Capitalizing on Human Capital

A professor friend of mine recently asked what we, as scholars, capitalize upon when we engage in recuperative projects? That is to say, why are we personally, professionally and politically invested in scholarship that aims to realign the literary canon along axes that are not exclusively white, wealthy and straight? While my dissertation on underrepresented writers questioning the impact of educational systems on queer children in an anglophone setting addresses this questions in more detail, my summer research project on education reform in South Africa will benefit from the same type of meta-critical reflection. 

Indeed, I want to keep this question in mind as I attempt to make sense of human capital in South Africa through the lens of education reform. Although “capital” seems to garner much of the critical attention, one would be remiss to forget Joseph Slaughter’s work in Human Rights, Inc. wherein he reminds us that access to the category “human” is always already fraught in the field of postcolonial studies. Pairing “human” and “capital,” then, requires scholars to question the reciprocal relationship between the two, and, more importantly, to recognize how one or both of these terms actually impose limitations on certain peoples. In order to start unpacking “human capital,” I’m embarking on a reading list that starts with Marx’s Capital and includes Hardt & Negri’s Empire, Melinda Cooper’s Life as Surplus, Aihwa Ong’s Neoliberalism as Exception and David Harvey’s The Limits of Capital to navigate how human capital has transformed within our neoliberal regime. In terms of South Africa, how has an ideology that privileges privatization impacted a country in the process of reconciliation post-1994? Aside from Oprah founding a school, how has education changed over the last twenty years?

But what do I, as a scholar, capitalize upon with this research into post-apartheid education reform? Surely the issue of human capital is as fraught in America as anywhere else in the world?

I don’t have an answer yet, but watch this space.  


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