Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Chen, H. & Derewianka, B. M. (2009). Binaries and beyond: a Bersteinian perspective on change in literacy education. Research Papers in Education, 24 (2), 223-245.


In this paper we adopt Bernstein's notion of the pedagogic device to serve as a framework for explaining conflict and change in the field of literacy education across the past few decades, particularly in the United Kingdom, USA and Australia. Following an overview of the pedagogic device and related constructs, we examine the relationship between the field of knowledge production and how this has been recontextualized into curriculum policy, firstly in the period when 'progressivist' pedagogy was in the ascendent, exemplified by the whole language movement, and then when a more 'skills' orientation took sway, with phonics as its touchstone. We argue that the pedagogic device provides a useful context for exploring how ideology operates both within fields and at the interfaces between fields. In particular, the sets of binary oppositions proposed by Bernstein can be used in crude form to describe the entrenched polarizations experienced in the field of literacy education - or they can be used in a more nuanced way to open up new possibilities for change.