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17 SEPTEMBER 2005

Horizontal and Vertical Discourses

"Horizontal Discourse
We are all aware and use a form of knowledge usually typified as everyday or "common sense" knowledge. Common because all potentially or actually have access to it, common because it applies to all, and common because it has a common history in the sense of arising out of common problems of living and dying. This form has a group of well known features: it is likely to be oral, local, context dependent and specific, tacit, multi–layered and contradictory across but not within contexts. However, from the point of view to be taken here, the crucial feature is that is it segmentally organised. By segmental I am referring to the sites of realisation of this discourse. The realisation of this discourse varies with the way the culture segments and specialises activities and practices. The knowledge is segmentally differentiated. Because the discourse is Horizontal it does not mean that all segments have equal importance, clearly some will be more important than others. I shall contrast this Horizontal discourse with what I shall call a Vertical discourse.

Vertical Discourse
Briefly a Vertical discourse takes the form of a coherent, explicit and systematically principled structure, hierarchically organised as in the sciences, or it takes the form of a series of specialised languages with specialised modes of interrogation and specialised criteria for the production and circulation of texts as in the social sciences and humanities. I want first of all to raise the question of how knowledge circulates in these two discourses. In the case of Vertical discourse there are strong distributive rules regulating access, regulating transmission and regulating evaluation. Circulation is accomplished usually through explicit forms of recontextualising affecting distribution in terms of time, space and actors. I am not here concerned with the arenas and agents involved in these regulations. Basically, circulation is accomplished through explicit recontextualisation and evaluation, motivated by strong distributive procedures. But how does knowledge circulate in the case of Horizontal discourse where there is little systematic organising principles and therefore only tacit recontextualising? Of course in Horizontal discourse there are distributive rules regulating the circulation of knowledge, behaviour and expectations according to status/position. Such distributive rules structure and specialise social relations, practices and their context and local agents of its enactment and begin to circulate? – A Horizontal discourse entails a set of strategies which are local, segmentally organised, context specific and dependent, for maximising encounters with persons and habitats."
(Basil Bernstein 2000, p.157)

Bernstein, Basil. (2000). Pedagogy Symbolic Control and Identity Theory Research Critique. Oxford, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

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