• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size


LCT is a toolkit. It provides a means of analysing socio-cultural practices, whether in education or beyond, along a number of dimensions. These provide the organising principles underlying practices and their contexts. LCT currently comprises five principal dimensions: Autonomy, Density, Semantics, Specialisation and Temporality.

New to LCT? A very simple and brief introduction to some concepts can be found in the best-selling undergraduate textbook, Van Krieken, R. et al. (2017) Sociology: Themes and perspectives. Sixth Edition. Sydney, Pearson.

Most papers address two dimensions: Specialisation, which emerged first and has become widely used, and Semantics, the most recent development. These are articulated at length in Karl Maton's Knowledge and Knowers: Towards a realist sociology of education. Papers using these concepts in substantive research can be found in the PRACTICE section. Other dimensions are being articulated at the moment in conference papers and will be published shortly.

Read reviews of Knowledge and Knowers:


The book Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory contains chapters that illustrate and explain:

  • how to enact LCT in qualitative research to bring together theory and data
  • how to develop quantitative tools to use LCT in mixed-methods research and so take advantage of both quantitative and qualitative methods
  • how to embed LCT in practice without explicitly discussing LCT
  • how to use LCT in conjunction with other theories, such as systemic functional linguistics

Read reviews of Knowledge-building:


Key concepts here include:

  • specialization codes: epistemic relations and social relations
  • the epistemic–pedagogic device
  • knowledge–knower structures
  • gazes (including cultivated gazes)
  • insights
  • the 4–K model


Key concepts here include:

  • semantic gravity
  • semantic density
  • semantic profiles including semantic waves
  • the ESP device
  • cosmologies, including axiological cosmologies
  • condensation/rarefaction and gravitation/levitation
  • constellations and clustering
  • translations devices for enacting SG and SD in analyses of discourse


Key concepts:

  • positional autonomy
  • relational autonomy
  • autonomy plane

Maton, K. (2005) A question of autonomy: Bourdieu's field approach and policy in higher education, Journal of Education Policy 20(6): 687-704.

Bourdieu described 'autonomy' as the key principle underlying both fields and positions within fields.  Bernstein described a series of binary ideal typical forms of knowledge structure ('singulars' / 'regions') and pedagogic identity that are underpinned by the principle of autonomy.  This paper starts from Bourdieu's notion of fields (the central aspect of his framework) and articulates a conceptual development of his ideas that embrace more phenomena. It should be emphasised that Autonomy does NOT only flow from Bourdieu's ideas; this paper was commissioned to focus on Bourdieu.

This dimension will be more fully articulated in forthcoming papers led by Maton and Howard.  See a video of a talk here in which the ideas have been radically reformulated to be able to analyse knowledge practices:

Maton, K., Howard, S.K. & Lambrinos, E. (2016) Bringing it all back home: The art of building knowledge from diverse sources, Regional Seminar, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, April


Most studies using LCT have only drawn on Specialisation and Semantics.  This thesis outlines four of the five dimensions of LCT: Autonomy, Density, Specialisation and Temporality, which together comprise the Legitimation Device as conceptualised at the time. (Semantics was developed after this thesis). This framework is developed through and used in a major empirical study of the changes in post-war British higher education that enabled the emergence of British cultural studies. Some of the terminology in the thesis is now outdated (see Concept glossary).

Maton, K. (2005) The Field of Higher Education: A sociology of reproduction, transformation, change and the conditions of emergence for cultural studies. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.

See chapter 3 of Knowledge and Knowers for a fuller account of the nature of the Legitimation Device.

NOTE: The conceptualization of Temporality has been fully revised since the thesis was written. Do not use the version contained in the thesis. Temporality will be redefined in a forthcoming paper by Karl Maton and colleagues.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 January 2018 08:24