A vantage point

This blog explains why I regularly draw on Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) as a tool for understanding and analysing matters of education policy. I’ve found LCT to be a powerful and insightful lens for understanding education and the discourses that run through it. Of late I’ve been pondering how we can develop education policy that builds and iterates over time and that avoids a pendulum-like swing between binary oppositions. This blog explains how three dimensions of LCT (Specialisation, Semantics & Autonomy) can help us to see how and why these dichotomous positions play out, and how they might be overcome. It’s not a simple route map to better education policy, but it’s a vantage point from which we can at least get a better view.

Binary positions within education policy often appear as stark contrasts: academic vs vocational, STEM vs humanities, traditional vs progressive teaching methodologies. These dichotomous stances, while potentially useful for debate, may oversimplify the complex realities of educational practice. Education, after all, is a complex ecosystem that entails a dynamic interaction of myriad variables, practices, and stakeholders. Oversimplified, dualistic viewpoints risk missing this nuanced complexity.

Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), a conceptual framework devised by Professor Karl Maton, provides a method to reveal and understand the principles through which knowledge practices – and thus policy – become legitimate. It’s a powerful lens through which we can scrutinize education policies and their potential impact on various stakeholders. In applying this perspective to the binary positions often found in educational policy, we can construct a strong argument for why such dichotomous approaches must be avoided.

LCT’s dimension of Specialization uncovers the basis of achievement within any practice, considering the balance between the epistemic relation (what is being studied) and the social relation (who is doing the studying). When education policies favour one over the other, as seen in binary positions, the resulting imbalance could lead to unintended and possibly detrimental outcomes. For example, prioritizing epistemic relations (e.g., in STEM-centric policies) might overlook the equally vital role of the social context of learning (social relations), resulting in disengagement or lack of inclusivity among students.

On the other hand, when dichotomous policies favour social relations (e.g., in progressive pedagogical strategies), there’s a risk of devaluing the knowledge (epistemic relations) itself, potentially leading to a lack of rigour or depth in education. Clearly, a balance is essential, and LCT encourages a nuanced, non-binary perspective that considers both aspects in harmony rather than opposition.

Moreover, LCT’s dimension of Semantics also serves as a potent counter-argument to binary policies. Semantics examines the extent to which knowledge is context-dependent (semantic density) or condensed into symbols, terms, or phrases (semantic gravity). These two elements should not be seen as a dichotomy but as a dynamic duality, both necessary for effective learning. For instance, a policy heavily favouring context-independent knowledge (high semantic density) might neglect the importance of grounding knowledge in real-world contexts (low semantic gravity), leading to abstract learning devoid of practical relevance. Conversely, a policy exclusively emphasizing context-dependent knowledge might hinder the development of overarching concepts and deep, transferable understandings.

Finally, LCT’s dimension of Autonomy, which explores the extent to which practices are insulated from or dependent on other practices, further illustrates the perils of dichotomous thinking in educational policy. The world of knowledge is a complex ecosystem of interdependent disciplines and practices. Dichotomous policies that separate academic and vocational or STEM and humanities limit opportunities for cross-fertilization and mutual enrichment, thus curtailing the potential for holistic and interdisciplinary learning.

In conclusion, through the lens of Legitimation Code Theory, it becomes evident that binary positions in education policy may oversimplify the complex dynamics of teaching and learning. To build more effective, equitable, and inclusive education systems, policy-making should avoid dichotomous perspectives. Instead, it should strive for a nuanced understanding of the synergies and interdependencies between various aspects of educational practice.

LCT provides a powerful framework for achieving this goal, underlining the need to consider the complex interplay between knowledge, social context (social relations), semantic gravity, semantic density, and the interdependence of different knowledge practices.

By doing so, educational policy can foster a comprehensive learning environment that appreciates the value of different disciplines, teaching methods, and learner experiences. This could pave the way for a more robust, flexible, and forward-looking education system that prepares students for the multifaceted challenges of the future. Avoiding binary positions and fostering a more nuanced approach can ensure that our education system is inclusive, equitable, and attuned to the complexities of our evolving knowledge landscape.

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting argument, Stephen, thanks for sharing. Context dependent semantics is called pragmatics (not to be confused with ‘pragmatism’) in my former discipline of linguistics and it’s an underexplored dimension – at least in the national consciousness here in the UK – which I am delighted to see you address in these pedagogical essays.

    Where’s that bench, though?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s