Lakoff’s and Johnson’s metaphors: a psychological mislocation of agency
Overview Whereas Chapter 5 offered a counterargument to Bourdieu’s sociological model of the habitus as a mechanism to account for embodied practices, this chapter critically examines Lakoff’s and Johnson’s psychological model for a cognitive conception of embodiment. These authors aim to restructure traditional disembodied philosophical and linguistic approaches to semantics and rationality by forging an embodied account of categorization and cognition. Using the anti-Cartesian position inherent in causal powers theory, I critically examine their concept of “kinesthetic image schema” which posits a basic level pre-conceptual physical experience, out of which concepts are structured. I suggest that this approach to embodiment compromises the authors’ important goals by restricting body movement to the role of an experiential, pre-conceptual precursor to spoken concepts. Once transformed into “mental images,” such experience merely assists in the building of a conceptual system from which physical action is subsequently excluded. From this perspective, bodily experience provides only the ground upon which that which really counts – spoken language concepts and categories – can be built into metaphorical schemas. Physical being and bodily actions have thus been denied the status of signifying acts and forms of knowledge. Using ethnographic examples from my own research as well as that of colleagues, I demonstrate how action signs (signifying movements) provide a medium other than speech that shares the conceptual stage and systematically employs metaphoric and metonymic conceptions realized in space. This implies that our imaginative capacity is not merely indirectly embodied, as Lakoff and Johnson suggest, but directly embodied because action signs themselves can be imaginative tropes – in other words, human movement is in itself imaginative, conceptual and metaphorical.