This paper is concerned with the development of a theoretical and methodological approach to the study of the cultures of institutions and the patterns of social interaction within them as they exert a formative effect on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of learning. It does this through the development of an approach in which a dialectical relation between theoretical and empirical work draws on the strengths of the legacies of sociological and psychological sources to provide a theoretical model which is capable of descriptions at levels of delicacy which may be tailored to the needs of specific research questions. The paper provides an introduction to a model of description that may be used to study the way in which societal needs and priorities and/or curriculum formations are recontextualised within institutions such as schools. Institutional structures are analysed as historical products which themselves are subject to dynamic transformation and change as people act within and on them.
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