EDEV_505 Week 9_2

If I may join in this discussion about meritocracy and add to P’s observations that views on meritocracy differ around the world.

You write;

“Also the “relationship” is famous in Chinese culture. The people who have a relationship with the current staff, especially leaders, will have priority to be hired. This, again, invalidates meritocracy, fairness and justice.” (Liu, 2106)

Please accept this comment as an example of theory. There are many, many cases where nepotism and other forms of favouritism are rife. Allen (2014) calls this an example of “benign violence”. This is similar to what happens in Japan, but I’d like to look at the other values at stake that may have more social weight than the perception of a democratic process. I write ‘perception’ in italics because no process is entirely democratic if the final arbitration rests on the will of a few, as in the case of employment decisions. And, as Chomsky has lucidly argued, modern democracy is a misnomer, a subtle manoeuvring to avoid the political reality of the plutocracy (McGilvary, 2005).

Dahrendorf (2006) remarks that capitalism and democracy are related but have different purposes: economics aims to increase wealth and efficiency in production; politics attempts to understand and control the needs and wills of the people. Further, economics leads to better provisions, and politics deals with entitlements (p. 7). Dahrendorf notes that these “Provisions and entitlements overlap and impinge on each other” (p. 7). He builds an argument resting on the recognition that capitalism and democracy need to be understood separately as elements that generate “conflicting forces of openness in a world of uncertainty” (p. 7). I use Dahrendorf here to counter a simplistic connection between the notions of meritocracy and democratic values without admitting the complexity of the social systems in which these values are to be located. Chapter three of Allen’s (2014) Benign Violence is a thinly disguised vitriolic attack on the notion of meritocracy (a word, I have just noticed contains an anagram of ‘metric’). Allen critiques much of present-day academia’s focus on how ability is measured, but more pointedly, on how wider societal forces use the apparent sense of democracy contained in meritocracy as a regulation mechanism. If the use of meritocracy bothers you, as it does me, I would highly recommend this book as an antidote against triteness.

To state the arguments here more directly, I rally against the use of terms such as meritocracy as mere platitudes if the underlying systems that uphold them are not considered. The tensions (i.e. pushes and pulls different values—and those who hold them) inherent in provisions and entitlements point to a complex relationship in modern education. The Japanese reticence about written statements is not a reflection of their lack of understanding of Western contract law but more of a measured, hence deliberate, response to the limitations of a supposedly open system of institutional government.

A concrete example. The nature of relationships in Confucian countries is, as you say, very important. If a professor supports the employment of new teacher, the conduct of the new teacher will reflect on the professor. It is incumbent on that professor to ensure that the person he or she supports is the very best for the position. Without knowing the new teacher personally, it becomes difficult to support them. In this way, accountability and transparency rest on the professor’s reputation are regulated in this manner in the Japanese system, although I doubt if a UK university would interpret it in this way. However, this system is closer to Rovosky’s (1990) idea that the university is the faculty.


Allen, A. (2014). Benign Violence: Education in and beyond the Age of Reason. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.doi:10.1057/9781137272867

Dahrendorf, R. (2006). by Lord Dahrendorf. London: Hansard Society.

Liu, L. (2016, June 7). RE: Creating Organisational Change through Values Alignment [forum post]. Message posted tohttps://elearning.uol.ohecampus.com/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?action=list_messages&forum_id=_1119840_1

McGilvray, J. (2005). The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky. Cambridge: CUP.

Rovosky, H. (1990). The University: An Owner’s Manual. New York: W W W Norton and Company INC.


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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