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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 11: Invisible Tribunals: Progress and Knowledge-Building in the Humanities 177


Every writer carries in his or her mind an invisible tribunal of dead writers, whose appoint- ment is an imaginative act and not merely a browbeaten response to some notion of author- ity. This tribunal sits in judgement on our own work. We intuit standards from it….If the tribunal weren’t there, every first draft would be a final manuscript. You can’t fool Mother Culture. (Robert Hughes [1993]. Culture of complaint. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 111). INTRODUCTION Over recent decades, few academic debates have been as intense, wide-ranging and bitter as that over the rationale, role and form of the humanities. The ‘culture wars’ have extended well beyond the academy, with such interventions as Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987), E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy (1987), Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon (1996) and David Denby’s The Great Books (1996) becoming international best-sellers. The war still rages. Recently, John Carey’s What Good are the Arts? (2005) attracted widespread attention in Britain and beyond. This ongoing debate has raised questions of progress, originality and innovation in the humanities. Can we speak of progress in these fields? What is the basis of humanist ‘knowledge,’ and who can be said to ‘know’? C H A P T E R E L E V E N KARL MATON Invisible Tribunals Progress and Knowledge-Building in the Humanities Sadovnik_8 to 11.qxd 2/11/2010 12:32 PM Page 177 These questions have also been raised by Basil Bernstein’s later work. Analysing the form taken...

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