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Curriculum as Cultural Reproduction: An Examination of Metaphor as a Carrier of Ideology

by C. A. Bowers - 1980

An examination is made of dependency in the area of educational analysis and policy formation on the use of metaphorical thinking. A clarification is made of the conceptual difficulties that arise from the inability to understand the difference between the phenomenological world and the symbolic world. (Source: ERIC)

The purpose of this article is to examine how dependent we are in the area of educational analysis and policy formation on the use of metaphorical thinking, and how metaphorical thinking serves as a carrier of historically rooted ideologies. A second purpose is to clarify the conceptual difficulties that arise when we fail to recognize the difference between the phenomenological world of everyday life and the symbolic world of metaphor. When we attempt to translate metaphorical thinking into a new educational policy and practice the problem becomes even more serious in terms of precipitating disruptions in people's lives. The attempts to translate the metaphors borrowed from industrial engineering into classroom practice and the more recent efforts to organize the administration of schools in accordance with metaphors borrowed from systems theory are two examples. The analysis of metaphor as carrier of ideology could focus on any one of several recent developments in education: the influence of technicism on educational thought and practice, the alternative-school movement (now more a study in the history of ideas), or the accountability movement. Each of these reform movements was heavily dependent on metaphorical thinking, and a critical analysis of this relationship is much needed. For our purposes, however, the curriculum as cultural reproduction theory will be used as a basis for analyzing the nature and influence of metaphor. The view of curriculum as cultural reproduction is central to the sociology of school knowledge being developed by Michael Young, Basil Bernstein, and Pierre Bourdieu. Their analysis of school knowledge has attracted widespread interest in this country and abroad. As the theory, in part, is derived from Marx's sociological model of social class and ideology it appears to be represented by some educational theorists as fitting into the category of thought that Marx associated with scientific, distortion-free knowledge. This promise of knowledge about the mechanisms of social repression and revolutionary change that can be generalized, because of its scientific nature, to different cultural contexts is what makes the writings on curriculum as cultural reproduction particularly attractive for an analysis of metaphorical thinking. As the work of Michael Apple represents a nice synthesis and restatement of the main ideas in the sociology of school knowledge, his work will be used as the primary source of reference.

The article will begin with a brief restatement of Michael Apple's interpretation of the theory of curriculum as cultural reproduction. This will enable us to identify both the metaphors and the theoretical context in which they are used. We shall then proceed to an analysis of the nature of metaphor and the relationship between metaphor and ideology. After this theoretical foundation is established we can then return to an analysis of the existential-cultural implications of key metaphors used by Apple and others working in the sociology of school knowledge.

What we should understand about the transmission of school knowledge, according to Apple, are the linkages between the form and content of the curriculum, the system of economic production, and the maintenance of class relationships. Apple focused on the importance of understanding these linkages when he posed the question: "What are the manifest and latent social functions of the knowledge that is taught in schools?" How do the principles of selection and organization that are used to plan, order, and evaluate that knowledge function in the cultural and economic reproduction of class relations in an advanced industrial society like our own?1 One of Apple's purposes in raising the question in this way was to attack as indefensible and naive the view that what is taught in school is objective knowledge, and that teachers stand above the fray of political interests as nonpartisan public servants. Not only is school knowledge political; it must also be understood as part of the ideology of the dominant social class. The other purpose was to connect his analysis with Marx's idea that the mode of economic production "determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life." While he cautions against accepting an oversimplified interpretation of Marx's dictum that social existence determines consciousness, he nevertheless wants to keep in the foreground the primacy of economic activity in determining class relationships and the distribution of knowledge in society.

Cultural transmissions, of which school knowledge is an important part, not only are shaped by the mode of economic production, but in turn reproduce in the consciousness of people the ideas, values, and norms that maintain the relations of reproduction. Apple suggested that we think of culture in terms of the metaphor of distribution. "One can think about knowledge," he writes, "as being unevenly distributed among social and economic classes, occupational groups, different age groups, and groups of different power. Thus some groups have access to knowledge distributed to them and not distributed to others. . . . The lack of certain kinds of knowledge—where your particular group stands in the complex process of cultural preservation and distribution —is related, no doubt, to the absence in that group of certain kinds of political and economic power in society.”2 This process of distributing knowledge in a manner that maintains the patterns of unequal social relationships is, according to Apple, one of the primary functions of the school.

Utilizing Pierre Bourdieu's idea that knowledge can be understood as cultural capital, Apple argues that the schools reproduce the class divisions of a hierarchical society through its distribution of cultural capital. As Apple put it, "Schools, therefore, process both knowledge and people."3 The linkage between the schools' distribution of cultural capital and unequal ownership and control of economic capital in the larger society can be seen in terms of who is given access to what he terms "high-status knowledge." "The constitutive or underlying social and economic rules," Apple writes,

make it essential that subject-centered curricula be taught, that high status be given to technical knowledge. This is, in large part, due to the selective function of schooling. Though this is more complex than I can go into here, it is easier to stratify individuals according to "academic criteria" when technical knowledge is used. This stratification or grouping is important because not all individuals are seen as having die ability to contribute to the required knowledge form (as well as partly because of the structural requirements of the division of labor, of course). Thus, die cultural content (legitimate or high-status knowledge) is used as a device or filter for economic stratification.4

Because of the hegemony of the dominant cultural code, what Apple would call the ideology that legitimates the unequal distribution of power, the teachers' participation in the process of economic and cultural reproduction is characterized by a sense of taken for granted-ness.

This is, I think, an essentially fair restatement of Apple's interpretation of the curriculum as cultural reproduction theory. As Apple shares with a number of other theorists working within this paradigm—Madeleine MacDonald, Geoff Esland, Michael Young, Madan Sarup—the belief that a fundamental transformation of the social order is needed along the lines laid down by Marx, our purpose here is to examine some of the key metaphors used in the analysis (class, inequality, hegemony, and hierarchical social structure) as well as what we can call the background or reference-point metaphors (classless, equality, and terms that imply the elimination of hegemony, ideology, and status differences in knowledge). As the Marxist sociological model makes a distinction between scientific knowledge (which Marx's paradigm provides) and ideology (distorted thinking that reflects the hegemonic influence of capitalism), it is important to ask whether their key metaphors are free of ideological content. To put it more directly, if social and educational reform were based on their metaphors would a classless society, free of hegemony, emerge, or do the metaphors themselves serve as a carrier of a culturally and historically based mental template? Are metaphors like equality, freedom, and classless society culturally neutral images that can be adopted by any culture without coming under the influence of Western hegemony? Can they be adopted in our culture at the level of social practice and at the same time be reconciled, without an Orwellian distortion of the language, with other metaphors that we also value, like cultural pluralism? Before examining the cultural orientation embedded in the metaphors that are so fundamental to Apple's analysis and prescriptions for social change it will be necessary to clarify what metaphorical thinking is, and how metaphors serve as carriers of ideological orientations.

The problem for the Marxist educational theorist, for the advocate of "free schools," and for the technicist promoting "competency based education" is not that they use metaphors; it is that they do not understand the metaphorical nature of the "reality" they think they are reporting on. As a number of writers have observed, all thinking is metaphorical. As early as 1873, Friedrich Nietzsche described metaphor as basic to the intellectual process we use to establish truth and meaning. "The starting point," he wrote, "begins with a nerve-stimulus, first transcribed [ubertragen] into an image [Bild]. First metaphor! The image again copied into a sound! Second metaphor! And each time he (the creator of language) leaps completely out of one sphere right into the midst of an entirely different one."5 In another place he wrote, "In our thought, the essential feature is fitting new material into old schemas, . . . making equal what is new."6 What he is describing as a fundamental impulse of man, the impulse toward the formation of metaphors, is later identified with the "will to power." This drive to name, to give meaning, to categorize, involves the use of metaphor, that is, the establishment of an identity between dissimilar things.

Ernst Cassirer made a similar observation on how our phenomenological world is transformed through language. "This differentiation and fixation of certain contents by words," he writes, "not only designates a definite intellectual quality through them, but actually endows them with such a quality, by virtue of which they are now raised above the mere immediacy of so-called sensory qualities. . . . Here lies the first beginning of that universal function of separation and association."7 More recently, Susanne Langer described metaphor as "our most striking evidence of abstractive seeing. . . . Every new experience or new idea about things evokes first of all some metaphorical expression. As the idea becomes familiar, this expression 'fades' to a new literal use of the once metaphorical predicate, a more general use than it had before." She goes on to say that "if ritual is the cradle of language, metaphor is the law of its life. It is the force that makes it essentially relational, forever showing up new, abstractable forms in reality, forever laying down a deposit of old, abstracted concepts in an increasing treasure of general words."8

Nietzsche, Cassirer, and Langer, in addition to showing that metaphors are essential to the symbolic openness of both thought and language, provide important clues as to how metaphorical thinking occurs. Each of the quotations referred to thinking as a process of moving from one sphere to another, making associations and comparisons, and the expansion of meaning through relating one image to another. In order to formalize our discussion of metaphor in a manner that will enable us to understand the use of metaphors in the academic world where truth claims are made about our knowledge of society, and to understand the process to which Nietzsche, Cassirer, and Langer allude, it would be useful to draw on Richard H. Brown's analysis of the cognitive status of metaphor. His book, A Poetic for Sociology, makes an important contribution to understanding the nature of metaphorical thinking within the domains of the social sciences, science, and even educational policy and analysis.

Brown provides several clear descriptions of the mental process involved in the use of metaphors. "In the narrowest sense," he writes, "metaphors can be understood as an illustrative device whereby a term from one level or frame of reference is used within a different level or frame."9 To use an example drawn from the previous discussion of curriculum, culture is to be understood as though it were capital. The metaphor of cultural capital derives its power from the expansion of meaning that comes from associating our understanding of culture with all that we know about capital, that is, capital is owned, unevenly distributed, and underlies the basis of class divisions. Dewey's view of education as growth, to take another example, involved the expansion of the meaning of education by associating it with the image of growth, which was largely derived from a biological frame of reference. Brown points out that the use of metaphor "concentrates our attention on what is patently not there in the language, but which emerges in the interplay of juxtaposed associations."10 Examples taken from different ideological perspectives include competency based education, open classroom, and democratic centralism; each shows how meaning is expanded through this process of juxtaposed association.

In addition to the carry-over of meaning as terms are used within different frameworks, metaphors also provide the basis for both model building and theoretical thought. Brown suggests that analogic metaphors are basic to the theoretical thinking that characterizes the social sciences and science. Like illustrative metaphors, analogic metaphors involve taking an image or sense of meaning from one context and employing it in another in order to expand or clarify some new sense of meaning that we want to have understood. We use analogic metaphors when we think in terms of comparisons, relationships, and how something can be understood like something else. Thinking of the school as a distribution system would be an example, as is thinking of society in terms of structure and function. School and society are not understood in isolation, but in relation to other images. Iconic metaphors, according to Brown, provide us with an image or mental picture of what things are, rather than creating a new sense of meaning through comparison (analogic). Theories about class, power, intelligence, rely heavily on iconic metaphors. "Root metaphors," Brown writes, "are those sets of assumptions, usually implicit, about what sort of things make up the world, how they act, how they hang together, and usually, by implication, how they may be known."11 Root metaphors constitute the basic frames of reference or paradigms for making sense of our world, and are the starting point for all theory building. Unlike analogic and iconic metaphors they usually exist below the level of conscious awareness. Thinking of society as an organism is an example of how a root metaphor provides a conceptual grammar that influences our way of thinking. Root metaphors are the basis of world views, ideologies, and religion. They also have a way of showing up in the conceptual underpinnings of social science theories that are supposedly free of archetypal thinking. Marx's statement, for example, that "new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society"12 reflects the basic root cultural metaphor that shaped the thinking of Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Comte, and Dewey. Stages of growth that reflect an inner telos, with the latter stages existing in the embryo of earlier stages, is a basic paradigmatic theme underlying the cultural grammar of all these Western thinkers.

As metaphors represent a mental construct they must, according to Brown, be consciously understood in terms of suggesting an "as if" set of possibilities. When Apple tells us to think of culture as a "distribution system," of schools as "processing people," and of "how hegemony acts to 'saturate' our very consciousness," it is important to keep in mind that he is inviting us to understand his meaning in a metaphorical sense rather than to interpret "distribution," "processing," and "saturate" in a literal sense. Serious difficulties arise when metaphors are interpreted literally. Brown noted that in "metaphors a logical or empirical absurdity stands in tension with fictive truth, yet this counter factual truth itself depends on a creative confrontation of perspectives that cannot be literalized or disengaged without destroying the insight which metaphor provides." He goes on to what seems to be the crucial point to remember about metaphors, namely that if the "consciously as if" aspect of metaphor is not retained, there is the danger that we will be used by them rather than using them.13

Nietzsche was also aware of the danger of interpreting metaphors in the literal sense. His view of how we transform metaphors into symbolic constructions that then act back on us is very similar to Marx's idea of how we have objectified the labor process in a manner that leaves the worker's contribution out of our thinking about commodity production. Both Nietzsche and Marx were addressing the fundamental problem of reification; Nietzsche was concerned with reification of our symbolic world, and Marx with the reification of our social relations. Metaphorical thinking becomes an example of reified thought when we cease to be aware that language involves a projection of our thought processes into the world. In the language of Berger and Pullberg, metaphors become reified "by detaching them from human intentionality and expressivity. . . . the end result. . . is that the dialectical process in its totality is lost, and is replaced by an experience and conception of mechanical causality."14 The absurd and humanly tragic emerges when we begin to act on the metaphors as though they were to be taken in a literal sense as having an objective existence of their own. Educational programs based on the "freedom" of the student, decisions that are "data based" and the desire to eliminate the sources of "inequality" in all aspects of social and individual experience are examples of the kind of reified thinking that characterizes ideological positions prevalent in education today. In the face of a reified symbolic world—of which "freedom," "data," and "inequality" are examples—the individual loses sight of his intentionality in how such metaphors are to be interpreted and acted on in the context of everyday life. The alienation of man from die symbolic 'world that is constructed and externalized is in Nietzsche's sense the ultimate expression of will to power, but expressed in a manner that does not involve taking existential responsibility.

If we go back to Brown's description of metaphor as involving a term or image taken from "one level or frame of reference" and "used within a different level or frame" it is easy to make the connection between metaphor and ideology. Another way to understand "frame of reference" is to think of it in Clifford Geertz's sense of a symbolic world or model. Geertz suggests that we think of symbolic worlds as "culture patterns—religious, philosophical, aesthetic, scientific, ideological

. . . [that] provide a template or blueprint for the organization of social and psychological processes."15 These symbolic worlds can also be viewed as ideologies that serve as mental templates for making sense of the phenomenological world. Metaphors, as Brown suggests, derive their expanded meaning from the juxtaposition of these mental templates or from the use of an image taken from one mental template and used in a different context. Viewing society as an "organism" and the curriculum as cultural "reproduction" would be two examples. Put succinctly, metaphors always have an ideological basis that gives them their special symbolic power to expand meaning. When they are used, as in talking about equality or freedom, the metaphors carry or lay down, in Susanne Langer's phrase, "a deposit of old, abstracted concepts" that reflect the episteme or ideological framework from which they were borrowed. In this sense metaphors are carriers of meaning and images from one context to another. To think metaphorically means then the use of historically grounded mental frameworks; or as Nietzsche put it, fitting the new into old schemas.

Before examining die theory of curriculum as cultural reproduction as an example of ideological borrowing it is necessary to explain what is meant by a "context-free metaphor." This phrase was used by Alvin Gouldner in his analysis of how Marxist metaphors, such as socialism, proletariat, imperialism, class struggle, and so forth, could be used in a variety of contexts that reflected different forms of social development. What allows the Marxist-socialists, he asked, to use "socialism" in the context of agrarian as well as industrially advanced societies, or to interchange the term "proletariat" with "peasantry" and "people"?16 He suggested that this process of metaphorical switching where one metaphor takes on the equivalencies of other metaphors results from the context-free nature of the metaphors. That is, the metaphors are used in a manner that separates them from the ideological framework out of which they are derived. In losing sight of the original image or sense of meaning the originating symbolic framework provides, the user can give them any meaning he wants. In being divorced from their historical roots, the metaphors can be switched without seeming to involve contradictions or the misuse of image or framework. Thus "peasant" can be used as interchangeable with "proletariat" or "working class," and, to change ideological framework as our source of examples, "freedom" can be interchanged with "natural" and "spontaneous," "competency" can be interchanged with "input and output measures." The tendency to switch metaphors reflects the user's lack of knowledge of what the images originally meant. The metaphor, thus separated from its historical and cultural context, is used as context free. The popular usage of "liberalism" and "conservatism" reflects this lack of historical awareness. As I shall develop in the following analysis, the metaphors used by Apple and others looking at the social-political function of curriculum within the Marxist paradigm are being used as context-free metaphors. Even though the metaphors are used in a context-free manner they continue to carry vestiges of the ideological frameworks from which they are taken.

The metaphors that are important to the development of Apple's analysis of curriculum include inequality, class, hegemony, high-status knowledge, and hierarchy (in all its social and cultural manifestations). Metaphors that suggest the opposite image, that is, classless society, equality, and so forth, are fundamental to his Marxist vision of a socialist society. Our purpose here is to point out how these metaphors serve as carriers of the deep-structure assumptions and categories of thought that characterized the historical mind set from which they were borrowed. This will help to clarify a point that seems to be generally ignored by Apple and other educational theorists using the Marxist paradigm, namely that metaphors like equality and classless society are not culturally neutral terms. Marx himself understood the social-historical origins of language, but many of his followers seem to overlook this obvious yet exceedingly complex issue. If the metaphors of social liberation are culture specific, that is, reflect a particular ideological framework, how can they be used as the basis of cultural and social liberation within a different culture without involving a new form of cultural domination? After examining some of the characteristics of the cultural episteme that gave rise to the idea of equality, freedom, and a classless society, I want to raise several questions about how the metaphors used in the Marxist sociological model can be translated into a new social praxis without engaging in another form of cultural imperialism. The dialectical relation between theory and praxis requires that the implication of a new praxis based on culturally specific metaphors be given more careful consideration than has been characteristic of the work of Michael Apple, Madeleine MacDonald, Michael Young, and others working in this area. Examining characteristics of the mind set embedded in the metaphors will also help us to see some of the cultural issues that emerge when metaphors such as equality, freedom, and nonhierarchical relations are translated into social and educational policy in our own country.

The images evoked when we think of equality, a classless society, a people entering into their true consciousness free of hegemony (hegemony is the new term that is roughly equivalent to Marx's idea of ideology), are meaningful to us because, in Benjamin Lee Whorf's terms, we are party to categories of thought that are embedded in the language.17 The language, which includes the metaphors, transmits the episteme of the culture, with the roots of this episteme going back to the earliest stages of cultural development. In terms of metaphors so prominent in Apple's analysis of curriculum, the cultural epistemology that surrounds and gives the metaphors their special meaning can be traced back to the ideology of the Enlightenment period in Western Europe. A general mapping of this episteme reveals some unique deep-structure assumptions about how to organize and think about reality. This mental template was in part fashioned by the burgeois intelligentsia in their struggle to overturn the Old Regime of church and feudal aristocracy; but fundamental characteristics can also be traced back even further to their Judeo-Christian roots. The purpose here is not to engage in a full-scale archeology of Western consciousness, but to identify those characteristics of thinking that are embedded in the metaphors we are examining.

Apple's use of metaphor within the Marxist paradigm clearly reflects the influence of the mental template characteristic of Western Enlightenment thinking. In order to see the pattern of thinking (episteme) he draws on, I shall quote several of his statements. Apple speaks of the schools' role in the "maintenance of an unequal social order," the need to adopt an advocacy model of research "if substantial progress is to be made," "the unequal social world that educators live in is represented by the reification, the commodification, of the language they use," and the "stratification of knowledge . . . [that] involves the stratification of people." The deep structure of the mental template that underlies his way of thinking, and is carried as part of the symbolic baggage of his metaphors, includes the following characteristics:

1. Linear sense of time that helps to organize events in a continuum that leads from a past into a future. This sense of linear time, which goes back to the earliest symbolic foundations of Western thought, underlies the teleology that is so fundamental to the Marxist idea of dialectical materialism where the conflict of social classes occurs within a linear patterned time frame.

2. Change is not only seen as part of a linear continuum but is progressive in nature. Thus whatever accelerates historical change, even if it involves violent revolutions, is progressive. While change and progress are inevitable, they can be greatly speeded up through the intervention of intellectuals who possess a special way of knowing and predicting what the future holds for others too burdened with cares of the present to concern themselves with the future. The fusing of the linear sense of time with the idea of progress can be traced directly back to the Enlightenment period.18 That progress is inevitable is implied in Apple's appeal for an advocacy approach to research; it also underlies and legitimates the intensions of his entire theoretical effort as well as those of his Marxist colleagues. That change might lead to greater bureaucratization of life (the case still has to be made that this would be a more progressive stage of social development) or that it might lead to more atavistic forms of political control is not seriously considered. Like the Marxist metaphor of praxis or Dewey's metaphor of growth, change represents progress.

3. The idea of causality is a basic aspect of the Western mind set that is part of the deep structure of Apple's analysis of the relationship between school knowledge and the "economic reproduction of class relations in an advanced industrial society." The relationships among the distribution function of school, status knowledge, and the patterns of class relations that are grounded in the mode of production are explained in terms of cause and effect. The mode of production causes, in terms of the Marxist way of thinking, a particular mode of consciousness to exist. In Apple's analysis an attempt is made to avoid simple economic determinism; this is done by arguing that the mode of consciousness legitimated in schools is causally related to the maintenance of the capitalist mode of production. An important aspect of the Western tendency to think in terms of cause and effect is the concomitant mental habit of thinking categorically, particularly in the categories of true-false, right-wrong, either-or. Marx's contribution to understanding dialectical thinking (which in his formulation retained the element of teleology) held out the promise of breaking away from this aspect of Western thinking, which is so characteristically represented in Aristotelian logic. While Marx was unable to shed much of the traditional mental template that stamps his work as the product of a particular historical and cultural period, his followers, including Apple, have been even less successful in avoiding a thought process that organizes reality into rigid categories and linear causal relationships. In the writings of Apple, as well as in those of Bowles and Gintis, socialism and capitalism are clearly organized into the rigid categories of right and wrong, truth and falsity, salvation and perdition. Even Harry Braverman, whose analysis is often brilliant, slips back into the categorical and causal pattern of thinking when he asserts that capitalism is the cause of the increasing separation of mental from manual work.19 Why the phenomenon that Braverman investigated continues to exist in Russia, China, and other societies trying to develop their own form of socialism cannot be explained when it is categorically tied to capitalism. But then categorical thinking does not relate well to the complexity of actual experience, and thus is best left in its context-free status.

4. Abstract-theoretical thought is believed to have the power to represent more accurately the reality of individual and social experience, as well as to blueprint the progressive unfoldment of the future. This "faith" in the power of rational thought, which can be traced directly back to Enlightenment thinkers for its most fundamental legitimation, is not only a uniquely cultural phenomenon, but is, according to Alvin Gouldner, class specific. The ideology of intellectuals, he points out, holds "that an argument must stand on its own legs, must be self-sufficient, that one must 'consider the speech and not the speaker,' that it must encompass all that is necessary, providing full presentation of the assumptions needed to produce and support the conclusion." Gouldner also points out that "the culture of critical discourse (intellectuals and theorists) is characterized by speech that is relatively more situation free, more context or field 'independent.' This speech culture thus values expressly legislated meanings and devalues tacit, context-limited meanings. It's ideal," he concludes, "is: 'one word, one meaning,' for everyone and forever."20

What he sees as a class-specific view of the power of rational thought must also be understood in terms of the fact that only intellectuals possess the cultural capital necessary to engage in this high-status activity. Apple, as well as the rest of us theorizing about education and society, cannot operate without incorporating these deep-structure assumptions into our work.

5. The view of individuals as potentially free, voluntaristic entities who will take responsibility for creating themselves when freed from societal forms of oppression. This humanistic ideal is expressed in the Marxist idea of praxis as a process of self-transcendence that occurs as man freely interacts with the natural environment; it is also at the basis of the Marxist metaphorical image of alienation. It is a view, as the Yugoslav Marxist Svetozar Stojanovic pointed out, that is curiously free of any serious anthropological evidence.21 That we are free to make choices based on what reason discloses to us (a process that seldom discloses the self-interest and will to power of intellectuals who provide the rational basis on which choice should be predicated) is part of the background metaphor of most writings that are intended to elicit action directed toward social change. The purpose in disclosing how the curriculum reproduces the relations of production is to provide a rational basis for action on the part of a free, voluntaristic individual who is expected to seek the good. An interesting aspect of this part of the Western mental template is that this view of the individual is often reified to the point where, in the abstract, the workers are seen as virtuous and exhibiting the self-transcendent qualities of free beings, while at the flesh and blood level of daily life where their conservative values and materialistic tastes are too evident to be denied they are seen as being in a false state of consciousness (in theological terms, their condition would be identified in terms of a "fallen state").

6. An anthropocentric universe where the individual is the source of decision making (not bound by tradition), the source of meaning, and the fundamental reference point used to legitimate any form of interference with the natural environment. In the tradition of the Western myth that gave man the power to name, the environment has been seen as existing essentially for the purpose of serving human needs. The sense of mystery, sanctity, and the obligation to say no to the use of technological power or individual desire are not part of the natural attitude of the person who experiences an anthropocentric universe. This part of the Western mind set emphasizes the right to take direct action, to plan according to a rational process, and to be the ultimate source of moral authority. It is a fundamentally secular and man-centered universe.

For most of us the acquisition of this symbolic world has been a natural process, reinforced through daily conversations with significant others. It is so much a part of our taken-for-granted attitude toward everyday life that to have parts of this mental template identified, as in the previous discussion, is to feel that the identification of such truisms is an unnecessary form of subversion. My point here is not to claim that this is an exhaustive treatment of the deep structure of Western consciousness, or to make value judgments about it's being superior or inferior to the symbolic worlds of other cultural traditions. Instead, my purpose is to make the point that the use of metaphors derived from this cultural episteme also involves adopting these particular, historically grounded patterns of thinking. In the following discussion of the metaphors Apple uses as the basis for his analysis of the relationship between curriculum and social classes, I want to identify some of the issues that need to be addressed if we are going to consider seriously using a Marxist analysis as a basis for social reform. I am not taking the position that this should not be considered, but rather that we should acknowledge the epistemic roots of this analysis, and that it involves a peculiarly Western, modernizing, and secularizing frame of mind. When it is stated openly, rather than being part of the hidden cultural agenda embedded in revolutionary metaphors, some people may press Apple and his colleagues to justify the deep-structure categories of Western thought as superior in a moral sense and as a source of human fulfillment to those of other cultures.

Like Althusser's analysis of schools as being part of the "ideological state apparatus," the analysis of curriculum as a form of cultural reproduction is based on such a basic truism that one can only wonder about the excitement it has produced in certain quarters. Althusser states that "all ideological state apparatuses, whatever they are, [including schools] contribute to the same result: the reproduction of the relations of production, i.e., of capitalist relations of exploitation."22 That social institutions reproduce the patterns of thought and economic activity of the culture they transmit is a fact of social existence in all societies; this may apply even more in Marxist societies where there is less freedom of inquiry and local influence on schools. The opposite—that schools would be designed to subvert the social order that established and maintains them—is too simpleminded to be seriously entertained. What raises this commonsense observation to the status of serious social criticism in the theories of Althusser and Apple is that their analysis is developed within the context of background metaphors that give expression to a secular vision that is very much in the tradition of what Max Weber called "emissary prophecy." This vision, or what Marx referred to as the beginning of human history, is based in part on the powerful image of equality that is to guarantee social justice and the realization of our human potential. As equality is one of several background metaphors that give Apple's analysis its appealing moral tone, I want to raise some questions about how we are to translate this metaphor into social action, and whether this can be done without establishing a new form of cultural imperialism. I also want to raise similar questions about other taken-for-granted metaphors—class, hierarchy, and hegemony —that seem so central to Apple's agenda of social reform. These questions, I believe, will disclose some unique assumptions and problems that will be difficult to reconcile with such other values as the democratic right of cultural self-determination.

The curriculum, according to Apple, must be understood as helping to reproduce the social relations of an "unequal" economic structure. This means that social and educational reform should lead to the replacement of the social conditions that create inequality; but this leaves us with problems of interpreting what "equality" should mean. Does it mean in j the economic sense that everybody is to receive an equal wage, or that each will give according to ability and receive according to need? Marx himself does not provide a clear-cut explanation of how to achieve economic equality. Equality in the political sense could mean, as in Yugoslovia, that people should be involved in shaping the decisions that affect them. But politics very much depends on the linguistic competence of the participants. In a political environment where the power to define "What Is" depends on the possession of a complex and powerful language code, equality would have to mean achieving the same level of linguistic competence and performance. But as language codes vary in their ability to deal with certain phenomena—for example, the black ghetto vernacular is less powerful in defining "What Is" in the scientific domain than is the language code of university-trained experts—is equality to be attained by forcing one cultural group to adopt the more powerful language code of another? Whose language code is to be adopted as the basis for establishing linguistic equality? Can linguistic equality be reconciled with cultural pluralism or, for that matter, can it be achieved in a technocratic society where experts utilize their own language code as a means of legitimating both their knowledge and their status? If not, it would seem reasonable to expect the technological infrastructure to be dismantled in order to achieve linguistic equality. The metaphor of equality—that abstract, context-free image of the Enlightenment mind—is equally illusive when we ask how to structure the experience of people in a manner that fosters equality. Are the older members of society to deny that they have learned anything from their longer life in order to achieve the status of equality with youth? The alternative-school movement led many adults to adopt a stance that could only be described in terms of Sartre's idea of self-deception in order to be true to the ideological requirements of a society of equals. But, as many participants in the alternative-school movement discovered, this stance could not easily be maintained, and many had to acknowledge that the range and depth of their experience had to be recognized if they were not to act in bad faith. How is Apple's interpretation of equality to overcome this form of inequality, or, for that matter, the more existential aspects of inequality where we see people differing in their ability to take responsibility for their lives?

The metaphor of equality also raises some interesting questions about the structure of the family, particularly in cultures where the extended family involves a hierarchy of authority and responsibility. But within our cultural context of the nuclear family, the image of equality poses important questions about how equality is to be attained within the family unit (children are to have the same voice in all matters as parents?) as well as between families. To achieve equality in the sense of compensating for differences in family background is one thing; to achieve equality through state interference with the desire to pass on some sort of inheritance (moral as well as material) to one's children is a more problematic policy that runs counter to a basic human motivation that is expressed in a variety of cultural ways.

The image of equality was the creation of the Enlightenment mind set that fused romanticism and rationalism. While a progressive mode of thought in its era, it nevertheless lacked an awareness of the multiple realities experienced in different cultures. A basic aspect of the conceptual grammar of that period was the tendency toward theoretical abstract thought, and to treat it as culture free. Thinking about reason, freedom, equality, and fraternity in the abstract is an archetypal example of the mental template of the Enlightenment era. If we apply the abstract image of equality to the context of the multiple cultural realities that make up our world, we have to ask whose culture is to become the one that will be adopted as the basis for achieving an equal social-cultural order. The deep structure of Apple's metaphor of equality—the coding of reality into either-or categories, the preeminence given to theoretical-abstract thought over pretheoretical experience, the image of equality that is based on an image of atomistic-voluntaristic individualism, the anthropocentric universe—seems to imply the hegemony of Western cultural episteme.

The attempt to place Apple's use of context-free metaphors within the context of people's phenomenological culture is not intended to overturn the question of how to achieve social justice, a question that concerns more people than just Marxists. Attempts to attain social justice are bound to fail if they do not start with a recognition of cultural differences, and a recognition that these cultural differences cannot all be explained in terms of the same economic paradigm and in terms of metaphors that contain deep-structure assumptions that are foreign to the culture to which they are being applied. If the formula for defining social justice—an equalitarian society in terms of Apple's paradigm—ignores the cultural traditions that grounds the phenomenology of everyday life, the formula cannot be seen as a source of social justice. Questions of social justice must take account of differences in cultural context, which means that social justice cannot be reduced to a simple formula.

A second metaphor that is fundamental to Apple and the others looking at curriculum in terms of a Marxist framework is the image of social class. The cultural reproduction theory is predicated on the image of class relations involving two antagonistic social classes, the capitalists or the bourgeoisie who buy the labor of the working class or proletariat. It is a dichotomous model of class, highly abstracted, and highly metaphorical in its image of conflict between the owners of capital and those who, as the real producers, have only their labor to sell. The categorical thinking that underlies the epistemic tradition that Apple operates within includes the vision or metaphorical image of a classless society where alienation and exploitation cease to exist. The closest Apple comes to spelling out what would be involved in a society free of class antagonism is when he urges the "progressive articulation of a commitment to a social order that has as its very foundation not the accumulation of goals, profits, and credentials, but the maximization of economic, social, and educational equality." The structural relations, he goes on the say, "must be such as to equalize not merely access to but actual control of cultural, social, and especially economic institutions."23 The equalization of power and cultural capital, as well as control over the means of production, would produce a society free of social class. As there is no empirical referent for such a society, it exists for Apple and his colleagues as a mental image or metaphor. More importantly for our purposes, this metaphor of a classless society serves as a carrier of the Western assumptions about free individuals who are essentially creative and self-transcendent, and who will introduce the reign of reason (scientific Marxism) into human relationships. Again, the deep structure underlying the metaphor raises the question of a new form of Western cultural hegemony when the metaphor of a classless society is adopted in a non-Western culture. Within our own culture of advanced industrial social relationships there is a more fundamental question of how to relate Apple's metaphor of dichotomous classes to everyday experience. Categorical divisions formulated in the abstract (part of the mental template of Western thought) are difficult to relate to the lives of real people. Dean Ashenden, an Australian Marxist educational theorist, recently commented on the problem of taking the Marxist image of class out of its theoretical framework and applying it as the basis of empirical research into class relations. In looking for a contrasting sample of working-class and ruling-class students, he had to ask the question, "But who was working class, who ruling class?"24 There were too many aspects of the students' phenomenological culture that could not be accounted for in terms of the Marxist categories of class. Within our culture the categorical thinking that underlies Apple's use of class makes it difficult to understand the symbolic world of social groups who do not fit into Marx's economic categories, for example, people who are identified with the middle class but who are salaried like the working class (but often at a lower level of remuneration), workers who are heavily invested both individually and in terms of their union pension funds in capitalistic enterprises, affluent intellectuals (Samuel Bowles and Paul Sweezy being two prominent examples) who identify with the idea of a working-class revolution.

The metaphor of a classless society, which includes the image of the equal distribution of cultural capital, also raises some rather intriguing questions about what is to happen to the role of the intellectual and the technological expert. Apple clearly sees himself as an example of the former. Yet in his vision of a classless society there is no room for his type of intellectual activity without the emergence of a fundamental contradiction. Historically Marxist revolutions have been guided by intellectuals, and the centralization of power and the extension of bureaucratic control in Marxist societies has extended the influence of intellectuals as a New Class.25 Unfortunately, there has been no attempt on Apple's part to explain the contradiction between the theory of a classless society, and practice in Marxist societies. Apple's dependence on context-free metaphors serves as a gloss that fails to put the future of intellectuals in a classless society in any kind of perspective that takes account of the role they have played in pre- and post revolutionary social development. The historical record of Marxist revolutionary movements gives a clear picture of Marxist practice; it would be useful if Apple could illuminate for us the disjuncture between Marxist theory and the historical evidence of Marxist practice, as well as when we might expect to see the "withering away" of the intellectual vanguard. It would also be useful if he would explain how a new educational praxis could be based on his metaphor of equality and classless society. Unless he can relate his metaphorical image to the world of experience we must either view his thinking as based on a form of historically grounded idealism or begin to ask questions about the hidden ritual-religious function of metaphor in Marxist theory.

Two other metaphors that are prominent in the writings of Apple and the other theorists who view curriculum as a process of cultural reproduction include hierarchy and hegemony. Both terms are used, like the other metaphors of inequality and class, in a categorical framework where their opposite image is held out as not only desirable but ideologically guaranteed if we take the correct revolutionary steps. A concern with the existence of hierarchy in the organization of school knowledge and in the decision-making process is fundamental to Michael Young's analysis of the relationship between curricula and social class; it is also a principle concern of Apple, though he defines it in terms of the metaphor of "high-status knowledge." Implicit in their image of the new society that is to be nonhierarchical is a strong strain of Western Romanticism. If capitalism can be overturned, men and women will become rational in the secular, scientific sense and cooperative in the sense of equal participation in the decision-making process. (Again, social change is equated with progress.) The background metaphor of social relationships that do not involve hierarchy has some rather challenging implications in terms of the family unit in most cultures, the organization of knowledge in both theocracies and technocracies, and at the basic level of socialization where at least one member in the process has prior knowledge and experience that is to be the basis of sharing with the person who is undergoing socialization. As suggested earlier, a hierarchical structure is an implicit aspect of a technological mode of thought. Are Apple and Young proposing to abolish abstract-theoretical thought, which is a fundamental characteristic of a technological mode of consciousness, in order to eliminate all forms of hierarchical arrangements?

Hegemony is viewed as a form of control at the symbolic level, and in Apple's writings it is associated with capitalism. As a metaphor hegemony is similar to Marx's idea of ideology as false consciousness, but its users seem to imply that somehow it is a more powerful concept for understanding the connection between the symbolic world of everyday life (cultural capital) and the capitalistic relations of production. Apple sees the metaphor of hegemony as providing "a somewhat more flexible position which speaks of determination as a complex nexus of relationships which, in their final moment, are economically rooted, that exert pressures and set limits on cultural practice, including schools." Thus, "the cultural sphere," he continues, "is not a 'mere reflection' of economic practices. Instead, the influence, the 'reflection' or determination, is highly mediated by forms of human action." In terms of schools, hegemony is exercised through the codes that underlie the organization and transmission of knowledge, and the interaction patterns within the school that are the basis of common-sense experience.26 Apple's understanding of hegemonic culture is insightful but what I find particularly interesting is how his historically derived categories and assumptions lead him to imply that with the elimination of capitalism (another metaphor that needs more critical analysis) we will enter a new stage of human history free of hegemony. One of his subchapter headings reads "Beyond Reproduction." His tendency to place ideas within a matrix of categories that organize reality in terms of dichotomous distinctions (capitalism-hegemony, elimination of capitalism-the elimination of hegemony) and linear progress (the next stage of social development is a more progressive one) raises important questions. If hegemony can be understood as the "organized assemblage of meanings and practices, the central, effective and dominant system of meanings, values and actions which are lived . . . the common sense interpretations"27 we give to everyday life, the suggestion that somehow, through a scientifically directed revolution, hegemony can be eliminated is too absurd to even consider. Apple's understanding of hegemony is similar in many ways to Clifford Geertz's idea of ideology as a mental template, though he goes beyond Geertz in relating mental templates to forms of economic activity. To imply, as Apple does, that the overturning of capitalism will lead to a state where we are free of hegemony is tantamount to saying that we can live without mental templates and without language systems. What Apple should say is that social change will lead to changes (or does it follow?) in our mental template, but that hegemonic culture, though modified in some way, will continue to exist. But perhaps the atavistic assumption of the Enlightenment period—that man is rational in the sense of consciously controlling both mental process and the social-physical world—has prevented Apple from testing his historically grounded metaphors against what new metaphors and theories are telling us about the symbolic nature of phenomenological culture.

A basic problem of the metaphors of the cultural reproduction theorists writing on schools and curriculum is that they have treated their key and background metaphors—inequality, class, hierarchy, and hegemony—in a literal sense where they become culture-free images that can be generalized to a variety of cultural contexts. This generalization of reified images becomes a hew form of cultural imperialism when the historical-cultural epistemology out of which the metaphor is derived is ignored. In developing his theory of metaphor, Brown observes that "new metaphors, especially when elaborated into models and theories, are not merely new ways of looking at the facts, nor are they a revelation of what the facts really are." "Instead," he warns, "the metaphor in a fundamental way creates the facts and provides a definition of what the essential quality of an experience must be. And for this new reality to be entered into and comprehended—from the inside as it were—the metaphor must be taken as if it literally were the case."28 This shaping of how we look at reality, what Alvin Gouldner has referred to as acquiring a set of conceptual lenses, points to the importance of understanding the genealogy of our language. While we may think we can achieve liberation through the use of a revolutionary-sounding language, we also have to remember that it may be important to liberate ourselves from certain controls embedded in the structure and imagery of our language. This applies to the Marxist educational theorists like Apple, but also to the educational technocrat and the educational humanists who have their own set of metaphors that enable us to "see" certain aspects of experience and to not "see" what the metaphor puts out of focus. My own embeddedness in the Western mind set leads me to think that this ability to decode our phenomenological culture as a complex set of language systems, what I have elsewhere called cultural literacy, is important, but I no longer have a taken-for-granted sense of teleology that tells me that people will want to do this because they understand its rational nature, or that it will lead to progress. Nor would I necessarily recommend it in societies that do not share the cultural grammar of Western individualism and rationalism. However, in terms of the Western mind set, it seems that ecological and social events no longer give us a real choice as to whether we want to think about the possibility of cultural literacy. I know that articles should end in a nice summary fashion, and usually with an optimistic, uplifting thought. But somehow Nietzsche's observations seem appropriate to concluding my comments on metaphor, curriculum, and social change: "Man can no longer make his misery known to others by means of language; thus he cannot really express himself anymore . . . ; language has gradually become a force that drives humanity where it least wishes to go. . . . The results of this inability to communicate is that the creations of common action . . . all bear the stamp of mutual noncomprehension."29 For Nietzsche, progress was not seen as an inevitable force that would shield us from our vanities and well-intentioned mistakes.


1 Michael W. Apple, "Ideology, Reproduction, and Educational Reform," Comparative Education Review 22, no. 3 (October 1978): 372.

2 Michael W. Apple, Ideology and Curriculum (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 16.

3 Apple, "Ideology, Reproduction, and Educational Reform," p. 376.

4 Ibid., p. 382.

5 Quoted in Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. xxii.

6 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), p. 273.

7 Ernest Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Form, vol. 1 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1953), pp. 87-88.

8 Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), p. 141.

9 Richard H. Brown, A Poetic for Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. 78.

10 Ibid., p. 88.

11 Ibid., p. 125.

12 Quoted in Brown, A Poetic for Sociology, p. 130.

13 Ibid., p. 84.

14 Peter Berger and Stanley Pullberg, "Reification and the Sociological Critique of Consciousness," History and Theory 4 (1964-1965): 207.

15 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 216.

16 Alvin W. Gouldner, "The Metaphoricality of Marxism and the Context-Freeing Grammar of Socialism," Theory and Society 1, no. 4 (1974): 388.

17 Benjamin Lee Whorf, “Science and Linguistics," in Everyman His Own Way: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, ed. Alan Dundes (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1968), pp. 324-25.

18 The most direct discussion is in J. B. Bury, The Idea of Progress (New York: Dover Publications, 1932). Also see Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1973).

19 Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974). For further examples see David F. Noble, America by Design (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), particularly the introduction where he states his general thesis. Also see Christopher Lasch, Haven in a Heartless World (New York: Basic Books, 1977), especially chapter 1.

20 Alvin Gouldner, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), pp. 28, 34.

21 Svetozar Stojanovic, Between Ideals and Reality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), especially the chapter "The Ethical Potential of Marx's Thought."

22 Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 154.

23 Apple, Ideology and Curriculum, pp. 11-12.

24 Dean Ashenden, "Marxism and Australian Education: A Tenuous Connection?" A paper presented at the 1979 Political Economy Conference at Sydney University.

25 Gouldner, The Future of Intellectuals, p. 61. Also see Anthony Gidden's discussion of the New Class in State Socialist Societies, in his The Class Structure of Advanced Societies (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), especially chapters 12 and 13. Also see J. Kelley and H. S. Klein, "Revolution and the Rebirth of Inequality," American Journal of Sociology, July 1977, pp. 78-100.

26 Apple, Ideology and Curriculum, p. 5.

27 Ibid.

28 Brown, A Poetic for Sociology, pp. 84-85.

29 Quoted in Tracy B. Strong, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), p. 62.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 82 Number 2, 1980, p. 267-289
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 974, Date Accessed: 12/2/2021 1:43:33 PM

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About the Author
  • C. Bowers
    University of Oregon
    C.A. Bowers teaches education and social thought at the University of Oregon, Eugene. His publications include several books, among them,Cultural Literacy for Freedom (1974). He has just completed a book-length manuscript entitled "Education and the Politics of Cultural Change."
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