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CIAO DATE: 10/00

Constructing and Deconstructing Japan: Japanese political economy and education

Kosuke Shimizu

International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000



This article is a part of a bigger project I am currently working on about the commonly know as the dialectic relationship between globalisation and regionalisation. Although there have been numerous literatures, which has scrutinised the relationship, I do not suppose there has been sufficient attention to the world described through the lenses other than provided by elite — nation-state based, market-centred, or concerned only with prevailing political order. My attention is not similar to them. Rather, I intend to look at contemporary world affairs through the lenses of those who have been regarded as " Others". Previously I have written some contemporary world issues through the focus of Japanese feminism, Koreans in Japan, local lives in the Asian Financial Crisis, and social movements.

The reasons why I started this project is twofold. First, it allows me to directly engage in some ongoing political struggles for justice. This is the most important aspect of my academic life. My concern in this sense somehow overlaps what Edward Said once stated:

There is no question in my mind that the intellectual belongs on the same side with the weak, and unrepresented. Robin Hood, some are likely to say. Yet it's not that simple a role, and therefore cannot be easily dismissed as just so much romantic idealism. At bottom, the intellectual in my sense of the word, is neither a pacifier nor a consensus-builder, but someone whose whole being is staked on a critical sense, a sense of being unwilling to accept easy formulas, or ready-made clichés, or the smooth, ever-so-accommodating confirmations of what the powerful or conventional have to say, and what they do. Not just passively unwilling, but actively willing to say so in public. (Said 1994:17)

Secondly, it gives us a wider view on contemporary world affairs. This means, of course, an advantage in epistemological and ontological implications, if I am to use postmodern technical terms.

Thus, I am trying, in a sense, the postmodernist thesis of "theory as practice", which has been mentioned not only by critical thinkers of IR, but also by some realists such as E.H. Carr.

This time, my attempt is to look at the Japanese political economy through the students’ lenses. By standing on the students’ side, instead of that of teachers, there are some perceivable political structures and mechanisms, which the educational institutions are supposed to perform. The most important in this sense is its function of identity-making.

The dialectic relationship between globalisation and regionalisation can be seen even on personal level in the form of economic liberalist orientation of internationalisation and patriotic sentiment based upon the territorial integrity. Ever since I started teaching at a university back in Japan, one particular thought has captured me. It is about the students’ approach to knowledge. They have never questioned or become critical of the prevailing nation-state system or capitalism, thus never doubted their identities and the ways of thinking constructed upon the systems. They are Japanese, whatever it means, because the nation-state system is given for them. At the same time, they are "economic men" because capitalism and neo-liberalism are presupposed to exist. These two characteristics of the students precisely represent the dialectic relationship between globalisation and particularisation in a way. The identity making processes on the basis of nation-state shows how the students have been made internalise the particular and local logic and ethics of the alleged traditional Japanese culture, which often oppose to the near universalised understanding of the world originated from the West. On the other hand the rational economic identity reveals the dominance of capitalist mode of production, in that all human being are, whether they are willing or not, forced to participate in the system of market exchange.

It seems to me that the unquestioned acceptance of the students of the prevailing nation-state system is due mainly to the nationalistic educational orientation. E.H. Carr once stated that

The...economic and social conditions that have made mass opinion supremely important in politics have also created instruments of unparalleled range and efficiency for moulding and directing it. The oldest, and still perhaps the most powerful, of these instruments is universal popular education. The state, which provides the education necessarily, determines its content. No state will allow its future citizens to imbibe in its schools teaching subversive of the principles on which it is based (Carr 1946:134).

It is not difficult to imagine that compulsory education performs a significant role in making identities. In terms of economic development, education has also been important. This is obviously an economic nationalist orientation. Coates (1999) writes

The first thing to note about the current enthusiasm for the use of education as an instrument of economic policy is that it is a very old enthusiasm, certainly a very old enthusiasm in somewhere like the UK, whose political class has been long aware of its economy’s diminishing international competitiveness and standing. In fact, the UK case,, these concerns go so far back that they even pre-date the Industrial Revolution and the resulting mid-Victorian period of world industrial supremacy. Educational historians have had no difficulty finding them in the writings of Adam Smith, or even earlier…(Coates 2000: 107-8)

On the other hand, students are forced to accept the logic of capitalist profit pursuit. For example, despite the revision of the Employment Equal Opportunity Law (EEOL) in 1999, female students are facing more difficulty in finding jobs than make students. However, there have been just a few discussions on this overt sexual discrimination. Rather, even some female students go on to say that there is no way to resist the prevailing capitalist logic of profit making.

In this article, I will try to normatively describe the dialectic relationship of universalisation of liberal political economic norm and particularisation of political lives grounded in nation-state, according to poststructuralism, which argues that theory is always practice. 1 My aim here is, by describing the prevalence of the contemporary discourses of universalisation of liberal political economy, and particularisation of nationalist identity making in Japan, to critically assess the consequences of the contemporary education. This inevitably requires us to reveal the fundamental reason of liberalism’s current political economic prevalence, at the same time the foundation of the elitist tendency of particularist logic, which is often mistakenly understood as the foundation of alleged contemporary counter movements to universalisation. The term modernity here does not refer to the concept of modernity in the way it is widely interpreted by the IR literature — synonymous to industrialisation and westernisation. The modernisation here means, instead, the social condition of domination by signs according to some French poststructuralists such as Baudrillard. As a result, my inquiry in this article is directed into the relationship between the liberal political economic logic and particularist orientation of local elits, and the contemporary domination of signs in education.

Therefore, I start by defining modernity as the domination of signs in the context of world affairs as a preliminary discussion. Secondly I will introduce a brief political history of the economics of Adam Smith and Alfred Marshall with which contemporary economists have permitted the dominant class to exploit everyday peoples’ lives. Thirdly I will describe how the modern technique of ranking — signification — and selectively adopted logic of liberal political economy by the Japanese hegemonic class creates a totalised and individualised identity, by focusing on Japanese education as an example. Fourthly I will analyse some possible counter-movements, which are threatening the prevailing system of signs.


Modernity and Education: a preliminary discussion

Modernity often refers to the historical period of the present, or to the modern social organisation of domination. In this article my understanding of modernity stands on this interpretation. In this reading, one of the features of modernity is its scientific orientation, especially mathematical technique that, presumably, leads to totalisation and fragmentation of social elements. Besides economic commodities, corporations, universities, students and workers, and even nation-states are all ranked and signified in the form of numbers according to given standards. This standardisation leads to the uniformity and stability of the world. This is the totalisation dimension to modern world affairs. On the other hand, people are forcibly individuated and separated from each other in the market-like competition for better rankings in terms of profit, production amount, university hierarchy, educational certificates, social status and the development index. What underlies this is the prevailing logic of perfect competition of liberal economics. This fragments individuals, and prevents them from organising united counter-hegemonic movements because colleagues are also competitors and, in another words, enemies.

Some postmodernists often conceive modernity as being a social condition constructed on a series of signs (Baudrillard 1983, Agger 1993). Here, signs dominate and determine the discourses of knowledge. This is because the "signifieds" are an "alibi", according to Baudrillard, which hide the production and reproduction processes of ontology, which signifiers used to determine what "real" existence looks like. In this reading, there is no such thing as "reality" in practice, but there is only a structure of signs. Discourses of Truth — especially positivism - claim that they are logically approaching to Truth, thus solving the problems "reality" involves. However, according to postmodernist understandings of the modern world, positivists are not approaching the Truth, but producing and reproducing it. This means what we see in world affairs are largely determined by how we see them. Ontology of world affairs is controlled and constituted by an epistemological stance, because our perceptions towards world affairs are also a part of the system of signs.

Thus, social structures and hierarchy are often strengthened through the process in which people obtain knowledge of a particular sort. In the case of a nation-state, the knowledge often emphasised in education is nationalism, whereas in the case of a society where global actors — UN, IMF, the Bank, MNCs — are the central institutions, the knowledge emphasised in education is globalism.

Here education whether domestic or international, is significant because educating (global) citizens of loyalty to the nation (the globe) creates and strengthens a homogeneous patriotic (global) population. Homogeneity among citizens, in turn, leads to cohesion and stability in the nation state (the globe). Cohesion and stability mean maintenance of political substantiality (world peace), sustainable national (global) development, and contentment among (global) citizens.

In realist readings of international political economy, maintaining state sovereignty and developing their economies consist of different sides of the same coin (Gilpin 1987). Fostering national identity, whether it is supposedly based upon its inherited culture and language or anew invented tradition, encourages citizens to be loyal and altruistic through education provided by state funded institutions. This, in turn, guarantees limitless supply of military personnel for defence strategies in the anarchical inter-state structure as well as workers for economic survival in the universe of relentless capital pursuit.

In the case of global political economy, production and reproduction of altruistic globalist citizens means less chances of terrorism or conflicts that may disturb the alleged peace of the world after the Cold War. By educating "global" citizens that the lives of global citizens are connected in some way, the hegemonic class prevents potential and unexpected anomalies from happening. On the other hand, endless provision of standardised globalist workers means more chances for further exploitation by MNCs. Here, trade unions protecting local workers rights are often said to be selfish and damaging the allegedly prevailing world economy.

Either in domestic or global context, educational institutions bare a very important mission in stabilising and developing society. They standardise students and citizens as future soldiers and labourers with respect to their capability of language, which promises effective military manoeuvre and efficient production. They force students and workers to internalise the prevailing values and norms — whether nationalism or globalism — with rationalist logic of political economy.

Japan’s educational system was, for example, founded mainly to meet these needs of the state. For example, the first clause of the Imperial University Edict of 1886 states:

The Imperial University shall have as its purpose instruction in the arts and sciences such as accords with the cardinal principles of the State and research into their deepest mysteries (Lorriman and Kenjo 1994: 39).

This statement connotes an obvious attempt of the state to convince students that the knowledge they were striving for should not be used for their own interest or self-realisation, but for the nation they belonged to. In the case of the "global community", educational institutions become apologist for norms and values of the UN, which reifies the concept of globalism:

The United Nations University shall be an international community of scholars, engaged in research, post-graduate training and dissemination of knowledge in furtherance of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations (United Nations University Charter).

Principles and norms of international education are those of the UN. The academic knowledge obtained there is supposed to be directed by the global community — the community based upon the UN:

The University shall disseminate the knowledge gained in its activities to the United Nations and its agencies, to scholars and to the public, in order to increase dynamic interaction in the world-wide community of learning and research (ibid).

This is not confined to the United Nations University, but to many private universities too. The image of one unified world penetrates local institutions. The president of a small university on the outskirts of Osaka, Japan, for example, states:

We live in a world of diverse cultures, each of which, in its own way, is trying to cope with ever more rapid technological and scientific advances and competing ideologies. Such a world offers awesome challenges as well as great opportunities for cooperation and interdependence, but only to those who are willing to work diligently at distinguishing and thereby ultimately understanding those cultural and ideological differences that otherwise separate the peoples of the world (Kansai Gaidai University Homepage, emphasis added).

Here is an assumption that mutual misunderstandings lead to conflict and separation of the world. Thus, the main aim of universities has become to produce "global citizens" who internalise the value and norms of globalism (See the picture in Appendix)

The roles educational institutions perform, therefore, are to create certain sorts of identities, which benefit those who are organising a funding the institutions. Sometimes, they are international organisations, other times, they are nation-states or business communities. In the following sections, I will take up the universalist and particularist phases of education separately.


Universalist Phase of Liberalist Logic of Political Economy

The most obvious example of using signs for stabilising social hierarchy can be found in discourses of economics. This is not a coincidence. In fact, the logic of totalisation through individuation has been based upon the logic of liberal economics. Therefore the globalisation process can be said to be the totalisation of liberal economics. First year economics courses teach how the game of modern economics is fair and just. However, there are some impediments to clear. For example, equal opportunity is the most important prerequisite of modern economics, which students will forget sooner or later after the final exam. In this narrative of economics, the more competition is guaranteed, the more efficient resource allocation is achieved. This is the most important assumption of the liberalist logic of economics. Liberalist logic of competition and efficiency, however, becomes extremely dangerous when it came to be seen to constitute the central norms and principles of social organisation. This is partly because liberal economics is separated from politics, and partly because liberal economics self-claimed to have proved that pursuit of self-interests would maximise the over-all welfare of society.

The separation of politics and economics, or states and markets 2 , probably originated with Adam Smith’s analysis of the market economy. In his era, governments, in order to gain and accumulate national power and wealth, tightly regulated economies. Smith claimed, against this position, that national power and wealth sought in this way would only bring devastating effects to the national economy. He argued that introduction of free and unrestricted exchange among individual economic actors best increased national wealth. He emphasised economic efficiency and the function of "God’s invisible hands", and this was the beginning of liberal economics as a discrete academic concern. In this position, economic power — wealth — is not something to worry about. Unlike political power, economic power is subject to the logic of market function, thus limited. Adam Smith wrote:

Wealth, as Mr Hobbes says, is power. But the person who either acquires, or succeeds to a great fortune, does not necessarily acquire or succeed to any political power, either civil or military. His fortune may, perhaps, afford him the means of acquiring both, but the mere possession of that fortune does not necessarily convey to him either. The power while that possession immediately and directly conveys to him, is the power of purchasing a certain command over all the labour, or ever all the produce of labour, which is then in the market (Adam Smith 1997: 134).

A person who obtained this economic power cannot abuse it, since it is limited by the function of market. In this context, the assumed models of human nature by liberal economics should be discussed in detail. In liberal economics, the model of human nature has two origins — Locke and Hobbes. Locke presumed that human nature was essentially harmonious. People were always well aware of their responsibility for society. Thus even minimising the size of government does not lead to chaos or social anomalies. Hobbes’s assumption of human nature, on the other hand, shows completely different picture to Locke’s. Hobbes saw human nature as harsh and extremely self-centred. Thus without strong government intervention, society would end up with a state of anarchy and disorder — war against all.

Liberal economics "rational economic man" model looks similar to Locke’s state of nature. However, this is not because people are supposed to be naturally harmonious or aware of their social responsibility. It is because the market disciplines and regulates economic actors. If a business attempts to hire a worker at a lower rate than the "actual wage" level, then they fail to find any workers who are willing to work for them. Therefore however the rich and powerful one might be, the decision making of employment is subject to the market logic, and it limits his/her abuse of power and wealth. Unemployment in this society is only possible when people are voluntarily unemployed.

However, under these circumstances, the society will supposedly obtain a harmonious and peaceful state even if economic actors behave in accordance with the human nature model articulated by Hobbes. This, in turn, allows the actors to behave in an extremely selfish manner. It gives permission to those who own capital to exploit and damage workers and those who are marginalised and disadvantaged in the game of economic exchange.

What distinguish economic liberalism from political liberalism are their approaches to social justice. Locke and Hobbes were well aware of the limitation of freedom. As a result they advocated the social contract theory, which grants certain power to the state institutions. A standard introductory textbook of political ideologies explains:

Liberals do not believe that a balanced and tolerant society will develop naturally out of the free actions of individuals and voluntary association. This is where liberals disagree with anarchists, who believe that both law and government are unnecessary. Liberals fear that free individuals may wish to exploit others, steal their property or even turn them into slaves if it is in their interests to do so. They may also break or ignore their contracts when it is to their advantage. The liberty of one person is always therefore in danger of becoming a licence to abuse another.....Our liberty requires that they are restrained from encroaching upon our freedom, and their liberty requires, in turn, that they are safeguarded from us (Heywood: 26).

With the separation of politics from economy and a new interpretation of freedom, economic liberalism established a new state of nature where a "war against all" condition leads to a harmonious consequence through the market function. There is no need for social contract theory or theory for government intervention. What is essential is a general theory of how market functions. More importantly however, this simple assumption of harmony became strengthened with the logic of science. The scientific orientation enforced economics to be a theory of quantity rather than quality. It further simplified political economic lives. The theory of value was transformed by the emergence of neo-classical economics at the awake of the 20th century into the theory of price, historic analysis of economy was replaced with the short term demand and supply relationship, and the theory of labour value was changed into mere cost-benefit analysis.

Many liberal philosophers, such as Friedrich von Hayek, argue that a market is a spontaneous social institution, rather than an artificially designed product 3 . In other words, liberalists assume that human beings are by nature economic animals, therefore markets arise spontaneously in order to satisfy human needs, and once it is in operation, they function in accordance with their own "internal logic". This argument goes further to say that markets have the ability to develop naturally without government intervention 4 . People naturally create markets, create money as a medium of exchange, and create other economic devices that facilitate and improve their lives, without political help.

Those who hold power in order to maintain their hegemonic status have used this situation of liberal political economy. Cox, a prominent critical thinker of international relations, said "theory is always for someone for some purpose". The domination of liberal logic of political economy throughout the whole world is precisely the case. In some cases, the logic has been abused and distorted so that it fits in particular circumstances. In the case of Japan, for example, liberal logic has been regarded as a mere theory of alleged equal opportunity, which has never existed in Japan. By utilising the logic of equal opportunity, those who maintain power have claimed to those who do not that the latter could achieve inter-class advance even if their cultural capital was not as developed as the hegemonic class’s.

In the world controlled by signs, the observers or theorists who enjoy the privileged position of the "authors" and "designers" of society are often those who inherited what Bourdieu calls "cultural capital" (Bourdieu 1998). The contemporary knowledge construction processes are carried out by only a small number of elite who was born in a certain privileged class, and their views are later reified into the lives of the non-privileged class through various institutions. The social stratification in modern society is reproduced in the way these contemporary institutions rank individuals. When one obtains the sign of rulers, then he/she obtains the right to dominate. Those who inherited cultural capital are more familiar with the customs, rules, and information of the ruling class. Therefore they have more access to prestigious rankings than those who did not inherit it. They are also more advantaged in terms of financial resource. This helps them to study at well equipped cram schools, which give them greater opportunities to enter high ranked universities. It is here that the educational assumption of equal opportunity among students is easily defeated. The power of signifiers maintains their prominence here. Once the sons and daughters of the elite have received the diplomas or BAs from the well-known universities, recommended through the ranking procedure, they also receive permission to rule society:

The presentation of diplomas, often the occasion for solemn ceremonies, is quite comparable with the dubbing of a knight. The conspicuously… technical function of formation, of transmission of a technical competence and selection of the most technically competent, conceals a social function, that is, the consecration of the statutory bearers of social competence, of the right to rule" (Bourdieu ibid: 22).


Japanese Education and Training: a particularist phase

As many theorists have already pointed out, Japan’s economic development has not been simply because of the adaptation and import of the liberal logic from the West. There has been a subtle conflict between the newly imported liberal logic and the local tradition of mercantilism. This became most evident when Japan tried to expose itself to the West at the Meiji Restoration. In order to keep tight control of the elite over people, the hegemonic class of Japan selectively hired some elements from the liberal logic and the traditional ideology 5 . In terms of liberalism, the main element employed by the Meiji Japanese leaders was the idea of equal opportunity, which allegedly guaranteed that everyone could get awarded according to his/her talent. However, the elite group did not go as far as providing total individual freedom in order to achieve the unified population, which was essential for the process of catching up with the West in terms of industrial capacity as well as people’s living standard. Instead of the western liberal ideas, they invented and employed some social ideas allegedly from the feudal society of Edo-tradition in order for the leaders to keep the power in their hands. This was where many of contemporary understandings of the supposed Japanese tradition were originated (Gluck 1998). The result of this mixture of the imported and historically retrieved concepts of social organization has been most obviously seen in the educational institutions.

In the current educational system in Japan, which Barthes calls the "Empire of Signs", to graduate from one of the best universities directly provides a ticket to obtain a secure, well paid, and lifetime employment. In order to study at one of the best universities in Japan, one has to be trained at one of the best high schools and follow the technique of answering standardised questions, which would be likely to be asked in entrance examinations of the universities. To do so one has to be trained at one of the best junior high schools. Surprisingly this process goes down to the kindergarten level 6 . In fact, this system is prevalent, evidenced, for example, by 40 percent of medical students at Tokyo University, which is known as the most prestigious university, being from the top four private high schools (Lorriman and Kenjo 1994: 47).

Many students do not care about the subjects of their study, but do the reputation of the universities, which they graduated from or are studying at. This means that the ranking becomes the most important criteria in selecting universities. Students’ concern is not with what they study or what sort of knowledge they can get out of universities, but where they study, how it is socially regarded — crave for better ranks, thus better signifier. As a result, they often apply for several departments in one university (Horio 1997: 75).

The Japanese education system is famous for its notorious competition among students on the basis of the market-like competition among individuals as well as educational institutions for better signifiers. This educational setting forces students to become commodities, parents to be consumers, universities to be competitive businesses, teachers to be instructors, and the curriculum to be a set of bureaucratic requirements. All of them are institutionalised and mechanised to stimulate the consumption of, and demand for, education among consumers. None of them are related to the quality, principle or ethics of education. They are exclusively concerned with their rankings and social status.

Behind the logic of harsh competition among students, there is, as I mentioned above, an imported logic of liberal economics. While students compete each other, their competition will supposedly achieve the most desirable and efficient allocation of resources. More talented students will engage in more difficult and specialised jobs while the rest will work as un-skilled labour. This is supposedly the equilibrium, which maximises the economic welfare of the society as a whole. It is this moment when the Hobbesian state of nature is justified and even regarded as favourable.

The ranking procedure not only forces individuals to internalise the values and norms of the nationalist/patriotic logic through the liberal economic logic, it also promotes the fragmentation of them. The students in the case of education are competitors and fighters against the rest. They have to obtain higher social reputation — in Japan’s case, an enrolment in higher ranked universities and getting jobs at companies with a good reputation, means gaining a victory over the others. This prevents students from forming united movements among them, which are essential for protecting students’ rights. It is rare that students organise protests and demonstration in Japanese universities for welfare of all students. If they protest against the main body of their university, students’ business careers after graduation will be put in jeopardy or uncertain.

This process is not simply forced to individuals, but voluntarily practiced by them in the name of consumption. While it is represented by production and reproduction of the identity of "rational economic man" in the production dimension, it is also represented by consumption of money for signs. As the production and reproduction processes individuate people, the consumption process also fragments them. Adorno and Horkheimer wrote:

Men travel on rubber tires in complete isolation from each other. The conversations in their vehicles are always identical and regulated by practical interests. The families in specific income brackets spend the same percentage on housing, movie, and cigarettes as the statistics vehicle. When visitors meet on Sundays or holidays in restaurants whose menus and rooms are identical at the different price levels, they have become increasingly similar with their increasing isolation (Adorno and Horkheimer, 221-2).

This is also the case in the Japanese education. Students having obtained relatively better ranks enter high ranked universities. However, they receive more or less the same education. Despite the similarity of educational contents in different universities, the students can enjoy lives with relatively higher income and better standards after their graduation. This fragments and isolates students, and many of them get spoiled and start to think that their lives have been already set at the first year of their university period.

Production and consumption become the forces of totalisation and fragmentation in this way. The dialectics of globalisation in this context occurred not simply because of the end of the Cold War, but also, and more importantly, because of the embedded liberal logic of economics in society, and of modernity of signs, which is most evidently reified in the educational institutions. It is because of the permission to exploit neo-liberal economics issued to the hegemonic class, and because of the linguistic process in which signifiers determine the nature of the signifieds.


Counter Hegemonic Movements

The modern process of imposing homogeneity onto individuals by the hegemonic class, however, has an internal logic towards collapse. This is especially so when the ruling logic is based upon masculinist logic. As I have argued, modernity is dominated and controlled by signs, and characterised by the imposition of them onto individual citizens. This means that it reflects the logic of producers of signs into the socio-political hierarchy, and prevent the emancipatory function of individuals. In other words, it marginalises the perception of those who are not familiar with the principles and laws of the dominant class. If it marginalises the perception of "other half" of the population — women, for example, then it results in promoting massive counter hegemonic movements.

In terms of Japanese social hierarchy, the most problematic dimension to its stability is the decreasing birth rate and the aging population. Now the growth rate of population is slowing down, and it is estimated that the growth rate will go down to, or at least close to, zero by the year 2015. At the same time, however, the percentage of the older population (over 65) in the total population will increase from 7.9 per cent in 1975 to 18 per cent in 2015 (Minami 1986: 426).

This creates an extremely difficult problem for the Japanese economy. Signs in the social structure are mainly articulated for men, in other words signifiers are specifically producing and reproducing the society for men as signifieds. This signification processes has not been counting women as potential bearer of ranks in the game. This supposedly requires women to be transformed into some sort of masculine form in order to take part in the men’s game for signs and ranks. Women’s reaction to this domination of signs has been somehow unexpected, however. Rather than simply jumping into the game of signs, they have started an unorganised revolutionary and silent counter movement by stopping reproducing the population. This is now choking the game of signs as the entire logic of the game was unintentionally taking for granted women’s reproduction process of the population. In other words, it was relying on the patriarchal social condition.

Women have been excluded from the group of signified in the competition for ranks, and they have been defined with "bodies" while men have "minds" in the signification structure of sex. If the ranking game of signs is entirely a mind game, and also a game for knowledge, then those who are assigned "bodies" are often neglected and marginalised.

Women have been largely given a peripheral existence in Japanese political economy too. They were seen as mere housewives or marginal workers who hardly contribute to the market. Because they have not been regarded as participants in market, they have not been supposed to be carriers of signs in the logic of economics. They have never been regarded as main agents or having managerial potential. Despite the recent introduction of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL), women’s social condition or status have never shown a drastic change. They have been regarded as peripheral members even in trade unions.

On some occasions of industrial relations, when women participate in market activities, they become the main targets of business exploitation, to be controlled and tamed by the rational minds (see for example, Shimizu 1998: chapter 6). Women are supposedly less unionised, and their salaries are made lower than men because of the ranks they are assigned according to patriarchal perception embedded in the current structure of signs. Where the society functions according to the market of signs, female workers’ promotion is slower than men because of lower signifiers, bodies, they are forced to carry. In order to get over it, women are forced to work harder than men in order to gain equivalent signs to them.

This business condition unintentionally resulted in the imposition of two choices for women who have the desire to get promoted and to have children. Firstly whether to give up bearing children in order to work longer than men, or secondly simply to quit their jobs to give birth and give up their careers. The result has been that many women have given up bearing children and have continued to pursue their careers. This is the cause of the decreasing birth rate.

However, the choice women have consciously made was not the one the hegemonic class prefered. The smaller population Japan has, the fewer labourers there are in the market. This is a simple logic. Because of the nationalist orientation of the hegemonic class, opening the labour market to foreign workers is not on the list of their possible policies. Under this circumstance, the only possible choice they can make is simply to encourage women to have children. There have been several attempts made by the hegemonic class in this regard, none of them were successful. As a result, the birth rate in 1998 is as low as 1.38, which was the lowest in the Japanese history.

The decline in the birth rate has direct influence on educational institutions, especially on universities. The fewer students registered in a university, the more budget constraint the university has to bear. Logic underlying the declining birth rate is, however, not as simply as this. As the main financial resource of private universities is the examination fee for entrance examination, the impact on university budget is multiplied. This is because there used to be a significant number of students who took several university exams in order to make sure they can get at least one ticket to some universities under tough competition, but there are fewer and fewer students of this sort due mainly to the less competitive character of the recent entrance examination. In some universities cases, they do not even have to take the exams to register. What they are supposed to do is simply to take an interview, by which almost no one will fail. To attract students, universities are now changing their curriculum. Whether it is getting better or worse, education in Japan cannot be able to stay the same as it has been in the past. In order to do so, they listen to students’ opinions and demands in some case. In this sense, university education may be said to be moving towards more democratic direction at least under some circumstances 7 .



As I described in this article, it is possible to see the tendency of totalisation and fragmentation of globalisation as having been mainly driven by the prevalence of liberal political economic narrative and patriotic logic. Educational institutions supporting the idea of "global citizens" reinforce and encourage the idea of the borderless world, while they force students to be altruistic in order for their home country. This results in liberal political economic hegemony that, in turn, supports the free market ideology and successive profits of MNCs, at the same time its engenders localised particularism. Here the educational institutions utilise the modern technique of ranking in order to force students internalise the prevailing norms and values

In the case of Japanese education, ranking procedure is very important. By ranking students, the hegemonic power in Japan has succeeded in letting students internalise the norms of the prevailing social hierarchy of its tradition. This in turn resulted in problems in schools cause by those who refused to compromise for the norms. They are regarded as deviants and anomalies, which should be disciplined. However, the marginalised people sometimes organised movements of resistance, and gave tremendous impact on Japanese society. Women’s silent resistance, stopping bearing babies, is probably the best example.

Japanese women’s resistance has not been explicit or direct, but it has been very subtle and gradual. This movement is now causing a structural problem, which the Japanese economy found extremely difficult to deal with. It is a new type of movement in a sense it is very subtle and unnoticeable. Its impact on the ruling class is extraordinary. I believe this is a new development for the study of political economy, of which the traditional approaches have been mainly concerned only with explicit forms of power relations.



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Note 1: In the poststructuralist understanding of social construction, an author of narrative can never be detached from the society by any means, although the detachment has been the core assumption of positivism which allegedly provides opportunities for him/her of value neutral comprehension of society on the basis of modernist social theories of knowledge. In this sense, any attempt of social inquiry is destined to fail to achieve the value neutrality in their theories. Because there is no value neutrality in any inquiry into politico-social dimension to world affairs according to poststructuralism, there is no possibility for descriptive arguments. They are logically all normative whether authors are aware or unaware of it. Taking this position, my argument in the present article is consciously normative, while I attempt to describe the relationship between the dialectic relationship of totalisation and fragmentation, and modernity. Back.

Note 2: The prevailing dichotomy of state/market developed by Gilpin (1987) is somewhat misleading, which is why Lorraine Eden uses the dichotomy state/firm instead. See Lorraine Eden (1993), "Bringing the Firm Back In: multinationals in international political economy" in Lorraine Eden and Evan Potter, eds., Multinationals in the Global Political Economy, St.Martin's Press, New York, p.26. Back.

Note 3: Stephen Gill and David Law (1988), op.cit., p.42. Back.

Note 4: Robert Gilpin (1987), The Political Economy of International Relations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p.27. Back.

Note 5: It is commonly know as Wakon Yosai (Japanese soul and Western technology). Back.

Note 6: Recently, there has been an incident that a mother of a two year child murdered another two year old girl, because of the over-heated educational competition (Asahi News Paper, 1999-11-27) Back.

Note 7: One of the most interesting aspects in this regard is a web site called "University Ranking". On this page students report what they have seen in universities they are studying at, in order to provide sufficient information for those who are on the process of selecting universities. See "University Ranking" at Back.