Empirical Study of the Symbolic Function of Law: The Legal Treatment of Koreans in Japan

By Yong Ryung Lee.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Civic and Political Studies

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This paper aims to theoretically elucidate that humans create social differentiation in their social world by using symbols and to empirically verify the symbolic effects that the power of new symbols allows humans to transcend social boundaries. In contemporary sociology, symbolism has been, at best, peripheral, and sociologists have failed to view the law as a set of symbols. However, Kenneth Burke is quite aware of the power of the symbolic. According to Burke’s symbolism, symbols merge inevitably in the human mind, and we cannot have unmediated access to the objective world. Burke also clarifies how laws create the social bases that help legitimize and maintain inequality. Drawing on Burke’s symbolism, this study focuses on a unique phenomenon in Japan to verify the symbolic effect of law: the ratio of Korean residents is positively associated with Japanese pro-foreign attitudes in spite of the fact that other ethnic groups do not have any significant positive impact on those attitudes. Conducting an intensive questionnaire survey to 348 municipalities, the results of multilevel analysis revealed what affects the respondents’ pro-foreign attitudes is not the size of Koreans, but well-established social systems for foreigners, which is provided by the laws. In comparison to the effects of other municipal activities that work outside the legal framework, the results disclosed that unless an appropriate political setting, which legitimizes a set of values, has been created, the residents’ pro-foreign attitudes cannot be affected by the municipal policy, no matter how strong or widespread it may be. The results proved that the power of new symbols enables us to transcend social boundaries by offering new mechanisms of commensuration.

Keywords: Symbolic Function of Law, Dialectical Knowledge, Immigration Policy, Koreans in Japan, Multilevel Analysis

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Civic and Political Studies, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.13-25. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 249.341KB).

Yong Ryung Lee

Doctoral Candidate, Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, Suita, Osaka, Japan

Yong Ryung Lee is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at Osaka University, Japan. She holds an MA in International Public Policy from Osaka University. She is currently working towards her PhD. Her dissertation will examine the influence of social institutions which are thought as guidelines for human action or appropriate behavior in society. Her study has encompassed fundamental factors from social norms to political structures, employing both quantitative and qualitative methods.