Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

Projects Overview (Explanations)
Metaphor Project (Explanations)

Metaphors of Alternation

Metaphor Project

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Metaphors are a special form of presentation natural to many cultures. They are of unique importance as a means of communicating complex notions, especially in interdisciplinary and multicultural dialogue, as well as in the popularization of abstract concepts, in political discourse and as part of any creative process. They offer the special advantage of calling upon a pre-existing capacity to comprehend complexity, rather than assuming that people need to engage in lengthy educational processes before being able to comprehend.

Although frequently used in international debate through which strategies are defined, the advantages of metaphor have not been deliberately explored to assist in the implementation of such strategies. Each development policy may be considered a particular "answer" to the global problematique. No such answer appears to be free from fundamental weaknesses. A shift to an alternative policy becomes progressively more necessary as the effects of these weaknesses accumulate. However, since each such policy reflects a "language" or mind-set whereby a worldview is organized, no adequate "logical" framework can exist to facilitate comprehension of the nature of such a shift or of the process of transition between alternatives.

Many familiar metaphors of alternation exist through which the characteristics and limitations of such a shift may be understood. This section presents the result of an experiment in deliberately designing metaphors in support of innovative development.


The section contains 88 entries elaborated as an editorial experiment in facilitating comprehension of transition and change, especially in some ordered manner between complementary alternatives (see Metaphors of Alternation an exploration of their significance for development policy-making, 1984). The phenomena selected as substrates for the metaphors include: those familiar to everybody (eg walking, breathing), those especially significant to rural communities (eg crop-rotation, getting water, animal movement), those familiar to industrialized societies (eg driving, media diets, vitamins) and some key physical or technological phenomena (eg electric motors, metabolic pathways, magnetic containment of plasma).


The information used was obtained from a wide range of specialized reference books.


A keyword index to entries is provided in Section MX. The keywords are also incorporated into the index for Volume 2 (Section X)


Bibliographical references, by author, are given in Section MY.


Detailed comments are given in Section MZ.


The entries indicate the possibility of developing a technique for designing powerful metaphors. As this is an exploratory exercise, individual entries may call for substantial revision.

Possible future improvements

In addition to the refinement of the selected metaphors, the variety of phenomena used as a basis for such metaphors could be increased. A better indication could be provided of the strengths and limitations of each metaphor. This would enable groups of complementary metaphors to be interrelated by a pattern of cross-references as explored in Section MP. This points toward the possibility of producing a repertoire of metaphors that may be used to communicate complex insights into a wide range of social phenomena whilst at the same time empowering them conceptually to explore new patterns of organization in which dynamic processes are emphasized, rather than static structures.