Where Knowledge Thrives: The Role of the Metaphorical in Scientific Process

Xu, Jun. Where Knowledge Thrives: The Role of the Metaphorical in Scientific Process. 2012. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

My Ph. D. dissertation concerns one of the major issues in the rhetoric of science, the function of metaphors in scientific discourse. It explores the relation between knowledge production and a metaphorical kind of language that posits, specifies, and guides research on what is as yet unknown. An appropriate term for this kind of language is quasi-metaphor; its special function is to project the characteristics of a known referent within an established epistemic category to a virtual referent in a known or unknown epistemic category. My goal is to unite two opposite views about scientific language: one held by positivists and scientists, that scientific language must be clear, brief, and trope-free; the other held by post-structuralists and epistemologists, that scientific language is ultimately metaphorical, and it thus never has had the precision claimed by the positivists. I argue that scientific language is and must be simultaneously precise and open-ended in order to articulate knowledge as well as accommodate the unceasing production of knowledge. My methodology is to establish a theoretical frame in negotiation with metaphor theories and then apply it to case studies.

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