Sophia Mihic

Sophia Mihic is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Northeastern Illinois University. A graduate of the University of Florida, she received her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and has held research fellowships at Rutgers University and the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champagne. Her publications on the philosophy of interpretive social science and the ever shifting structural grounds of identity politics include: “The Jurisprudence of Privacy,” Feminist Theory, 9 (2), August 2008 and with Engelmann and Wingrove, “Facts, Values and ‘Real’ Numbers: Making Sense In and Of Political Science” in The Politics of Method in the Human Sciences: Positivism and Its Epistemological Others, George Steinmetz, ed., 2005. Her current work investigates the renaming of labor as human capital, and questions the effects of this new language of property on the practice of rights and on governance generally.

Plenary Title: “Languages of Property and Propriety: Human Capital, Hannah Arendt and the Near History of Neoliberalism”

This paper explores the renaming of labor and work as human capital—the understanding of the self as a site of investment rather than as the source of value and worth—and probes how this new language of property and propriety illuminates and influences the global political economic order. Today’s political economy, termed “neoliberalism”, is not laissez faire, but it is often confused with this earlier free market doctrine. Laissez faire proponents insisted on governmental non-interference in a sphere of market freedom; by contrast, neoliberalism relies on governmental intervention to insert market mechanisms and market rationales where before they did not exist.  This process has taken hold of world cultures, and we are now refiguring our understanding of labor in a way that transforms not only work and the economy, but also affects the discourse of the self as rights bearer.  If we don’t have a property in ourselves, if our value must be made, how are language games of political rights affected?  In the earlier welfarist consensus of the 20th century, theorists and political actors spoke of the politicized economy.  By contrast, we must today grapple with the hegemonic forces of an economized politics. The meaning-in-use of “human capital” will be explored as a displacement of the labor theory of value.  Exploring this displacement in discourses of labor, and laboring, we will consider the prescience of  Hannah Arendt’s 1954 claim, in The Human Condition, that “[e]ven now, laboring is too lofty, to ambitious a word for what we are doing, or think we are doing, in the world we have come to live in.”