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Presentation at the first Legitimation Code Theory Colloquium.

Post-conference, mostly Sydney people.
The first Legitimation Code Theory conference is being held in Cape Town Next week.  I'll be presenting at the conference.  Here is the title and abstract:

Title: 'Different Types of Legitimacy’:  University Students’ Recognition of the Organizing principles of Knowledge.


This paper employs the Specialization dimension of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) and aspects of grammatical metaphor (agentive construction, nominalization and technicality) from Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to understand how University students perceive the legitimacy of knowledge.  There is an emergent literature that employs concepts from LCT to examine knowledge structures and redress the problem of knowledge-blindness in the sociology of education and beyond.   There is also a problem of knower-blindness where “the study of knowers’ dispositions has been a longstanding area of relative neglect by code sociology and social realism” (Maton, 2014, p. 210).  This paper contributes to the visibility of knowers by presenting preliminary research conducted into University students’ perceptions of knowledge (Toll, 2014).

Theoretical framework.

Maton’s (2014: 29) concept of Specialization codes provides a means to conceptualize knowledge practices and the basis of legitimate knowledge within different social fields of practice.  Specialisation codes conceptualize knowledge practices along two dimensions, “epistemic relations” (ER) and “social relations” (SR) recognising that knowledge practices entail both a statement about the nature of things and statements by someone who claims to know (Maton 2014: 29).  From Systemic Functional Linguistics, features of grammatical metaphor (agentive construction, nominalization and technicality) were drawn upon to model the textual production of Specialization Codes. Nominalization and technicality organize texts to place distance between the author and the statement, foregrounding the known (ER+); while agentive construction foregrounds the knower (SR+) (Eggins, 1994; Martin, 1993).  

Object of study and methods.

Sixteen semi-structured interviews with University students were conducted. Participants were drawn from a number of degree courses were represented, from Science and Engineering (4), combined Arts and Science (2) and Humanities, Law, and Social Science (10) degrees at various stages of completion ranging from 2nd year undergraduate to post-graduate masters students.  Each participant was given three sets of stimulus material that were constructed to show different Specialization Codes in context. The first set of stimulus material, ‘text and author’, comprised two text modified from Eggins (1994) that exemplified agentive language (a mother talking about her baby) and nominalization (a written text on the causes of infant’s distress). The second part, ‘agreement scenario’, had an interviewer and interviewee discussing an economic sector employing clashing specialization codes.  The final scenario, ‘teacher and student’, had a teacher engaging a student in a discussion of social media and social capital exhibiting a clash in specialization codes, technicality and non-technical language in a pedagogic context.  The interview schedule was designed to elicit students’ perceptions of knowledge practices and test if Specialization Codes were recognized as organizing knowledge.

Results and discussion.

Students recognized the different Specialization Codes which they deemed to confer profit relative to their employed context.  The legitimacy of knowledge was not completely captured by specialization codes, as demonstrated by student responses to the argument scenario.  This suggests that sociologists need to consider both the epistemological and axiological dispositions of knowers. Students in science and students in arts, social science, and humanities degree-courses had divergent conception of what types of knowledge practice were legitimate in pedagogic contexts; indicating that different types of knowers are attracted to and developed in these fields of higher education. Both groups of students viewed knowledge claims as irreducible to social power alone, and demonstrated a prioritising principle by discerning what knowledge claims are powerful and when. These results correspond to Holland’s (1981) study on social class and ‘orientations of meaning’ and middle class primary school students’ recognition of what coding orientations matched the dominant code.  Further investigation of knowers can overcome knower-blindness and provide insight into how different groups engage with knowledge practices.


Eggins, S. (1994), An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, London: Pinter Publishers.
Holland, J. (1981), “Social class and changes in orientation to meaning”, Sociology, 15(1), p. 1-18.
Martin, J.R. (1993), “Life as A Noun”, Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power, J.R. Martin and M.A.K. Halliday (Ed),   London: Flamer Press.
Maton, K. (2014), Knowledge and Knowers: Towards a Realist Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Toll, M. (2014), “Discerning knowers: Exploring university students’ perceptions of knowledge claims”, The Australian Sociological Association Conference Proceedings, University of South Australia, Adelaide, November.
The talk at #LCTC1


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