Sociological knowledge and transformation

Celia Jenkins, Caroline Barnes, Monica McLean, Andrea Abbas, Paul Ashwin

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


This chapter is based on a case study of one UK university sociology department and shows how sociology knowledge can transform the lives of ‘non-traditional’ students. The research from which the case is drawn focused on four departments teaching sociology-related subjects in universities positioned differently in UK league tables. It explored the question of the relationship between university reputation, pedagogic quality and curriculum knowledge, challenging taken-for-granted judgements about ‘quality’ and in conceptualising ‘just’ university pedagogy by taking Basil Bernstein’s ideas about how ‘powerful’ knowledge is distributed in society to illuminate pedagogy and curriculum. The project took the view that ‘power’ lies in the acquisition of specific (inter)disciplinary knowledges which allows the formation of disciplinary identities by way of developing the means to think about and act in the world in specific ways. We chose to focus on sociology because (1) university sociology is taken up by all socio-economic classes in the UK and is increasingly taught in courses in which the discipline is applied to practice; (2) it is a discipline that historically pursues social and moral ambition which assists exploration of the contribution of pedagogic quality to individuals and society beyond economic goals; (3) the researchers teach and research sociology or sociology of education - an understanding of the subjects under discussion is essential to make judgements about quality. ‘Diversity’ was one of four case study universities. It ranks low in university league tables; is located in a large, multi-cultural English inner city; and, its students are likely to come from lower socio-economic and/or ethnic minority groups, as well as being the first in their families to attend university. To make a case for transformative teaching at Diversity, the chapter draws on longitudinal interviews with students, interviews with tutors, curriculum documents, recordings of teaching, examples of student work, and a survey. It establishes what we can learn from the case of sociology at Diversity, arguing that equality, quality and transformation for individuals and society are served by a university curriculum which is research led and challenging combined with pedagogical practices which give access to difficult-to-acquire and powerful knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocially Just Pedagogies, Capabilities and Quality in Higher Education
Subtitle of host publicationGlobal Perspectives
EditorsMelanie Walker, Merridy Wilson-Strydon
Place of PublicationBasingstoke, U. K.
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Print)9781137557858
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2017

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Global Citizenship Education and Democracy


  • Pedagogy
  • Social justice
  • Capabilities
  • Higher Education


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