Bernstein, Basil

Bernstein, Basil

(1924-) social theorist and specialist in the SOCIOLOGY OF EDUCATION, who is best known for his pioneering work on SOCIOLINGUISTICS and his examination of the relationship between social class and children's acquisition and use of language in the context of the family and the school. His earliest papers, in the 1960s, established the existence of working-class ‘restricted’ codes and middle-class ‘elaborated’ codes of formal and public language (see ELABORATED CODES AND RESTRICTED CODES). These language theories, and his empirical research, were widely disseminated in Britain and the rest of the world.

Concentration on the sociolinguistic aspects of Bernstein's work has distracted attention from his wider interest in the distribution of power and the principles of social control (Bernstein, Class, Codes and Control vols. 1-3 (1971-7)). His approach is essentially a structuralist one, and he draws heavily on the work of DURKHEIM. These aspects are most clearly seen in his work on the organization, transmission and evaluation of educational knowledge. Education is essentially a form of knowledge code; how it is organized, transmitted and evaluated reflects the modes of social control. The curriculum is constructed as separate or combined units of knowledge which are classified in some way, where CLASSIFICATION refers to the boundary relationships between domains of knowledge. The term is paralleled by the concept of‘framing’which refers to the manner in which educational knowledge is transmitted. Bernstein suggests that, empirically, the message systems of ‘classification’ and ‘framing’ are realized in collection and integrated codes which underpin the curriculum of schools and have consequences for order and control. A collection code has strongly classified and bounded domains. Students can select only clearly separated contents in the form of specifically defined subjects, e.g. history, geography, chemistry, physics. An integrated code consists of contents which have an open relationship with each other, e.g. social studies, science. Thus the organization of knowledge is mirrored in the educational philosophy embedded in each code and its relationship to the principles of power and control. The collection code implies didactic teaching where ‘facts’ are inculcated. The integrated code implies a theory of teaching and learning predicated on the self-regulation of individuals or groups of pupils.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000