Basil Bernstein Essay

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For more than four decades, Basil Bernstein was an important sociologist whose work influenced a generation of sociologists of education and linguists. Bernstein spent his academic career at the University of London’s Institute of Education, retiring as Karl Mannheim Professor in the Sociology of Education.

Bernstein’s early work on social class differences in language distinguished between the restricted communication code of the working class and the elaborated code of the middle class. His critics labeled him a deficit theorist, alleging that he was arguing that working-class language was deficient. Bernstein rejected this interpretation, arguing that difference became deficit because of unequal power relations.

Bernstein’s later work examined the connection between communication codes and the processes of schooling. He analyzed the processes of schooling and how they related to social class reproduction, concluding that unequal educational processes reproduced social inequalities.

Whatever the criticisms of his work, it is undeniable that Bernstein’s work represents a powerful attempt to investigate significant issues in the sociology of education. His work provides a systematic analysis of codes, educational structures, and processes and their relationship to social reproduction and identity.


  1. Atkinson, P. (1985). Language, structure and reproduction: An introduction to the sociology of Basil Bernstein. London: Methuen.
  2. Bernstein, B. (1973). Class, codes, and control (Vol. 1). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Originally published in 1971)
  3. Bernstein, B. (1973). Class, codes, and control (Vol. 2). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Originally published in 1971)
  4. Bernstein, B. (1973). Class, codes, and control (Vol. 3). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Originally published in 1971)
  5. Bernstein, B. (1990). Class, codes and control: Vol. 4: The structuring of pedagogic discourse. London: Routledge.
  6. Bernstein, B. (1996). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: Theory, research, critique. London: Taylor & Francis.
  7. Sadovnik, A. R. (Ed.). (1995). Knowledge and pedagogy: The sociology of Basil Bernstein. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

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