Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication – INTRODUCTION (DRAFT)

Author’s note: This post is a rough draft of an introduction to an article that I am publicly writing on this blog. The first ten posts on this blog are a series of ~15-minute daily writing exercises I conducted, and posted immediately after, in order to develop better writing habits. Mostly, the previous ten posts collect my thoughts in the moment as I overcome some of my writing myths and hurdles. This current post is the product of five days (Mon-Fri) writing, whose activity I reported on daily at twitter. I left the draft untouched over the weekend. The following Monday morning, I re-read the post quickly, allowing for minor tweaks, and then posted it. I hope to continue writing one section of this paper per week until I have a full first draft, at which point I will submit it to a journal peer-review. From then, I will conduct my revisions privately.

Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication (DRAFT)


Practitioners from information-centric fields make regular use of metaphors in professional literature and everyday usuage. Many of these are based in land-use or a general understanding of the natural sciences, and sometimes (but not always) relate to a larger information ecology or information ecosystem metaphorical concept. For instance, data, which may be stored in the cloud, is also often referred to as the new oil. On campuses, faculty may feel siloed from colleagues who study in different fields. Researchers may be eager to publish quickly to stake their claim to a finding. The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) is a protocol developed for harvesting metadata descriptions of records in archives, just as crawlers do on the web. In libraries, weeding refers to the deaccession of particular items. And so on.


The prevalence of these types of metaphors may be explained by the fact of our inextricable link to the environment. Society was made possible through revolutions in agriculture and so it follows that much of our early language would be focused on cooperation to harvest the land. And because farming remained a key activity for the majority of the population in western Global North cultures up until relatively recently, it is understandable that land-use language would persist in our language.


Discourse in fields like scholarly communication are no exception. Terms and concepts like the commons and enclosure trace to the British Agricultural Revolution. Bibliodiversity (“the need for a variety of publications to be available to readers within a given environment”) is based on biodiversity, a term with roots in the Green Revolution. Today, because the production of food and knowledge are both subject to similar market forces, they both end up sharing some vocabulary (such as supply chains, vertical integration, and oligopoly), making the two domains ripe for parallel thinking.


What I recommend in this paper is that we begin to take inventory of our land-based metaphors in scholarly communications. Then, through deliberate inspection of our metaphorical concepts, we may test whether the presumptions that each entails matches our values, and are not leading us to draw false, spurious, or foregone conclusions. In recognizing the utility and effect of metaphors, we should seek to replace old ones when they cease to bear wise fruit. This objective requires some method to go about making inventory and inspection of our land-use metaphors.


The next sections of this paper will establish the approach and method to be used in this paper. To do so, we will first look at one conceptual metaphor discussed on social media to establish some baseline principles on what makes a metaphor suitable and appropriate. This will be followed by a casual discussion of insights from the fields of philosophy and linguistics.  I say “casual” since we will not attempt to match the rigour of either domain, and only scratch the surface on work by George Lakoff & Mark Johnson and Daniel Dennett.


In this way, we follow the lead of scientist and writer Evelyn Fox Keller (2015) who noted the significance of philosophy of thought, but whose career-long interests encompassed the “far more mundane question of how the particular metaphors scientists invoke shape our scientific view of the world,” how “our scientific picture of the world [is] shaped by our choices of metaphor” and to “what other discoveries might different choices have led us.”


Keller, E. F. (2015). Cognitive functions of metaphor in the natural sciences. Philosophical Inquiries3(1), 113–132.

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