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Myth + Metaphor: what are yours?

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

I had an upbringing steeped in myth* and metaphor. From Bible stories to Hindu gods, from The Sandman comics to Asterix & Obelix, from Chhurbura (Mizo cultural character) to Mahabali (revered king in Kerala), my world was filled with language and images that were always significant, somehow.

When I started working with makerspaces in 2013, it became quite apparent that these spaces had myths and metaphors of their own. There was the myth of the independent and creative (but socially minded) ‘maker’, standing up against consumer culture. There was the metaphor of ‘making’ itself, as a way of knowing the world. The ‘maker’ myth combines the ‘artist’ and the ‘scientist’, with a strong community conscience. I easily and quickly fell in love with all this.

One set of metaphors I struggled with, though, were the ones that came from production line engineering. Many people who identify themselves as ‘makers’, (and not, say, artists), seem to come from computer-y, engineering-y backgrounds. And while processes and ideas of inputs/outputs explain a lot, I quickly realised that when working with communities/people, controlling the input and the process did not mean the output could be predicted. Whether designing a new makerspace or managing a project that was setting up one, the mental models (and how I communicated them) were just not working.

This started my exploration of farming/gardening metaphors and language. Agriculture has similar ideas of input/output and process, but has a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of context. It is hard to control context, whether it is soil conditions, weather patterns or even pest activity. Moving to these metaphors in my head has given me a much better model to understand what is happening, and much better language to communicate it.

I now try to talk of ‘growing’ communities, not ‘making’ or ‘creating’ them. I now think of political interference as part of a climactic condition to be factored in, and not a process flaw to control. Reluctant staff are ‘infertile soil’, not ‘bad resources’.

What are your myths and metaphors? What mental/language models do you operate with?

*I use the term myth as ‘significant story’, not as ‘untrue belief’.

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