Language, Structure, and Reproduction: An Introduction to the Sociology of Basil Bernstein

By Paul Atkinson | Go to book overview

1

Introduction to a split subject

Basil Bernstein is, in one sense, an author who needs no ‘introduction’. He is one of the best known and most influential of British sociologists. His work is known throughout the world by sociologists, linguists and educationalists. His writings have been widely reported, reproduced, anthologized and debated. His ideas have been the subject of interest and dispute for many years, and generations of students have been acquainted with at least some version of them. Bernstein’s name appears time and time again in textbooks on education and language. Yet this wide dissemination provides the rationale for my own ‘introduction’ in this book. For, influential though Bernstein’s work has been, its influence has often been quite contrary to the spirit of his own intentions. The debate and controversy surrounding his ideas have often been conducted on the basis of thoroughgoing misunderstandings of Bernstein. All too often, therefore, partial and inadequate interpretations of Bernstein are enshrined in the textbooks and other secondary sources, and it is often these misconceptions that are handed on as received wisdom to students and practitioners.

Further, Bernstein’s work is often dealt with in the secondary literature in a fragmented way. The totality and coherence of his oeuvre is rarely, if ever, given adequate consideration. Bernstein is, of course, best known for his theoretical and empirical work on language, and the relationships between language, social class

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