Bridge as metaphor…useful as a way of seeing?

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The structure of a bridge is a metaphor I have drawn upon to help define what this work is communicating. Do you think that is appropriate given the complexity of the issue of poverty, and the many stakeholders involved?

Gareth Morgan in his classic 1997 text Images of Organization writes:

Metaphor is often regarded just as a device for embellishing discourse, but its significance is much greater than this. The use of metaphor implies a way of thinking and a way of seeing that pervade how we understand our world generally.

Take how I have defined sponsorship for example: all the parts that make up a bridge are important. Without one bit, the other bits would either collapse, cease to be functional, or be structurally weakened. (Note: Post amended to reflect the new crowdfunding site at have drawn upon the architectural definitions of:

  • Support: The structure that props up a bridge. Even if a plank is rested across a gap to make a bridge, the two ends are what provides the support.
  • Span: Span is defined by wikipedia as the distance between two intermediate supports for a structure. The span is a significant factor in finding the strength and size of a beam as it determines the maximum bending moment and deflection.
  • Foundation: The portion of a structure that transfers the weight of that structure into the ground.

What this means in plain terms is that it is the span that provides the functional purpose of the bridge, but without the necessary number of supports a point of weakness is reached through bending under an unevenly distributed load. None of this will matter if the foundation established is not sufficient to carry out the ‘heavy lifting’ needed.

Thanks to those sponsors who have made a contribution to date. None of this would be possible without your engagement. Please also note in relation to support, span, and foundation each is vitally important for the reasons mentioned above.

A bridge is also a structure which enables different functions. As a metaphor, a bridge between people enables the passage of ideas, it connects people who are in different places, it enables help to be connected, it opens up the opportunity for people to be helped, it reduces isolation, it is a more efficient way of getting to another point, it increases the range of options available, and the list continues…

Far from being a facile word-game, I contend that ‘bridges’ are critical in the quest to eradicate extreme poverty. Certainly, just building bridges would be an act of folly if they are built with no purpose or are merely ornamental. To my mind, the process of inquiry of ‘what is not working here, and what are we doing ok at?’ is related to building a bridge. The hundreds of books and articles that have been written  about the eradication of extreme poverty are in themselves bridges, as much as the conferences and forums that are held to address the issue.

Let’s build bridges with purpose, and where possible direct our efforts into strengthening and even crossing the bridges established by others in order to make our interest, inquiry and efforts all the more productive.

What is a bridge to you?


4 thoughts on “Bridge as metaphor…useful as a way of seeing?

    Catherine White said:
    September 4, 2010 at 6:03 am

    Beautiful metaphor, and so beautifully written.

    10citybridgerun said:
    September 4, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Thanks Catherine!

    […] metaphor I am exploring through the 10 City Bridge Run is that of a bridge. How might we design a bridge to […]

    Jan Carel van Dorp said:
    April 1, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Love this; “a bridge between people enables the passage of ideas, it connects people who are in different places, it enables help to be connected…”
    Words can roll back and forth over this intangible bridge of connection and that’s where a dialogue can start.
    One other wordplay: The pillars under the bridge stand for the persons that support the bridge of connection. They stand – under the connection, they support the bridge of connection, they understand, not intellectually but empathically, what’s alive in the other..

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