Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Nina Greenwald


This synthesis builds on the connections between language and cognition, and the parallel sub-domains of linguistic metaphor and visual knowledge representation, to argue that traditional dialogue processes might aptly be employed to help collaborative learners examine complex abstractions. The starting premise, that habitual language-embedded metaphor may be used as a window into the understanding of abstractions, such as tolerance, education, justice, and integrity derives from the important work of Lakoff and Johnson in developing their Embodiment Theory of Metaphor. Further parallels for what is thought of in cognition as the spread of activation are considered in tandem with theories about the spread of connection-making in creative thinking. A look at the works of Isaacs and Bohm, both pioneers in theories of dialogue process, leads directly to the proposal that dialogue, with slight modification, could provide an effective atmosphere for capitalizing on the linguistic metaphor-visual knowledge relationship. Pulling together all of these connections, the paper proposes the principles of what the author calls visual dialogue. Visual dialogue is a collaborative framework within which learning participants might focus on the details of the metaphoric thinking embedded in their language, “seeing,” as a result the abstract knowledge represented by their mental imagery. Within the atmosphere of a visual dialogue, it is argued, deeper and more subtle understandings of abstractions may be revealed collaboratively, or perhaps even re-constituted into new meanings. Understanding or meaning built in this way may then be used to approach more practical problems systematically, though such systems are not described in this paper. The paper concludes by considering a number of issues raised by the notion of thinking about, or visualizing, complex social abstractions via the process of visual dialogue. Among these are: the philosophic implications of examining implicit ambiguity metaphorically; the practical use of dialogue processes that are often thought of as open-ended; the application of visual dialogue to different age groups; the potential for the use of other media (music, sculpture, etc.) in examining abstraction; and thoughts on the use of creativity in visual dialogue for promoting potential problem solving strategies or approaches.


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