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Recontextualizing Anthropomorphic Metaphors in Organization Studies: The Pathology of Organizational Insomnia

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Journal of Management Inquiry

Published online on


In this article, the authors discuss critically the use of "anthropomorphic" metaphors in organization studies (e.g., organizational knowledge, learning, and memory). They argue that, although these metaphors are potentially powerful, because of frequent usage they are at risk of becoming taken for granted and contextually disconnected from their source domain, the human mind. To unleash the heuristic potential of such metaphors, it is necessary to take into account the inherent dynamics and bidirectionality of metaphorical language use. Therefore, the authors propose a methodology for the context-sensitive use of metaphors in organization studies. They illustrate this approach by developing the new metaphor of organizational insomnia, which is informed by recent neuroscientific research on human sleep and its disruptions. The insomnia metaphor provides an alternative way of explaining deficits in organizational knowledge, learning, and memory, which originate in a state of permanent restlessness.