Knowledge Hierarchies and the Politics of Educational Policy in South Africa

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ABSTRACT: While hierarchies of knowledge have been extensively discussed, particularly with reference to the politics of knowledge production and utilisation in policy in developing countries, their constitution and legitimation in diverse and complex settings remain a point of contention. Informed by Bourdieu's sociological theory of research practice, this article expands the debate to locate it within two key intersecting domains of the intellectual and political field of policy production, namely, the knowledge foundational domain (discursive or epistemological), and the systemic and structural domain (the organisational environment and structure of relations within it). This article explores how these domains interface with the individual agency of key actors in the field as conditioned by race, class, gender and other forms of social difference. It argues that, given the apartheid legacy, the hierarchies of both the knowledge producers (who gains access, or who is legitimised) and of knowledge itself (what knowledge is validated in the policy process) are primarily structured through the imaginary boundaries of race, class and gender, which have profound implications for knowledge choice and legitimation in the policy arena.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-57
Number of pages21
JournalEducation as Change
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2015


  • developing countries
  • development agencies
  • hierarchies of knowledge
  • knowledge and development
  • knowledge and power
  • policy production
  • politics of knowledge
  • research and social justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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