'An academic is like a bad dinner guest.' Exploring cross-cultural perspectives of academics via metaphors


HIGHER EDUCATION RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT, 2021 (Peer-Reviewed Journal) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume:
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/07294360.2021.1887096
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index, Scopus, Educational research abstracts (ERA), ERIC (Education Resources Information Center), Psycinfo


The aim of this study is to explore and analyze metaphors constructed around academics, in both the contexts of the UK and Turkey, to see if general opinion on academics seems to be shifting from the well-known 'ivory-tower' reputation, and if the perception differs amongst sub-groups based on their varying amounts of exposure to the reality of academia. For each country, three sample groups were asked to think of a metaphor about academics: current students; people who have never attended university; and academics themselves. In total, 642 metaphors were collected: 282 from the UK, and 360 from Turkey. For each category there was some cross-over in metaphor construction present in both contexts, but patterns of divergence in perspectives of academics for each country also became clear during the data analysis phase. The metaphors put forward by academics from both countries were broadly similar, focusing on themes of guidance, versatility and inquiry. The emergent ideas from people without a university background were that academics are egotistical, unreliable and removed from reality, whilst for students the recurrent themes were that of academics as information sources, navigators and inaccessible to them in both contexts. In terms of differences the metaphors solicited from students categorized the role of academics as protector, in the Turkish context, and privileged/enquirer, in the UK context. Academics from the UK drew more negative metaphors about the profession than their Turkish counterparts, although they also adopted a wider definition of their role in terms of directing/influencing society through science. Amongst the non-university-educated group, the metaphors can be roughly dichotomized as presenting academics as interested-curious, in the Turkish case, vs. philosopher, for the UK context. Suggestions and limitations are discussed.