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Review of Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004 17:23:47 +0200 From: Heli Tissari Subject: Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse
AUTHOR: Koller, Veronika TITLE: Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse SUBTITLE: A Critical Cognitive Study PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2004
Heli Tissari, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki
The topic of this book is highly relevant in today's international society. Koller herself suggests that her linguistic study could be a step towards alleviating "literal combat fatigue" and "post-traumatic stress disorder" created by an aggressive working climate (p. 174). She is interested in the kind of metaphors that dominate business media discourse, and in their effect. Based on her Ph.D. thesis (Koller 2003), the book nicely presents her research, but is hardly suitable to be used as an introduction to metaphor, gender or business discourse studies.
The data came from four journals, Business Week, The Economist, Fortune, and the Financial Times. Koller's research strategy was to focus on certain lexical fields in order to identify the relevant metaphors and to see what kind of patterns they formed in the data. She then provided both quantitative and qualitative information on the findings. She looked at and compared two kinds of issues discussed in business media, 'marketing' as against 'mergers and acquisitions´. She was interested in the lexical fields of 'war', 'sports', 'games', 'romance', 'evolutionary struggle', and 'dancing'. The analysis is presented deftly and concisely.
The overall impression is that the book is well edited. It is compact, but includes the information necessary to replicate the study.
Chapter one, "Introduction: Masculinized Metaphors", is relatively brief. It justifies the author's interest in aggressive metaphors, but does not define 'gender' or 'masculinity', which is regrettable.
Chapter two, "Theory: A Critical Cognitive Framework for Metaphor Research", provides an overview of what Koller calls 'Classical cognitive metaphor theory' (Lakoff & Johnson 1980), 'Blending and neural theories of metaphor' (Lakoff & Johnson 1999, Fauconnier & Turner 2002), and 'Critical approaches to language' (Halliday 1994 , Fairclough 1995). These she combines in an 'Integrated approach'. This is a reasonable enterprise: metaphor and blending are thus integrated as tools for critical discourse analysis, and the cognitive metaphor theory is nested in a society of human beings with various positions and intentions.
It might nevertheless be worthwhile at this point to call attention to Musolff's (2004: 424) claim that there already exists a "considerable amount of empirical research that has applied cognitivist metaphor theory to critical discourse analysis", beginning from Lakoff (1992, 1996) himself. Such research is merely mentioned in passing by Koller, who is of a different opinion, suggesting that "theoretical integration of metaphor into critical approaches to discourse ... is quite marginal and often incomplete" (p. 29). A balanced view might be that Koller's research has important predecessors, but it is still quite a welcome contribution and, it is to be hoped, not her last one. One could safely say that her "voice" is quite different from Lakoff's.
Chapter three, "Method: Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses of Metaphor", describes the data and method. In terms of method, Koller relied on defining the lexical fields, i.e. on compiling lists of words to be used to locate the metaphors in the texts studied. Being a semanticist myself, I would have liked to know even more about the compilation of these lists, a process which, she claims, "cannot be fully operationalized", but must also depend on the author's "previous knowledge" (p. 48). However, once the fields are established, Koller points out that the study yields (1) "absolute frequencies of metaphoric expressions and metaphor density", (2) "in the case of metaphor clusters, relative frequency [sic] of metaphoric expressions", and (3) "relative frequency [sic] of metaphoric expressions across word classes and domains" (p. 51).
Chapter four, "Business Media on Marketing: Metaphors of War, Sports and Games", presents the first half of the results. It also includes four sample texts together with qualitative comments. The same applies to Chapter five, "Business Media on Mergers and Acquisitions", which presents the second half of the results. Some words on 'marketing' on the one hand, and 'mergers and acquisitions' on the other, might have been in place for the benefit of readers interested in metaphors and gender but not especially familiar with business media. Otherwise, it is intriguing to see what Koller does with her data.
First, she provides her readers with tables presenting the lexical fields of 'war', 'sports', 'games', and 'romance' in the first case, and 'evolutionary struggle' and 'dancing' in the second. These tables list the nouns, verbs and adjectives/adverbs included in the fields. The fields of 'romance' and 'dancing' are included as potential counterforces to the more aggressive fields, but eventually do not appear to behave that way in the data. The war metaphor is "quantitatively most prominent" in the data on 'marketing' (p. 71), and the sub-field 'fighting' within 'evolutionary struggle' is the "most frequent in the corpus [of 'mergers and acquisitions'] in both absolute and relative terms" (p. 124).
The qualitative analyses of four exemplary texts flesh out the picture and show variation within and between them. The discussion covers metaphoric scenarios, metaphor chains, processes of (metaphor) intensification, attenuation and literalization, primary and secondary discourse (whose are the metaphors?), and text structure.
Koller suggests in the last chapter, "Conclusion: Gender-neutral metaphors", that "journalists should rise to the challenge of at least proposing non-violent metaphors" for business media discourse (p. 178). In her view, this could even lead to a more humane understanding of what leadership is and to a decrease in unnecessary stress and physical illness in corporate communities.
Throughout the book, Koller makes interesting comments and observations. Some examples are given below.
Explication of the human conceptual system does not yet suffice to explain the usage of metaphors, but one needs to take into account socio-cultural factors such as "how much freedom text producers have" in their writing (p. 27). "[C]hoice of metaphor reveals a vested interest in elevating or downgrading a person or group[.]" (p. 32) "[P]roductivity shows in the degree of a metaphor's conventionalization rather than in its frequency[.]" (p. 125) "If social cognition controls mental models through discourse, widely shared preferred (that is, hegemonic) models lend cohesion to a group's beliefs and thus help to predict group members' actions." (p. 36)
"Conceptualizing the market as a narrow, bounded space too small for two companies to be active in, puts the focus on a metaphoric fight for space[.]" (p. 82) "[T]he lexical fields have shown that the concept of war ... permeates the other two domains [of 'sports' and 'games'], but not vice versa[.]" (p. 73) "Interestingly, the two British publications both convey a fairly low percentage of the GAMES metaphor. By contrast, the two US magazines together account for three-quarters of all metaphoric expressions of games." (p. 81)
"[L]iving in an environment conceptualized metaphorically as being highly aggressive, if not a war zone, may bring about ethical problems in making it easier to accept behaviour -- such as unchecked ruthlessness and brutality -- otherwise considered to be problematic ... However, a market economy and its inherent competition need not be conceptualized in terms of excessive aggression and antagonism ... a metaphor can capture the idea of competition in a non-violent way[.]" (pp. 174--175)
"[T]he targeted company is metaphorically female. Aggression and more gentle ways of persuasion thus come to represent two means to the same end[.]" ( p. 128) "[T]he DANCING metaphor ... is telling that the acquired company is feminized and as such identified as static, with the acquirer being depicted implicitly as the dynamic male moving towards the potential dancing partner." (p. 151) "[A] company always has to be moving in relation to one or several others, albeit with different intentions. The emergent model thus looks rather dynamic." (p. 135)
In the final example, she makes a different kind of linguistic point.
"[T]he original aim of including an equal number of nouns, verbs and adjectives/adverbs in each [lexical] field could not be met." There emerged a nominal bias, which the author attempted to lessen (p. 49). A similar nominal bias was nevertheless identified in the data (pp. 71, 124).
While I liked many of Koller's ideas, I also felt compelled to comment on and ask questions about the book. I will now share these thoughts, beginning with the question of how to fruitfully integrate several theoretical approaches. Obviously, one does it to gain a better grasp of the object studied by seeing it from a wider perspective. There is nothing wrong with that, quite the contrary. However, with each specific approach, the researcher simultaneously runs the very same risk of reduction that threatens him or her in regard to the subject-matter if s/he embraces a single theoretical approach.
Koller controls these problems by restricting her comments on each linguistic approach to an educated minimum, and by elaborating on their integration. It is a sound choice considering the limits of the medium, but it makes it difficult to fully appreciate the contributions of the individual theories to the whole framework. The essential themes of gender, masculinity, aggression and hegemony could also have been discussed more thoroughly. The glue that holds the book together is more implicit than suggested in the title.
What also holds the book together are the lexical fields introduced as tools for discovering the metaphors. Given their prominence in the book, it is somewhat surprising that the theoretical part does not include a discussion of lexical field theory (see e.g. Lehrer & Kittay 1992).
Consequently, Koller's success in managing her enterprise so well seems to depend on overlooking certain issues in favour of her main argument -- a decision that both makes sense and leaves several questions open. Perhaps the best thing to do is to look for further answers in other books. One reason why it makes a lot of sense for Koller to avoid discussing the general characteristics of gender and discourse, at least from the publisher's point of view, is that another book on the subject came out this year (Sunderland 2004). However, Koller does not explicitly mention this.
There are also other recent publications that Koller may or may not have known about or expected to be published. Two of these, which have something to do with metaphor research, are the volume on metaphors and ideology, edited by Dirven, Frank and Pütz (2003), and Jäkel's (2003a & b) further publications on metaphors and the language of commerce.
As I am somewhat partial to my home university, Koller's suggestion (p. 166) that one should investigate the relationships between business media texts, their readers, the interviewees, and the journalists reminded me of Solin's (2001) research on similar issues, especially as it was also inspired by Fairclough's work. Since Koller also deals with the themes of romance and sexuality, she might have taken a look at Coleman (1999) for a comprehensive presentation of these lexical fields. One also wonders whether it might not have been useful to read the good old Oxford English Dictionary side by side with the dictionaries focusing on current usage (p. 50).
Again on the subject of metaphors, Koller's suggestion to provide statistical data on them was intriguing, since many researchers still struggle with their identification (Steen & Gibbs, in preparation). The idea of using lexical fields to find metaphors is valuable, but it is important to remember that Koller's statistics only concern the already established fields, and do not help in identifying all the other metaphors in the data. The empirical questions therefore remain, in terms of how metaphorical the language of business media discourse is, and how frequent aggressive metaphors are compared with other types.
If she is looking for more comprehensive empirical results, Koller might need to revise her stance towards prepositions, which she disregarded in this study (p. 49). This suggestion is supported by the fact that she so clearly showed that the metaphors she had studied had to with dynamic activity (pp. 106, 162). However, I do not censure her for choosing to disregard prepositions thus far, because they still seem to pose a challenge to cognitive metaphor theory per se. I have had several discussions with colleagues on the issue of when a preposition is used metaphorically, and once such a discussion ensues, differing opinions usually linger in the air.
It annoyed me a little that Koller took the coupling of masculinity and aggression as given, and disregarded the possibility of any kind of feminine violence. I also doubt whether changing the language of business media would change human ruthlessness. I even ask myself whether a world war is, in fact, raging in global business, a war that has largely replaced direct military attacks with more indirect but equally real violence. This was suggested in Susan George's article in The Guardian, 15th October 2004, for example, which included her manifesto:
"We propose instead the rule of law to curb the insatiable appetites of transnational corporations and financial markets; social solidarity with the poor and weak wherever they may live; and participatory democracy as the means to defend and improve the 'welfare model'."
The moral issues that Koller touched on in her book are nevertheless very important, and people should continue investigating them from a linguistic perspective as well.
In conclusion, Koller's linguistic research is entirely professional and her book can be recommended to anyone interested in the subject. The book could be used both as a reference for its empirical results, and as a source of inspiration for further study.
Dirven, René, Roslyn Frank & Martin Pütz. 2003. Cognitive Models in Language and Thought: Ideology, Metaphors and Meanings. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Coleman, Julie. 1999. Love, Sex, and Marriage: A Historical Thesaurus. Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi.
Fairclough, Norman. 1995. Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. London & New York: Longman.
Fauconnier, Gilles & Mark Turner. 2002. The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.
George, Susan. 2004. "This is the Way to Win." The Guardian, 15th October. Internet version at Accessed 3 November 2004.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1994 (1978). Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London & New York & Melbourne & Auckland: Edward Arnold.
Jäkel, Olaf. 2003a. Wie Metaphern Wissen schaffen: Die kognitive Metapherntheorie und ihre Anwendung in Modell-Analysen der Diskursbereiche Geistestätigkeit, Wirtschaft und Religion. (Philologia -- Sprachwissenschaftliche Forschungsergebnisse, Bd. 59.) Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac.
Jäkel, Olaf. 2003b. "Motion Metaphorized in the Economic Domain." Motivation in Language: Studies in Honor of Günter Radden, ed. by Hubert Cuyckens, Thomas Berg, René Dirven & Klaus-Uwe Panther. (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory Vol. 243.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 297--318.
Koller, Veronika. 2003. Metaphor Clusters in Business Media Discourse: A Social Cognition Approach. Ph.D. thesis. Vienna: University of Vienna. Internet version at wien.ac.at/inst/english/koller_diss.pdf> Accessed 4 November 2004.
Lakoff, George. 1992. "Metaphor and war: The metaphor system used to justify war in the gulf." Thirty Years of Linguistic Evolution: Studies in Honour of René Dirven on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday, ed. by Martin Pütz. Philadelphia & Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 463--481.
Lakoff, George. 1996. Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don't. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.
Lehrer, Adrienne & Eva Feder Kittay. 1992. Frames, Fields and Contrasts: New Essays in Semantic and Lexical Organisation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Musolff, Andreas. 2004. Review of Michiel Leezenberg's Contexts of Metaphor (Amsterdam: Elsevier 2001), Cognitive Linguistics 15--3, 420-- 428.
Oxford English Dictionary, the. Internet version at Accessed 3 November 2004.
Solin, Anna. 2001. Tracing Texts: Intertextuality in Environmental Discourse. (Pragmatics, Ideology and Contacts Monographs 2.) University of Helsinki: Department of English.
Steen, Gerard J. & Raymond W. Gibbs jr. In preparation. Finding Metaphor in Language and Thought. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Heli Tissari, Ph.D., is currently a Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Her research project concerns the history of English emotion words since the beginning of the modern era, and she is especially interested in cognitive/conceptual metaphors occurring nearby these words.