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Toolkits, Translation Devices and Conceptual Accounts

Essays on Basil Bernstein’s Sociology of Knowledge


Edited By Parlo Singh, Alan R. Sadovnik and Susan F. Semel

For over four decades, Basil Bernstein researched ‘the internal organisation and educational context of the school’ specifically, and educational systems generally. In particular, he was interested in the powerful forms of knowledge transmitted through schooling systems; who gained access to these forms of knowledge; how they did so; and with what consequences. His research began by examining the differences between language and communication patterns in the institutions of the home/family and of the school, and extended to examining the structuring of pedagogic discourse from the level of the state to the classroom.
This collection brings together chapters by researchers from South Africa, Portugal, the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia, to build on the theoretical concepts developed by Bernstein to explore issues of access and acquisition to school knowledge. In addition, contributors explore the strengths and limitations of Bernstein’s work for understanding the structuring of educational institutions, as well as the potential of the theory for assisting educators to make a difference in the lives of students.


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Chapter 1: Introduction 1


Basil Bernstein’s sociology of education, particularly his earlier work of the 1960s on code theory and access to and acquisition of school knowledge, became caught up in the debates about cultural and language difference versus deficit. This was despite Bernstein’s adamant stance that his research project had always been about understanding the unequal distribution and acquisition of school knowledge. The misinterpretation of his earlier work meant that Basil Bernstein’s theories often became associated with deficit accounts of ‘Other’ students—an ironic position given that Bernstein was always unwavering about his political and ideological stance—a stance which stressed that educational failure did not rest with the stu- dents, but rather with the educational institutions. Over a period of four decades, Basil Bernstein drew attention to the ways in which educational institutions failed to provide working class students with access to powerful forms of knowledge. I do not understand how we can talk about offering compensatory education to chil- dren who, in the first place, have as yet not been offered an adequate educational expe- rience….The concept of ‘compensatory education’ serves to direct attention away from the internal organization and the educational context of the school, and focus our atten- tion upon the families and the children.The concept ‘compensatory education’ implies that something is lacking in the family and so in the child. As a result, the children are unable to benefit from schools. It follows then that the school has to ‘compensate’ for the something which is missing in...

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