Notes on: Singh, P (2002) ‘Pedagogising Knowledge: Bernsteins’ theory of the pedagogic device’. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 23(4): 571-82

Dave Harris

The device is 'the ensemble of roles or procedures via for which knowledge is converted into classroom talk, curricula and online communication'(571).  This provides some explicit criteria and rules to describe the structuring of knowledge and uncover the roles of power and control.  This study offers some empirical examples.

Bernstein has been critiqued for Euro(etc)centrism and for offering little applicability.  However, personally, he always insisted on making explicit models and theories to produce data.  He warned against personal voice or authentic experience.  He always supported disadvantaged students and opposed the reproduction of social inequality.

The new sociology of education began the focus on educational knowledge is problematic, although it has been criticised for splitting knowers and knowing rather than focusing on macro and micro structures [weird, and associated with Maton.  It is really about an excessive the focus on class?].  Lots of studies were produced on how disadvantaged groups were opposed to official school knowledge, but there was not enough analysis of how schools knowledge came to be privileged, especially 'an absence of explicit rules/criteria'[well, Young did talk about knowledge that was formal, literate and abstract].  Bernstein took up this challenge at different levels, 'official, pedagogic and local' to maintain his interest in the transmission or relay of the symbolic modalities of practice and their effects on consciousness.

The pedagogic device leads to research that's particularly important in the current era of knowledge or informational societies, which also produces increased inequalities [the knowledge economy seems to be taken rather uncritically, as a matter of 'increased knowledge intensity'at the production end, and 'electronic interconnectivity on a global basis'at the other (572)].  Both schools and alternative learning communities play a crucial part.  The devices for pedagogic socialization are limited, however and remain uniform across a number of nation states.  Bernstein set out to explain this stability, and also offered a model for change

The device is the ensemble of rules or procedures.  And this provides potential knowledge and limits potential meaning.  It generates privileged school knowledge through 'three interrelated rules: distributive, recontextualizing,  and evaluative' (573), in that order of importance, reflecting both power [and entailment?].  Distributive rules clearly distribute different forms of knowledge among different social groups as a form of power; this knowledge is then recontextualized to produce specific pedagogic discourse, in the form of delocating, relocating or refocusing it [could be re and deterritorialization].  This is also a process of conversion into pedagogic discourse.  Specific practice is then evaluated in terms of what counts as valid instructional content and social conduct.

These principles may be contested in an overall pedagogic field, as in Bourdieu - 'the social space of conflict and competition, an arena', where various agents struggle to monopolise and establish hierarchies and conversion rates.  The structure of the field is also the subject of struggle [not overall though?  The illusio keeps it intact?].  Bernstein's resources are similar to Bourdieu's capital, and the labour that produces it can be economic, informational or social.  Such capital is accumulated and realized through 'pedagogic socialization' [with a reference to Bourdieu and Passeron 1990]. Informational capital can be embodied, in dispositions, institutionalised in the form of educational qualifications, and objectified in forms like books or computers.

The three fields of the pedagogic device, production, recontextualization and reproduction are also hierarchically related in that order.  There is a division of labour in that the production of new knowledge takes place in HE and private research organizations, recontextualization takes part in department of education and training, in curriculum authorities or specialist journals, reproduction takes place in school institutions.  [Not a very critical analysis here, based on the formal claims of universities as opposed to schools. Whole thing looks very formalist].  Strong boundaries separate these fields, providing specialist identities.  The analysis can be understood in terms of macro 'mezzo' and micro levels as well [with some empirical studies cited, including one on online environments]

Meaning is structured in a similar way 'in all societies', for Bernstein, with abstract meaning being related to the material world and the immaterial world, assuming a relation between meanings and a material base [with a strange bit about how this is a  necessarily indirect relation, to avoid determinism] .In other words we have classic terms 'common/mundane (horizontal discourses) and esoteric/sacred (vertical discourses)'and two types of knowledge.  The former comes out of bodily encounters with the world, featuring 'flux and…  particulars', driven by practical and direct wisdom [common sense]; the latter features conceptual relations and symbolic orders, collective representations arising from the community itself, and can take the form of specific disciplinary knowledge [there is a lot of work done here by Muller and Taylor].  Relations and abstract knowledge are arbitrary, related by  community canons, free from natural logic [Muller and Taylor are citing Durkheim explicitly here].  It is not the content of each knowledge that matters, but rather the boundaries between them [the old stuff about classification and framing].

Esoteric knowledge has recently grown in both volume and complexity, as in the knowledge industries.  Specialist knowledge must therefore be 'decoded or translated (pedagogised)' if it is to be accessible (575).  The cost of acquiring such specialist knowledge have increased, and universal education no longer accesses it, hence 'private tutoring, out of school education,  virtual learning communities, and extracurricular activities'.  As the volume of specialized knowledge has increased, so it has been grasped by fewer people.  Public trust in institutions and expert knowledge has declined, as a 'loss of legitimacy or certainty': nevertheless, there is still a demand for knowledge growth [from whom exactly?].  This only leads to more indeterminacy as 'possibilities for self determination' increase. [Can't distinguish between types of knopweldge that are pedagogised? Technical, ideological, emancipatory etc?]

Between these two areas of knowledge is recontextualization, divided into an official recontextualizing field, and a pedagogic one.  The first one involves all the specialized departments of the state, LEA and their inspectors [old stuff by now], the latter university departments of education, specialized educational media and publishing, and sometimes nonspecialist fields which can influence the state [the growth of the Web?].  The pedagogic field is also classified internally according to the levels and the education system, and their relative autonomy from the state.  Various agents attempt to develop rules or procedures to construct pedagogic texts and practices, in pedagogic discourses, 'the grammar or syntax for generating different pedagogic texts/practices'(576): such discourses select refocus and relate to other discourses, in order to embed them, combined with 'a discourse of competence' and a 'discourse of social order'.  An instructional discourse attends to the syntax, while a regulated discourse refers to the rules of internal ordering of competences.  Overall, we get a moral regulation, related to the moral order of the classroom [and a rather ambiguous way in fact, the classroom is both prior to and a condition of instructional discourses]

The modern school is both bureaucratic and pastoral, to channel these different elements of pedagogic discourse.  Schools played a part early on in a modern programme of pacification and discipline in a nonviolent and pragmatic way, incorporating Christian pastoralism, and these different registers still affect the discourses of schooling.

Overall, principles and rules involve the selection and organization of a number of texts including subject knowledge, teaching knowledge, self and content knowledge in an attempt to regulate 'specific pedagogic identities, such as teacher and student of [the discipline]'(577).  However 'conflict and contestation is rife', [why? Just anomie?] especially if the pedagogic field is insulated from the official one, providing some autonomy for agents and the boundaries are also the object of struggles for power.  We see this in the production of difference pedagogic models.  For Bernstein, these are also struggles 'between different fractions of the middle class', and appear in debates about critical approaches to pedagogy, or visible and invisible pedagogies, focused on theories of instruction and communicative competence.  Weasily, Bernstein also seems to argue that changes in the theory of instruction can have an effect on the whole pedagogic discourse and practice [I don't know if he is just summarizing some of the issues in the struggle, or arguing that there is a genuine element of change in the new technologies].

Such texts and discourses are reappropriated by teachers and converted into actual classroom knowledge after interaction with students.  This is an activity of translation from what is being recontextualized by pedagogic agents [confusingly described as a further recontextualization, this time in response to students and other teachers or families, and designed to make discourses more effective].  [Again there are weasels about causals, maybe suggesting a need for empirical study of actual variations].

Teachers develop common classroom knowledge following interactions and students, as a second translation in the context of schools and classrooms teachers aim to make their pedagogy is affective, so they are often have to draw upon discourses from families communities and peer groups as well.

Knowledge is constructed, disseminated and acquired in a social division of labour, with horizontal and vertical dimensions.  The horizontal dimension refers to specialism within a common set, school subjects in a given course, or people sharing a common status, while the vertical dimension refers to hierarchies of categories within sets and between sets.  Power is required to affect hierarchies.  Teachers usually appear in a higher position than students, although groups of students might become peer tutors.  Categories of agents and categories of discourse interact with institutional contexts for teaching, such as laboratories or small groups.

Power relations appear in the principles of classification as boundaries between categories of agents discourses and contexts, and also affect the categories of [legitimate] agents, including boundaries between and hierarchies of '"different categories of groups, gender, class, race... punctuations in social space"', or social order (578).  However, power relations are never static and are constantly Kant tested and negotiated.  They also appear as relations of symbolic control, in the principles and classifications themselves, and the rules for exercising control within education institutions and with the others.  Interactional practices refer to 'legitimate relations of classroom communication'[the forms of teaching] according to two communication principles: interactional, organization sequences criteria and pace including posture and dress; locational, physical location, suitable objects and spaces.

Interactional practices also require 'recognition rules' (579) about how meanings might be linked together.  They operate as 'inferences' for students, derive from observing everyday interaction and testing boundaries.  Students might recognize the rules but not be able to actually construct or realize pedagogic texts, except as options within parameters—realization rules depend on framing.

Classification and framing principles are required to legitimize particular voices and messages, where a voice refers to syntax to generate meanings, and message indicates the range of 'possible meanings that may be realized'.  Multiple discourses can produce contradictions or tensions, however [classic functionalist account of conflict].  A number of empirical studies, [see below] are listed applying to studies of gender and social class, and 'content and form of classroom talk'.

Overall, the work has led to detailed and substantive empirical studies.  The model does seem able to deal with new developments in knowledge.  Bernstein has described modern developments 'as a "totally pedagogized society"' (580) to describe it with the medieval period where religion pedagogized.  Lifelong learning and learning innovation are characteristic.  Education becomes the main way to develop technologies and rules 'for managing whole populations'.


Morais Et Al (1999) BJSE 21
Chouliariki L (1996) 'Regulative practices in a "progressive" classroom: "good habits" as a "disciplinary technology".  Language and Education 10: 103-18 [see also Iedema, same volume, 82-102]

Christie, F (2001) 'Pedagogic discourse in the post compulsory and years: pedagogic subject positioning'.  Linguistics and Education 11:313-31