This is a term used in critical discourse analysis (1). It is used to describe two terms which are routinely found in conjunction with each other, and which may in fact be joined by a conjunction.
One common collocation used in international education policy is ‘to close the gap and raise the bar’. This refers to the policy goals of improving the measurable attainment of students at the ‘bottom’ of the table, while also reducing the difference between the test scores of those at the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’.
Over time, collocations become taken for granted. Sometimes one part of a collocation may be used and the meaning of the other automatically associated with it.
Thus, if we hear the words ’closing the gap’ we may well assume that this also means ‘raising the bar’.
The effect of collocation made through the common association of the two parts is a ‘truth’ - that is it seems that the two are logically and always connected.
The implication made through the gap/bar collocation is that either the same strategies can be used to achieve both goals, or that a strategy used in one, for example, raising the bar, will not work counter to the other, closing the gap. However, in our article Maggie’s Day (2) we show that current policy-preferred pedagogical strategies for raising the bar in fact widen the gap.
Fairclough argues that we need to question the logic of collocations made in policy and other texts and look for the work that they do. We should ask if the two parts always work together and whether the implied relationship is actually as suggested.
(1) Fairclough, Norman (2000). New Labour, New Language? London: Routledge.; (2001). Language and Power (2nd edition). London: Longman; (2003). Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London: Routledge
(2) Thomson, P, Hall, C and Jones, K, 2010. Maggie’s day: A small scale analysis of English education policy as a pedagogy of under-attainment. Journal of Education Policy, 25(5), 639-656.