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

By Paul Atkinson | Go to book overview

4

The power of code and the coding of power

While there is an essential continuity in Bernstein’s sociology (and not just as it relates to his work on language), about 1962 there is a shift in the thought. The change is more than terminological, but it is marked by the new pair of terms. Public and formal language use are transformed into ‘restricted’ and ‘elaborated’ codes. The analogy is with a genetic code:

I am suggesting that if we look into the work relationships of this particular group, its community relationships, its family role systems, it is reasonable to argue that the genes of social class may well be carried through a communication code that social class itself promotes, (1971a, CCC 1, p. 143)

This is clearly more than a handy simile or metaphor. The biological genetic code and the cultural communication code are formally equivalent in that they are mechanisms for intergenerational transmission whereby structural properties of similarity and difference are systematically reproduced. Such reproduction is managed by means of a relatively small set of elements, components or principles which in turn govern permitted combinations and permutations.

These components of ‘code’ will be explored in the next chapter. It will be emphasized there that the terminology of

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