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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Schooling markets : the circulation, creation, and contestation of charter school markets in the United States Cohen, Dan


Despite being central feature of economic and social life, markets remain largely understudied within geography. Recently however, a geography of markets has emerged as scholars have begun to excavate the spatial dimensions of markets and their role in shaping the wider economy and everyday life. This dissertation contributes to this literature’s development through the study of charter school policies, which have been used to create markets for publicly-funded schooling in the United States. As argued throughout the dissertation, the study of these schooling markets, which have been the site of fierce political struggles, can help contribute to our understanding of the role markets play in wider sociospatial processes. Grounded in empirical fieldwork and utilizing a geographically-attuned approach to markets inspired by Polanyi and Gramsci, this dissertation approaches the study of charter school markets through case studies examining their functioning in two American states, Michigan and Oregon. It does so through asking the following questions: (1) How are market-making projects in American schooling being constructed, circulated and contested? (2) How have ideologies specific to schooling and education shaped the functioning of charter school markets? and (3) How are market-making 'projects' in education articulated with other sociospatial dynamics? In answering these questions, I argue that, contra to their most common depictions, charter school markets cannot be understood through a narrow focus on the decisions made by actors within them. Instead, the exchange that takes place within these markets is structured by the institutions constructed around them, including struggles over their form and the wider power structures these struggles occur within. This understanding of markets has ramifications beyond schooling and offers new insights into how geographers can understand the role of markets within wider sociospatial relations.

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