‘A strange craving to be motivated': A schizoanalysis of human capital's affective intensities

Year: 2013

Author: Sellar, Sam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Commenting on control societies a little over two decades ago, Deleuze (1995, p.182) observed that young people were exhibiting ‘a strange craving to be motivated.' This prescient aside foreshadowed dramatic changes in the global education policy landscape during the mid-1990s, when the OECD released its now highly influential policy positions on lifelong learning and knowledge-based economies. More recently, the OECD (2002) has argued for widening the conception of human capital to include personality traits, particularly those associated with motivation. In the contemporary Australian education policy context, the Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians ratified the goal of producing motivated and optimistic learners, while higher education policy now focuses on raising young people's aspirations.
Early work on human capital insisted on the distinction between productive capacities and non-cognitive personality traits, but economists have been paying increasing attention to relationships between them and the OECD now seeks to quantify personal qualities as part of 'wider' human capital through its international skills assessment programs. Yet, the economic literature acknowledges that traits which increase the value of human capital are ‘irreducibly heterogenous' (Bowles, Gintis and Osbourne 2001) and context dependent, making it difficult to identify and measure a common factor across individuals. Developing a critical understanding of this trend in education policy and assessment requires concepts that are adequate to the heterogeneity of intensities being measured as part of human capital.
In this paper I argue that Deleuze's Spinozist conception of affect and the literature on affective labour (e.g. Hardt 1999) can provide an alternative perspective on ‘wider' conceptions of human capital. In particular, a schizoanalytic approach opens up the task of mapping the multiple desiring-machines that policy texts reductively describe as unitary traits such as motivation or aspiration. As a result, the problem of ‘irreducible heterogeneity' that economists encounter when trying to isolate and measure personal qualities can be brought into clearer focus. I then also hope to show, through analysis of policy documents and recent research literature on human capital, how certain affects are becoming more visible as ‘objects of power' (Anderson 2010) and are being targeted as sites for new mechanisms of control in economic and education policy.
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