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Places and Spaces: The Role of Metonymy in Organizational Talk

  • Linguistics
  • Literature
  • Physics


Cultural meaning making as reflected in, and constituted by, organizational talk is an established field of interest in organizational analysis. However, the discursive mechanics of the process whereby this cultural meaning making is created and maintained are less well understood. The premise of this paper is that taken-for-granted assumptions embedded in organizational talk can be explored through the analysis of metonymy, a trope which is under explored in the linguistic turn in organization studies. This lack of focus on metonymy is, we believe, related to the fundamentally conventional nature of the trope in use, which expresses ideas, values and relationships that seem natural, normal and routine but which are culturally bound. We address this gap and carry out a metonymical analysis of organizational talk about physical places and spaces in one organization, to show how cultural norms and meanings are reflected, maintained, and potentially changed in these figures of speech. We show how metonymic chains based on buildings can reflect, reify and simplify the symbolic order of the organization, how these symbolic meanings can be transferred on to other inanimate objects and the constructions thereby spread, how people can be constructed within this symbolic chain, and how these metonymic chains can be invoked to potentially confirm, challenge or change the organizational order. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004.

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