The marketplace in education: The multiplicity of metaphor in discourse

The introduction of marketplace-inspired thinking has been both praised and bemoaned by educational theorists, practitioners and the public for well over a century. What is much less widely understood, however, is that the marketplace metaphor appears in multiple guises which, albeit related through their source domain (vehicle), are often not cognitively or textually commensurable. Often, the metaphor is used generatively (Schön, 1983) to consciously uncover a novel solution to an intractable problem, but just as often it is used by educationists who are unaware of the metaphorical nature of their discourse. Sometimes, the domain of the marketplace provides a complex inferential content of semantic relationships to be applied but in other contexts is used merely to provide legitimacy (or to discredit) an otherwise independent conceptualization of education. It has also been used to give both pragmatic and moral justification to many reform efforts.
Additionally, the impact of the metaphor differs with the conceptualization of the domain of the market-place. The domain of the market (economy, industry, business) extends across a vast area of our experience from modes of production through to means of exchange, and can thus be applied to make sense of a variety of aspects of the educational world including school management, teacher-student-parent relationship, conceptions of knowledge, parental choice, or choice of curriculum content. It is also of consequence that some view the market as detrimental to human experience while others see it as a necessary prerequisite of freedom.
This paper argues that the conceptual metaphor theory developed by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and others can best account for the cornucopia of figurative language present in education in relation to the market-place. It provides an overview of market-related metaphors used in educational discourse and suggests several ways of making sense of the often heated debate.