Michel Feher: The Journey to Self-Esteem: How Human Capital Blossoms

From The Neoliberal Self: Lectures, Interviews, Art

French philosopher Michel Feher (founding editor and publisher of Zone Books) recently delivered a riveting eight-part lecture series titled “The Age of Appreciation: Lectures on the Neoliberal Condition,” at Goldsmiths, University of London. In the fourth lecture, “The Journey to Self-Esteem: How Human Capital Blossoms,” Feher presents what he calls the “main character” of the series, human capital, chronicling its advent and tracing transformations in its subjectivizing power. Feher argues that the subject that has emerged in the wake of capitalism’s financial turn has undergone a shift from entrepreneurial self (a “private enterprise” who optimizes self-interest and satisfaction) to invested self (who seeks to acquire resources that are valued by the market). For Feher, today’s neoliberal subject is concerned less with making money than with enhancing its credit.

In this lecture series, Feher explores in fascinating detail the historical trajectory that has led to and accompanied this shift. He also lays the foundations for a political project, “investee activism,” that entails embracing the condition of the investee as a means of resisting neoliberal policies. According to Feher: “‘Investee activism’ involves identifying the specific mode of social antagonism defined by each financial market—stakeholder activism in the stock market, borrower activism in the bond market, collateral guarantor activism in the derivatives market—surveying the existing cases of social movements predicated on the investor vs. investee nexus—especially in the wake of the real estate and banking crises of 2008—and speculating on the potential development of such activism.” Taking inspiration from the labor movement’s successes in an earlier era, investee activism seeks to create new forms of accreditation and modes of value production that can operate within, and alter, financial markets.

Michel Feher is a founding editor and publisher of Zone Books.

August 22, 2015

Goldsmiths, University of London

Curated by

Kate Steinmann