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27 JUNE 2016

The Materiality of Research: 'Woven into the Fabric of the Text: Subversive Material Metaphors in Academic Writing'

"In the social sciences, though, often we write about our research as if theories and arguments are buildings. Theories have frameworks and foundations and they need support. Arguments can be constructed, shored up by facts and buttressed with a solid line of reasoning. Sometimes they can be shaky and even fall down. But as well as communicating what we mean, metaphors structure our thinking. Or, at least, the metaphors we choose when we write can reveal a great deal about underlying assumptions. The theories-as-buildings metaphor always makes me imagine an enormous wall made of rectangular bricks, orderly and straight, progressing upwards and onwards. The researcher's job is to climb the scaffolding, find a gap near the top and make a brick to fill it, or to knock a few crumbling bricks out and replace them with others, strong and freshly fired. Or rarely, to grab a spade and start digging a new foundation, because this metaphor doesn't work like Minecraft: bricks can't float, unsupported.

Why does this way of thinking about knowledge hold such sway over us? For one thing, it offers a comforting sense of progress and control. Buildings have blueprints; their construction appears to proceed in a predictable fashion; engineers can calculate precisely where the load bearing walls and lintels need to be; construction workers know how to mix the mortar so it won't crumble. Making buildings is also something that happens in the public sphere; even with houses, the insides only become private when the work is finished and people move in. And though we all know full well that knowledge creation doesn't actually happen in the controlled and predictable way the metaphor implies, this is the structure that it imposes on our writing: an activity that is orderly, involves rationality over emotion and inhabits the public sphere not the private."

(Katie Collins, 27 May 2016)

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TAGS

2016academic writingaffordances • building metaphors • conceptual metaphorcreative practicecultural practicesfeminine voice • generative practice • integrative practices • Katie Collins • material metaphors • metaphors structure our thinking • needlecraft metaphors • piecing together • predictable fashion • progress narrativesresearch activitiesresearchersewingsocial sciencestitching • theories-as-buildings metaphor • theory building • thinking about knowledge • underlying assumptions

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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