Narrative and Metaphor Special Interest Network

Stimulating interdisciplinary research employing a narrative and/or a metaphor perspective on topics relating to education.

Prof Helen Sword

About the network

Scope of the Network

The Narrative and Metaphor Network has set itself the task of promoting dialogue and collaborative research among exponents of the two perspectives, both within New Zealand and internationally. We arrange regular seminars and research conversations in Auckland and have already convened a successful symposium.

Why Narrative and Metaphor in Education?

In the last 30 years or so, research in educational theory and practice has been greatly influenced by the claims of scholars such as Jerome Bruner and Hayden White concerning the fundamental role of narrative as an instrument by which human beings make sense of the world. Key approaches taken by researchers in education include:

  • Identification and critique of grand social narratives with implications for education
  • Description of children’s capacity to comprehend and generate stories
  • The notion that, because our personal and collective identity is constructed largely in narrative form, the interaction of teachers and students should be understood primarily in narrative terms
  • The proposal that narrative should be employed as an organising principle in education

Over much the same period, another team of researchers in education has applied the insights of George Lakoff, Mark Johnson and others about the extent to which our thoughts and actions are framed by metaphor to their discipline. Key approaches employed include:

  • Viewing the philosophy of education as an array of competing conceptual metaphors (‘teaching as lighting a flame, rather than filling a vessel,’ ‘education as horticulture,’ ‘learning as a lifelong journey,’ etc.)
  • Proposing startling new metaphors to critique and modify the education system (‘school as social sorting machines,’ ‘education as initiation,’ etc.)
  • Examination of children’s developing capacity to interpret and generate metaphors and its role in creativity
  • The use of metaphors for explaining concepts in mathematics and physical sciences.

Just as very few philosophers have explored the relationship between narrative and metaphor in broad terms (Paul Ricoeur is the major exception), so few scholars in education (and here, Kieran Egan is the prime exception) have employed the narrative and metaphor perspectives in combination.

More information is available from the American Educational Research Association - Narrative Research Special Interest Group and the Centre for Narrative Research - University of East London.

Our people


Advisers to the Co-directors

  • Professor Alison Jones (Te Puna Wānanga, School of Māori Education)
  • Professor Saville Kushner (formerly School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice)
  • Professor Toni Bruce (School of Critical Studies in Education)

Members from tertiary institutions

Colleagues from many departments of The University of Auckland, including Applied Language Studies and Linguistics, Dance, Geography, Mathematics, and Psychology have joined the network, as well as scholars from Auckland University of Technology, University of Canterbury, Manukau Institute of Technology, Massey University, Otago University, UNITEC, and Victoria University of Wellington.

International Advisory Board

A number of outstanding scholars around the world are members of the network and have agreed to contribute to our discussions and planning for future events.

Our sponsors

We are grateful for support from The North Shore Teachers College Trust who provided the funding for our international speaker and conference administration at our inaugural symposium, 5 December 2011.