Book Chapter

Two concepts of power: Knowledge (re)production in English history education discourse


Smith J & Jackson D (2021) Two concepts of power: Knowledge (re)production in English history education discourse. In: Chapman A (ed.) Knowing History in Schools: Powerful knowledge and the powers of knowledge. Knowledge and the Curriculum. London: UCL Press, pp. 152-176.

English history teachers have long prided themselves on the centrality of disciplinary knowledge to their pedagogy and practice (Counsell, 2011; Smith, 2019). From at least the 1970s, the view that children should learn not just accounts of the past, but the processes through which these accounts are constructed, has been something of a guiding philosophy in curriculum planning. However, in a recent paper (Smith and Jackson,2017), we suggested that this professional unanimity was fracturing somewhat and that two distinct positions – radical social realism (RSR) and traditional social realism (TSR) – had emerged. While both positions clung to the importance of disciplinary knowledge to teachers’ planning, TSRs were increasingly coming to the view that disciplinary knowledge should not be a curricular end in itself, but rather an important outcome which emerged from rigorous attention to more concrete forms of knowledge. Where our 2017 paper had restricted itself to discussion of historical knowledge and its acquisition by children, this chapter goes further in suggesting that these epistemic arguments are intimately related to questions of power and the purpose of schooling. This chapter extends our two types of social realism, but, in doing so, recognises that this is a typology under formation. Consequently, we present what we see as ideal types around which ideas are seeming to coalesce.

Title of seriesKnowledge and the Curriculum
Publication date31/12/2021
Publication date online07/01/2021
PublisherUCL Press
Publisher URL
Place of publicationLondon

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