READING GUIDE TO: Sociology Research Group in Cultural and Education Studies (eds) (1980) Melbourne Working Papers 1980, University of Melbourne

by Dave Harris

[This collection contains two pieces by Bourdieu et al that seem to be the raw conference paper form of two of the chapters in Academic Discourse.  Both of these papers contain much more detail, however, including detail of the empirical work undertaken on student language which is referred to in the published volume]

Bourdieu and Passeron Introduction: language and pedagogical situation

The words in lectures are used to ‘dazzle rather than enlighten’ (38), maintaining a respectful distance between students and lecturers.  The claims are that this is simply an efficient form of transmission [enhanced by the paraphernalia of outcomes and so on], but there is a massive ‘loss of information’ seen in student work.  The inefficiencies need to be discussed.  Misunderstanding is both a social and a political function of university discourse.  University communication is an element in the whole system, referring to the relations of institutional and material conditions.  It guarantees both frustration and security.

It is possible to test the efficiency of academic language, for example to test the understanding of the vocabulary used in lectures.  Students are often simply resigned to use these mystifying terms, as their essays often show.  Essays develop a ‘ rhetoric of despair’, which students use to reassure themselves, and they also indicate Creole versions of academic language, which are ‘most characteristic of magisterial language’ (40).

It is not just the use of jargon which baffles students.  Even sociology and philosophy students form this Creole version, even though they are trained in the specific uses of words and syntactic rigour [however, philosophy lectures are criticised as being based on slogans, leaving too many terms undefined, confusing ‘concrete vocabulary’ with  ‘abstract vocabulary’, operating with an notion of slow apprenticeship rather than explicit communication or mapping, and refusing to demonstrate specific difficulties (41)].  Academic code is the issue.  The problem is often misunderstood as one of quantity, but really, the code can only be learned ‘through the decoding of less and less unskilled messages’, a kind of apprenticeship, a matter of ‘diffuse socialization’ (41).  Properly pedagogical communication should transmit the code and reduce unnecessary noise.  However, students are prepared to see noise as a necessary evil, and not to apply the usual demand of maximum information for minimum cost.  The demand for pedagogical communication actually is pedagogical itself.  Its efficiency can be tested by estimating the percentage of transmitted information which is actually received [both ways—from lectures to student notes, and from student work back to lecturers]. We need to take the whole context into account, though, including anxiety about the acquisition of information. Non-directive teaching is no solution, since it just cuts down the information to minimise loss [a classic recommendation of the 'new pedagogy' in HE].

Ultimately, there is a relation between the language used and the social system.  There are some technical problems, for example whether to maximize effective transmission by minimising redundancy, or minimise loss by incorporating lots of redundancy.  The traditional relation to language is a serious barrier to either technique.  What happens is redundancy in a particular academic sense—‘like musical variation on certain themes’, rather than ‘conscious and calculated repetition’, or ‘ellipsis  by omission and understatement in contrast to [technical] concision’ (43).

Pedagogy is disdained in universities, seen as too elementary.  The taught are seen via ‘cultural ethnocentrism’ (43).  The ideal student is ‘defined by a superior knowledge’, producing scathing views of real students as philistines.  The poor results of professional communication invariably leads to blaming the students.  A kind of mutual adjustment follows rather than an attempt to actually improve communication.

It is not just a matter of unequal knowledge and expertise, but different practices, based on different interests in gaining qualifications.  Teachers commonly emphasise values, interest, relation to culture ‘in brief,…  the forms’, while ‘students expect to be supplied with the content’, including emotional aspects (44).  Students expect professors to be gurus, to teach wisdom, to possess charisma, and that is bound to lead to disappointment ‘because the discourse on life “neutralises” (in the phenomenological sense) that upon which it speaks’ (44) [ that is it is always technical and abstract discourse rather than the engaged kind they seek?].  Professors do employee charismatic accents sometimes.  In France philosophy teachers have a peculiar status, because they confer ‘the privilege of the extra mundane world’ (45).  Such a view promotes commitment ‘to the values of cultural apprenticeship’ (45), producing a mutual ideology—‘a polemical relation to the values of the partner and at the same time an ideological relation on the part of the partners to its own values’ (45).

Class ethnocentrism

This is the ‘hidden spring’ of academic life (46).  Academic languages are artificial, they not only offer a technical relation to ideas, but deal in a ‘second order language of allusions and cultural complicities’ (46).  This is seen as ‘second nature to intelligent and gifted individuals’, leading to natural divisions.  Thus ‘academic judgments…  In reality consecrate cultural privilege’ (46).  This happens at the level of syntax as well as vocabulary, producing ‘the system of transposable  mental postures, themselves dependent on values which dominate all experience’ (46).  This is seen in ‘the nature of the relation to words, reverential or free, borrowed or familiar, sparing or intemperate’ (46).  [This is supported by observations of verbal behaviour at oral examinations, which value ‘ease…  facility of expression with off- handedness of delivery and smoothness of tone’, instantly detectable compared to the ‘forced ease which is peculiar to working class and middle class students…  volubility of delivery…  discordance of tone’ (n8 46).  Sometimes this is good enough ‘not to be suspected of self-seeking vulgarity’, helping to preserve the ‘prestigious fiction of an exchange [as] an end in itself’ (46).

Academic language is a dead language, distant from most people, not the mother tongue for many.  Not to acknowledge this is to combine an ideological version of open access with the reproduction of inequalities, disguised as a different sets of ‘gifts’, but really reflecting social inequalities.  Teachers often assume a prior cultural experience in their students, putting working class students at a disadvantage from the beginning.  There is a split between language used in universities and families, with university language seen as not real.  For non-native speakers, this must lead to ‘dualization or... resigned submission to exclusion’ (47).  This is especially so at secondary education: there is a chance for university students to try again as cultural apprentices.  They are still in some danger from the ‘illusion of misunderstanding’, especially of words like ‘”dialectic”, “model”, “structure”, “transcendental”, “ideology”’ (N9 47).  Universities who recruit without attention to communication will be as exclusive as secondary schools.

The usual approach to teaching causes pedagogical misunderstanding and focuses on factors which are unmovable or beyond action—generational differences, cultural gaps between teacher and student.  Youth culture can exaggerate these misunderstandings, leading to ‘paternal ridicule’ of professors.  Professors have idealised pictures of themselves at the students'  age.  The adolescent subculture itself is unequally distant from high culture: ‘upper class students manifest, even in domains most distant from academic orthodoxy, dispositions to erudition or eclecticism, very close to the habits required or favoured by the school’ (48).  [seems to put a class base to omnivorousness? ]. This general distance is sharpened by a class distance, so that professorial disdain for students is often simultaneously disdain for working class or middle class adolescents [N 11 suggests that the rarity of working class students makes this worse in universities, compared to primary schools, 49].

The dominant language can seem familiar.  It is often surrounded by familiar words or found in contexts that produce ‘an impression of familiarity’ (49).  When employed in the pedagogical situation, it draws elements from its institutional setting, from organisational separations between teachers and students, for example.  The rostrum, professorial chair, the situation which focuses attention on the lecturer, who is separated from the audience, leaves only ‘dramatic monologue and virtuoso exhortation’ (50), a delivery based on ‘intonation, diction…  and oratorical action’ (50).  Dialogue in such spaces is a fiction—‘questions to the audience are often only oratorical' (50).  There is little danger of actual real participation as students note for themselves.  The students therefore act as ‘the faithful at a service, the answers are most often only responses’ (50). 

The hold of the system on student is apparent when they are asked what reforms they would like to see.  They can often not conceive of any innovation, but suggest simple technical improvements, like microphones to help them hear the teacher.  This conservatism lies underneath the occasional ‘appeal, in a suitably pious voice, for greater freedom in pedagogical exchanges’ (51).  Revolutionary students are either utopians or traditionalists.  Those rare advocates of a circular layout can sometimes only see in them a possibility for student cruelty: ‘the outward passivity of students does not exclude a masked aggression’ (52), a classic outcome of seeing the professor as a parent.  On the whole, students seek personal safety [N16 says there are lots of risky emotions in being a student, for example those based on past rankings in school].

Misunderstanding combines with ‘the fiction of the absence of misunderstanding’ in the logic of the system (53).  The attitudes of teachers and students only express this logic.  Students develop ‘verbal reverberation’ which leads to the overestimate of the effectiveness of communication and masks misunderstanding, which explains their fondness for didactic methods rather than ‘genuine dialogue’ (54).

The lecture and the dissertation mirror each other, as does the ‘professorial solo and solitary prowess at the exams’ (54).  The university offers ‘programmes without horizons or shores’ leading to ‘essays [which are] tests of cultural manners judged according to diffuse criteria’ (54).  All this would be exposed by a demand for adequate communication.  It would not be in the interests of teachers who are not trained to do this, and students would see it as more work.  Professors would look like mere teachers.  Students keep up their defences by ‘emulating professorial rhetoric…  False generalities…  Prudent approximations of the “not even wrong”’ (55).  [N17 says tasks are communicated ‘in a quasi- explicit fashion in preparation classes {for the preparation year}’ leading to maxims such as ‘take the middle path, avoid writing nothing under the pretext of knowing nothing’].  Those students who are best at deciphering rewrite the lecture, avoiding any ‘unmistakable nonsense’ and produce ‘a finished batch of semantic atoms, chains of mechanically linked words’ (55).  Essays indicate a discourse designed to prevent stark choices, one which needs markers to make judgements [more hints of the omnivore?] The results are seen in the well-known problems of marking a batch of middling essays, with professors trying to produce ‘a verdict of indulgence tainted with scorn’ (56).  Professors also claimed to be marking general and authentic qualities of persons.

The system is designed to produce ‘echolalia’ to cover misunderstanding.  Many students cannot define common terms, and have to produce ‘reciprocal alibis’ (56).  Familiarity will do rather than comprehension.  Essays can offer a ‘constellation of semantic impressions through mutual consonance and dissonance…  [Terms]…  shoulder each other up’ (56).  There is no interest in analysis because the right impression will do.  [N18 refers to the tests of definitions described in more detail below, and noticed that student difficulties are sometimes explained away by  insisting that they really understand but only in context.  I am reminded of a common explanation of abysmal performance in examinations as showing the untoward effects of stress and artificiality].

Students acculturate rather than learn.  They employ ‘allusion and ellipsis’ in their essays (58).  Teachers seldom try to find out what students mean.  Essays are seen as the ‘”pointing to” of another possible discourse, the complete knowledge and comprehension of which the teacher alone possesses’ (58).  Students assume that teachers will fill in.

This leads to inevitable ‘contradictions and dissociations’ (58).  Teachers teach ‘fictive subjects’ and expect students to approximate to them.  If not, the student is to blame.  This clearly discourages authenticity.  Only ‘gifted students’ approximate to the ideal.  Teachers are always able to blame students if there are misunderstandings on the rare occasion they appear, for example by deploring the decline in standards—‘a rite of reassurance’ (16).  Poor standards of students are inevitable.  Nothing can be done.  Their poor performance justifies the system [much as deviants make the rest of us feel better in Durkheim].  Students are forced to try effective communication if they are to succeed and even then they feel unworthy and that they ought not to be there, rather than insisting on their right to understand.  They see themselves as impostors compared to the ideal student—one student is quoted on the fear of ridicule (61), including ridicule by students pretending to be ideal.  [n 22 says this fear is exaggerated if others people’s grades are unknown].

Teachers and students require complementary attitudes to develop.  These are seen displayed in spatial arrangements again—professorial distance protects him and means that real communication is impossible.  The professor addresses no one in particular, operating with a ‘diffuse responsibility [which] becomes irresponsibility of everyone’ (62).  Teachers are insecure because their role requires ‘successive acts of virtuosity’ (62).  Professorial language is the best way to maintain distance—it is institutional but it appears to be personal expression.  It is a useful resource even when teachers physically mix with their students.  Professorial tone is important too—professors talk upon rather than about things, and pose as a neutral expert on any topic.  This is associated with a charismatic style, offering education through inspiration, often using incantation to put the student ‘in a state fit to receive grace’ (63).  Ceremonial oratory supports this view [as in our degree ceremonies—the vicar speaks and then the academics].  The word seduces students into confirming academic culture.  This is quite different to the rational use of speech [n 24 says the use of the language in lectures only confirms the status of the professor as an extraordinary person.  The tone is like assuming that the audience is following a sophisticated comedy {cf role distance}.  Ceremonial language often shows an allusion to an assumed shared understanding].

Students are outmanoeuvred and have to resort to a ‘rhetoric of despair’, ‘magical use of language’, ‘mechanical recitation of ideas’ (64).  There is a prophylactic use of prudence and over relativising [so things are not even wrong].  There are frequent hommages, and signs of ‘propitiatory  ritual’, and a‘despairing imitation of…  academic language’ (64).  Academic language displays ‘verbal exhibition' and it is no mystery why even practical classes get taken over and turned into lectures, despite a common tendency to blame material conditions like an unsuitable room.

Universities themselves authorise ‘transmission by speech’ and valorise it compared to say the correction of scripts or the organisation of student work (65).  For these minor tasks are often done by assistants, so an organisational hierarchy mimics an intellectual one.  Professorial scorn for rational techniques is picked up by students too.

Students are also wordsmiths, and an ‘aptitude to manipulate the academic language remains the principal factor in success at exams’ (66).  This attitude is linked to family culture.  It helps if the student has had an apprenticeship in ‘decipherment and the management of complex structures’ (66) [N26 refers to Bernstein and elaborated code].  Verbal expression gets better as social class does, and verbalisation of experience is the key, as Sartre recognised.

We do need to rationalise pedagogical language.  We need clear criteria, ‘diminishing the role of manners and of diffuse savoir faire’ (67).  Teachers must see that academic language is ethnocentric and that students are influenced by their social origins.  They must make ‘explicit all the presuppositions of the academic manipulation of language’ (67) [impossible surely].  Professorial language should be able to define its terms and refer to actual evidence [N26 says that the intentions are crucial here, whether we want to explain or mystify].  Professors need actual information about actual students.  There should be open to potential interruption and challenge, to demands to explain the code, and not operate with a taken for granted academic language.

Bourdieu and Passeron admit that this is ‘utopian under present circumstances’ (68).  [N27 gives examples of resistance to clear criteria, by students, especially traditional middle class Parisians.  For this reason, provincial students are more likely targets for reform].  The old dichotomies and divisions, between student and teachers, make it difficult to see the need to reform the whole system.  Secret complicity needs to be exposed.  Complicities are never explicit, more a matter of mutual bad faith.  Students and teachers share the same objective end, both trade security for better information, and both engage in ritual exhortations to activism [activist teaching that is].  In practice, both participants prefer comfort.


It is possible to classify methods of teaching according to the extent to which they involve machines.  Most teaching is person to person.  When students were asked to design the ideal classroom and discuss it, they displayed an overwhelming support for face to face.  Machines were only used to enhance, such as microphones.  Printed media were particularly unpopular.  Some student proposals included some tokenist SF devices such as avant-garde architecture, but still wanted traditional lectures.  They sought new comforts.  There was very little interest in changing pedagogical relationships, more interest in things like hearing and seeing better.  The proposal for some circular forms produce some of the quotes mentioned earlier, where teachers are expected to be spectacles and to receive student aggression—one student particularly wanted the teacher to be a scorpion in a circle of burning twigs, while another wanted the teacher to feel powerless and alone.  Others wanted lectures to be entertainment  or spectacle.

Bourdieu, P., Passeron, J – C., De Saint Martin, M.  ‘Students and the Language of Teaching’

This was based on a substantial inquiry undertaken in 1962-63, designed to test the general notion of linguistic misunderstanding that the team had formulated.  It was not intended to be a representative sample of students, because it was explanatory, although it turned out to be fairly typical in terms of social origin, age and sex of university students in these subjects.  Sociology and philosophy students formed the core, although there were some other students in other courses as well.  11 French universities’ students were surveyed.

The team chose to research  real situations rather than experimental ones, and to recreate academic conditions.  There is also a mention of a project to test teacher judgement and the relevance of assessment criteria [although this barely appears here].  The real situation avoids using standard attitude tests and thus of ‘tautologically defining the measurement attributes as the object of the test which measures them’ (80).  Actual exercises were used instead.  The results were bound to be asymmetric because in real academic life, weak performance is over emphasized.  The basic argument is that the language of teaching is differentially remote from other domains of language [that is ordinary language spoken in different social classes].

They tested several domains of vocabulary, and levels of linguistic behaviour [see the details in the appendix below].  Linguistic behaviour is interesting, and ranged from comprehension through active manipulations ‘like the explicit consciousness of polysemia’, through to picking correct definitions (81).  The research was to see if the skills were linked to eventual success.  [Lower down, we are told that detecting polysemia is closely linked to being able to do academic analysis, for example].  The words chosen showed either a high frequency in actual lectures, or were selected because they were both frequent and undefined, suggesting that the word should be understood.

The results do show the importance of linguistic misunderstanding in higher education and its relation to academic success.  They reveal lots of ‘imperfect comprehension of academic language, and even of common language’ (81).  50% of errors happen to be the mean point, producing what looked like a normal distribution after all.  There were very common confusions between words such as ‘disinterestedness’ and ‘disinterest’, (81% error rate).  Some words produced very odd associations for some students, such as one who defined ‘epistemology’ as ‘the study of memoirs, journals and correspondence’ (82) [some confusion with epistles possibly?].  Social characteristics were linked to variations in test results.  [N 2 on page 82 shows that the definitional test was the most useful in simulating academic work, because it corresponded most closely to marking criteria.  Correct definitions seem to be important even where marking criteria were made explicit {compare this with the emphasis on ‘presentation’ in our modest studies of marking criteria}.  Performance on definitional tests were also the most clearly linked to social origins.

[For example of the research, see the full table on page 83] [and below]

The ability to manipulate academic language is important to success especially in literary studies.  The cultural heritage passed on by the family ‘never ceases to operate…  [Because it]…  Furnishes a syntax [as well as a vocabulary]’. This heritage is passed on ‘by osmosis’ (84) [they really like this metaphor!] Having a useful syntax seems effortless to the ‘cultivated class’ who like to think of themselves as gifted.

[One important finding is the role of selection].  Students have already been unequally selected before they get to university, according to their social class of origin.  This produces serious problems for conventional statistical analysis if it tries to adopt ‘exclusive’ definitions [of matters such as social class].  Social class has already defined the sample.  So many working class students have already been eliminated.  [N 1, page 85, says examinations have already stressed the need to write well, for example, especially those used to select for the Ecole Normale—anecdotal evidence seems to be used here though].

Selection in fact has a particular effect, and heavily selected working class students can compete with culturally advantage to upper class students, and can outperformed the less selected middle class students.  It is the middle class group who has benefited most from university expansion (87) [which has implications for the democratisation of universities as we shall see].  Successful selected working class students have come from only slightly less unfavourable families in the first place.  There seems to be something about selection that produces cases where ‘the correlation between results and social background will be completely reversed’ (88), especially if working class students live in Paris: there they enjoy a suitable cultural context, but they also face more rigorous selection.  As the less selected middle class students are the ones who do worst, less stringent selection would only restore the relation between class and academic results, however [in other words, students will find it easier to get to university despite their class of origin, but they will still face the effects of having unequal stocks of cultural capital—reducing the effects of class in recruitment does not reduce the effects of class in attainment].  [N1, page 90 suggests it is this opening of access to middle class students that has produced a commonly noted ‘decline in standards’].

Sex produces inequalities as well.  In the tests they did, males got better results than females.  Before we lead to any conclusions though, the females in the sample were also more likely to find themselves channelled into literary subjects, they had been less selected, and they were ‘less rationally oriented’ (91).  [Before any feminists get too excited, I think what the team are arguing here is that they have been less determined to succeed, which arises from their having to face less selection].  Indeed, the whole point of that discussion, is to show that conventional analysis usually explains these gaps in terms of some natural inequalities, but for them, their fully explanatory model ‘can account for, if it is applied completely, all the empirical data which the most systematic multivariate analysis would leave unexplained, save by recourse to an account according to the “natural inequalities between the sexes”’ (91).  The female students in the sample were different from the male ones according to their social origins, the type of studies they chose, and their academic background, especially whether they had received training in the classical languages, Latin and Greek—and all these are connected to academic success.

So, if multivariate analysis systematically claims to have discovered diverse variables, it should be able to show ‘other effective relations’ beneath the connections between sex and results.  However, a gap remains between the genders even after such analysis, which tempts people to think of natural inequalities.  There is undoubtedly a gap, and it does seem to remain constant in various educational organizations.  However, the analyses of esteem shows some interesting anomalies—for example, lycee [high school] girls do as well as boys, and the team thinks this is because they face equal patterns of selection.  However, when it comes to university, girls are less strongly selected at entrance, principally because they choose courses in the arts faculty.  They make these choices as a result of the ‘social definition of “feminine” qualities’ (92), shared by the girls themselves and their families—these clearly affect their ‘choice’ (93).  What this shows is that the explanatory model showing a link between the degree of selection and degree of success, as well as other social factors, still holds up.  As further evidence, girls who are taking classical languages do better in them than boys, because fewer are selected to do classics in the first place—the ‘rare  few who go against the current seem to have to satisfy more demands’ (94).  [Ain’t that the truth!] [N1, 94, says the girls tend to take more supplementary courses].  Combining selection to university with selection to arts courses specifically is sufficient to explain the differences between boys and girls on the tests.  [Table eight, page 95, does not actually give figures, but symbols indicating the strength of the relationship].

Disciplines chosen also have an effect.  Students on mixed courses show lower results than those taking single disciplines.  Those taking preparatory courses have lower results than those taking first year trial courses at university [the strange French system of a foundation year, almost, to try out university life.  Triallists are more heavily selected, and face further heavy selection at the end of their first year].  This is nothing to do with natural qualities or gifts.  Triallists are more likely to come from upper class and middle class backgrounds, there are more likely to have studied classical languages, they are older, and they are more likely to have been high school pupils. 

In the extensive discussion that follows on this point, certain points appear.  The test of polysemia is related to an ‘academic, analytic attitude’.  Tests used to select Triallists overemphasise issues of definition.  Beneath the elaborated categories in the official criteria, which offer ‘fine – grain differentiation’, there seemed to be three basic categories—‘”brilliant”, “mediocre”, and “worthless”’ (98).  Philosophy students do better than the sociology students who do better than those on mixed courses.  The most liberal courses in terms of recruitment most faithfully reproduced the institutional hierarchy.  Philosophy students are more mixed than the others—they include students who have chosen them despite modest achievements, because they are more prestigious—but also produce the most polarised results.  Sociology students tend to be older, more privately educated, and to lack of preparation for a scientific discipline.  Students are mixed courses tend to be less committed to university life and success.  Sociology can ‘shelter’ students who are not well adapted to academic life, often upper class boys.  Gender differences are stronger in philosophy, where male students seemed definitely more committed to success: the lack of commitment needed to undertake mixed studies reduces the gender advantage of males.

So, a complex structure is revealed, but this can be explained [unlike the Bennett study], because ‘a complete system of relations commands the meaning of each particular relation’ (101) [hints again of our old friend a structure in dominance].  Multivariate analyses is inadequate to reveal this structure, and produces either ‘aporia, or…  The reification of pure abstract relations’ (101).  Social groups [by definition?] are defined by a ‘totality of relations which they maintain with their past and…  Present situation’ (101).  We therefore need to grasp the ‘totality of components of an academic career’ (101) [this notion of totality is starting to look a bit Marxist as well, with notions of surfaces and depths].  Thus, for example, past academic achievements, especially the knowledge of classical languages are ‘more strongly linked than any other criteria to the high rate of success’ (102), whatever the test.  [But these past achievements themselves are linked to the usual social demographics plus the effects of a selection process—so we can’t just equalise achievements by teaching lots of kids Latin].

Ancient languages are important, but not as a form of mental training, more as a medium for other social relations.  Classic students are those who conform most closely to academic demands.  They are also already the most highly selected working class children.  There are no intrinsic virtues—for example, Latin and Greek together are associated more with success than just studying Latin alone.  Even language based tests, such as identifying polysemes or malapropisms, shown no advantage to Latin scholars.  Latin and Greek seemed to be associated most with ‘verbal ease’, but this is also an effects of having been heavily selected.  Further, classicists are seen as elite pupils, the best ones [so doing classics gives you elite status, a point well recognized by Coleridge and Kay Shuttleworth who insisted on training teachers taking Latin.  Incidentally, Kay Shuttleworth also predicted that a knowledge of Latin would help trainee schoolmasters understand educated middle class speech, and not see it as arbitrary, and church liturgy].  It is the pedagogical context of classic studies rather than any intrinsic skills [N 2 on page 103 says that pupils who have studied the classics at non selective private schools seem to receive no advantage.  N 3 says that studying the classics polarises student results rather than providing a smooth and constant advantage, and this can be seen even with medical students—Greek helps the best, but facility with Greek is also associated with the worst!  As a result, requiring Latin and Greek could be abolished as a form or requirement of university entrance, but given that the admissions tutors like ‘verbal ease’, which they see as a sign of conformity, it is likely that classics will still provide an advantage].

The key effect of social background is that it provides a familiarity with the language of ideas.  It is not just a matter of material conditions like income.  Income does up in the statistics as an effect, but only because income is also related to the qualifications of the head of household, so the real effects are ‘nearly exclusively cultural’ (105).  Mothers and grandparents also have effects.  Occasionally, something in a family can overturn the other effects of class membership—thus, for example upper class sons do not receive a smooth constant advantage, but display bimodal results.  Here there seems to be an effective cultural orientations and other suspected variables [N 3 says that the sons of upper class families sometimes decide to squander their cultural heritage, 105] if those sons exploit the cultural advantage this can help them gain entrance to a high school rather than a private school, and then definite advantages follow.  Generally, the tests of knowledge of the ‘language of humanism’ [a measure of familiarity with established legitimate culture?] do show greater returns to cultural heritage in general, with fewer effects of decisions to exploit or squander (106). Those working class children who do Latin also show the effects of unusual family settings, and their decision to exploit their heritage and to persevere.  This can push them past middle class kids in terms of success.  It is worth remembering, however, that working class children take Latin three times less often than students ‘from leisured classes’ (107).

So there is no single determinant of success.  There are close links between success, a successful academic past, and social background.  Even so, conditions can be overcome by working class children choosing particularly favourable options early on, particularly Latin and Greek.  However, there is still a very uneven uptake.  Is a mistake to look for causal connections, since these background factors all need to be mediated.  We cannot reconstruct career paths from multivariate analysis of factors.  We need to grasp real experiences and how they are ‘concrete, unitary and endowed with meaning’ (108).  Nonetheless, class situation is ‘the point from which every possible view proceeds and upon which no other view is possible’ (108).

The appendices give considerable details of both the sample and the questionnaires.  As examples of the tests used, students were required to:

(A)   Underline words which are used improperly in sentences provided.  Instructions tell students not to discuss but to focus on examples of misuse.  [The sentences look extremely high powered—such as ‘The sequence of axioms flowing from one another deep actively, mathematical reasoning is no less apodictic than the Aristotelian syllogism’, or ‘The civil law is the palladium of property’].

(B)   Define words, such as antimony, epistemology, Manichaeism

(C)   Enumerate all the possible meanings of words such as attribute, function, realism

(D)   Choose synonyms for words such as stumble, disposition, emetic

(E)    Choose definitions from a list of words such as broaching, milling, fallow, counter point, litotes, scumble.

The team admit that these are very difficult words, but insist they are used in teaching, often without definition.

Lectures were analysed and the frequency of words was noted, but also the idiomatic use of key terms.  For example, in sociology lectures, words like functions stratification and conjuncture, in philosophy antinomy, epistemology.  From language common to both, terms such as ‘contrary, virtual, generic, participation, image and realism’ (123) there were also terms such as ‘Manichaeism, extension, attribute, apodictic, transcendental, valorise, acceptance, axiom, dubitative [sic] productivity, disinterestedness’.  More general difficult terms included ‘cadastral [the translators offer no equivalent], numinous, neuropath, climacteric’.  The team also used a standard test of comprehension, a test of technical terms from the arts, and a list of proper names and classical humanities which students were invited to recognise [such as Helen]: these are all used in manuals or selection tests for secondary schools.


Bourdieu et al Melbourne Seminar Papers


Tab1e 4. Results on the five exercises by the main variables (medians of distributions)


                  Exercise          Exercise          Exercise          Exercise          Exercise

                  I                 II                III               IV                V

                  Malapropism       Definition        Polysemia         Concrete Lang     Language of Humanism


                  Negative          Positive          Positive          Negative          Negative

                  Score             Score             Score             Score             Score

                  0-14              5-24              0-13              0-15              0-9

                  Median            Median            Median            Median            Median


Type of Study .

Phi1osophy        6.9               13.6              7.1               7.1               5.0

Sociology         7.1               11.7              7.7               6.8               4.7

Composite         8.6               10.9              6.4               7.0               4.9

Pre1iminary Yr    9.3               11.1              5.6               8.3               5.4

Prep. students    8.0               11.9              7.0               7.0               4.2



Ma1es             7.2               12.6              7.2               6.5               4.8

Females           8.3               11.2              6.5               7.6               4.9


Social Origin

Farm Labourer     8.1               11.7              6.5               6.8               5.6

Manual Worker,

wage-earner       8.0               11.5              6.3               7.0               4.6

Artisan,shpkper   8.1.              11.0              7.0               7.2               5.0

Middle c1asses    8.0               11.5              6.7               7.0               4.9

Upper classes     7.4               12.5              7.2               7.0               4.7


Secondary School

Lycee             7.8               12.3              7.8               5.8               5.8

College           8.8               11.5              6.3               7.1               5.2

Private Instit.   7.6               11.0              6.6               6.9               5.0


Type of Secondary Education

No Greek/Latin    8.3               11.4              6.6               6.9               5.2

Latin             8.1               11.2              6.6               7.0               5.1

Latin & Greek     7.2               12.2              7.3               6.7               4.3


Senior(?)Academic Success

Weak              7 8.              11.2              6.5               7.3               5.1

Medium            7.0               13.1              7.8               6.7               4.7

Strong            6.1               14.0              8.2               5.7               4.2


Use of(?)dictionary

Very weak         7.5               11.5              7.3               6.7               5.2

Weak              7.5               12.1              6.8               6.5               4.7

Medium            8.2               11.2              6.6               7.3               5.2

Strong            7.7               14.2              6.8               7.1               4.8

Very strong       7.2               11.2              6.7               6.7               4.5



Paris             6.6               13.7              7.8               6.9               4.4

Lyon              6.5               13.0              6.5               6.6               5.3

Bordeaux          9. 1              10.5              7.5               6.3               4.5

Nancy             8.3               10.5              6.9               7.5               5.2

Dijon             7.1               12.2              6.6               6.8               4.7

Clermont          8.1               11.7              6.8               5.8               5.2

Toulouse          9.3               9.5               6.4               8.6               5.3

Montpellier       8.8               11.4              6.0               7.2               5.0

Caen              7.8               12.5              6.6               6.0               4.3

Lille             9.0               10.7              5.6               6.4               5.3

Rennes            8.3               10.0              7.8               7.6               4.9


AGGREGATE         8.0               11.6              6.8               6.9               5.0


If I understand this correctly, the median score on each test is given – showing that half the students fall below that score. If the median shows a score of about half marks, it shows that half the sample got below 50% etc. (or only half got in the top half). This is more or less what you would expect with a test designed to discriminate, of course –but these weren’t? All students could have got 100%?

more notes on Bourdieu and other social theorists