Re-Reading and Rehabilitating Basil Bernstein

Brook Woodward Ruthven Bolander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This article constitutes a re-reading of and an attempt to rehabilitate Basil
Bernstein, both of which are important in light of the interpretation of
Bernstein as a proponent of the verbal deficit view, and the general discrediting
of his work on social class differences in the British educational system, as related to what he later called ‘codes’, by scholars like Jensen (1968) and Labov (1970), in particular. Exploring whether the international criticism of Bernstein was justified entails both an analysis of articles written by Jensen (1968) and Labov (1970) and by Bernstein, notably ‘Language and social class’ and ‘A critique of the concept of compensatory education’, both published in the first volume of Class, codes and control (Bernstein 1971). The article argues for the importance of contextualising Bernstein’s thoughts on language and society within the socio-political climate framing his scholarship and the development of his ideas as a whole. We show that much of the interpretation of Bernstein is, in fact, a misinterpretation, for which Bernstein was only partly at fault. By rehabilitating some of Bernstein’s ideas, it is possible to argue for their relevance today, especially with reference to salient connections between socio-cultural
background and performance at school. Furthermore, Labov and Bernstein
may not have been so far apart in their thinking as has previously been assumed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-173
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Cite this