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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 14: Bernstein and Empirical Research 239


The focus of this chapter is the relationship between Basil Bernstein’s theories and empirical research. It has often struck me as paradoxical that his theories are so lit- tle used within the sociology of education. As many of the chapters in this volume indicate, his work has enormous potential for addressing enduring debates and dilemmas within social science and education. And yet this potential remains largely unrealised. In considering the relationship between his theories and empirical research, it would be easy to undertake an analysis based on Bernsteinian concepts. For exam- ple, one might ask questions about the strength of classification and framing with- in the research field; about the extent and processes of the recontextualisation of Bernstein’s ideas; about their languages of description. However, it is possible that recasting the analysis in Bernsteinian language might perhaps be part of the prob- lem and not the solution. Rather than attempt, therefore, a Bernsteinian analysis of Bernstein’s legacy, the chapter asks much simpler questions: What is the nature of the relationship between Bernstein’s work and empirical research? Why is Bernstein’s work used in this way? What, if anything, can be done about it? C H A P T E R F O U R T E E N SALLY POWER Bernstein and Empirical Research Sadovnik_12 to end.qxd 2/11/2010 12:33 PM Page 239 BERNSTEIN AND EMPIRICAL RESEARCH Bernstein himself was notoriously parsimonious in both his use of and reference to empirical research. Empirical reference was often of the following kind:...

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