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Using the Sociology of Basil Bernstein in Higher Education Research

Theory and Method in Higher Education Research

ISBN: 978-1-78769-278-7, eISBN: 978-1-78769-277-0

Publication date: 12 November 2018


Basil Bernstein’s theoretical ideas have been called upon by far fewer higher education researchers than would be expected. We argue that the international higher education field of research is ripe for further application of Bernstein’s theoretical ideas. Through reference to our own and that of others, we illustrate five key affordances of Bernstein’s theoretical framework. First, it provides a unique approach that leads researchers to pose formerly unthinkable questions and encourages the development of new knowledge to address them. Second, Bernstein’s valuable concepts raise questions about the specific but inter-related macro- (societal), meso- (organisational) and micro- (individual) level processes involved in producing (in)equalities. Bernsteinian analysis can help to identify how inequalities emerge from and can be addressed at these levels. Third, we contend that the approach encourages empirical exploration of the ways in which education may be disruptive of the social order. Fourth, we suggest Bernstein’s concepts can be adapted to capture the complexity of intersecting inequalities in a way that allows the object of analysis to determine what inequalities are foregrounded. Finally, we argue that concepts help to orientate questions around inequality and social justice in a way that does not over-determine answers.



Donnelly, M. and Abbas, A. (2018), "Using the Sociology of Basil Bernstein in Higher Education Research", Theory and Method in Higher Education Research (Theory and Method in Higher Education Research, Vol. 4), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 1-17.



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