Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996


Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity Theory, Research, Critique

Basil Bernstein
London: Taylor and Francis
0 8039 5144 2 (pb); 0 7484 0371 X (hb)
£14.95 (pb), £40.00 (hb)
xiv + 216pp

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We are in the midst of a Basil Bernstein celebration: occasioned by two Festschriften one retrospective, one prospective (and rumours of a third coming from Australia). The retrospective volume (Sadovnik, 1995) contains 19 chapters and a response by Bernstein; the prospective (Atkinson, Davies and Delamont, 1995) 12 chapters taking Bernstein's ideas outwards in multiple directions. A celebratory symposium at the American Educational Research Association Conference in 1996 attracted 200 people who sat spellbound as Bernstein expounded for 70 minutes: an unusual session in a conference where most papers are sound bites delivered as the doors swing constantly open and closed, while people come and go, pausing only to eat sandwiches, check their catalogue or just rest their feet. Because Bernstein rarely attends conferences, he probably did not realize how unusual his performance and reception were. For those of us on the platform, all AERA veterans, who had each brought along both a brief tribute and a twenty minute paper (in case Bernstein chose not to speak), the event was extraordinary.

The enthusiasm for Bernstein will be reinforced by the publication of this book. Twenty five years after Bernstein published his first volume of papers, Class, Codes and Control Volume 1, this is effectively Volume 5, although it lacks both the familiar title and the original orange and blue Routledge colour scheme. Our comfortable abbreviations (CCC1, 2, 3, 4) have to be put aside. Once we open the book, however, we are back on familiar territory: lost in a labyrinth. Bernstein is, once again, reworking his previous ideas, reprinting his papers with modifications, making his ideas even more complicated and interwoven, and engaging in arcane disputes with nearly everyone who has dared to write about him. The complex re-interpretations of his own ideas are of more lasting importance than disputes with others, and will be the focus of this review, but they are not easy to follow. As Atkinson wrote:

Bernstein, then, is continually working the same themes into intricate patterns and motifs. Unfortunately for the general reader this work rarely - if ever - quite takes on the appearance of completion. Often the fabric turns out to be the labour of a Penelope: the threads are undone only to be re-worked into ever more intricate designs. Sometimes the patterns that Bernstein weaves become so intricate that the original figures are all but lost to view like an ornate Saxon design, the elements are elaborated and turned back on themselves. It is as if the formal design takes over, and becomes almost as valued as the original representation. (Atkinson, 1985: p. 8)
That comment applies once again to this new book, which contains ten chapters in three sections. Part Three: Critique and Response contains four chapters. One is a short discussion of Bernstein's place in sociolinguistics as he sees it, the second a reprint of his debate with A.D. Edwards, the third a dialogue with Bourdieu, and the last his response to a paper by Harker and May (1993). Part Two contains two papers intended to demonstrate how Bernstein has always relied on 'the very close relation between the development of the theory and empirical research' (p. 4). The second paper opens with an attack on the British ESRC's compulsory methods training for PhD students: redesigning the PhD 'as a driving licence rather than a licence to explore' (p. 125). Part One contains four chapters. The first introduces the key concepts, the third a major analysis of how social sciences construct competence. Chapter Two is a revised version of a paper that appeared in Class, Codes and Control 4; Chapter Four is the text of a lecture given in Greece and is only six pages long.

Overall the book is an essential purchase for libraries, and will be consulted by many sociologists interested in curriculum and pedagogy. However, no beginner should try to learn about Bernstein from Volume 5. The ideas are simply not accessible to anyone unless he or she has already wrestled with the four previous volumes. While Bernstein is an inspirational theorist, he has never managed to write a clear, straightforward introduction to his ideas and is fiercely resistant to everyone else's attempts to produce one for him. We all hate being misrepresented and oversimplified, but we all owe a duty to those outside our elite discourses which can only be discharged by providing accessible routes into our theories. Once again Bernstein has totally failed to provide such a route.

Sara Delamont
University of Wales, Cardiff


ATKINSON, P.A. (1985) Language, Structure and Reproduction: An Introduction to the Sociology of Basil Bernstein. London: Methuen.

ATKINSON, P.A.; DAVIES, B. and DELAMONT, S. (1995) (eds) Discourse and Reproduction: Essays in Honor of Basil Bernstein. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press.

BERNSTEIN, B. (1971) Class, Codes and Control Volume 1. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

BERNSTEIN, B. (1973) Class, Codes and Control Volume 2. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

BERNSTEIN, B. (1975) Class, Codes and Control Volume 3. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

BERNSTEIN, B. (1990) The Structuring of Pedagogic Discourse : Class, Codes and Control Volume 4. London: Routledge.

HARKER, R. and MAY, S.A. (1993) 'Code and Habitus' : Comparing Accounts of Bernstein and Bourdieu' British Journal of the Sociology of Education, vol. 14, no. 2, pp.160 - 178.

SADOVNIK, A.R. (1995) Knowledge and Pedagogy: The Sociology of Basil Bernstein. New York: Ablex.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996