Xavier Rambla Sociologia

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maig 23 2012

Pedagogic relations in education and social care

The sociologist Basil Bernstein foresaw the increasing role of pedagogic relations in education and other domains such as social care. According to Bernstein, in this type of social relations professionals make complex decisions about what is at stake (classification), and frame their behaviour so that they regulate the participation of students and beneficiaries of social aid (framing). Classification and framing are strong when teachers keep a distance by means of school discipline. They are strong as well when social workers only check if applicants meet the required conditions for a benefit. Conversely, pedagogic social relations weaken classification and framing when teachers actively interact with students, and when social workers want to transform aid into a form of social participation.

Let me quote three examples of the long-term movements towards weaker classification and framing. First, the Index for Inclusion  (see the video too) helps teachers to identify the barriers to learning so that they lead organisational and pedagogic changes that eventually overcome these obstacles in a school. This method empowers teachers, takes students’ needs into account, and often involves parents in school activities. Second, bottom-up planning of after-school activities approaches educators to citizens by designing wide-ranging projects of academic and leisure education addressed to all the students in a neighbourhood (see PEC Barcelona). Third, personalisation (video) also weakens classification and framing by putting the beneficiaries in control of the social care services they receive. According to the proponents of this strategy for social work, everybody feels much better if she can actively engage with the very action of providing support for her specific needs.

But these examples also remind of Bernstein’s thesis about the fallacies of over-stated optimism on these weaker forms of pedagogic relations. Contrary to some educationalists who endorse child-centred education as a guarantee of children’s freedom, he argued that these weaker forms also convey power and reproduce class-biased educational disadvantages. In the same vein, Richard Sennett has convincingly argued that the activation of welfare recipients does not guarantee their full respect at all. Remarkably, none of these authors wants to deride either child-centred education or empowering social work, but both of them suggest a further caution that their proponents sometimes overlook. In brief, closer, active, participative, child-centred or personalised education and social care are not emancipatory by themselves, but their real impacts have to be systematically assessed by means of social research and policy evaluation.

The 7th Basil Bernstein Symposium will be hold in Aix-en-Provence next June. I will present a paper reflecting on these theoretical questions with regard to school improvement and active welfare policies in Argentina and Chile.

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