Using the Sociology of Basil Bernstein in Higher Education Research

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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 interrelated 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 the concepts help to orientate questions around inequality and social justice in a way that does not over-determine answers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTheory and Method in Higher Education Research
EditorsJeroen Huissman, Malcolm Tight
Place of PublicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78769-277-0, 978-178769-279-4
ISBN (Print)978-1-78769-278-7
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2018

Publication series

NameTheory and Method in Higher Education Research
ISSN (Print)2056-3752


  • Bernstein
  • Methodology
  • Inequality
  • social justice
  • analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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