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Critical Pedagogy: Cultural Capital – Codification

Cultural Capital – Codification

In my previous column I talked to you about the hidden curriculum- the messages that are learnt but not officially taught. In this post I’m going to talk about part of the process through which we make meaning in our environments. Codification is based on the everyday wisdom that a picture speaks louder than words. It’s a way of gathering information  to build up a picture (or codify) around real situations and real people. It is a picture that makes sense to you and should make sense to others as well. Peter Mc Laren describes these codifications as ‘mediating’ between reality and its theoretical context.

The purpose of codification is to find a way to cut through the ambiguities of language and take perception to a different level, in order to bring it back into the realm of discourse from a fresh perspective. Codification might create dialogue and analysis that is more independent to when we nail ideas into words, because words demand a shared vocabulary or rather an unquestioned agreement on what they mean. A word like ‘social’, for example, could awaken connotations of our physical social world, could mean social media, could mean being sociable, and we all know what that the word means in context and can use this to gather more shared contextual information. We use this on a simple level in terms of diagrams, mind maps and such and on a more complex level in terms of photographs that are full of cultural content that we attempt to understand.

Closely related to the process of codification, is the process of decodification. Decodification is best explained, I think, using the metaphor of a camera lens. Imagine if you will, those first few seconds before you take a picture, especially with a reflex camera lens, where you try and bring a photograph into focus – there’s that specific moment when you become aware of all the different things that need to find a harmony in the image, how it’s framed, where it’s focused. When you do this, you identify with all aspects of the situation but you do this as much with your physical eyes as with your mind’s eyes. When you identify all aspects of a situation, you are then able to reflect critically on them. And so, decodification isn’t  simply the breaking down of codifications with a brute expression of opposing ideas but understanding what brings those ideas into focus and being able to analyse their individual parts.

When we understand how something is built, we are able to also imagine how it can be unbuilt or rebuilt differently.

When we understand how the bricks make up a wall, we might find ways of rearranging them to allow for a window in the wall, as opposed to simply wanting the whole wall to be torn down. Working with the situation, yet effecting change, as opposed to simply pushing against it.

This absence of barrier and agenda is one the essential ingredients of dialogue. So much of the ‘dialogue’ around us seems to have aims, goals, purposes and sometimes those things can only be made clear once the dialogue is had, because we don’t always know what people will say and how they will say it unless they’re actually given a safe space to say it.


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