Recontextualising policy discourses: a Bernsteinian perspective on policy interpretation, translation, enactment

Parlo Singh, Susan Thomas, Jessica Harris

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    83 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper contributes to critical policy research by theorising one aspect of policy enactment, the meaning making work of a cohort of mid-level policy actors. Specifically, we propose that Basil Bernstein's work on the structuring of pedagogic discourse, in particular, the concept of recontextualisation, may add to understandings of the policy work of interpretation and translation. Recontextualisation refers to the relational processes of selecting and moving knowledge from one context to another, as well as to the distinctive re-organisation of knowledge as an instructional and regulative or moral discourse. Processes of recontextualisation necessitate an analysis of power and control relations, and therefore add to the Foucauldian theorisations of power that currently dominate the critical policy literature. A process of code elaboration (decoding and recoding) takes place in various recontextualising agencies, responsible for the production of professional development materials, teaching guidelines and curriculum resources. We propose that mid-level policy actors are crucial to the work of policy interpretation and translation because they are engaged in elaborating the condensed codes of policy texts to an imagined logic of teachers' practical work. To illustrate our theoretical points we draw on data; collected for an Australian research project on the accounts of mid-level policy actors responsible for the interpretation of child protection and safety policies for staff in Queensland schools.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)465-480
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Education Policy
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • pedagogic discourse
    • policy enactment
    • policy recontextualization


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