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

By Paul Atkinson | Go to book overview

3

Structure and community

There is a tendency among sociolinguists to be pretty dismissive of Bernstein’s earliest papers on language. They tend to emphasize discontinuities in the development of the thought, rather than searching for thematic coherence. The earliest essays are thus portrayed as superseded and discredited, even in Bernstein’s frame of reference. (Of course, for some critics, the whole oeuvre is suspect.) Gordon’s remarks, for instance are typical of those which play up ‘frequent changes in terminology, largely unacknowledged shifts in focus, ambiguities and obscurities and, most confusing of all, at least two outright contradictions’ (Gordon, 1981, p. 66). Stubbs provides a characteristic portrayal of the discontinuities; commenting on what he finds difficult in interpreting Bernstein, he says:

Bernstein has complicated this problem, for he has recently republished a collection of his papers (CCC 1) which span the years 1958 to 1973 and contain many contradictory statements. He has also recently published experimental papers (CCC 2) based on his early and now outdated theoretical position. He admits (CCC 2) that this experimental work is based on a ‘much coarser theoretical position’ than he now holds. (Stubbs, 1983, p. 48)

Stubbs goes on to remark that the difficulties of interpretation are compounded by the fact that the version of Bernstein’s work on

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