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

By Paul Atkinson | Go to book overview

2

A structuralist anthropology of schooling

A conventional starting point for most discussions of Bernstein’s work is the earliest formulation of his theories concerning language: these, equally conventionally, are treated as accounts of ‘educability’ and differential success in the school system on the part of contrasting social classes or ethnic groups. The theories are thus assimilated to the abiding preoccupations of British educational research and practice, on the effects of early socialization, class membership and life chances; they are equally assimilable to American concerns with cultural pluralism. That approach, while preserving some of the chronological features of Bernstein’s emerging perspectives, has its dangers. It invites the trap of assigning priority to the language research, while treating the rest of the sociology as subsidiary to or derivative from it. Bernstein himself has protested against such a view, which does violence to the overall unity and true chronology of his undertaking. Introducing the collected papers on ‘educational transmissions’ (1977a, pp. 1 ff.), he complains that much of the criticism of the sociology of language fails to take account of his papers on schools and school knowledge (grouped as ‘changes in the moral basis of schools’ and ‘changes in the coding of educational transmissions’). Yet, as he points out, the major research in both areas started simultaneously, in 1964.

I begin, therefore, not with ‘language’, but with an account of Bernstein’s observations on rituals of schooling and the ‘moral

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