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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 4: The Structure of Pedagogic Discourse as a Relay for Power: The Case of Competency-Based Training 47


INTRODUCTION Basil Bernstein’s key insight was that the structure of pedagogic discourse and the nature of pedagogic practices carry the message of power as much as the content of pedagogic discourse. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the case of competency-based training (CBT) models of curriculum. CBT defines compe- tency as the application of the specific knowledge, skills and attitudes that are need- ed to undertake a work role or task to the required standards in the workplace, and this is used to derive learning outcomes. CBT appears on the face of it to be pro- gressive because of its capacity to offer a ‘relevant’ curriculum to students who do not find traditional academic curriculum meaningful, and because it putatively ensures that national vocational education and training (VET) systems deliver the skills and knowledge that their national industries need in an increasingly compet- itive international economy. Governments, particularly in Anglophone nations, have consequently been seduced by the siren call of CBT because of its seeming capac- ity to simultaneously meet the two government objectives of social inclusion and the development of human capital. In contrast, this chapter uses a Bernsteinian analysis to argue that CBT acts as a mechanism for social stratification because it denies students access to the abstract theoretical knowledge they need to participate in ‘society’s conversation.’ C H A P T E R F O U R LEESA WHEELAHAN The Structure of Pedagogic Discourse as a Relay for Power The Case of Competency-Based Training Sadovnik...

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