Towards systemic and adaptive governance: exploring the revealing and concealing aspects of contemporary social-learning metaphors

Raymond Leslie Ison, Chris P Blackmore, Benjamin Lucca Iaquinto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

89 Citations (Scopus)


This paper uses metaphor theory and analysis to explore competing and sometimes contested claims about the nature and utility of social learning. Seven metaphor clusters - performance metaphors, action metaphors, communication metaphors, governance mechanism metaphors, social learning as a paradigm, social learning as a form of cognition and social learning as a wheelbarrow full of frogs, were identified from the sustainability and natural resource management (NRM) literature. Rather than seeking to define social learning rigidly, and thus limiting its potential utility to open up spaces for innovation in NR governance, social learning can be positioned in future discourse so that it holds a cluster of revealing and concealing features. This position shifts responsibility for clarity and rigour away from the concept, useful because of its fluidity, to the user of the concept who must then articulate the way(s) in which they choose to use it. This shift is consistent with reflexive, systems practice for systemic and adaptive governance and invites practitioner responsibility rather than conceptual reification
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34 - 42
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Economics
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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