Part 2: Modes, Aspects and Models of Institutional Transmission
In part 1 of this article I considered some of the theories of value transmission, particularly what is called inter-generational transmission, principally from parents to children, looking at basic models and some of the variables that make that process more or less successful. In this second part I will analyse some of the theories that relate to or directly model the social transmission of knowledge. For this reason many of the theories considered relate to education. The theory of institutional value transmission developed in part 3 is institutionally generalisable, however.
Modes and Aspects of Transmission
The four modes and aspects I want to look at – social capital, hegemony, resistance, and intersubjectivity – are not theories of transmission, but they consider various perspectives on the social world that are related to values transmission and are significantly relevant to the theory of value transmission outlined in the introduction to part 1.
The idea of social capital, if not the terminology, has existed for as long as the social sciences themselves (Portes, 1998). Though its use is widespread in the social sciences, the idea of social capital does not have a single definition, but should rather be viewed as a family of definitions (Paldam, 2000). Fundamentally, though, most definitions incorporate the idea that the interaction of members of a society creates a social ‘good’ that in some manner can be transformed into (or ‘spent’ on) other more tangible goods, particularly of an economic or a political nature. Croll (2004, p.398) describes social capital as arising from ‘social relationships and the personal networks which they create’, which then becomes ‘a resource which can be used to generate outcomes which are valued’. Human relationships therefore become a resource that have ‘productive capacity’ for society as a whole, not just for the individuals concerned (ibid). Bourdieu defines it as ‘The aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition’ (cited in Portes, 2000, p. 45). An understanding of social capital may be very useful in understanding the dynamics within institutions and in their relationship to the wider society.
Stepping back and taking a broad view, Croll (2004) identifies three dimensions of the analysis of social capital, by which the various commentators on the phenomenon can be distinguished: the extent to which it is dependent on relationships inside the family or outside the family; the degree to which it is related by the theorist to other types of capital; and the extent to which it is seen as principally a resource for the individual or the broader society (ibid). Adler and Kwon (2002), though, make a distinction of more particular relevance to my thinking in this essay. They categorise social capital theorists according to whether they focus on the building of communal links, such as Coleman (1990), Fukuyama (1995) and Putnam (1995), the building of external links, such as Bourdieu (1985) and Portes (2000), or incorporate both, such as Pennar (1997), Schiff (1992) and Woolcock (1998). In a similar vein Paldam (2000) claims that theories of social capital can be categorised according to whether the building of trust, the building of networks, or cooperation is considered to be the main feature of social relationships. Adler and Kwon conclude (2002, p.34) that the distinction between internal bonding and external linking is largely illusory as ‘external ties at a given level of analysis become internal ties at the higher levels of analysis, and, conversely, internal ties become external at the lower levels’.
Most theorists see social capital as something that contributes to an ‘excess’ in society. However, Paldam (2000) warns against the potential for seduction by the positive aura attached to the notion of social capital. And Putnam points out that the distribution of benefit is not predetermined: ‘Who benefits from these connections, norms and trust – the individual, the wider community or some faction within the community – must be determined empirically, not definitionally’ (Putnam, 1995, pp.664-5). Bourdieu does not even accept the democratic nature of social capital. For him it is linked to other forms of capital, i.e. cultural, human and economic capital, and is one more means whereby those who benefit most transmit their advantage through society (Croll, 2004).
There is something compelling about the idea of social capital that reinforces the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and also that value is somehow embedded in social relations. I have some reservations though. An idea for which there are so many definitions and schools of thought suggests that it functions more as a metaphor for a number of connected features of society and a conceptual guideline for sociological research programmes than as a definable aspect of social reality. Portes (1998) believes that the heuristic value of the term itself loses viability if it is overextended. Adler and Kwon (op. cit.) have determined that social capital implies a hierarchy of communication networks. This, however, is simply an empirical fact of social being and does not entail the existence of social capital. These networks may be capitalised on by utilising them for financial or cultural transactions, but this requires the development of a particular range of entrepreneurial and managerial skills. Underlying these networks are personal relations built upon a range of values. Many of these values are not amenable to the exploitation of relationships for financial or other outcomes. However, Fukuyama (1995) identifies trust as one such value which is so convertible, capable of being scaled up and potentially self-replenishing.
The term ‘hegemony’, or ‘cultural hegemony’ to be more precise, as a theoretical idea in the social sciences has its origins in Marx but its first clear expression in Gramsci and Althusser. At one level it means ideological domination, but, more subtly, a wilful blindness to the state of dominion, such is its all-pervasive nature. However, even this does not completely capture its sense. According to Strinati (1995, pp.165-6) the existence of a hegemonic domination is in part due to a ‘spontaneous consensus’ of the ruled who find in its rules and values a potential for realising their own self-interest. Apple (1979, p. 18) locates this paradox in the dual senses of ideology:
Functionally, ideology has been evaluated historically as a form of false consciousness which distorts one’s picture of social reality and serves the interests of the dominant classes in a society. However, it has also been treated, as Geertz puts it, as ‘systems of interacting symbols’ that provide the primary ways of making ‘otherwise incomprehensible social situations meaningful.’
Apple finds the resolution of these two views of ideology in the concept of hegemony. Hegemony, therefore, should not be viewed essentially as just a negative imposition, but a prevailing aspect of social reality, which enables us to function, however imperfectly, within society. Within education, Apple sees that:
“The idea that ideological saturation permeates our lived experience enables one to see how people can employ frameworks which both assist them in organizing their world and enable them to believe they are neutral participants in the neutral instrumentation of schooling,…while at the same time, these frameworks serve particular economic and ideological interests which are hidden from them” (ibid, p.22).
There are interesting insights in the notion of hegemony, but essentially it seems to be the conflation of two empirical observations. The first is the commonplace that any believing, as any belonging, is the source of both individual orientation and of self-limitation. The second is that all societies function through differentiation of authority, role and status. In hegemony the rhetoric of Marxist class conflict has appropriated an allegorical interpretation of social differentiation as ‘ideology’, an ideology to which – it is claimed – we are all in thrall and in which we find both our orientation (false consciousness) and limitation (domination). That said, at its core there is an insight, which I find persuasive, that individually, and to some degree collectively, we accept worldviews and their attendant values that are pervasive to the degree that we cannot conceive of the world being otherwise; that is to say we are imprisoned within the perspective of our own perception. Apple’s use of the verb ‘permeate’ is particularly striking in this context and I will use this, in its noun form ‘permeation’ later in this essay to describe the degree of institutional penetration of values.
Resistance is a very broad term which includes many different theoretical and ideological persuasions. They are united by the sense that there is a dislocation between the role an individual is expected to play within a social system and the sense that this role in some manner compromises their intrinsic worth, leading to a state of rebellion, which can range from passive non-compliance to aggressive challenge. Two examples will be considered, in the work of Parsons and Willis.
In a classic paper in which he discusses the socialising function of the school class, discussed in the next section, Parsons (1961) also develops an example of what has come to be known as (anomic) strain theory. In a culture (the example is specific to the US, though not limited to that case) in which achievement at school has become a defining standard of progress towards adulthood and therefore of the socialisation of the individual, this sets a bar, which for some becomes a barrier, differentiating the accomplished and therefore successfully socialised from the unaccomplished and, therefore in some manner, socially delinquent. For this reason, Parsons argues (ibid, pp.98-99) much of youth culture, particularly the disaffected youth, reflects an anti-intellectual stance, and pointedly states that this is not the result ‘of a general failure of the educational process’; rather:
Both the general upgrading process and the pressure to enhanced independence should be expected to increase strain on the lower, most marginal groups…those for whom adaptation to educational expectations at any level is difficult. As the acceptable minimum of educational qualification rises, persons near and below the margin will tend to be pushed into an attitude of repudiation of these expectations. Truancy and delinquency are ways of expressing this repudiation. Thus the very improvement of educational standards in the society at large may well be a major factor in the failure of the educational process for a growing number at the lower end of the status and ability distribution (ibid).
Parsons parallels at this point a principle within education known as differentiation-polarisation (Hargreaves, 1967; Lacey, 1970), which states that raising academic achievement, for example within a school, can only be bought at the price of alienating an increasing number of underperforming students, though Parsons applies his principle on a society-wide scale.
What Parsons has to say is of particular interest because he grounds educational attainment in the widespread acceptance of the value of ‘achievement’, at least in its intellectual context, but possibly also more widely. The corollary of that would be that resistance to academic achievement at school may also be reflected in the rejection of social achievement in general. Parsons’ perspective was overwhelmingly deductive. However, such a phenomenon was observed by Paul Willis in his research into disaffected youth in a school in the 1970s (Willis, 1977). Willis followed the progress of a group of youths (the ‘lads’) from working class backgrounds during the last two years of their schooling. They had consciously rejected the ethos of the school, of ‘middle-class’ attainment through academic achievement, and had accepted that their future was to be employed in doing physical labour or some menial job. There is a caveat to this, though; the lads had not necessarily rejected the values associated with success as such, but with the middle-class version of success which entailed working hard academically, accepting the discipline of school and the authority of teachers, in preparation for a life of mental work. Instead, they had chosen values which were concomitant with entering the workforce as manual workers, such as male solidarity, anti-intellectualism, freedom from authority and practical skills.
Resistance is a psychological process that, logically, must occur between the ‘awareness and acceptance’ (Schönpflug, 2001b) aspects of transmission, discussed in part 1. It is connected with moral autonomy and the self-generation of values (Grusec and Goodnow, 1994), as is apparent from Willis’ research, and will form an important part of the understanding of the process of values transmission.
We are undoubtedly social beings and thus interconnected, but since Descartes’ formulation of the basis of knowledge, cogito ergo sum, Western philosophy has been saddled with an epistemological dilemma (Kolakowski, 1988): if thinking (res cogitans) and being (res extens) are incommensurable, as Descartes maintained, what is it that the subject actually knows, and how can what we believe or claim we know be definitively authenticated? The tradition of Western philosophy since can be understood in large part as an attempt to breach this impasse. While solipsism is intuitively rejected by most people, it is inescapably entailed by the logic of the Cartesian dichotomy, with implications for our understanding of human sociality within philosophy. In the twentieth century there were three attempts to provide an intersubjective solution to this problem. By intersubjectivity is meant a shared realm of subjectivity, mirroring to some extent Teilhard de chardin’s (1955) anthropological notion of the noosphere. These three attempts, undertaken by Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Jurgen Habermas, proposed different versions of the same idea, each ultimately unsuccessful.
Husserl proposed a solution by returning to Descartes and recasting his idea. Descartes had characterised subjectivity as thinking substance; Husserl, drawing on Brentano’s concept of the intentionality of consciousness, proposed instead the formulation ego-cogito-cogitatum, the self is not merely thinking but has an object of thought (Husserl, 1931). In this manner, Husserl sought to dissolve the distinction between subject and object and bring them together as experience, and establish the experienced phenomena as the proper realm of scientific and philosophical inquiry. He believed that by establishing that we experience the world, including the social world, directly, rather than through theoretical structures, this was a sufficient basis to claim that experience was intersubjective (Thompson, 2005).
The phenomenological approach developed by Husserl dissolved the rigidity of the Cartesian polarisation of thinking and opened the way for a range of experience that had not hitherto been considered the proper subject of philosophical inquiry – such as social, religious and aesthetic experience – to now be taken into consideration. Indeed, the phenomenology of values has constituted an important part of the development of philosophical stance in this essay. Nevertheless, even Husserl’s supporters conceded that he had not resolved the epistemological dilemma of how to break out of the solipsistic subject, he had merely posited that experience was inherently intersubjective and not subjective (Thompson, 2005).
Heidegger took the radical step of recasting phenomenology from an ontological, rather than an epistemological, viewpoint. For Heidegger the proper realm of study was Being – existence – not consciousness, particularly the being of human being (Dasein), which was understood to be intrinsically social, being-in-the-world (Heidegger, 1962), from which we derive our sense of individuality only through a process of reflection after the fact (Thompson, 2005), a process the outcome of which determines whether we come to live our lives authentically or inauthentically. Accepting the fact that we are, perhaps primarily, social beings, does not entail intersubjectivity, however. The case for sociality being the outcome of reflective practice is more compelling, I think, than that for individuality.
Based on the theories of George Herbert Mead, Habermas (1984) developed a theory of intersubjectivity based neither on consciousness nor being, but on language. According to Habermas (ibid, p.390), ‘Mead elevated symbolically mediated interaction to the new paradigm of reason and based reason on the communicative relation between subjects, which is rooted in the mimetic act of role-taking, that is, in ego’s making his own the expectations that alter directs to him’, which is to say that reason (hence subjectivity) emerges from the sharing of and response to signs and sign acts. There have been a number of critiques of Habermas’ idea of intersubjectivity. Frie (1997) delivers what I think must be a fatal blow when he claims that recognition of the signs others make presupposes subjectivity; it is not the basis of subjectivity.
The idea of intersubjectivity is of interest because of the notion of ‘shared experience’ that underlies the concept of value that I outlined in an earlier article (posted in September 2015). That does not mean shared in any sense of mystical transfer, but in the ordinary sense of establishing similarity of experience through the medium of discourse and empathetic identification. I suspect that intersubjectivity is a philosophical cul-de-sac; moreover, I believe it violates the principle of moral autonomy which is fundamental to the acquisition of values.
Models of institutional transmission
Having looked at various aspects of social transmission, I want to focus on three models of institutional transmission. These are taken respectively from the work of three sociologists or social theorists, Talcott Parsons, Pierre Bourdieu and Basil Bernstein, specifically their work on education and schooling. The main reason for this focus is that the school provides an institutional nexus between the transmission of knowledge and values in the classroom – which is itself, in the teacher-pupil relationship, an institutional augmentation of the intergenerational transmission considered in part 1 – and the wider social world of cultural forces, economic pressures and government policies and legislation.
Parsons’ model of Socialisation
Fundamentally, Parsons looks at the school class as an agency of socialisation and selection. He focuses on the class rather than the whole school because ‘it is recognised both by the school system and by the individual pupil as the place where the ‘business’ of formal education actually takes place’ (Parsons, 1961, p. 85). He considers the school class to be ‘an agency through which individual personalities are trained to be motivationally and technically adequate to the performance of adult roles’ (ibid), though not the only such agency: others include the family, churches, training courses and clubs.
As well as socialisation, the school class also performs the function of selection. Parsons considers that the process already begins in the elementary school and occurs along ‘a single main axis of achievement’ (ibid, p.87). There are considered to be two components of this achievement. The first is the mastery of the academic, the learning of the skills needed to take up a role within the adult world, such as reading, writing and numeracy. The second is what Parsons characterises as ‘responsible citizenship’ of the school community, including ‘[s]uch things as respect for the teacher, consideration and co-operativeness in relation to fellow-pupils and ‘good work-habits’…leading on to capacity for ‘leadership’ and ‘initiative’’ (ibid, p. 91).
In this process the role of the teacher as vital. Firstly the teacher is a representative of the adult world into which the young are being socialised, but not just a representative but also an ‘agent’ of that world catalysing the process through imposing the expectations of achievement on the class (ibid, p. 91). Primary identification of the student with the teacher is almost invariably an indicator of progress on to college, while stronger identification with the peer group correlates strongly with failure to so progress:
“The bifurcation of the class on the basis of identification with teacher or peer group so strikingly corresponds with the bifurcation into college-goers and non-college-goers that it would be hard to avoid the hypothesis that this structural dichotomization in the school system is the primary source of the selective dichotomization” (ibid, p. 94).
Parsons summarises the process occurring within the school class in four points: 1) an emancipation of the child from primary emotional attachment to the family; 2) an internalisation of a level of societal values and norms that is a step higher than those he can learn from his family alone; 3) a differentiation of the school class in terms both of actual achievement and of differential valuation of achievement; and 4) a selection and allocation of [society’s] human resources relative to the adult role system. He sees as integral to this process the ‘recognition that it is fair to give differential rewards for different levels of achievement, so long as there has been fair access to opportunity’ (ibid, p. 96).
The Parsonian model of socialisation is a fairly complete model of institutional transmission. First, it differentiates between the transmission that occurs at school and that which occurs in the family. Then, although it is centred on the classroom, it deals with the micro and macro aspects of transmission. At the micro level the relationship between the teacher and pupil, roles and authority are all considered. It also tackles the issue of resistance and embeds that within the model. Furthermore, it looks beyond the school to the relationship between the teacher and parents and the wider societal norms and expectations. Parsons’ model works well with the single value of achievement. However, schools are expected to transmit a range of values that prepare pupils for adult life, so the model as a general model for values transmission is inadequate as it stands. Also, I think the model too readily legitimises failure within the system; a model for general value transmission must have more flexibility and adaptability built into it.
Bourdieu’s theory of Reproduction
According to Apple (1979, p.1):
“[E]ducation is not a neutral enterprise, …by the very nature of the institution, the educator [is] involved, whether he or she [is] conscious of it or not, in a political act…[I]n the last analysis educators [can] not fully separate their educational activity from the unequally responsive institutional arrangements and the forms of consciousness that dominate advanced industrial economies like our own”.
This leads to the phenomenon known as reproduction, in which education, perhaps unwittingly, participates in the perpetuation of macroscopic socio-cultural structural features of the society of which it is a part. Apple contrasts two theoretical stances on this. In one education is seen as a neutral mediator between individual consciousness and the larger society, in which the norms and conventions of a culture are ‘filtered down from the macro level of economic and political structures to the individual via work experience, educational processes and family socialization’ (MacDonald, 1977, in Apple, 1979, p.33). There is, though, a far more critical tradition of reproduction theories for which ‘schools latently recreate cultural and economic disparities, though this is certainly not what most school people intend at all’ (Apple, 1979, pp.33-34). It is this latter tradition to which Pierre Bourdieu belongs.
Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) advance the notion that education ‘reproduces’ the unequal distribution of privilege in society through the exercise of an arbitrary power in schools, derived from and mirroring the power of the state in society. He terms this power a ‘cultural arbitrary’ – arbitrary in two senses: first in that it hides its true nature under the guise of pedagogic language; secondly, that it claims a legitimacy for which the justification is non-existent. The wielding of this arbitrary power results in ‘symbolic violence’, an analogy with and ultimately resting upon the State’s monopoly of legitimate physical violence (ibid, p. xi-xii). They (ibid, p.6) suggest that teaching (‘pedagogic action’) is a form of this symbolic violence as it acts arbitrarily (in the senses given above) to perpetuate the inequalities of society:
“Every institutionalised educational system owes the specific characteristics of its structure and functioning to the fact that, by the means proper to the institution, it has to produce and reproduce the institutional conditions whose existence and persistence (self-reproduction of the system) are necessary both to the exercise of its essential function of inculcation and to the fulfilment of its function of reproducing a cultural arbitrary which it does not produce (cultural reproduction), the reproduction of which contributes to the reproduction of the relations between the groups or classes (social reproduction)” (ibid, p. 54).
At the classroom level this takes place through ‘pedagogic work, a process of inculcation which must last long enough to produce a durable training, i.e. a habitus, the product of the principle of internalisation of a cultural arbitrary capable of perpetuating itself after pedagogic action has ceased and thereby of perpetuating in practices the principles of the internalised arbitrary’ (ibid, p.67). Teachers are the agents of cultural reproduction at the frontline of education, inculcating practices in their students which perpetuate the inequalities of the social system.
There are critics of Bourdieu, who see in the concept of reproduction essentially a Marxist interpretation of education that does little more than emplace an immoveable ideological justification for carping at any and all educational initiatives. However, I think Bourdieu is right to question the role of power in the educational system. Parsons and Bourdieu both accept the central role of schools in transmitting the values of society and reproducing the inequalities of that society, although they judge the nature of this inequality differently and also evaluate it differently. Bourdieu provides an analysis of the power structures of schools as resting on the authority of the state and the legitimation of coercion. A theory of institutional value transmission must also account for some form of coercive power, or at least the possibility of coercion, lying at the basis of all education, including, one supposes, the education of values, even though the evidence from transmission studies, in part 1, indicates that it is the quality of the relationship between transmitter and recipient that lies at the base of successful transmission.
Bernstein’s theory of educational transmission
Bernstein’s sociology of education is based on his work in linguistics (Bernstein, 1971), particularly on the rules of meaning that he referred to as ‘codes’. He distinguishes two types of codes, restricted and elaborated. Restricted codes are ‘in-group’ language, based on common experience, closed off to outsiders. Restricted codes can express deeper meaning with fewer words, because of the familiarity of context. By contrast, elaborated codes contain more extended explanations in which meaning is made explicit. It is, by contrast with restricted code, open and universal; there is no insider dimension to it. Bernstein reckoned that restricted codes are intrinsic to industrial work, because of the specialised and limited nature of the work, and characterised by deep knowledge of a particular area of economic activity, which by its very nature is not conducive to elaborated codes. However, the ‘symbolic labour’ of the middle classes employs both restricted codes and elaborated codes. Children brought up in working class and middle-class families are socialised into these respective codes. Schooling operates largely on elaborated codes, being an open and expressive medium for the transmission of universal knowledge. It is, by its nature, therefore, biased in favour of middle-class children. Thus, through the idea of codes, Bernstein made a connection between language and social reproduction.
Bernstein’s concept of educational transmission is built around a second pair of ‘codes’, referred to as collection and integrated and how these interact with two other significant ideas, classification and frame (Bernstein, 1975). Classification applies to the type of curriculum operating in a school, but not the contents of the curriculum but the ‘degree of boundary maintenance between contents’ (ibid, p.87) in the curriculum, that is, the extent to which the various subjects are insulated from each other. Where these boundaries are strong Bernstein refers to a ‘collection code’, where weak, an ‘integrated code’. In a similar manner, ‘frame’ refers to ‘the strength of the boundary between what may be transmitted and what may not be transmitted in the pedagogical relationship’ (ibid, p.88). Where this boundary is strong and ‘sharp’, this constitutes a collection code, where weak and ‘blurred’ an integrated code (ibid).
Based on these structural definitions, Bernstein undertakes an interpretation of power distribution and control within educational institutions. Within curriculum he distinguishes between the more hierarchical relationships in collection codes, where knowledge is specialised and access is controlled and mediated through the expert, knowledge is treated as ‘esoteric’ and access to its ‘deep structure’ is only gained over many years, and integrated codes in which pupils have ‘increased discretion’ over the curriculum and pedagogy and access to the deep structure of knowledge from the beginning (ibid, pp. 101-102). Paradoxically, Bernstein claims that integrated codes require greater ideological conformity among the staff members, which can have an effect on recruitment. Moreover, integrated codes demand more of the pupil in terms of their expression of thoughts, feelings and values and this can instigate rebellion against open learning contexts just as occur with closed learning contexts (ibid, pp. 107-109).
There are clear structural motifs that run through Bernstein’s theories, and an analogy between the open and closed formats in language and education. Nevertheless, despite these motifs, I fail to see any deep connection between the linguistic theory and the educational theory. There are points of contact as where Bernstein states, ‘Educational knowledge is uncommonsense knowledge’ (ibid, p. 99), which suggests a link between elaborated codes and curriculum collection codes, as restricted codes are the commonsense knowledge of the ‘uneducated’ industrial classes. But there is also an underlying inconsistency; collection codes are the bounded forms of specialised insider knowledge handed down from experts to novices who have passed through a rite of passage; my sense is that this is morphologically closer to the restricted code than to the elaborated code with which it is identified.
Bernstein’s concept of closed and open boundary maintenance has some resonance with that of open and closed worlds in the theory of value outlined in the introduction of part 1. There is one further aspect of Bernstein’s theories which is of particular interest. He distinguishes between an instrumental order through which the transmission of ‘facts, procedures and judgments’ occurs and an expressive order ‘which controls the transmission of the beliefs and the moral system’ (ibid, pp. 54-55). The expressive order is that aspect of the school dealing with its ‘shared values’, that which gives the institution its cohesion. The expressive order is maintained through a high degree of ritualization. Ritualization itself takes two forms: consensual and differentiating. Consensual ritualization is that which applies equally to everyone, at least to all pupils and consists of things like school uniform and other school symbolism, traditions, assemblies and the systems of reward and punishment. Bernstein sees its essential function as shaping identity in relation to one of society’s dominant groups. Differentiating ritualization, by contrast is concerned with deepening respect. There are four aspects of differentiation: age differentiation or life stages which are expressed through various rites of passage; age relationship between junior and senior, between generations, expressed through respect; sex differentiation expressed through gender roles; and house differentiation expressed through loyalty (ibid, pp. 55-58). Bernstein here approaches what I would term a structural semiotics of the institution, through which important values – in this case, respect and loyalty – are transmitted through the school. This aspect of structural semiotics will play an important part in an integrated theory of institutional transmission in the third part of this article.
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