Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication – METHOD / APPROACH, PT. 2 (DRAFT)

Author’s note: This post is the second half of a rough draft of an methods/approach section to an article that I am publicly writing on this blog. I’ve previously written and posted an Introduction section. 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 leave these drafts untouched over the weekend. The following Monday morning, I re-read the post quickly, allowing for minor tweaks, and then post them. 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)

METHOD / APPROACH, PT. 2  (PT. 1 here)

Plainly-speaking, metaphors are figures of speech that allow us to refer to one thing in terms of another. A conceptual metaphor differs slightly; there, we think about one conceptual domain in terms of another. In their influential book Metaphors We Live By (1980), linguists Lakoff and Johnson set out what it means for a concept to be metaphorical and how conceptual metaphors structure our perceptions of everyday activities. This structuring can have at least three particular effects which we will explore in our paper: highlighting, hiding, and self-fulfilling prophecies. Recognizing these effects, we can choose to flag language that is reflective of an underlying conceptual metaphor, draw the metaphor out, and treat it like a tool. A tool to better think about the discourse in which the flagged language appears. One particular thinking tool we will model after is what philosopher Daniel Dennett coined as intuition pumps

But to begin, we turn to Lakoff and Johnson (1980) who illustrate how a conceptual metaphor can be reflected in our everyday language. The conceptual metaphor they use as their example is argument is war. (In this case, it appears that Lakoff and Johnson mean debate in particular, and not just any old argument.)


Your claims are indefensible.

He attacked every weak point in my argument.

His criticisms were right on target

I demolished his argument.

I’ve never won an argument with him. 

You disagree? Okay, shoot!

If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.

He shot down all of my arguments. (ch.1)

The above examples show how we often talk about argument in terms of war. For Lakoff and Johnson, we “don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war,” we structure our thinking about argument as we do wars. Therefore, we think in terms of winning or losing an argument, just as with wars. While thinking in terms of this particular conceptual domain is not a bad strategy if your ultimate goal is to win, this comes at the cost of pre-determining or limiting one’s own thinking, in this case, about the purpose of argument.

It may be useful to step back and consider what one hopes to achieve from an argument or debate. Do we hope for the best ideas to emerge (even when it might be considered a loss or compromise for our position), or simply just that we win? If we imagine a culture that viewed argument as dance, rather than war, their goal may be “to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way” (ch.3), rather than simply trying to win. In our culture, as Lakoff and Johnson put it, being “in the midst of a heated argument” may place us in a mindset where “we are intent on attacking our opponent’s position and defending our own.” In doing so, we may overlook the more “cooperative” aspects of argument, which might be more visible if ours were a culture that viewed argument as dance.

This is the nature of metaphorical concepts: they allow us to “focus on one aspect of a concept” and overlook “other aspects of the concept that are inconsistent with the metaphor” (ch.3). The conceptual metaphor argument is war highlights the aspects of arguments which refer to winning or losing, and hides other cooperative aspects. The argument is dance metaphor may highlight and hide in just the opposite manner. To recall Lakens’ tweet, the underlying beef he had with the fishing expedition metaphor was that it served to highlight undue aspects in its target (exploratory analysis), while hiding aspects more in step with his opinion, which he found the shotgun approach metaphor (highlighting traits like haphazard and indiscriminate) to be more coherent with.

Highlighting and hiding are two ways that Lakoff and Johnson show metaphors structure our thinking about everyday activities. Building on these two, we turn to a third that we will refer to as self-fulfilling prophecy. Lakoff and Johnson reason that metaphors not only “create realities for us, especially social realities,” but that they act as a “guide for future actions,” actions that must be coherent with the metaphor, which in turn will reinforce the “power of the metaphor” (ch.23).

The example that Lakoff and Johnson use is President Carter’s declaration that the energy crisis was the “moral equivalent of war,” making the conceptual metaphor: energy crisis is war. Language reflective of this metaphor (“we must marshal forces to tackle the energy crisis) invites the listener to draw warlike inferences, and eventually come to accept that the issue is to be engaged in terms of war. To view an issue through the lens of war is to accept that an issue is a thing which may be either won or lost, as opposed to some other set of options. And in a literal war, a nation must win or risk its existential livelihood, so the listener begins to intuit that the war must be won. Thus, we should be wary that a metaphor we have internalized may be acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The term ‘open access’ can have several different meanings, and so different naming devices have emerged to define these (green, gold, bronze, platinum, etc.). In an essay on Diamond Open Access (the publishing arrangement where articles are made open access, without cost to the reader or author), Martin Paul Eve (2021) demonstrates how the very use of the word connotes rarity, scarcity, and refinement. Eve notes that “in some cases, diamond is a more apt metaphor than we might like,” considering how real-world diamond mining “is full of ethical pitfalls,” such as extensive environmental damage and exploitation of workers “in the service of global profit.” By naming this flavor of open access as diamond, we may ask if we are not setting our expectations in such a manner that these outcomes seem natural, even if that was not the intended plan.

We may also understand how self-fulfilling prophecy embedded into language can affect outcomes by considering how it works in reverse. Messaging intended to promote or persuade an audience about the virtues of open access can be self-sabotaged if the language constitutes a “patchy endorsement.” As Collister & Cantrell (2021) write, a patchy endorsement (based on a definition by Levy, 2015) is one that reasserts the status quo (in this case, being subscription publishing), or introduces “concepts that may exacerbate complexity and confusion,” and thus activates the status quo bias. Collister & Cantrell give an example of an open access advocate comparing “open access journals” with “traditional journals” which serves, unintentionally, of creating a “binary between open access and traditional,” with traditional, in this case, centering subscription fees. This is likely not what the advocate had planned, but this can be the effect.

To make a plan is to tell a story about how the future might unfold under certain conditions of our choosing. If our sense of reality is perceived through conceptual metaphors, which have the potential to lead us in a particular direction, then when our plans contain a conceptual metaphor, it may be that our plans are acting as an intuition pump. Intuition pumps are “little stories designed to provoke a heartfelt, table-thumping intuition […] about whatever thesis is being defended”(Dennett, 2014), according to philosopher Daniel Dennett, who dubbed the term in his 1991 book, Consciousness Explained. Intuition pumps are thinking tools, like fables (e.g. Aesop’s fables or Plato’s cave), that Dennett says may “raise an issue vividly,” but do not settle a matter.

We understand from Lakoff and Johnson that metaphors are able to highlight some aspects, hide others, and potentially drive us to self-fulfilling prophecies based on our primed intuitions. For the method / approach to this paper, I suggest that we flag metaphorical language in our field, and identify the underlying conceptual metaphors. By identifying that we are approaching objects and activities through a conceptual metaphor, we can begin to recognize our individual and collective storytelling toward that object or activity. These stories, we can treat like intuition pumps.

Dennett gives advice on how to approach an intuition pump:

“We need to become practiced in the art of treating such tools warily, watching where we step, and checking for pitfalls. If we think of an intuition pump as a carefully designed persuasion tool, we can see that it might repay us to reverse engineer the tool checking out all the moving parts to see what they are doing. When Doug Hofstadter and I composed The Mind’s I back in 1982, he came up with just the right advice on this score: consider the intuition pump to be a tool with many settings, and ‘turn all the knobs’ to see if the same intuitions still get pumped when you consider variations” (ch.1, Introduction: What is an intuition pump?). 

Based on advice from Dennett and Hofstadter about intuition pumps, we can think of highlighting, hiding, and self-fulfilling prophecies as the knobs we should be turning. If our community has accepted a conceptual metaphor, then we should be asking what entailments we commonly attribute to the source object or action. When primed by these concepts, what aspects are being either overrepresented and overlooked? What conclusions might that language be automatically driving us toward?

Next, we will summarize the main points from this section in order to develop a consistent plan of assessing land-use metaphors in scholarly communication.



Collister, L.B. and Cantrell, M.H., 2021. From “Patchy Endorsements” to Intentional Advocacy: Deconstructing Bias in the Language of Open Access. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 9(1), p.eP2395. DOI:

Dennett, D. C. (2013). Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking. WW Norton & Company.

Eve, M. (2021, March). Diamond mining | plan s. SOApbox.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2008). Metaphors we live by. University of Chicago press.

Levy, N. (2015). Neither fish nor fowl: Implicit attitudes as patchy endorsements. Noûs, 49(4), 800–823.

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