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Semantics is a dimension of LCT that emerged in the late 2000s from empirical studies of both intellectual fields and classroom practices. The concepts of semantic gravity and semantic density systematically analyse key dimensions that recur throughout Bernstein’s ideas and in work using his approach.  They also provide a means of moving beyond binary and static dichotomous types. For studies using these concepts, see the PRACTICE section and LCT Bibliography.

Many of these papers have been substantially revised for the book Knowledge and Knowers (Maton 2014) and further refined in the book Knowledge-building (Maton et al, 2016).


See chapter 6 of Knowledge and Knowers which replaces these papers with a new analysis.

Maton, K. (2008) Gravité sémantique et Apprentissage segmenté, in Vitale, P. & Frandji, D. (Eds.) Enjeux Sociaux, Savoirs, Langage, Pedagogie: Actualité et fécondité de l'oeuvre de Basil Bernstein. Rennes, University of Rennes Press. Published in English as: Maton, K. (2010) Segmentalism: The problem of building knowledge and creating knowers, in Vitale, P. & Frandji, D. (Eds.) Knowledge, Pedagogy & Society. London, Routledge.

Maton, K. (2009) Cumulative and segmented learning: Exploring the role of curriculum structures in knowledge-building, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 30(1): 43-57.

This paper extends the focus on cumulative building of knowledge to address curriculum and pedagogy. It explores the problem of segmented learning, when pupils learn a series of discrete, strongly bounded ideas or skills over time rather than progressively building on their previous knowledge. The paper develops Bernstein's conceptualisation of discourses and knowledge structures, overcoming dichotomies in his model by focusing on 'semantic gravity' or the context-dependency of knowledge. This framework is used, in conjunction with legitimation codes, to analyse two contrasting examples of educational practices: 'authentic learning environments' in professional education at university; and 'The Journey' in secondary school English. These examples form the basis for a discussion of the educational consequences of segmented learning.

The two English essays were entirely re-analysed in Knowledge and Knowers. Originally presented for brevity as embodying a knowledge code and a knower code, having the space to introduce different kinds of gazes the more accurate book version is able to describe both essays as knower codes, one a cultivated gaze and the other a personal or individualised social gaze.


See chapter 7 of Knowledge and Knowers for a much revised version.

Maton, K. (2008) Grammars of sociology: How to build knowledge. Proceedings of the fifth international Basil Bernstein symposium. Cardiff, Cardiff University.

Maton, K. (2010) Knowledge-building: Analysing the cumulative development of ideas, in Ivinson, G., Davies, B. & Fitz, J. (eds.) Knowledge and Identity: Bernsteinian approaches and applications. London, Routledge.

Maton, K. (2011) Theories and things: The semantics of disciplinarity, in Christie, F. & Maton, K. (eds) Disciplinarity: Functional linguistic and sociological perspectives.  London, Continuum, 62-84.

These papers extend the conceptual framework to analyse the form taken by theory building in sociology and education, drawing on the concepts developed in preceding papers and introducing the notion of ‘semantic density’ which addresses the process whereby descriptions are condensed into abstract concepts. These are used to analyse the modes of theorising of Bernstein and Bourdieu, focusing first on their internal languages of description and, secondly, on their external languages of description. This shows that in Bernstein’s mode these two dimensions are characterised by different degrees of abstraction (semantic gravity) and condensation of meaning (semantic density). It is argued this represents the key to creating cumulative knowledge that progresses towards greater generality and explanatory power. In contrast, Bourdieu’s mode of theorising is characterised by an internal language with weaker vertical relations of condensation and abstraction between concepts, and an external language based on a ‘cultivated gaze’ rather than an external language of description. This limits its capacity for enabling cumulative knowledge. The conference paper is a first draft and includes an introduction to the paper below (as they were originally conceived as two halves of one paper which then grew into two).


Semantic profiles are a useful way of exploring and enacting change in practices over time. For an overview, see the following video:

Maton, K. (2017) Making waves together: How Legitimation Code Theory can help crack the codes of educationBALEAP International Conference, University of Bristol, UK, April.


Maton, K. (2014) Building powerful knowledge: The significance of semantic waves, in Rata, E. & Barrett, B. (eds) Knowledge and the Future of the Curriculum: International studies in social realism, London: Palgrave Macmillan

Maton, K. (2013) Making semantic waves: A key to cumulative knowledge-building, Linguistics and Education, 24(1): 8-22.

Maton, K. (2014) A TALL order?: Legitimation Code Theory for academic language and learning,Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 8(3): 34–48.

Martin, J.R. & Maton, K. (2013) (eds) Cumulative Knowledge-Building in Secondary Schooling, Linguistics and Education, 24(1): 1-74. (= the semantic wave special all in one handy download)

Matruglio, E., Maton, K. & Martin, J.R. (2013) Time travel: The role of temporality in enabling semantic waves in secondary school teaching, Linguistics and Education, 24(1): 38-49.

Macnaught, L., Maton, K., Martin, J.R. & Matruglio, E. (2013) Jointly constructing semantic waves: Implications for teacher training, Linguistics and Education, 24(1): 50-63.

Maton, K. (2015) Opening Address - Legitimation Code Theory: Past, present, future, First International Legitimation Code Theory Colloquium, Cape Town, South Africa, June. Audio hereSlides here.


Multi-level typologies have been developed by Karl Maton and colleagues at Sydney University for enacting 'semantic gravity' and 'semantic density' in analysis of discourse (such as classroom discourse, essays, interviews, etc).  Each set of tools comprises several 'translation devices' for identifying different strengths of SG or SD in wording, and for analysing how these strengths are changed through the bringing together of words into clauses and the linking of clauses into sequences. The tools will be available shortly.

The translation device for enacting epistemic–semantic density is published in these two papers:

Maton, K. & Doran, Y.J. (2017) Semantic density: A translation device for revealing complexity
of knowledge practices in discourse, part 1 - wording
, Onomázein, March: 46-76.

Maton, K. & Doran, Y.J. (2017) Condensation: A translation device for revealing complexity of knowledge practices in discourse, part 2 - clausing and sequencing, Onomázein, March: 77-110.

The device for semantic gravity and images will be available soon.


See chapter 8 of Knowledge and Knowers

Maton, K. (2008) Knowledge-building: How can we create powerful and influential ideas?, paper presented at Disciplinarity, Knowledge & Language: An international symposium, University of Sydney, Dec.

This paper addresses why cumulative and segmental theories enjoy contrasting fortunes within fields such as sociology and education. Using the example of the construction of 'teacher-centred' and 'student-centred' approaches, these fields are analysed in terms of their 'cosmologies' and the ways in which these create 'constellations' of positions that are imbued with different axiological charges, as positive and negative. The paper then uses these concepts to explore why more epistemologically powerful theories are consigned to the morally negative pole of these fields, and how they can changed to enable cumulative knowledge-building.

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 September 2017 14:33