The power of living knowledge: Re-imagining Bernstein’s horizontal knowledge

Year: 2019

Author: Ivinson, Gabrielle

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The paper aims to re-evaluate the importance of horizontal knowledge as place-based, indigenous and historically developed forms of knowing in order to: 1) broaden debates about school knowledge; 2) support teachers to recognise and legitimate forms of knowing beyond those prescribed by academic curricular and 3) address pressing political issues relating to control capitalism.

It sets up a dialogue with scholars who appropriate Basil Bernstein’s work on vertical and horizontal discourse with links to Durkheim’s distinction between sacred and profane, to counter arguments that the solution to educational underachievement in areas of high poverty is to provide an ever more academic curriculum. Examples from longitudinal studies (see details below) in post-industrial mining communities suggest that places continue to hold vital, relational, embodied forms of knowing and being that are central to community survival. The work of Gilbert Simondon on the role of technical objects and transduction is presented to shift the argument away from epistemology towards ontogenesis. By reading Simondon beside Bernstein's typology of knowledge we can get beyond subject-object binaries that have entrenched educational debates within a modernist obsession with the 'power' of vertical knowledge. When hierarchical binaries such as vertical or horizontal are mobilised they occlude the way vertical knowledge excludes, denigrates and de-values other forms of knowing such as indigenous, and placed-based, living knowledge.

The paper draws on a succession of studies conducted between 2006 and 2018 in the ex-mining and steel producing valleys of south Wales, UK. Three studies were conducted in schools and communities in south Wales ex-mining valley communities: (1) on young people’s understandings of skill in primary and secondary schools between 2006-2010; (2) on young people’s understandings of place, in schools and communities called the ‘Young People and Place’ between 2010-2013, and (3) on young people’s sense of wellbeing in schools and communities between 2013-2018 as part of Productive Margins: Regulating forEngagement project called 'Making, Mapping and Mobilising in Merthyr' (Reference: ES/K002716/1). The studies focus on young people aged 11-19 years old.