Publication details [#3639]

Cornelissen, Joep P. 2004. What are we playing at? Theatre, organization and the use of metaphor. Línguas e Letras 25 (5) : 705–726. 22 pp.


This article addresses the question of how metaphor works and illustrates this with an explication of the ‘organization as theatre’ metaphor. It is argued that the so-called comparison account of metaphor that has dominated organization studies to date is flawed, misguided, and incapable of accounting for the fact that metaphors generate inferences beyond the similarities required for comprehending the metaphor and that metaphoric understanding is creative, with the features of importance being emergent rather than existing antecedently. A new model of metaphor for organizational theorizing is therefore proposed in this article and illustrated through an extended discussion and explication of the ‘organization as theatre’ metaphor. This explication shows furthermore that the ‘organization as theatre’ metaphor has not broken any new ground or led to any conceptual advances in organization theory, but has just provided a language of theatre (actors, scenes, scripts, and so on) for framing and communicating identity and role enactment within organizations. Constitutive principles and governing rules are derived from this model and from detailing the ‘organization as theatre’ metaphor, which, it is suggested, can guide theorists and researchers in their use of metaphor in organization studies. (Joep Cornelissen)