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Focus On Metaphors:
The Case Of "Frankenfood" On The Web

Iina Hellsten
University of Amsterdam


The metaphor of "Frankenfood" rapidly spread into popular use at the end of the 1990s, to the extent that it was even added to the New Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 2000 edition. The metaphor gained wide popularity at least partly because of the active campaigns of various NGOs on their Web pages. The metaphor was also widely used in more informal e-mail and newsgroups on the Web, and seemed to provide common ground for different discourses. In this article, I explore the way metaphors relate different discourses on the Internet. This approach may open up new ways of analyzing both the network structure on the Internet, and the substantial aspects of the debate within the network. I first follow the development of the metaphor of "Frankenfood" over time, and then I map the uses of the metaphor by various sites on the Web. The aim is to discuss the role of metaphors as tools of communication by combining diachronic analysis of the expanding network around the metaphor with the static snapshots of the main sites' textual structure.


The metaphor of "Frankenfood" was first coined in 1992. It rapidly spread into popular use at the end of the 1990s. The metaphor gained popularity at least partly because of the active campaigns of various NGOs, visible on their Web pages. Metaphor, in general, is about approaching something in terms of something else (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). Scientific practice, for instance, is often metaphorized in terms of "conquering the unknown." Closer to the topic of interest, genetics has been described as "discovering the alphabet of life" (e.g. Ho, 1998; Nelkin & Lindee, 1995; van Dijck, 1998), or in terms of "creating new Frankenstein's monsters" (e.g. Turney, 1998). Indeed, the metaphor of Frankenstein's monster has been widely in use ever since Mary Shelley published her famous novel in 1818. In the metaphor of Frankenfood, some aspects of the popular Frankenstein myth are used to concretize genetically manipulated foods, or GM foods. This metaphor connects the two domains, and is therefore different from just any descriptor.

Formally speaking, metaphors restrict the complexity of issues by opening up one perspective at a time (Burke, 1989). The metaphor of Frankenfood, for instance, opens up one possible perspective on what genetic modification is about, what are the results of genetic modification of crops, and how people should therefore approach GM foods. It is a concise and emotional way to express this perspective on GM foods. In addition, the metaphor can effectively be used in communicating this view to others. Metaphors are also constitutive, in that they shape the way novel phenomena are apprehended, and even how they develop concretely and materially (Ratto & Beaulieu, 2003; Wyatt, 2000).

Metaphors are effective tools of communication in providing common ground for discourses1. They travel through specialized forms of communication and connect various discourses and different topics (Maasen & Weingart, 1995; 2000). In order to be effective as mechanisms of communication, metaphors - like boundary objects (Star & Griesemer, 1989) - must resonate in multiple contexts. They have to be robust enough to carry certain implications from one context to another, but at the same time flexible enough to allow for different formulations in different contexts. This resonance in multiple contexts makes metaphors important tools of communication between various discourses, both over time and across various topics.

When in constant use, metaphors get conventionalized. Sometimes one metaphor is repeated over and over again, to the extent that it loses its heuristic value as a metaphor and becomes conventionalized into a cliché. Even if highly conventionalized metaphors lose their heuristic value, they do not lose their political power. On the contrary, they may be taken as self-evident ways of seeing things, even to the degree where no alternatives are imagined. In this process of circulation and conventionalization of metaphors, the Internet and its dominant protocol, WWW, can be expected to play an important role. The Web provides a new, discursive sphere for debates that facilitates the circulation of metaphors from one discourse to another. In other words, it can make certain metaphors popular, because the Web can be especially effective in opening up a dynamic space for them.

Given these general functions of metaphors and the particularities of the Web as medium, the aims of this article are two-fold. Theoretically, the aim is to discuss the role of metaphors as tools of communication between various discourses. Methodologically, the analysis combines timeline analysis and more static analysis of the main participants' discourses. This is done by focusing first on the expanding network of sites participating in the construction of the life-cycle of the metaphor, and second on the semantic structure of the Web pages of the main sites. Furthermore, cross-references between the main sites are analyzed. Empirically, the focus is on the metaphor of Frankenfood(s) / Frankenstein food(s) during the period 1992-2002. In other words, I take this metaphor as the focus of analysis in order to see what kinds of sites used the metaphor, and what kind of discourses it connected in the Internet/WWW. The article aims at combining dynamic analysis of the expanding network of participating sites and static, semantic maps on the Web pages of the main participating sites using the metaphor.

Metaphor as the Focus of Analysis in Internet research

Internet search engines frequently provide tens of thousands of results on specific topics, such as GM food or global climate change, and due to this overload of pages and sources of information (see also Marres & Rogers, 1999), it is difficult to conduct systematic analysis on the substantial contents, or the dynamics, of such debates. Rogers & Marres (2000), Marres (forthcoming) and Rogers (2002) have been mapping issue-networks in the Internet with the help of their Issue Crawler that analyzes the dynamics of hyper-linking between the different sites.

The debates on the Web are built around specific issues, such as global climate change, and the different actors participate in the debate in their Internet pages and link to each other via hyperlinks and key phrases. The different discourses participating in the debate seem to use different rhetorical strategies (Rogers, 2002). Most public issues, such as biotechnology, are at the same time scientific, political, economic, administrative and ethical questions that are discussed using specific discourses. The issue, therefore, seems to provide only a loose common ground for the different participating discourses. The issues are provided with meaning in different contexts.

Instead of focusing on a specific debate or issue, I therefore propose to take one metaphor as the focus of the analysis. A metaphor can be considered as a mediator between different issues and discourses that may affect the action taken for or against the issues. Focusing on one metaphor is expected to have several practical consequences for the analysis. First, the number of search results on the Web will be far less in number, and more focused in content, than in the case of thematic debate such as 'GM foods', and may therefore enable more substantial analysis of the data. Second, the analysis will focus on one common feature used by all the participants, i.e. only those who use the metaphor on their Web pages are included. Third, taking metaphor as the focus of analysis allows the metaphor on the Web to be tracked both over time and across discourses.

The analysis proceeds in four steps: First, I was interested in the expanding and/or shrinking network of sites using the metaphor of Frankenfood(s) / Frankenstein food(s) on the Web. The basic data was collected using the AltaVista Advanced Search Engine2, and by conducting a search in the Usenet newsgroups3 in 1992-2002. AltaVista and the Usenet newsgroups were selected because their advanced search engines allow for searches limited to a certain time period. The AltaVista Advanced Search engine has limitations here as it shows the date of the last modification of the page, rather than the original publication date. However, AltaVista is the only search engine that can be used retroactively for timeline analysis. In most cases the original publication dates can be checked later in the pages.

Second, based on this network of sites using the metaphor, I conducted a further analysis on the sites that exhibited the largest frequency within the AltaVista search results. The aim here was to identify the main participants and the peak moments in the uses of the metaphor. Third, I analysed the cross-reference patterns of these main sites in order to locate linkages within the network. Instead of focusing on hyperlinking between the sites, however, I used the full texts of the Web pages of the main participating sites to see whether they made references to each other. Fourth, semantic maps (networks of words used on the sites) were drawn using two of the main sites' pages. This procedure thus used network analysis at three levels: the overall network of sites, selected aspects of the network, and the network of words within the specific sites.

Frankenfood on the Web

The metaphor of Frankenfood was first coined by Paul Lewis from Newton Center in Massachussets in his letter to the Editor of the New York Times of June 16, 1992. In this letter he argued against genetically manipulated tomatoes and called for action against 'Frankenfood.' Thereafter, the metaphor was used in the US in the context of bovine growth hormone used to increase the production of milk in cows. In 1993 the United States Government's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of BGH in milk production, and this caused a wide-scale protest in the US. In Europe the use of this hormone was banned in 1994 for a period of four years. The concern over 'Frankenmilk' was accompanied with the concern over Frankenfood in the US in 1996 and in Europe in 1998-1999, mainly due to the exporting of genetically engineered US food products to Europe.

This latter connection seems to have become popular in various sites on the Web. On October 7, 1996, spokespersons representing more than 300 consumer, health, trade and agricultural organizations from 48 countries announced the launch of a world-wide boycott of genetically engineered soya and corn produced in the U.S. Reuters transmitted a news article headlined: "Biotech foes boycott gene-altered U.S. corn, soya," via Wire Service: RTna (Reuters North America) (http://netlink.de/gen/Zeitung/1007a.htm), in which Pure Foods Campaign director Ronnie Cummins was quoted saying at a demonstration in front of the Chicago Board of Trade, "in short, they are telling us to shut up and eat our Frankenfoods."

Dynamic life-cycle

This dramatic start to the campaign is not quite mirrored in the spread of the metaphor on the Web. The Altavista Advanced Search Engine returned 10,206 (January 21, 2003) hits with the boolean search term frankenfood* OR (frankenstein food*) for the period 1992-2002.
4. The results were checked against the instability of the search engine (see e.g. Bar-Ilan, 1998/9; Wouters and Gerbec, this issue), and the results fluctuated between 7,000 and 10,500 hits between November 2002 and January 2003. For the purposes of this study it was meaningful to include as many results as possible, i.e. to select the data provided on a result-rich day.

In the AltaVista search results, the first hit comes as late as 1995, at the site of http://www.ufo.net in the context of the bovine growth hormone debate in the US. The number of uses of the metaphor has risen rapidly from 1997 onwards. This may partly be explained by the fact that the AltaVista Advanced Search Engine treats the date of an update as the date of the page. The number of commercial sites (.com) using the metaphor has risen more rapidly than .org and .edu sites. This, of course, is related to the overall rapid growth of commercial sites on the Web. But this skewed growth does not explain all growth, since most of the hits represent addresses ending in country addresses (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Number of hits for the search terms 'Frankenfood' or 'Frankenstein food' by top-level domain.

The contexts in which the term is used since 1999 show great diversity. Some of the Web pages, for example, suggest Frankenfoods as good food for Halloween parties. Others report on the launch of a new Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable in 2000 where Frankenfood was one of the new entries. New formulations of the metaphor are still being developed. For instance, Greenpeace has been campaigning against Kellogg's with the help of 'FrankenTony', a monstrous version of the tiger used by Kellogg's in the marketing of their products, while Friends of the Earth were selling Frankenfoods T-shirts in the spring of 2000. The metaphor seemed to resonate in a wide variety of contexts.

In the Usenet newsgroups, the metaphor was first taken up by the group sci.med in September 1992, three months after the publication of the letter to the Editor in the New York Times. This first posting used a direct quotation of the original letter to the editor: "If they want to sell us Frankenfood, perhaps it's time to gather the villagers, light some torches and head to the castle."(Lewis, Newton Center, Mass. in the New York Times, June 16, 1992). This same quotation was forwarded to the newsgroup talk.politics.drugs in October 1992, and used in the sci.med.nutrition group in November 1993. Thereafter, in 1995-1997, the most occurrences of the metaphor came about in the newsgroup rec.games.trading-cards.marketplace.misc where 'Frankenfood' was used as the name for an assassin card that people were trading.

Only from 1998 onwards was the metaphor used in the context of calling for consumer resistance to GM foods. In the Usenet newsgroups there was a peak in the use of the metaphor in 1997 and 1999-2000. The peak in 1997 was caused by an e-mail thread in the group soc.culture.british having 549 messages on the subject "No more Frankenstein food please" between August 22, 1997 and December 21, 1997. Most of these e-mails, however, were more general messages about food and health, not using the metaphor or commenting on it in the body of the post. In some shorter threads, the discussion remained about GM foods, such as in the alt.politics.british in between May 30, 1999 until July 18, 2002 (7 messages) or in rec.food.cooking (a 13-message thread over cornbread dressing). The main threads on this subject cover also the plant-tc e-mailing list that had a thread of 15 e-mail messages on the subject "Frankenfood.".

All in all, the metaphor was used in the Usenet newsgroups 2,170 times in the period 1992-20025, in very diverse groups from political and cultural newsgroups to newsgroups on cooking and gardening. The main groups where the metaphor was used were the general groups of .alt., soc. and .rec. The number of groups where the metaphor was used shows increasing variety in 1999-2000. (Figure 2)

Figure 2. Number of groups in which the terms 'Frankenfood' and 'Frankenstein food' appeared in posts, by top-level domain.

A typical topic of debate in the newsgroups between 1998-2002 was the concern over whether the writer was 'already eating GM food.' This is in accordance with the case study on BSE conducted by Richardson (2001) on the role of newsgroups as forums for discussing risks and disseminating recent information around possible risks. Most of the postings arise from concerns over environmental risks, and the need for sharing information and concern with others. Here, the metaphor of Frankenfood provided a common name for these concerns.

Based on the AltaVista search results, the main sites using the metaphor were non-governmental organizations focusing on environmental and consumer issues. The four very common contributors using the metaphor of Frankenfood were Gene.ch (www.gene.ch), Netlink (www.netlink.de), Organic Consumers (http://www.organicconsumers.org) and Genetically Manipulated Food News (home.intekom.com). All four lead active campaigns against genetically manipulated crops. They participated in the debate by circulating news clippings (netlink.de, Genetically Manipulated Food News), offering a space for postings related in GM foods (Gene.ch, Genetically Manipulated Food News) and providing consumer information on GM foods (Organic Consumers). Most of these main sites reached the peak in their postings in 1999 (Figure 3) 6.

Figure 3. Postings about 'Frankenfood' and 'Frankenstein food' by leading NGOs focusing on environmental and consumer issues.

The gene.ch e-mailing list and archive is supported by Pure NetworX, and consists of three English language subgroupings: gentech, genet and info4action, and two German language subgroups. For this analysis, I selected the three English language lists. The peak in the postings in 1999 comes from the activity in the info4action list that delivered information on local campaigns and protests against GM foods. Here, the metaphor was used in calling for action. The sub-sites gentech and genet contained mainly newspaper articles, press releases and other material opposing genetic manipulation in all its forms. Most of the messages in this mailing list report on the latest developments with regards to GM foods.

According to their own mission statement, the Organic Consumers Association "promotes food safety, organic farming and sustainable agriculture practices in the U.S. and internationally (...) campaign strategies include public education, activist networking, boycotts and protests, grassroots lobbying, media and public relations, and litigation." Similarly, http://www.netlink.de/gen is the home page of an organization campaigning against genetically manipulated foods. It circulates material on GM foods both in English and German. Also the fourth main participant, Genetically Manipulated Food News, opposes GM foods. The newsletter no longer functions, but the archive is still supported on the Internet. The URL http://home.intekom.com now belongs to a telecom company. The newsletter was maintained by the Safe-Food-Coalition of South Africa. According to their own statement, the material came mainly from Internet e-mail list servers, such as The Natural Law Party of Canada (Richard Wolfson), The Ban-GEF (Ban Genetically Engineered Food) and Biowatch (South Africa). All these NGOs oppose GM foods, and used the metaphor to call for consumer action.

In addition, two actors were active in Europe, mainly in the UK: the Friends of the Earth organization (14 hits) and the biotech company Monsanto UK (30 hits). The Friends of the Earth (FoE) started a campaign against genetically manipulated food products in 1998. Monsanto was trying to reply to this campaign, on its Web pages and with the help of pro GM food advertisements, for instance (Levidow, 2000). This was also reflected in the mass media. To get a view on how the metaphor was used in the mass media, I collected articles published in the on-line version of The Times7. (Figure 4)

The campaign lead by FoE consisted of local protests in front of supermarkets, as well as globally available pages on the Internet. They actively promoted the metaphor of Frankenstein's monsters, effectively invoking fear and anxiety. Successful metaphors are often emotionally appealing (Väliverronen & Hellsten, 2002). The first instance in which FoE used the metaphor of Frankenfood was the decision made in 1998 by the supermarket chain Iceland not to sell GM foods. FoE further used the metaphor in its various forms to refer to GM foods. Sometimes Monsanto was called the Frankenstein's monster of the food industry (26 May, 1998), sometimes the whole biotech industry was named Frankenstein industry (9 July, 1998), and GM food technologies were called Frankenstein technologies (10 July, 1998). The press releases address the issue from a consumer perspective. Here the use of the metaphor of Frankenstein proved to be successful in attracting attention, initially because it is emotionally appealing, and secondly because it is flexible enough to allow for various formulations. All in all, the discourse here is focused on consumer concerns.

Figure 4. Web site pages addessing the 'Frankenfood' and 'Frankenstein food' issues at Monsanto, the Times, and the Friends of the Earth Web sites.

Most of the pages on the Monsanto site were news clippings in favor of GM foods. In the Monsanto newsletters, the terms Frankenfood / Frankenstein food were only mentioned as replies to accusations, that is in the context of trying to 'correct' the information provided by the NGOs. The company also launched an advertising campaign to promote GM foods in the UK in 1998, but the campaign did not succeed in changing the negative associations of Frankenfood (Levidow, 2000). Some of the clippings on the Web pages provided two sides of the debate, one of which is for GM foods, and the other against genetic manipulation. The context, however, always leans towards providing a 'rational' context for the debate, or putting more emphasis on the economic aspects of agribusiness. For example, this appeared on January 28, 2001: "(Europeans') apprehensions are fueled by news reports using emotional terms such as 'Frankenfoods' in headlines and repeating allegations from an "aggressive fear campaign" even when scientific consensus rebuts them, says North Carolina State's Hoban, who has compared U.S. and European attitudes toward genetically modified crops" (Barry Shlachter in Monsanto News). The discourse here emphasizes genetic modification as a scientific issue that has potential economic benefits, and negative reactions as irrational fear.

In the on-line archives of The Times (including The Sunday Times) there were 58 articles in 1992-2002 where either the term 'Frankenfood(s)' or the term 'Frankenstein food(s)' appeared. The first occurrence came as early as 1992 in The Times in the context of Pure Food Campaign by a Washington-based pressure group in the US. Thereafter, the metaphor was used once in 1993 and twice in 1998. The peak in use of the terms was in 1999. The Times caught up with what it called 'panic' when the debate reached a political level in 1999. The start for the debate came about when the Guardian published a letter from 22 scientists supporting the findings of a Dr. Pusztai in February 1999. Pusztai had earlier claimed that GM potatoes caused health problems in rats. This was the start of a very intense media debate on GM foods in the UK (see also Durant & Lindsey, 2000).

Interestingly, both the FoE and Monsanto stopped using the metaphor in 2000 - or at least the use of the metaphor was not visible on their Web pages any longer. In The Times the number of uses of the metaphor has decreased from 2000 onwards. There are several reasons for the peak in the use of the metaphor in 1998-2000 and the subsequent reduction in its usage in the four main sites' Web pages as well as in the pages of FoE and Monsanto. One reason for the peak in the use of the metaphor is Dr. Puzstai's contested findings on the immune system problems of rats fed with GM potato. At the same time, the UK was facing mad cow disease, and this new concern may have affected the debate on GM foods as well. There are also several reasons for the decline of the metaphor. The FoE site focused on new concerns, such as climate change and environmental pollution in 2001-2002. The metaphor of Frankenfood may also have become so conventionalized that it lost some of its emotional value used in calling for action.

Even though the metaphor was mostly used to refer to the negative aspects of genetic manipulation, this was not always the case. On the Web pages of Charter88 (www.charter88.org.uk), an organization dealing with issues related to constitutional reform in the UK, for example, an e-mail thread of five messages on the topic of "Frankenstein Food is good for you" appeared in 2000. In the e-mails, the main subject was the benefits of GM rice containing vitamin A, the so-called Golden Rice, in fighting blindness in developing countries. The thread can thus be taken as a reformulation of the metaphor.

In summary, the main sites using the metaphor of Frankenfood were NGOs opposing GM foods. It was used for slightly different purposes in the different contexts. In the Usenet newsgroups it was used as a name for concerns about food and health while in the pages of the NGOs it was used in calling for political action against GM foods. In The Times the metaphor became more popular only after the GM food debate had reached the political level. The metaphor was in use in various sites on the Web roughly at the same time, from 1997 to 1999, even though it was occasionally used between 1992 and 1996, and it reached its peak in 1999-2000, after which its use rapidly decreased. The variety of the contexts in which the metaphor was used also grew in 1999-2000. The metaphor seemed to gain popularity because of its emotional loading, flexibility and ability to give a concise name for consumer concerns. The metaphor was effectively used in calling for political action, but only after it was put in the context of consumer concerns.

Static snapshots

The timeline analysis provided detailed information on the expanding/shrinking network of sites that were using the metaphor of Frankenfood on the Web. This enables the identification of the main participating sites to take place. Identifying the main sites helps to focus the more qualitative analysis of the functions of the metaphor on these sites. The timeline analysis, however, is not informative about the linkages between the sites nor about their internal textual structure. I will first discuss the linkages between the sites and then illustrate the semantic structure within the sites in the form of semantic maps.

Analysis of the possible linkages between the sites of the network can be done in at least two ways, e.g. counting the hyperlinks between the domains (see
Park & Thelwall, 2003 this issue), or checking from the full text data if the main sites refer to each other. The difference lies in the intended use of the linkage. Where a hyperlink from one domain to another shows an often highly formal, institutional connection between the sites, mentioning other sites in the texts often indicates a more dialogic relation to that site. Sometimes the sites purposefully exclude, or even delete, a hyperlink to another main participant in the debate (Marres, forthcoming). For the purposes of this study, the cross-references in the texts seemed to be more fruitful than the hyperlink structure.

For the cross-reference analysis I downloaded the full texts of the pages of the sites using the AltaVista search engine, the search terms Frankenfood* and "Frankenstein food*" and the specific URLs of the main sites. The additional search was needed in order to derive all the pages that were not included in the AltaVista searches and to check the original publication or posting dates8. After downloading the full texts, I checked (using the find option) whether they mention one another, and how frequently. References to own sites (e.g. Monsanto referring to Monsanto) were not calculated. The analysis of the cross-references is informative about the linkages between the sites in the network (Table 1). In the table the columns show how many times the site referred to the other sites while the rows show the sites referred to. Netlink, for example referred 78 times to Monsanto while Monsanto never mentioned Netlink.

  GM food news Organic Consumers Netlink Monsanto FoE The Times
GM food news - 2 0 0 0 0
Organic Consumers 0 - 0 0 0 0
Netlink 1 1 - 0 0 0
Monsanto 454 726 78 - 13 87
FoE 23 41 45 8 - 5
The Times 1 6 0 1 0 -

Table 1. The cross-referring patterns of some of the main sites using the metaphor of Frankenfood in 1992-2002.

Interestingly, all sites refer to Monsanto and Friends of the Earth, while Monsanto and Friends of the Earth refer almost exclusively to each other. The active promotion of the metaphor in both local actions taken against GM foods and potentially global information on the Web pages of the main sites seemed to extend the metaphor of Frankenfood into popular use. Surprisingly, three of the main sites using the metaphor referred to each other only infrequently in their texts. Instead they all referred to Monsanto and Friends of the Earth. Monsanto, of course, was one of the main producers of the GM products that were opposed in Europe, and this explains references to the company. References to FoE are, at least partly, due to its active campaigning against Monsanto.

To further see the word network structure in the documents of Monsanto and Friends of the Earth, semantic maps were constructed. Semantic maps show the network of the co-occurring words in the selected documents. The semantic maps are based on the full text data of the main sites' Web pages from 1992-2002. They were constructed following the method developed by Leydesdorff (2001, 2003). First, however, a concordance program was used to create wordlists of the full texts of the Web pages of FoE and Monsanto. Routines were written to create co-occurrence and cosine matrices between the words within the selected texts. Where the co-occurrence matrix represents a symmetrical matrix of all the co-occurrences between the words, the cosine matrix (Salton Index) is based on a relatedness measure, i.e. the cosine between the vectors of the word distributions (e.g. Salton & McGill, 1983). The data was then imported into the visualization program Pajek9 in order to draw the semantic maps. Here I was interested in the co-occurrences of the words in the Web sites of Friends of the Earth and Monsanto (Figures 5 and 6).

Figure 5. Semantic map showing the network of co-occurring words in the selected documents from the Friends of the Earth Web site.

Figure 6. Semantic map showing the network of co-occurring words in the selected documents from the Monsanto Web site.

In the 14 Web pages of Friends of the Earth and the 30 Web pages of Monsanto, the words 'food', 'genetically' and 'GM' are keywords that most frequently co-occur with the other words. In Monsanto's texts, however, these words co-occur with a more limited number of other words than in the FoE's documents. The network of co-occurring words is more dense than in the case of the texts of FoE. Note that in the semantic map of Monsanto's documents, the threshold was set far higher than in the case of FoE; 500 as compared to 50, respectively. This means that only more than 500 co-occurrences between the words are represented in the map, whereas in FoE's map, word co-occurrences are represented if they exceed 50. This is interesting because it shows that the discourse of Monsanto is repetitive, and circulates around a few keywords that are strongly co-occurring with each other.

This difference provides enlightenment with respect to the different discourses used by these two sites in their Web documents. The discourse used by Monsanto repeats the same phrases on genetically modified foods, whereas FoE talks about genetically engineered10 crops and Frankenstein foods. Also, the word Frankenstein is not within the 100 most common words used by Monsanto, but holds the 10th position in FoE's texts. In the discourse of Monsanto, genetically modified foods are connected to development and knowledge. In the discourse preferred by FoE, genetically engineered foods are connected to concern, government and moratorium.

In summary, the NGOs using the metaphor all referred to Monsanto and FoE in their Web pages, while they seldom referred to each other. Also The Times referred only to Monsanto and FoE. This is interesting as it shows how effective the consumer campaign lead by FoE, and the subsequent response by Monsanto, was for the spread of the metaphor. The semantic networks of co-occurring words in the Web pages of FoE and Monsanto showed interesting differences in their discourses. Where Monsanto repeated its key arguments, FoE seemed to inject variety into the debate.


The metaphor of Frankenfood was first coined in 1992, but gained popularity only from 1998 onwards when the NGOs started using it in calling for consumer action against GM foods. It was found to be in use by various sites on the Web during 1996-1998 and reached its peak between 1998 and 2000, after which its use rapidly decreased. The life cycle of the metaphor seemed to move from consumer concern (NGOs) and the subsequent reaction to this raising opposition (Monsanto) to public agenda (The Times). The Frankenstein food metaphor is interesting because of its clear life-cycle on the Web. What was in the beginning a provoking, fresh metaphor turned into a cliché in just a few years. Also, the metaphor served partly different functions for different discourses. For the NGOs the metaphor was useful in evoking emotions that could be transformed into action against genetic manipulation in food production. For the participants in the newsgroups the metaphor effectively gave a name to these concerns. In the newspaper, it provided a catchy and concise way of talking about the politicised issue.

In conclusion, the metaphor of Frankenfood provided common ground for these different discourses and sites. The metaphor became successful because of its clear implications and underlying agenda, and the emotive loading needed to call for action against GM food. The metaphor offered continuity over time by representing the new GM products in a familiar context. The popular representation of the Frankenstein story has been widely successful, at least partly, due to its clear warning of unethical behaviour in the sciences and unnatural tampering with life (see also Hellsten, 2000). At the same time, the metaphor is flexible enough to allow for several interpretations and further formulations of the myth. The effort by Monsanto to re-phrase the metaphor, and the variation in the formulations of the metaphor by the Friends of the Earth serve as good examples here.

This analysis indicates two possible important roles for the Web: first, it made the campaign led by FoE and the other NGOs widely accessible and second, it facilitated the rapid circulation and conventionalization of the metaphor of Frankenfood. This is also visible in that all the sites refer to the two opposing participants of the debate, FoE and Monsanto. The metaphor has started symbolizing the negative aspects of and concerns over genetic modification of food products.

Analytically, there are still several problems in the course of the research. The analysis may be applicable only to specific, emerging metaphors with a clear life-cycle such as Frankenfood. Such metaphors are often limited to one aspect of the debate, but may still reveal some aspects of the network of sites using the metaphor, as well as the structure of the debate around the metaphor. Other types of metaphors, such as "genes as the alphabet of life" are more difficult in terms of data collection because they often come in a wide variety of different formulations (such as 'the letters of life', 'reading and writing life,' etc). These different formulations of the same metaphor are difficult to take into account when using software tools. It is also sometimes difficult to reconstruct the 'move' of the metaphor from one context to another on the Web because of the lack of dates in some of the data. Here, the data consisted mainly of e-mailings, newsletters and other texts that include the date of publication. The analysis may thus be limited to specific types and formulations of a metaphor and certain sites of use.

Methodologically, however, focusing on the key metaphors of a debate may prove to be a fruitful way of mapping debates that take place at the various forums on the Web. The timeline analysis of the expanding and/or shrinking network of sites using the metaphors helps in identifying the main participants and the peaks in use of the metaphor. Further, qualitative analysis can then be limited to these main sites. This data can be used to make semantic maps, and visualize the co-occurrences of the words in different domains, for example. Semantic maps can then be drawn as snapshots of each domain. Furthermore, the linkages between the domains can be analyzed both in terms of hyperlinks and references across the domains.

The analysis produces three partly complementary perspectives on the use of the metaphor, each of which operates at different levels of network analysis. First, the overall network of sites using the metaphor over time; second, selected points of the network over time as regards to the main participating sites; and finally, at the level of the network of words within the documents of the selected sites. The linkages between these different levels can be analysed in terms of cross-references between the sites. This multilevel network analysis provides a more detailed picture of the debate, the metaphor and the structure of the network than any of these levels alone, and allows for combining qualitative and quantitative analysis. Following one metaphor on the Web, therefore, opens up a new way to conduct Internet research.


I am grateful to Loet Leydesdorff for teaching me how to use the software programmes that were needed in the analysis, and for writing routines for downloading and organizing the data for me, as well as showing me how to draw the semntic maps using the Pajek program. Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the article. I also wish to thank Anne Beaulieu for her detailed comments on the article. The study was funded by the EU in the form of a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship within the program "Improving Human Research Potential and the Socio-Economic Knowledge Base" under contract number HPMF-CT-2002-01650.


1. Discourse refers here to the conventionalized ways of speech by the different systems, such as science, politics, economy and the mass media.
2. The data from the AltaVista Advanced Search Engine was downloaded using Visual Basic routine and then saved in text format in order to organize the data for further analysis. Only the titles, abstracts and URLs were downloaded in the first place. A routine was used to map the titles, abstracts and URLs of the Web pages (Leydesdorff, 2001). Note that in order to get as many different pages as possible, the site collapse was set on, and the data from the sites of the main actors was collected with a new AltaVista search restricted to their URLs.
3. The Usenet newsgroups were originally alternative to ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet (see e.g. Lee, 2002). Currently, they are part of the Google groups, and therefore not included in the AltaVista search results. Usenet is a worldwide, open, discussion forum with more than 41,000 newsgroups (as of 17 February, 2003 in ftp://ftp.isc.org/pub/usenet/CONFIG/active) organized around various themes (on the network structure of Usenet, see e.g. Choi & Danowski, 2002). The data for this analysis was collected with the help of the search terms Frankenfood and Frankenstein food in all the newsgroups for the period 1992-2002. The Usenet newsgroups were selected for the analysis for two main reasons: 1) the newsgroups are not included in the AltaVista search results, and would therefore provide an additional aspect of the debate in addition to the general search results. 2) The Usenet groups are open access discussion forums, in which it is easy to participate.
4. For comparison, the search using the Yahoo Search Engine returned 5,530 hits, and the Google Search Engine 4,030 hits.
5. Note that this number also covers cross-postings in several newsgroups. Part of the "No more Frankenstein food, please" e-mailing thread, for instance, was sent to three different Usenet newsgroups - and the number of hits is accordingly bigger than the actual number of contributions.
6. Because the annual or monthly news indices provided by most of the main sites repeat the data, they were excluded from the analysis. Therefore, the number of hits per site was always higher than the number of texts included in the actual analysis. The site of Organic Consumers, for instance, provided 125 pages of which 91 were included in the analysis.
7. The analysis focuses on The Times and the Sunday Times because their electronic archive covers articles published since 1988 while the archive of the Guardian, for example covers only articles published since September, 1998. These articles are not part of the AltaVista search results.
8. The site Gene.ch was not included in the cross-reference analysis because the format differs considerably from the other sites.
9. Mrvar, A., & V. Bagatelj. (s.d.). Network Analysis Using Pajek; at Http://Vlado.Fmf.Uni-Lj.Si/Pub/Networks/Pajek/Doc/Pajekman.Htm. Retrieved April 5, 2003.
10. Note that the word modified was the 8th most common word in the Monsanto texts as compared to 16th in the FoE texts. The word engineered holds the 5th position in the texts of the FoE and was ranked only 72nd in then Monsanto texts.


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About the Author

Iina Hellsten is Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at the University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam School of Communications Research. She is Associate Fellow on the Nerdi group at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Address: University of Amsterdam, ASCoR, Kloveniersburgwal 48, 1012CX Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Tel. +31 20 525 3753, fax +31 20 525 3681.

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