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Managing Subjectivity: Neoliberalism, Human Capital and Empowerment

  • Paltrinieri, Luca1
  • 1 University of Rennes 1, Rennes, France , Rennes (France)
Published Article
Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Publication Date
Oct 12, 2017
DOI: 10.1007/s40647-017-0200-0
Springer Nature


In this paper, I suggest that, even more than the state, capitalist enterprise is the most influential institution of neoliberalism, both for the effect it conveys in terms of management in public institutions (New Public Management) and its influence on the subjectivity of neoliberal individuals. However, one could stress, from the perspective of economic theory of the firm, the neoliberal transformations of the capitalist enterprises itself. Two transformations that are taking place from the 1980s seem particularly important. The first is the firm’s transformation in a “nexus of contracts” as claimed by the agency theory of Jensen and Meckling that describe and enable the current financialization of the economy. The second is the transformation of organisations in a “nexus of skills” as claimed by the cognitive paradigm of the firm that apply to the company economic reasoning in terms of “human capital”. I then examine the effects on neoliberal subjectivation of these two major changes, from the labour point of view. First, the neoliberal subject imagines, describes and manages itself as the subject of investment in “human capital”. Second, the disappearance of traditional employment contract corresponds to the emergence and intensification of another form of contract, the “psychological contract”, which tends to become a major form of relationship-employed but also a model for relationships between individuals. Finally, lifelong learning is becoming the major form of empowerment of employees, but also a “lifestyle” based on the appreciation of one’s own human capital and the infinite task of perfecting oneself to match up our “skills portfolio” with the labour market. These transformations of neoliberal subjectivity have costs that can be summarised by the widespread phenomena of burn out, but also the birth of a new form of racism, based on “quality” of human capital (skills, abilities, capabilities).

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