Metaphorical And Dialectical Management Education Essay

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This paper anchors on the philosophy of dialectics of Paul Ricoeur as it examines the underlying dialectical nature of metaphor that can be used to encourage critical thinking in MBA schools. Top MBA schools share the same process of ensuring learning by using case method.

Gadamer, in addition argued that understanding and language have a dialogical structure. This paper seeks to examine the dialogical process as enacted through metaphor and by drawing out implications for critical management education as a form of pedagogy for B-schools. It points out also that the dialectical teaching process encourages criticality, which is much needed in order to prepare the student face the reality of the business world.


Critical theory

Paolo Freire started the idea of not oppressing the students in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He confessed that teachers are the oppressors because they transfer knowledge in the students minds through their oppressive methods of teaching, the banking method.

CERI (2000) suggests that the learning environment of the current education system is largely irrelevant to today's learner in relation to the needs of the society. And the mentioned portrait of higher education gives a clear picture that the learner is left ill-prepared for the reality of the current workforce including the needs of the society.

Business schools nowadays compete in terms of accreditation, location, history, faculty qualification, industry support and linkage, and others. In fact, the proliferation of schools offering world-class MBA is support by governments.

Students enroll in MBA with the hope of getting high-paying jobs, promotion to better and respectable position or to venture in a business or even putting up companies (of course there are other unmentioned purposes, too). But what would make a management graduate better than the others?

Case method has been around for how many years. Top B-Schools maintain this method in order to "transform students into critical thinkers and decision makers" ( Over the years, few have shifted away from the case method and only those who retained the method are among the world's best B-schools. Among these schools are Harvard Business School, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Darden School of the University of Virginia, Richard Ivey School of Business of university of Western Ontario, and the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City, Philippines.

The term "critical" as a valued educational goal urges teachers to help students become skeptical toward commonly accepted norms. Critical theory promotes critical reflection because it is against oppression as Freire identified.

In Plato's dialogues, he wrote about the style of his great teacher Socrates who teaches his students with the use of dialogues. Thereby engaging students to dialogue with their master. This for him is the highest for of acquiring knowledge. Gadamer in 1981 also argues that dialectics was the key to all knowledge and understanding.

Critical thinking and pedagogy

What makes graduate education distinct is the fact the critical thinking is encouraged since it students reflect on existing knowledge from the new perspective. Since this involves "problematizing" (Jack Mezirow 1991) and questioning of assumptions and theories, even ideologies and processes, this would enable the students to understand and interpret what is happening in the real market and the real world.

Fenwick in 2005 puts it, critical education transforms the person by integrating critical analysis and action.

Critical management education

CME is concerned with questioning assumptions. It challenges power relations (Fenwick 2005), it even questions hierarchies, and economic outcomes and social, moral and political significance of management. It even challenges current practices instead of sustaining it. Thus exiting practices and structures are out into question in CME. Even professors in the case room would challenge their existing knowledge, outcomes of their research data, and critiquing actual practices.

CME is based on the use of metaphor and dialectic. This gives way to questioning assumptions, practices and theories.

The relationship between dialectics and metaphor

Metaphor for Ricoeur is polysemous, it allows it to present meanings together. Metaphor transports thought (Chia 1996), and carries meaning (Hopfl 2000). This creates an avenue for dialogue and new insights to flourish (Morgan 1993).

Ricoeur said that one of the several dialectical traits in discourse is that between paradigmatic (the semiotoc signs such as metaphoric imagery and the semantic or syntagmatic (the formation of words in which meaning of a sentence is achieved such as "we have a monkey business"). In semantics, works will have new meanings as it is being connected to other words. This way, their meanings are to be guessed in the context of which it was used since its meaning results from the interaction of the words in the sentence. Metaphor then relies on the discourse because "the reader iterates between a metaphor and its context to discover a novel meaning (Ricoeur 1981a)

Any set of words in a sentence brings a potential meaning but the meaning needs to be re-identifies as the same in different contexts. The potential meanings of the word are constrained by the sentence. Thus in the interaction of the words, there is a play between the mutability and plurivocity of meaning and the sensitivity to context within the sentence. "The sentence reduces the diversity of meanings of the word because of the context filtering our of other meanings so that only part of the semantic field is used, removes relatively univocal discourse from polysemic words. Metaphor on the other hand, increases the polysemy by inverting the operation of the above process. This makes the sentence singularizes the meaning of the word: the context that turns polysemous words into univocal discourse also creates metaphorical effects from them" (Ricoeur, 1981a).

The innovative nature of metaphor produces new meaning by transferring words to an apparent irrelevant context (Ricoeur, 1983a). In order to understand a metaphor, we need to be aware of its context (Dickie, 1971). For example, the word monkey by itself is not really a metaphor at all, but when the word is recontextualised (for example, from a jungle to my family) it acquires the status of a metaphor (as in "we have a monkey business".

Metaphor involves a focus (a word that changes meaning) and a frame (the word is framed by a predicate), producing a dialectical tension in meaning. The trope is "the outcome of a debate between predication and naming; its place in language is between words and sentences" (Ricoeur, 1977, p. 133). It is a mistake to conceive of metaphor as a word (the word monkey is not a metaphor): instead, there are only metaphoric utterances (as in "that child is a monkey!"), in which there is a tension between two opposed interpretations of the utterance; "it is the conflict between these two interpretations that sustains the metaphor" (Ricoeur, 1976, p. 50). The effect can be compared with stereoscopic vision, in that several layers of meaning are noticed (Ricoeur, 1977).

Metaphor relates to dialectics by exemplifying the unity and interpenetration of opposites: it epitomizes the dialectical nature of thinking through the juxtaposition of opposing concepts that alters their meaning (Bloor, 1971). The trope contains three kinds of dialectical tension: within the statement (between focus and frame), between identity and difference in the interplay of resemblance, and that between literal and metaphoric interpretations (Ricoeur, 1977).

Differing from other forms of discourse in terms of its novelty, metaphor challenges accepted denotations and creates a radically new and singular connotation that unifies the possible meanings to which it refers (Ricoeur, 1977, 1981a). The trope possesses the essence of dialectics, which Carr (2005) defines as the simultaneous perception of wholes and conflicting parts, and reciprocity between the old and the new.

Critical theory seeks to change reality (Carr, 2000) and metaphor supports this task, its polysemy shattering and changing reality by shattering and increasing language (Ricoeur, 1973).

Finally, it should be noted that critical theory metaphor, and dialectics are misunderstood when reduced to a simple duality of opposed meanings. For example, in her analysis of dialectical tensions and rhetorical tropes in negotiations, Putnam (2004) explains the relationship between the tropes and dialectic in binary terms.

However, metaphor exhibits plurality not duality of meaning, enabling multiple perspectives (Cornelissen, 2005). Similarly, the dialectical logic of critical theory involves the emergence of contradictions that promote the generation of a new totality (Carr, 2000). Dialectics transcends the binary oppositional thinking that pervades Western thought, contributing to a critical theory that affords multidimensional perspectives (Carr, 2000).

Implications of metaphor for the process of CME

Metaphor and critical theorizing

Metaphor mediates the dialectical nature of critical theorizing: its tensive use of language upholds a tensive conception of reality (Ricoeur, 1976). For example, stating that an organization is a psychic prison (Morgan, 1996) does not mean that it is literally a prison - with cells, barred windows and high walls - but that working there stunts the imagination and conveys a sense of powerlessness. The emergent meaning of metaphor does not draw from pre-existing similarities but rather induces such similarities (Black, 1955), between the organization and the prison in the above example. Such metaphor provides the management student with stereoscopic vision, an ability to see things from different points of view and to synthesize these perspectives (Ricoeur, 1981b).

The creative nature of metaphor not only highlights the dangers of single constructions of the world in teaching management and but also cautions against conceiving of dialectical approaches in binary terms.

Dialectical thinking is not concerned with mutually exclusive choices but instead opens up other possibilities (Carr, 2005). Thus it would be easy to teach critical theory in the form of a one-sided partiality for employees that is simply the flip side of mainstream theory's focus on managers. Instead of developing intellectual independence in students, the teaching of critical theory could end up favoring only certain interest groups.

While emphasizing critique it could simply advocate a particular form of politics and intervention in organizations. Management students should not receive critical theory in stereotypical form, opposed to mainstream approaches; otherwise they will simply engage in rote learning of yet another theory and not develop critical understanding.

Praxis and metaphorisation

Whereas traditional theory formalizes thought, separating it from action, critical theory is concerned with praxis (Carr, 2000), which can be described as "a synthetic product of the dialectic between theory and practice" (Heilman, 2003, p. 274). The processes of praxis and metaphorisation are closely related. Praxis is concerned with the inter-relationship between theory and practice; similarly, metaphors support the conceptualization of experience while also facilitating understanding through concretizing ideas (Lakoff, 1987).

The implication for management learning is that it should foster reflection within the context of work-based projects, where students can develop their own dialectic between theory and practice. They should be encouraged to develop and test theories within their organizations while using these contexts to critically appraise management theories:

"This is the importance of praxis, where the theoretical is not separated from practice, but instead what is encouraged is the interplay of experience and reflection which becomes focused on concrete situations. The aim is to create a "dialectic of the universal and concrete"(Gadamer, 1981, p. 51), where the concrete and abstract operate "as opposites which interrelate dialectically in the act of reflection" (Freire, 1970, p. 105).

Enabling critical discourse

Two-Way Interaction

Enabling a critical approach to management learning involves fostering dialogue, attending to "the tensions and strains that inevitably arise from contradictions, oppositions and negations" (Carr, 2000, p. 217).

Anti-dialogical action involves the subject's conquest of another person, transforming them into a "thing", whereas in dialogical action subjects cooperate together in transforming the world (Freire, 1970). Therefore, debate should be the pre-eminent vehicle for critical management education. The dialogical structure of language has implications for how professors foster discussions with and amongst students. A key strategy in management education is to promote dialectic of questioning and answering.

This is important for two reasons. Firstly, a question is something that a student has to understand when formulating an answer (Gadamer, 1981). Secondly, dialectic of question and answer, with its "tireless self- correction of all abstract one-sidedness", (Gadamer, 1981, p. 60) limits the dogmatic claim of formal course theories. The critique of ideology has a dialectical structure, belonging to the social process that it criticizes, while correcting and dismantling it. It is important to trace the interests each theory is rooted in - each one is a response to a prior question, so the only way to understand it is to grapple with the prior question that it attempted to answer and reach out to broader contexts of meaning - in order to achieve "an inner tension between our anticipations of meaning and the all-pervasive opinions" (Gadamer, 1981, p. 107).

Another key strategy is to encourage a dialectic between explanation and understanding (Ricoeur, 1976), by encouraging students to explain their own theories of management, compare these with more formal sources of knowledge and then comprehend these interpretations as a whole. Furthermore, professors should re-conceive their role from teaching to facilitating a "dialectic of mutual recognition" (Gadamer, 1981, p. 33), given the inevitable tension between the democratic principles of critical pedagogy and the authority embedded in the educator's role (Reynolds, 1999).


The trope is itself a metaphor for critical management learning. Metaphoric utterances deviate from the literal meaning of words - the strategy is that of "bizarre predicates" (Ricoeur, 1979, p. 130). Ricoeur (1983a, p. 183) argues, "before being a deviant naming, metaphor is a peculiar predication" that creates semantic innovation (e.g., the word monkey is not a metaphor; it is the unusual recontextualization of the word within the remainder of the sentence that produces the metaphoric effect. Similarly, critical thinking involves changing what the student does in relation to particular contexts, "reflecting on existing knowledge in a relational manner and reconsidering information from the perspective of newer knowledge gained" (Turner, 2006, p. 5). Critical management students are those who re-predicate their work experience within the context of other experiences and theories, and ask impertinent questions to uncover and question assumptions. This act of re-predication produces a jarring of ideas and fosters a critical approach to both theories and work experiences.

Critical textual analysis

The trope is a metaphor for the critical reading of texts. The intersection between management texts and the world of their readers can produce a conflictive fusion of horizons, whether the texts provide ideological confirmation of the established order or social criticism; this dialectic is mirrored by that of the texts themselves, with their dialectic between sedimentation of meaning and received paradigms on the one hand, and the proliferation of divergences and deviations in individual texts on the other (Ricoeur, 1983b).

The process of understanding a metaphor is the key to understanding larger texts: both involve processes of interpretation, reference and the projection of a world. The explication of metaphor contributes to the interpretation of the whole work, while the understanding of metaphor is enlightened by the whole text (Reagan & Stewart, 1978).

Critical theory involves reciprocity between moment and totality, particular and universal (Carr, 2000), revealing "factors behind the so-called 'facts'" (Carr, 2005, p. 9). Equally, dialectical thought takes the whole into account (Carr, 2000), moving beyond dualism to step within the framework of an argument to offer its critique (Carr, 2005). For example, it is important to ask students to what extent their textbooks are management-orientated or lower level employees-oriented. Are these theories simply a resource for organizational change or are they serving power interests? Do management textbooks simply inform students about the various options to be considered when restructuring organizations, or do they question if restructuring is more than rationalization, and more of a struggle for resources, and the assertion and preservation of powerful interests (Thompson & McHugh, 1995)?

Such a dialogical relationship with the texts can help students to increase their capacity for reflexivity - especially if they are encouraged to contrast those texts with their own experience. This kind of approach is commensurate with Freire's proposal of a "dialectical relation between reading the world and reading the word", which leads to rewriting the world and transformation (Jackson, 2007, p. 205).

So critical literacy involves not only unpacking the interests hidden within texts but also: "learning how to interpret spatially, temporally, culturally, and linguistically distanced perspectives. It requires learning how to have dialogues with texts, sympathetically interpreting their perspectives while allowing one's own interests to bring them to life." (Endres, 2001, p. 412) Critically reading a text becomes a metaphoric experience, a re-predication of meaning within the new contexts of students' personal and professional experiences.

A critical philosophy of management education

Finally, and linking to the previous point concerning logic, to what extent can metaphor contribute to a critical philosophy of management education? Ricoeur's account of metaphor is in direct conflict with both the strategy and tactics of some philosophers, such as Ryle (1932, 1949), whose method is undialectical (Bloor, 1971). In terms of strategy, much of modern philosophy is concerned with rooting out the confusions that result from treating one category as if it was another; colliding with the view that metaphor plays a key role in the development of new concepts. In terms of tactics, Ryle dismisses metaphor on the basis of its literal absurdity. So what can be said in defense of metaphor within this philosophical context?

Admittedly, metaphor is close to what Ryle calls a category mistake, there being a close proximity between the use and abuse of words, but such critical consciousness leads not to disuse but to re-use of metaphors, a search for the best one possible (Ricoeur, 1977, p. 253). Furthermore, Ricoeur argues that metaphor does strike against a prior categorization by virtue of the fact that it brings together two previously distant semantic fields - but that the new pertinence does not completely abolish the old order; for there to be a metaphor, it is necessary to continue to perceive the previous incompatibility through the new compatibility - "remoteness persists in closeness" (Ricoeur, 1979, p. 131).

Critical theory sensitizes us to the tyranny of the confining nature of some forms of logic (Carr, 2000). Metaphor plays an important role in this respect, with its dialectical tension between proximity and "the power of distantiation that opens up the space of speculative thought" (Ricoeur, 1977, p. 313). Metaphors are emotive so they can be used to challenge mental models (Hill & Levenhagen, 1995), present ideas and insights that might not be available through rational discourse, and help us to get close to experience (Gray,

2007). The trope can assist students in structuring their experience by moving from those things that they do understand to those they do not yet understand, by giving words new applications to cover new dimensions of meaning (Edie, 1963).

It has even been claimed that all mental activities - including ideas, thoughts and logic - are metaphorical (Shibles, 1974). An understanding of the way that metaphor structures our conceptual system can provide an experientialist perspective on classical philosophical problems, such as the nature of knowledge, meaning, truth, rationality and logic; thus "no account of meaning and truth can be adequate unless it recognizes and deals with the way in which conventional metaphors structure our conceptual system" (Lakoff & Johnson, 1981, p. 323). Accordingly, there should be critical reflection on the use of metaphors, which are rooted in assumptions and worldviews (Gray, 2007). Management practice privileges metaphors that disregard its more sinister features (Alvesson & Willmott, 1996) and so the professor needs to "give voice to critical metaphors that may serve to challenge accepted management norms, structures and practices" (Gray, 2007, p. 507).


This paper provides an exposition on how case method and critical management education can confront vested interests, inequalities and power differentials (Reynolds, 1999) within the context of management's preoccupation with rationality (Alvesson & Willmott, 1996), productivity and efficiency (Marsick, 1988). The professor should allow sufficient autonomy to embed a better curriculum design that focuses on students. Although the professor has vested powers that may inhibit student autonomy, the staff-student relationship should be characterized by democratic principles and non-hierarchical methods of teaching. Students should be involved in the design, delivery and evaluation of learning (e.g., they could be invited to contribute to the marking of each others' assignments).

The content of the curriculum should challenge oppressive institutions and practices - and, in parallel to this, the process of learning should encourage criticality. Instead of students receiving generalized theories and supposed best practices, in order to integrate experience and reflection, there should be an emphasis on what students can learn from their daily interactions with organizations so that they can identify appropriate interventions and draw relevant conclusions. Students should be encouraged to criticize and test theories while also developing new ones, for example through the application of grounded theory.

Also learning groups are also formulated in order to provide avenue for the students to interact and debate on their insights before presenting in the case room. This will enhance critical discussion skills. With this, students will be able to criticize, develop and sustain their relationships with their peers and in the long run, with their bosses when they already have join companies. In organizations, what is really needed is that its members engage in honest, straightforward but diplomatic critiques and debates.

One of the key roles of critical management pedagogue is to problematize theoretical assumptions and question managerial practices. The aim of CME is to encourage mutual questioning and interactive debate. Such an approach can help achieve the aim of dialectics, which is to generate more than one perspective. Encouraging critical reflection involves asking the questions that are not normally asked, such as interrogating the presupposition that people resist change, which obscures the potential good reasons why change should be resisted (Reynolds, 1997). Inviting questions from the whole group can help to broaden the range of such enquiry.

Furthermore, recognizing the prevalence of metaphor can help students to realize that there is no single or absolute truth but to recognize that received truths are layers of interpretation, supported by "a mobile army of metaphors" (Nietzsche, 1979, p. 84). Truths are "illusions which we have forgotten are illusions, they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensual force" (Nietzsche, 1979, p. 81).

Metaphor transports thought (Chia, 1996) and carries meaning (Höpfl, 2000). In doing so, it enables dialogue and new insights (Morgan, 1993) and reorganizes minds (Worth, 1981). The trope expands the horizon of understanding by transferring a name from its normal context to an unfamiliar one, so that it "acquires new expressive possibilities" (Sampaio, 1998). A metaphor is polysemous, allowing it to present meanings together (Ricoeur, 1973), but this is both strength and a limitation. The trope's uncertain meaning can result in unreliable communication and interpretation (Ramsay, 2004), relativism and subjectivity (Morgan, 1996). It shades out other meanings (Morgan, 1998) and conceals how it shapes thoughts (Kendall & Kendall, 1993) so that it is taken literally and accepted as fact (Nietzsche, 1979). Furthermore, metaphor is suffused with ideologies (of management and the operation of discourse) and can disable critical reflection both on the content of management education and the dialectical process of learning.

It would be inappropriate to unquestioningly advance metaphor as a tool for critical management education. Reflexivity demands that nothing escapes dialectical questioning. We have seen that metaphor is a double-edged sword but that it can be cautiously deployed in the facilitation of dialectical learning. Metaphor can expand minds but even when it controls them, it can present an opportunity for critical management learning, providing that it is in turn the subject of dialectical questioning.