Analyzing the dynamic facets of school systems from the perspective of social systems theory
In modern times, various changes aimed at transforming education or improving education in schools have been initiated under the umbrella of institutional reform. I am interested in the processes and mechanisms behind these changes—how, for example, reform of school systems is realized—and this has been the focus of my research to date. Up to doctoral level, my research focused on Japan’s secondary school system, to which I applied Luhmann’s theory of social systems as an analytical framework. When we consider how systems work, we find that they do not always function how people intend them to. Systems can fail to change even though we want them to, or they can change when we do not want them to. Systems have dynamics of their own, and when I sought to analyze these dynamics, it was the theory of social systems that seemed to offer a useful perspective for analysis.
In previous research on education systems, analysis often focused on political and policy-making processes, the traditional, the conventional method being to trace the intentions of those involved. However, even if a certain system is realized, in the process of it becoming consolidated and operated, that system may be employed in a way that was unintended. To understand educational systems with these ideas in mind, I considered it necessary to analyze different dimensions from those addressed by previous research methodology, and this led me to social systems theory.
In Luhmann’s theory of social systems, each system is reproduced within that system itself. Unlike the conventional analysis, which focused what politicians were thinking, this perspective gave a clear view of the kinds of dynamics at play within the systems themselves. In my doctoral thesis, published in 2008 as Nihon ni okeru Tansengata Gakkō Taikei no Keisei Katei (The Process of Forming a Single-Track School System in Japan) (Tohoku University Press), I was able to clarify that “continuity” existed between pre-war/wartime education system reforms and post-war, democracy-based education system reforms, despite the aspect of “discontinuity” between these system reforms being emphasized. Although the topic of continuity between pre-war/wartime and post-war reform is addressed in various discussions, one of the achievements of this work is that it illuminates the dimension of educational systems, clearly elucidating this continuity.