Towards images of supply chains in a sustainable world: a conceptual exploration of metaphor for sustainable supply chain theory development

  • Victoria Stephens

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis provides an account of an exploratory and reflective conceptual investigation into metaphor in the context of sustainable supply chain theory development. The sustainable supply chain field is at a turning point in its development as recent work has cast a critical eye over the field’s ability to make meaningful contributions to addressing the sustainability challenge. Evidence from the metaphor literature shows that metaphor has a powerful role to play in supporting the field’s goals, but such capabilities have yet to be realized in the sustainable supply chain field. The study’s exploratory and reflective approach is characterized by iterative engagement with metaphor theory from the perspective of sustainable supply chain theorizing, and on sustainable supply chain theorizing from the perspective of metaphor theory. This has provided a novel vantage point from which to demonstrate the significant potential of metaphor for addressing the needs of the sustainable supply chain field, as well as to generate authentic and novel insight into how that potential can best be operationalized. The Approaches to Metaphor framework anchors the thesis by
    depicting a broader research agenda for working with metaphor in the sustainable supply chain field. By explicitly accounting for alternative approaches to theory development, it contextualizes approaches to working with metaphor in terms of alternative theorizing goals.

    In so doing, it demonstrates the extent to which existing approaches to working with metaphor in supply chain theory are insufficient for the needs of the sustainable supply chain field. Based on cognitive perspectives on metaphor, the thesis conjectures that metaphor provides some explanation for the trends and limitations observed in sustainable supply chain theory development. By critically engaging with the metaphoric landscape of sustainable supply chain theory, it positions metaphor as a locus of change for addressing limiting trends and opening up new pathways. The thesis makes its most significant contribution in the development of the Metaphoric Transfer Pathways framework. The framework represents an accessible resource which offers process- based guidance for metaphor-based theory development. In so doing, it will not only benefit sustainable supply chain scholars in harnessing the potential of metaphor for the benefit of sustainable supply chain theory development, but scholars from wider fields who may also be looking to work with metaphor in their theory development efforts.
    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorHefin Rowlands (Supervisor) & Lee Matthews (Supervisor)

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