors frame discourse and are a key to world view, that by being conscious of metaphors-frames in use we can enhance understanding (or communicate such understanding), thinking and expression (and tracking of paradigm shift), and the frequent calls for better metaphors to advance conflict resolution theory and practice.

Review use of metaphor for pedagogical purposes, as bridge between known and unknown, where a learner attempts to infer what is happening (or being taught - the target "concept").  Reality often (almost always) cannot be directly observed; what is observed is a model or representation of reality.  Then, in a learning situation, there may well be an intermediary representation, model or metaphor that is accessible to the learner.  Finally there is the model, theory, metaphor, schema that the learner internalizes.  These models are coupled  but unlikely to be identical.  We want to get to -> target concept, pedagogical metaphor, learner's metaphor...

Review convergent vs. divergent effect of metaphor. [Adjust original perspective from conditions that indicate and support convergent or divergent use of metaphor - to alterations (e.g., shifts, extensions...) of operating metaphors that suggest or support changes in understanding.  This may be key: compare Muller, who attempts to identify characteristics of 'creative' metaphor', vs. identifying conditions for the use of conventional metaphor that may predispose divergent use of these metaphors; I think we want now to talk about both: so-called 'creative' metaphors and conditions for use of any metaphors that may increase divergence]

Present in summary form the above (1) - (5), along with related studies, explore how metaphors evolve through elaboration, extension, combining with related metaphors (at least in shorter-term), and (at least in dialog) not (often) with conscious alignment of metaphors but seemingly as a less-than-conscious process.

bulletConvergent and Divergent Use of Metaphor [not clear whether this is the key distinction to be made]

Metaphor is known to draw our attention to certain features of what is being discussed while hiding others.  It can be a powerful framing device when it conceptualizes experience, makes sense of events that might otherwise seem confusing, influences people’s evaluations and judgments, and obscures alternative ways of thinking.  In this sense metaphor could be said to focus and converge thinking, limit dialog, and narrow the scope of action that ensues.

Yet conceptual metaphor theory (Lakoff and Johnson 1999; Kövecses 2002) describes a structure also quite capable of diversity in that it seems to invite redirection, alternatives, and novelty.  Educators and writers deliberately use metaphor for its capacity to stimulate inquiry and discovery beyond set boundaries.  So in this sense metaphor could be said to have a divergent influence while maintaining a coherent frame.  Under what circumstances is metaphor more likely to encourage convergence versus divergence?

draft; another version


To present metaphor to social psychologists and to conflict resolution scholars it will be helpful to show the relationship between metaphors and frames.  Frames are generally accepted as important.  Metaphors are not frames but some people may think they are.  Frames are descriptions of roles, identities, context, situations within which the conflict exists...  

Dewolf, Gray, Putnum, Aarts, Lewicki, Bouwen, Woerkum (2005) distinguish a cognitive (knowledge schema or structure in individual memory evoked by meta-communicative cues, telling person how to interpret the cues, giving rise to expectations about people, events, situations) from an interactional (co-developed through negotiation between people to align perspectives of a situation over time as dialog progresses) approach to framing; they say the two approaches complement each other in defining both the more micro, static, individual structures in memory with the enactment of macro communications frames negotiated dynamically.  The former show frames as structures of expectation stored and represented in memory while the latter analyze discourse conversation to show how interactive negotiation affects frames.  A 3x3 matrix identifies: knowledge schemas, relationship schemas, interaction schemas, issue framing, relationship framing and interaction framing.

Metaphors are descriptions of the use of a different domain to understand the conflict domain, the relationship domain, the negotiation process domain, etc.  Metaphor can "lend" some organization to an evanescent collection of ideas and feelings.  When is a frame metaphoric and when not?  How do metaphors influence frames?  Can you change one without altering the other?  Of greater notice will be the frames or metaphoric frames that limit scope of attention, attract the most attention, or lead to certain kinds of action.

(maybe) When do concrete facts [literal declarations] speak louder than the operating metaphors in play?  When do the metaphors speak more loudly than facts?  If you believe that facts don't exist in the absence of operating, generative metaphors, these questions don't make sense; instead you must track the different metaphors that are possible and determine their effects separately and together.

[additional explanation from IACM2007 paper:}  

“Literal language” involves using terms that, though perhaps at a different level of abstraction, come from the same conceptual domain.  For example, two people conversing might talk loudly, interrupt, even throw things at each other; we may frame the conversation as an “argument.”  An argument is a kind of conversation and, while summarizing qualities of the conversation and adding connotation, this frame takes the form of a literal proposition or qualification using a superordinate concept closely related to, and in the same conceptual domain as, “conversation”; it is heuristically weak. 

Contrast this with someone saying that “points were scored.”  We now have the discussion metaphorically framed by a qualitatively different conceptual domain that most people know about – a game.  This frame is strong because it brings with it potentially more concrete, well-formed ideas integrated with experience of teams, winning and losing, rules, turn-taking, rematches and so forth that are instantly available to structure our understanding and prompt our inferential reasoning.  Similarly, “he launched a frontal assault” metaphorically frames the conversation as war with all of its well-known attributes.  Because of their incongruous source domains (i.e., conversations are not literally games but are only understood figuratively as such) the frames are metaphoric; metaphoric frames, I argue, invoke a conceptual “otherness” that can increase their influence. 

bulletWhat conflict resolution researchers and practitioners seem to want from metaphor research:

In informal conversations I have found that they are not particularly  struck by findings that show metaphor to underlie mediator thinking or to account for the standard thinking among conflict resolution scholars (perhaps it just doesn't matter that the thinking is figurative instead of literal; perhaps the linguistic evidence doesn't convince them and they continue to believe that people think based on the literal, concrete facts as they see them; the message isn't yet dramatic enough to the effect that "concrete facts as they see them" is largely a function of the generative metaphors that are in play - that this thinking is not grounded so much in the reality being focused upon as it is in pre-selected patterns from entirely different domains).  Instead they are interested in: 

If a mediator or negotiator uses a particular metaphor, how does that narrow the scope or predispose ongoing comments (probably also, how might it expand them)?  Can patterns be found in negotiator dialogue that when a particular metaphor is used, certain things are likely to follow?  Can we look for patterns, once certain metaphors are introduced, showing narrowing of attention or predisposition to certain continuing patterns?  What we may well find is a complex evolving and combining of metaphors, which processes might be blunted or enhanced by certain interventions, but no strict cause and effect.  Very strong metaphors in coordinated combination with complimentary ones would be predicted to have more pronounced effect.  [this is the convergence/divergence idea]

If a mediator uses a metaphor how might that distract disputants, shift them unintentionally, offend, or prejudice them (be harmful or send dialog in dangerous directions; probably also, how might it help)?

What are the best metaphors to use?  Which are empowering, which disempowering (perhaps also, how can you handle a given metaphor so that it is more or less empowering - e.g., decompress/unpack time, space, agency...)?

bulletThree Modes That Mediators Use Metaphor

see Applications of Metaphor to Mediation: Three Modes of Using Metaphor

This article reviews how metaphor has been used in business and cross-cultural negotiations, psychotherapy, and family mediation and simplifies what has been found into three modes of metaphor application.  We will see that when corporation managers introduce the terminology of a “fitness landscape” they are metaphorically orienting employees to a degree of complexity in business management difficult to conceptualize otherwise; when psychoanalysts metaphorically interpret dreams and personal relationships as journeys they make unconscious dynamics accessible to change; when family mediators uncover metaphors of building construction or bodily movement in arguments divorcing couples make about splitting up property a new clarity in communications can be achieved. 

The organizing principals that will allow us to integrate these diverse examples of deliberate metaphor utilization come from what is called conceptual metaphor theory.  This corpus of research and theory, initially formulated by Lakoff and Johnson (1980), has burgeoned into an interdisciplinary pursuit now quite capable of application by non-specialists.  Conceptual metaphor theory offers a coherent definition of metaphor across linguistics, psychology, philosophy and even poetry (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999; Kövecses, 2002; Gibbs, 2003).  It sets out structural components to account for much of the unconscious thinking.

Metaphors used by clients; uncovering, questioning, expanding

Metaphors mediators may introduce

Jointly created metaphors


Metaphor Structure and the Structure of Conflict

(see first part of this; see metaphorical understanding of conflict)


Power in Negotiations - As Literally and Metaphorically Understood:
Power, The Metaphor of Power and the Power of Metaphor

Metaphoric understanding of power as a factor in conflict and conflict resolution; note definitions in literature (e.g., Zartman, Int'l Negotiation, 2002); work out relevant conventional metaphor found in this literature (consider lexicographic methods, including concordance analysis) and essential mappings.

Findings may include metaphoric meanings of power not included, inconsistencies in meaning that confuse interpretations; relate to mandate in mediation to address imbalances of power.

bulletLearning Conceptual Metaphor Workbook

A more coherent presentation of Exercise Workbook.

bulletMetaphor Workshop Series:  Further development of using metaphors in mediation;
Conflict, Metaphors in Everyday Life; War, Money, Morality, Community;.