Driving, Steering, Leading, and Defending: Journey and Warfare Metaphors of Change Agency in Trade Union Learning Initiatives

Catherine Cassell*, Bill Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The use of metaphors in understanding organizational change has become prominent in recent years, although most research focuses on the deductive application of metaphors, rather than on inductive explorations of metaphorical language-in-use. This article extends qualitative understandings of the experience of change agency through an inductive focus on the metaphorical language-in-use of change agents. Through case study data from the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the authors explore how a group of trade unionists involved in the development of a trade (labor) union-sponsored learning initiative draw on metaphorical language to talk about their experiences. Seven different metaphors are identified and the change agency roles implied by those metaphors are analyzed. In considering the similarities and differences between managerial and union change agency, the authors argue that although some metaphors such as journey and warfare might be widespread in the accounts of both types of change agents, attention to other metaphors that share entailments with these metaphors reveals agency roles unique to the union context. The advantages and disadvantages of this novel form of qualitative data analysis are evaluated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-271
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Applied Behavioral Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge support for this program of work by the British Academy, specifically the British Academy Small Grant award number SG-39394 and British Academy Large Grant award number LRG-42465.


  • change agency
  • metaphors
  • union learning representatives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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