4E-cognition: Exploring thought, feeling, & action in career behaviour

What is 4E-cognition?

In recent years a new way of looking at the notion of cognition has gained ground, often labelled as 4E-cognition (embodied, enacted, embedded, and extended cognition). The basic claim is that cognition cannot be reserved to individual processes inside the head (and body) only; rather cognition is seen as “a doing”; it is something people do in their active and explorative sense-making with the bio-social environment. Thus, an ecological turn is on its way within cognitive science that seeks to explore thought, feeling, and action as inter-related dimensions of an agent-environment system.  ACCELL is now applying this new research paradigm to career development.Career images

ACCELL’s Dr Allison Creed and Professor Susan Nacey, Vice Dean for Research at the Faculty of Education and Natural Sciences part of Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, conducted a cross-cultural exploratory study of metaphoric language usage in online promotional videos of Australian and Norwegian university students talking about education, career, and working life. They presented their findings at the 6th specialised RaAM (the International Association of Researching and Applying Metaphor) seminar “Ecological Cognition and Metaphor” held at the University of Southern Denmark from 18 – 19 May, 2017. To identify metaphor, the Metaphor Identification Procedure Vrije Universiteit (MIPVU) (Steen et al., 2010) was applied to the English transcriptions and an adapted Scandinavian version of MIPVU to the Norwegian transcriptions to gain reliable, quantifiable and comparable results concerning the metaphor used by these students.

Given the internationalisation of higher education, the researchers argue that  metaphor identification and conceptual analysis should be introduced  to career counselling and guidance to explore and understand the student and graduate narrative leading from education to career development and working life. It is proposed that vocational theories, research, and intervention practices are embodied in, mediated by, and emergent from metaphoric language that is socially, culturally, historically, and intellectually situated in social-political-economic evolution. Metaphor analysis will generate fresh insights into the concept of career and can unlock important or neglected features of career.

Metaphors of career and working life

The research reviewed literature by:

  •  Inkson (2004) who categorised nine metaphors of career in current literature: as inheritance, construction, a cycle, matching, a journey, encounters and relationships, roles, a resource, and a story and in later research explored boundaryless and protean careers;
  • El Sawad (2005) who researched graduates experiences in blue chip organisations that revealed dominant metaphors contained within the careers literature such as a journey as well as other groups of metaphors not acknowledged within the literature including imprisonment, military, school-like surveillance, the Wild West, and nautical metaphors; and
  • Morgan (2006) who proposed eight metaphorical images of organisations: a machine, an organism, a brain, a culture, a political system, as flux and transformation, as a psychic prison, and as an instrument of domination.

Similarities and differences in metaphor usage

The study revealed many similarities along with some interesting differences across the two university contexts. One surprising similarity was the infrequent use of the CAREER AS A JOURNEY metaphor in student narratives given it’s prominence in careers literature. Another was the conceptualisation of EDUCATION AS AN ACTION by both student groups, although there was variation in usage.  For instance, students in the Australian English sample ‘take’ education for a particular purpose whereas the Norwegian students ‘take’ education more or less as a means in itself:

Australian students: 

  1. In my future, I’d like to take what I’ve learnt from anthropology and combine it with my law career [Stephen]
  2. Already I’m able to take a lot of what I know and put it back into the community [Katie]

Norwegian students:

  1. Du kan med denne utdanningen her ta mange forskjellige jobber [Daniel]
    You can take many different jobs with this education
  2. Jeg har tatt bachelor i revisjonsfag [Niosha]
    I have taken a bachelor’s in auditing

Concluding thoughts

This research illustrates how an analysis of metaphoric language in culturally diverse narratives may reveal a conceptual bridge that helps scaffold communication to enhance awareness and build understanding between client and vocational practitioner.  There are significant implications for using metaphor analysis in research and career development interventions.


This blog article is an extract from a paper presented by Susan Nacey and Allison Creed at the 6th specialised RaAM (the International Association of Researching and Applying Metaphor) seminar “Ecological Cognition and Metaphor” held at the University of Southern Denmark from 18 – 19 May, 2017.

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