What's in a word? On the use of metaphors to describe the careers of women academics
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Various metaphors are used in the literature and media to refer to the careers and experiences of women academics. In the wake of the fascinating debate in the literature surrounding the adequacy of these expressions, considerable effort has been devoted to the pursuit of ‘the ideal metaphor’: one that is comprehensible, inclusive, intersectional, empowering; acknowledges the agency of women and all social actors within the organisation; and meets a number of other high standards. Drawing on classic arguments in the communication sciences, I argue that metaphors can hinder access to the conceptual content of one’s research and reasoning. I regard that as a potential problem, as one of the primary goals of such research is inclusion. I also contend that the use of figurative language, usually opaque and indirect, may reveal that the topic of women’s careers in academia is emotionally charged, bordering on the taboo. Finally, I problematise the assumption that underlies much of the literature: that the use of particular metaphors can influence behaviour and power relations.