On the Function of Status Representation in Education
Let me divide the functions of education roughly into social status representation and social status formation. What I call the function of status representation is similar to “symbolic value” proposed by Havighurst. Education in this case is an indicator of the statuses that individuals belong to and schools play a role to reproduce the structure of social stratification by transmitting culture to individuals that is compatible with their social statuses. Therefore education has a strong nature of “consumption.” On the other hand, the function of status formation corresponds to Havighurst's “functional value.” Education in this case is an indicator of certain levels and types of knowledge/functions that individuals acquire in schools and plays a role of upward mobility and status achievement. Therefore education has a strong nature of “investment.”
Long ago, Weber pointed out education has such a two-sided character. When Weber said, “Behind all the contemporary arguments on the foundation of educational institution, there lurks decisively the conflict between older type of ‘cultivated man’ and ‘specialist’.” he observed the tension between the education for transmitting the “characteristics of lifestyles that are deemed to be ‘cultivated’” and the education for “specialized training.” In other words, it is the struggle between the education focused on the function of status representation and the one focused on the function of status formation. However, subsequent studies on the functional patterns of education, especially the ones in Japan, have not given a legitimate position for such a Weberian perspective. The research interests there have mostly focused on the function of status formation in education and paid little attention to the function of status representation and its relation (involving conflict and struggle) to the function of status formation.
In the 1970s, R. Collins and others rediscovered the ignored Weberian perspective and shed new light on it. However, it has reached a point of saturation and needs a clue to a new breakthrough. These studies definitely have implications on the studies of educational qualification in Japan. Looking back on my own studies that are confined mostly to the function of status formation in education, I will describe the needs and possibilities to set a new research agenda with a perspective of status representation function.
When we change a view to the function of status representation in education, the first thing we see is a relation between education and social groups (“status groups”) that mediated the transmission and reproduction of specific culture (“status culture”).
Recent studies on the association between status groups and education in the 19th century Europe show that the institutionalization of formal education that progressed with industrialization reorganized and reinforced the linkage between education and status groups in the earlier society, rather than denied and abolished it. Schools (secondary and tertiary education in particular) at that time did not have a function of providing qualification based on specialized training as a way of upward mobility and status achievement. Rather, they had a function of status representation for the children of status groups (middle classes, to be specific), which already had certain positions or newly emerged, by providing education as “culture” (status culture) that is compatible with their statuses. The developmental process of formal education system in European countries can be explained as a process of placing the function of status formation against such a strong function of status representation and consolidating its dominance.
Speaking of the 19th century Japan, that kind of picture is extremely hard to find. Traditional status orders collapsed along with the correspondent education system. A collective reorganization of the society was set forward by the medium of formal education and new status groups seem to be created through it. Above all, it was the function of social status formation that schools after the “revolution” of old regimes by the Meiji Restoration were expected to perform and indeed they performed. It has become “common knowledge” that schools were placed and functioned as a legitimate route to upward social mobility (“risshin shusse”). Public tertiary schools, which put a high priority on specialized training, were placed at the core of formal education system as the route of upward mobility. Furthermore, the function of status formation by schooling was even more emphasized because it was the children of the fallen warrior class that exclusively used the formal education system.
Nevertheless, can the developmental process of public education after the Meiji era or what is called the “diploma society” be explained based solely on the function of status formation? Is the function of status representation and its conflict with the function of status formation ignorable?
To answer this question, empirical studies are needed regarding what social groups took the opportunity of new formal education and how they used it. However, little is investigated at present. Although a few studies have paid attention to the relationship between the warrior class and commoners, it is almost pointless to treat commoners, who accounted for more than 90% of the population, as a single group.
In the case of Japan, it is well known that industrialization and the institutionalization of public education began before the maturation of a “middle class,” which is deeply linked to the function of status representation by education. Various kinds of old classes in Japan such as wealthy farmers, wealthy merchants, or renowned people lacked an integration as a status group and did not possess own educational institutions to reproduce their status culture. If, however, we reconsider the process of institutionalization in public education not by focusing on primary or tertiary education in the “public” sector but on secondary or tertiary education in the “private” sector, even in the Japanese case we will see a strong expectation for the function of status representation by education as an important determinant of the developmental dynamics.
Although I have made a few attempts to examine the link between social groups and schools through the function of status representation, it has not gone beyond a tentative assumption and remained to be accomplished. In the future studies, the three following perspectives will be probably crucial to get to the core.
The first thing is the relationship between social groups and the generation/development of formal education in Japan. If we attach a high value to the function of status formation in education, only the public sector in education, which are “orthodox” routes to upward mobility, come at the fore. If, however, we look at the function of status representation, we understand the importance of the private sector, which are regarded as “unorthodox.” By elucidating who and how the private sector was used, our knowledge on the formation process of the diploma society in Japan will be further advanced. The second thing is the link between women and secondary/tertiary education. Despite the growing literature on educational qualification, it would be safe to say that its meaning for women has been almost neglected. It is a necessary consequence of the studies that confine their perspectives to the function of status formation in education. If the status representation function is considered, the meaning of educational qualification for women, who are not strongly associated with occupation, will emerge as an inevitable research agenda. The institutionalization of the secondary/tertiary education for women in Japan lagged behind those for men and began around the 1900s. The study on diploma society will never be complete unless the issue of educational qualification for women is put into perspective.
Third, to increase the empirical validity of educational qualification research, intensive studies on the structure of social mobility and intergenerational reproduction through formal education that focus on specific social groups or regions are crucial. Examples would include elites and education, knowledge workers and education, or educational qualification and modern organizations such as companies and the government. These are almost neglected perspectives in the prior research. If specific regions or social groups are considered, discussing both the function of status formation and status representation in education or educational qualification will become necessary and possible. One of the future paths of educational qualification research will be found in the accumulation of the empirical studies that limit the scope of objectives in that manner.