EDPS 360 (A2) Fall 2013

The Fetishism of Educational Credentials (and the secret thereof)

In Commentary on October 28, 2013 at 7:53 pm

(by Liz, Adam, Shaylene, & Alannah)

Karl Marx was born in 1818 to middle-class parents in Trier. He was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. He is the founder of the theory known as Marxism, which holds that societies advance through class struggle. He is the author of Capital Volume 1, which for our purpose discusses fetishism, which is the power an object is believed to hold over other objects. In particular, it discusses how society’s values determine the importance of commodities.

Looking at Fetishism in terms of the value or derived pleasure of an object, one may become entirely removed from the actual value or reality of that object.  There may be great social status placed on a very expensive wedding dress, and it can be said that wearing a beautiful dress would bring undeniable pleasure to the bride. But does a fancy wedding dress add value to the outcome of a marriage? (See David Harvey’s discussion of this topic on YouTube…Marx’s concept of fetishism…not wedding dresses)

Now let’s take this same fetishism and place it on education.  The value of a good education is held quite highly in most societies and is often attached to a higher title or status.  People work hard to get into University thinking that once they graduate they will have a fantastic job and make a lot of money.  This idealistic outcome is not the same as placing value on education for the purpose of expanding knowledge.  Educational institutions seem to perpetuate this ideal of school equalling success in society in order to stimulate enrollment.  The reality is that merely obtaining an education does not guarantee a career or success and, although it does open doors, most people do not realize that education is just a tool.  Here the true value of knowledge is replaced with the idealistic dreams of prestige and money.

Objects and services take on inherent values above and beyond their objective value. Education is one of, if not the single most important feature in social mobility, and due to this it arises as a positional good as people clamor to distinguish themselves from the pack. A cruel reality in our society is that once everyone has an education, the important distinguishing-factor that confers so many advantages becomes the standard. We can see this today in our societies, youth unemployment in Europe reaching 26 million(1 in 4 eligible workers under 25), many graduated with postsecondary degrees, despite there being 8 million less youth in Europe than there was in 1989 (Dorling, 2013). A degree itself no longer guarantees a job , so people are going above and beyond. The article about the kindergarten test prep shows this concept; when education is available for all, then students must be  exceptional or from private ,elite institutions (think Harvard, Princeton, etc) to maintain  education as a political good by differentiating themselves relative to the pack.

What power or value do humans attribute to objects in society? What forms does this ‘object’ take? Consider a person without an ‘education’. What is their demand in society? Are they valued, in terms of wage, at a similar status as those who have a formal education? Would they be able to find a ‘desirable’ job? If society did not place such high value on education, would you be here right now?


Dorling, D(August 2013). Generation Jobless: The worst youth employment crisis in European history should be blamed on its millionaires. Retrieved from http://www.newstatesman.com/economics/2013/08/generation-jobless-worst-youth-unemployment-crisis-european-history-should-be-blam

  1. I think it’s quite clear that we underestimate the value we tend to place on objects in our society. These objects most often take the form of simple material goods; goods that serve some purpose, or enable an individual to ‘rise above’ other citizens through some kind of mechanism that rears its ugly head in the development of a have/ have not relationship. Currency is one of these objects of which there is no innate value, yet we place the greatest value on this simple item. The same may be said of a university education.

    Is education invaluable? According to many it surely is, but the real value of education is not necessarily material, you may no be able to touch it, but instead this value is an inferred one. Education may or may not be valued, it really tends to depend on circumstance. In some areas of expertise it is experience that is held in high regard, not necessarily the institution of education. We, as well-educated individuals, will likely see firsthand that our education will put us in a much more favorable position than many others, and a lot of that has to do with the inferred value of the credentials that we possess. We have the degrees, those meaningless yet oh-so meaningful pieces of paper that position us in such a way as to have a competitive advantage over others seeking similar positions to ourselves. Society demands that the individuals in certain fields have those credentials to ensure the growth and survival of that very society. As with the field of education, future teachers must demonstrate their abilities both inside and outside the classroom before they are able to attain value for their trade. Your value only increases upon demonstrating your ability to meet the demands of society. So again, it comes down to having the ‘objects’ that society views as essential. Objects that may or may not have any real functioning value. Yes, I may have a piece of paper, but am I not limited in what I can do with that one, singular, glossy piece of paper…

  2. People attribute great power and value to objects in society. People are considered successful if they have the elite objects and have money. When you ask someone who they consider to be the most successful people in the world they will likely look at those who have the large beach house (or multiple houses) in the rich, famous districts, have multiple sports cars, a private jet and can afford anything they want. In fact society attributes so much power and value to objects, particularly money, that each year lists are produced of the top money earners, the most influential people, the highest achieving recording artists, etc.

    I think we would be healthier and happier individuals if we placed less emphasis on objects and placed less power and value into them. I think the most valuable things in life are attributes such as compassion, empathy, devotion, hard work, respect, love, etc. However living in a society that places high emphasis on the power and value of objects I must also work towards obtaining these objects in order to be able to take care of myself and establish a decent quality life. Thinking of education in particular if I want to obtain a good paying job that can allow me to have some comforts and meet my basic needs I must be educated. I could work at other jobs without education however the chances of me obtaining high monetary reward for my work will be very small. In order to be competitive in a society centered on economic competitiveness I too must place power and value on objects and work towards obtaining them.

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