Imagining Organization through Metaphor and Metonymy: Unpacking the Process-entity Paradox

Dennis Schoeneborn, Consuelo Vasquez, Joep Cornelissen

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    Within organization studies, Morgan’s seminal book Images of Organization has laid the groundwork for an entire research tradition of studying organizational phenomena through metaphorical lenses. Within Morgan’s list of images, that of ‘organization as flux and transformation’ stands out in two important regards. First, it has a strong metonymic dimension, as it implies that organizations consist of and are constituted by processes. Second, the image invites scholars to comprehend organizations as a paradoxical relation between organization (an entity) and process (a non-entity). In this article, we build on Morgan’s work and argue that flux-based images of organization vary in their ability to deal with the process-entity paradox, depending on the degree to which its metaphorical and metonymic dimensions are intertwined. We also examine three offsprings of the flux image: Organization as Becoming, Organization as Practice, and Organization as Communication. We compare these images regarding their metaphor–metonymy dynamics, the directionality of their process of imagination, and their degree of concreteness. We contribute to Morgan’s work, and to organization studies more generally, by offering an analytical grid for unpacking different processes of imagining organization. Moreover, our grid helps explain why images of organization vary in their ability to comprehend organizations in dialectical and paradoxical ways.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalHuman Relations
    Issue number4
    Pages (from-to)915-944
    Number of pages30
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


    • Flux image
    • Metaphors
    • Metonymies
    • Organization theory
    • Process–entity paradox
    • Processes of imagination

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