Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law Stanford University


From Citizen to Person? Rethinking Education as Incorporation

Working Paper

Francisco Ramirez - Stanford University

Issued by
CDDRL Working Papers, April 2006

Comparative educational research has influenced the development of the world society perspective as surely as the world society perspective has shaped research directions in comparative education. Rooted in neoinstitutional ideas emphasizing the extent to which actors and activities are profoundly constructed and influenced by their environments, the world society perspective imagines world models or blueprints of progress and justice that give rise to and increasingly standardize nation-states,

organizations, and individuals. The role of education and educationally certified professionals in the overall process of standardization is a core premise in this perspective and a recurring feature of comparative educational research motivated by this perspective. The universalistic character of these models and the formal rationality associated with them facilitates standardization, in aspiration and policy, if not always in practice. Simply put, what all of this means is that we increasingly live in a world in

which there are shared standards about who is a person, what constitutes an organization, and what does a nation-state look like. Furthermore, there is a sense that those entities not in the know can learn to become and act like proper nation-states, organizations, and individuals. How else can one explain the proliferation of expertise roaming the world with the latest word on learning to learn, benchmarking, accountability, transparency, democracy, civil society and other virtues de jour!

Much of the empirical research which situated the world society perspective on the comparative education map is well known and has been summarized elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the two global trends that serve as corner stones of the world society research edifice are the enormous expansion of educational enrollments at all levels and the expanded scope of the aims and uses of education and the plethora of educational organizations that embody and elaborate these purposes. Ours is truly a world certificational society. There are of course alternative ways of accounting for the rise and impact of the world certification society. And, these in turn have raised critiques of the world society perspective, critiques often centering on issues of agency and power. These critiques are not without merit, but unfortunately, they often lead to exaggerated and culture free understandings of agency and to oversimplified notions of power cum coercion which underestimate the authority and influence of world cultural models.

In this paper I first briefly reiterate some of the main ideas of the world society perspective and explore its roots in neo-institutional theories. Next, I identify a direction of future theorizing and research which both challenges and extends the world society perspective and comparative education research. I first propose to distinguish between institutionalized domains and contested terrains. A clearer understanding of the former is enhanced by the explicit recognition of the latter. Thirdly, I apply this distinction to the question of the role of education in the political incorporation process. The transformation of the masses into citizens via mass schooling is an established theme in comparative political sociology, which has strongly influenced key strands of world society driven research. Here I emphasize a second distinction, one between earlier issues of exclusion versus inclusion and current issues regarding the terms of

inclusion. Lastly, I reflect on the changing character of the polity to which one is offered membership in the education based incorporation process. Much of the literature continues to privilege the nation-state and national citizenship. But there is also an emerging literature on human rights and even human rights education. So, I conclude by distinguishing between national citizenship and world or transnational citizenship.