On the Function of Status Representation in Education
The function of status representation has a significance to accurately understand contemporary problems, as well as the developmental process of diploma society.
As noted above, the educational system in industrialized societies have developed with the conflicts among social groups over the function of status formation and status representation by education, in which the dominance of the former over the latter has been pursued. The process that M. Young called “The Rise of the Meritocracy” was at the same time the process of quantitative expansion and equalization of educational opportunity. It should be noted, however, that this process did not weaken or deny the function of status representation by education/educational qualification but worked in the direction of reinforcing it. Stated differently, as the expansion and equalization of educational opportunity progressed, on the flip side they generated a new demand for the education with a nature of status representation.
It is true that with the expansion and equalization of educational opportunity, the function of status representation (or even the function of status formation) by education/educational qualification declines overall. Not to mention secondary education, even the diploma of tertiary education by itself has become insufficient to be the representation of a social status (furthermore, insufficient to be a means of status achievement). It does not necessarily mean, however, that the demand for the education of status representation has also disappeared. A society with increased equality of educational opportunity is at the same time the one in which income and consumption are more equalized and the structures of social classes/groups are less visible. In that kind of society, individuals even more intensify the expectation and demand for educational qualification as a means of status representation, rather than cool them down. As a solution to this paradox, a new stratification emerges within educational qualification and replaces the one that corresponds to previous educational system.
Known as “schooling history,” the new differentiation does not occur only in relation to the function of status representation but also to the function of status formation. In Japan, where the inequality of status formation function between schools was large before the war, the importance of schooling history has been more than anything discussed in relation to it. However, the hierarchy of schooling history with respect to status formation function and that concerning status representation function never overlap completely. It can be said that as the popularization and expansion of education progresses, the discrepancy becomes greater. The reason is that while the schooling history in status formation function is a means of attaining a higher status compared to other people, the one in status representation function is a means of indicating a higher status. It is sufficient so long as it is a “sign of social differentiation,” in the words of J. Baudrillard.
As an indicator of the strength in status formation function, competitiveness of entrance exam is important particularly in Japan. It is also important in relation to status representation function. In the case of status representation function, however, the difference in “school culture,” involving overt and hidden curricula has a considerable meaning. In other words, schools are ranked and chosen according to the suitable culture to represent the difference of social status. It is needless to repeat that private schools, rather than public ones have the school culture as a “sign of representing differentiation” in a more vivid form. For this reason, it is highly symbolic that the United States and Japan, which have experienced the greatest equalization and popularization of educational opportunity, have seen a boom in private education in primary and secondary education, not to mention in higher education.
Let me introduce a university catalog that was published and attracted public attention in the 1978 U.S. It is a symbolic example of how the demand of education as a means of status representation and a sign of differentiation representation has risen in a society where educational opportunities have progressed. The uniqueness of the catalog is that it emphasizes the aspect of status representation more than anything. Universities are ordered and classified by the number of students/graduates whose parents appear in the Who’s Who in America. In addition, it includes representation rates of the elite or parents’ income, as well as the levels of academic performance among enrolled students and entry rates in graduate schools. By doing this, it aims to provide high school students that expect to go to college and their parents with necessary information to choose a one that is compatible with their social status. Japan has not a seen a university catalog like that. However, a phenomenon has been observed in all the stages of education where more and more people in the “upper” or “upper-middle” class attach similar or even greater importance to school culture in the sense of differentiation representation compared to admission selectivity. In the language of Baudrillard, educational qualification “would be meaningless when it becomes universal.” In that situation, “a social hierarchy has a more subtle basis.” In other words, it is shaped around the “way of consuming” the quality of education, rather than the quantity. The questions on the diploma society cannot be understood without investigating these kinds of expectation and demand for education.
Finally, let me emphasize that the status representation function by education/educational qualification in the contemporary society should not be separated and polarized from the status formation function but should be related and integrated with it. This perspective has been sharply pointed out by labor economists such as I. Berg, L. Thurow or S. Bowles, who were mostly interested in the status formation function by education. The theory of “cultural capital” by P. Bourdieu also suggests that the functional patterns of education and educational qualification in the contemporary society cannot be understood without integrating the status formation function and representation function.
One of the reasons why I have stressed the significance of the status representation function is to call attention to the fact that empirical studies have markedly lagged in that area of education/educational qualification (particularly in Japan). What the educational qualification research currently needs is that kind of empirical studies. Moreover, it is needless to repeat that the research requires a theoretical framework to integrate the status formation function and representation function and in-depth studies based on it.