Notes on: Maton, K (2000) 'Recovering Pedagogic Discourse: A Bernsteinian Approach to the Sociology of Educational Knowledge'.  Linguistics and Education, 11 (1): 79-98.

Dave Harris

[About the legitimating discourse of cultural studies, the most abstract form of 'pedagogy' in Bernstein's sense.  Note that the Abstract claims this is 'empirically applicable', although that application never seems to happen.  Good though, even though it doesn't mention my own scathing critique of British Cultural Studies (Harris 1992) —was it something I said?]

The usual approaches in the sociology of education emphasize social reproduction, but do not focus enough on pedagogic discourse itself.  Pedagogy is seen only as a 'neutral relay for external power relations'(79).  In fact, pedagogy has its own voice, intrinsic features.  Cultural studies shows the possibilities [the closest he gets to empirical pedagogy].  There are wider considerations about linking theory to empirical descriptions, which Bernstein does well, it is claimed.

The main focus is on the 'language of legitimation' used by practitioners to establish cultural studies as an academic subject.  This is an example of competition for status resources.  The dominant themes for cultural studies include arguments for:

  • breaking down boundaries between disciplines between educational knowledge and everyday experience, an obsession with crossing borders and boundaries, and an insistence on studying non official knowledge or popular culture 'bringing the profane into the realm of the sacred.  This can lead to a particular claim for freshness and newness by criticising older traditions, as seen in the preoccupation with 'post' theories and various kinds of breaks: new beginnings are endlessly declared, as a sign of progress.
  • a hypothetically boundless object for study, based on very wide definitions of culture and the need to understand culture and society 'in their interwoven totality and complexity' (82)
  • Thick descriptions instead of elitist and simple generalisations, as with the developing layers of analysis of media and audiences
  • radical pedagogies, in alliance with dominated social groups, giving voice to those groups.  Giving voice is a recurring theme, and it takes the form of moving through analyses of class, race, gender and sexuality as critiqued developed.  Cultural studies has been a major arena for the development of feminism, or a studies, queer theory and so on.  Novelty has been generated through standpoint epistemology.  This in turn has led to critiques of positivism and foundationalism in favour of celebrating difference and subjectivity, multiple truths and narratives.
  • primary experience is particularly valorized as opposed to the viewpoint of the observer, seen in studies of youth sub cultures or television audiences and how they construct their own meanings.

If we use Bernstein's terms, we can locate pedagogic discourse in cultural studies, although there are problems at first.  The terms classification and framing might be used [and in classrooms, 'strong framing is associated with didactic teaching, and weak framing with "progressive" pedagogy'].  We can also apply the terms collection code and integrated code.  In one application, cultural studies looks like it shows weak classification and framing, which would make it look like an integrated code [I have always thought these two terms are back to front].  However, there is no hierarchical knowledge structure, but rather a series of specialized languages and segments, as in a collection code, hence the various attempts to give voice to different groups, the breaks and so on.  However, we must not see Bernstein's framework as contradictory [oh dear, no] - rather, there are both characteristics in cultural studies, one relating to pedagogic discourses, and the other relating to 'issues of who may adopt these procedures, study these phenomena and so on', both what can be studied and who can study it, the 'epistemic relation' connecting pedagogic discourse and its object of study, and a 'social relation' connecting pedagogic discourse to legitimate authors or subjects.  Cultural studies claims to be both a knowledge of the world and the legitimation of particular authors.  These are 'two distinct dimensions of its pedagogic discourse' (86) [pretty common to all the university discourses, I would have thought].

We can combine these characteristics to consider different combinations of social relations and epistemic relations, with their different classifications and frames, to produce 'four potential modes of legitimation', as in the diagram below. [Actually, the discussion turns first on a sligbhtly different undrawn table of possible combinations of epistemic relation (ER) and social relation (SR), each of which can be strong or weak. Thus knowledge mode, option B,  is SR-, ER+, and knower mode, option C, is SR+ ,ER- This diagram below spells it out using classification and framing]

We can consider options B and C first.  Knowledge modes referred to characteristics of the object of study, knower modes to the personal characteristics of the subject or author.  The point is not to develop ideal type models, but to highlight the distinction between modes of legitimation.  In practice, they often coexist and are articulated in different ways.

In the knowledge mode, legitimation turns on claims to have a specialized and unique knowledge of a particular object of study.  The object requires specialist procedures to investigate it, and these have their own truth claims.  These are classically contrasted with other possible objects, procedures and knowledge and a strong boundary or strong classification develops around them.  Strong controls or strong framing are also present, maintaining boundaries with claims based on different criteria, defending specialist procedures.  These claims are referred to 'disembodied sets of more or less consensually agreed upon procedures, methods and criteria' (87) which are supposed to transcend subjective characteristics of authors.  As a result, anyone can be a subject expert [in theory]  as long as they comply with these procedures and methods - actual authors are not strongly differentiated or controlled, there is a weak classification and weak framing of authors.  Natural science, or rather 'the positivistic conception of science' provides a good example: the epistemic dimension, which is strongly classified and framed dominates over the social dimension, which is not. 

In the knower mode, there are no extra-personal procedures and agreed objects of study, and knowers have to claim privileged insight into objects that may be 'hypothetically limitless, difficult to define, or embrace a whole host of disparate phenomena', in other words which are weakly classified.  There is no particularly explicit discussion of proof or procedures, but rather 'considerable individual discretion' in both objects of study and procedures of enquiry, with no strong attempts to adjudicate between them - weak framing.  However there are specific social groups who are seen as legitimate knowers [including particularly valued social groups, or people who can access their knowledge] - knowers are strongly classified.  The epistemic dimension is weakly classified and framed, with the reverse for the social relation.  Examples 'include subjectivist, insider, or perspectivist and standpoint theories of knowledge'(88).

In both cases, there is an object of study and the subject of study, the knower.  Different forms of legitimation emphasize different relations to objects and subjects.  Some privilege the epistemic relation, others the social relation and the unique insight of the author.  Each relation is either strongly classified and framed or not: the epistemic relation provides academic disciplines with their epistemology.  The social relation on the other hand can also be differently classified and framed, and this represents its sociology, examining the resources it draws upon, knowers or knowledge.

Turning to the other possible modes of legitimation, mode A (ER-, SR-) has a weak classification and framing for both epistemic and social relations.  Both epistem ology and sociology are renounced.  Anyone can make knowledge claims and use any procedure [no examples].  In mode D (ER+, SR+) both procedures and authors are strongly classified and framed, requiring both suitable authors and the use of specific procedures.  If mode A leads to less than credible knowledge, mode B 'is likely to become associated with sclerotic knowledge development and stagnation' (89).

These principles of legitimation can be realized empirically according to the context in a specific language of legitimation.  Here, power and control in empirical contexts are crucial as 'enabling and evoking conditions'.  The language of legitimation may be found in intellectual texts aimed at convincing other knowledge producers in the same subject area, and this is still in knower mode, but it has different characteristics from say 'university promotional literature or the lecture hall' [assumptions being made here about lecturing].  Actual enacted social practices may be different, and there may be 'no necessary correlation between self characterizations of practices and their actuality', for example between emancipatory projects and traditional forms of pedagogy and assessment [you need Bourdieu to explain this too].  Actors' accounts are less important than the principles for this article.

Cultural studies legitimizes itself primarily in knower mode.  This cannot be a definitive account, however, which would require further analysis 'of the role of social relations of power and the active construction of meanings' (90) [something more like Bourdieu does, then].  The point is to illustrate knower mode.  Three [I made it four] processes seem important.

  1. Imaginary alliances and the procession of the excluded refers to whom may be taken as a privileged knower, or how alliances might be formed with them.  Cultural studies first attempted to form alliances with the working class, through adult education and elsewhere, and the working class was claim to have privileged insight.  As that category became more diffuse, instead of a theoretical account, say  to explain the persistence of social class, we had a shift of focus.  The key move was the reentry of working class people into HE, based on the [phantasy] of the gramscian organic intellectual, and the possibilities of alliances with radical professionals [the main audience, Maton implies, together with the 'international intelligentsia'].  There were also certain proposed structural homologies, between academics and proletarians, for example, producing 'an imaginary alliance between the "intellectual" and the "proletarian"', a theoretical construction producing apparently shared insights and interests, and permitting the suppression of real differences between academic knowers and others.  This extended to other identities based on race or gender.  [Yet there was positive hostility towards proletarians, eventually, and excessive tolerance of women and black people.  This is also a bit unfair because there was some empirical material, although it was usually too sloppy for fear of being positivistic]. There was a whole 'procession of the excluded' (91) as working class people were succeeded by ethnic minorities and women, an endless queue as different causes were advocated, rather than as different groups actually appeared, say in higher education institutions.  There is always scope for a new one to emerge.
  2. Discursive inclusion and idealization, increasingly necessary to keep imaginary alliances going as physical distance increases.  Thus organic intellectuals have to be seen in an increasing supply of working class knowers, and this limits its viability as working class people had failed to dominate higher education.  Discursive inclusion takes place instead.  This can take the form of asking who is being silenced in classrooms or in texts, according to the status of the institution - taught courses in cultural studies have tended to appear in low status institutions, while key texts appear in higher status ones.
  3. Representation and language become important in the absence of actual knowers.  They have to be given voice in a way that remains faithful to them, and this is led to inductive, qualitative and descriptive accounts, valuing primary experience in the form of extensive quotation.  The process of research rather than its product dominates, and although this is supposed to celebrate multiplicity and diversity, there has in fact been a privilege awarded to these particular accounts.  The whole activity of giving a voice tends to emphasize the importance of 'discourse, language and textuality' (92) at the expense of the material factors, say those affecting exclusion.  This produces 'a series of idealist "turns"', with a relative marginalisation of political economy and policy studies. 
  4. Proliferation and fragmentation.  Increasingly, the knower is legitimated as a person who tells a truth or offers a voice, and this is a form of strong classification and framing of the social relation.  Other pedagogic discourses are rejected because they cannot articulate a suitable voice.  As more and more voices have to be included, privileged knowers form an increasingly fragmented group and get strongly divided from one another - thus working class people may be subdivided into working class men, working class white men, working class white heterosexual men, working class socially mobile and well educated men and so on.  The potential categories are endless.  None can be denied, so we get constant 'interruptions' as in feminism.  Knowers have to be subjected to increasing strings of adjectives, and those with the most are seen as having the strongest claims.

The social itself gets sidelined in favour of methodological individualism, with smaller and smaller focuses of knowledge claims.  There is a shift in disciplinary background as well from sociology to social psychology then to psychoanalysis, towards autobiographical reflection, towards narcissism and hermeneuticism [it seems this is Gellner's phrase].  While objects of study are supposed to be general, in practice, we get 'thicker and thicker descriptions of smaller and smaller phenomena'(93), for example greater complexity among the youth cultures or audiences.

Knower modes have to displace existing knowledge rather than integrating it, and this turns on including more and more people to articulate the voices that are missing in earlier forms.  This can lead to repetitions as 'old songs will be sung by new voices in their own distinctive register' (94), leading to a permanent cultural revolution, radical breaks, endless restarting.

Fragmentation into different knowers reduces the social bases for any collective action, stresses difference rather than similarity, and finds itself in difficulties with institutions.  Internal struggles break out, not only between privileged categories, but between those claiming to give voice to them, raising issues about what the genuine voice of the working class might be, leading to '"prolier than thou" legitimation struggles' [I swear he got this from me!]. 

This opens the discourse to criticism, including asking whether groups need an academic voice at all, especially if they're only going to tell people about themselves.  This makes it particularly vulnerable to vocationalism and functionalism.  A classic defence, arguing that society itself is important, for example, is unavailable because there are no foundational objects.  The endless procession of the excluded reveals a limited lifespan for claims that group should be privileged, and they tend to 'evoke their own disrupter' (95), and, paradoxically, if the voice becomes accepted, they lose their marginal status.  The discourse can also be '"poached"', adding on cultural studies to other courses and modules, another weakness, a classic case of the suicidal tendency of horizontal knowledge structures identified by Bernstein, where academic subjects lose their identity.  Cultural studies has only become accepted by being an adjunct of other subjects, says Maton.

This is the sort of 'missing voice of pedagogic discourse' that needs to be included [no paradoxes recognized here]. We need to look at modes of legitimation and their underlying principles to see what is intrinsic to pedagogic discourses [very limited options seem to be available].  The analysis shows how empirical descriptions connect to theoretical narratives, and can be red both inductively and deductively.  The analysis explains the development of academic subjects, which have different 'intrinsic dynamic[s]' (96), as in the features of the knower mode described above.  These characteristics are emergent, not reducible to sociological factors, even if not totally autonomous from social relations of power.

The analysis asks important questions about cultural studies and the sociology of education, both of which have adopted knower modes, and both of which are marginal as a result, at least in British HE.  Cultural studies show how knower modes can bump into unintended consequences in giving voice to marginal groups, so we might be better able to include other voices if we realize the processes by recovering 'the voice of pedagogic discourse'.

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