July 11, 2019 in Sociology

Contemporary Sociological Theory: Feher vs. Davis

Along with an unstoppable pace of multifaceted enhancement of various phenomena, such as advancement in technologies, theoretical understanding of different concepts changes as well. In particular, a hypothetical perception of self and subjectivity of an individual within social constraints have thoroughly transformed for the last decades. Contemporary reality is overwhelmed with all-embracing commodification and consumerism. Hence, this circumstance has made its impact on positioning of a person in the context of an organization, community, and a purpose of existence at large. To illustrate, Michel Feher and Gerald Davis have introduced the specified worldviews on the issue arguing how financialization has led to a paradigm shift of individual’s determination in society. The paper presents a critical overview of their ideas and provides evaluation of their relevance in the wake of the global financial crisis.   

Feher’s Arguments

Drawing upon Feher’s opinion, today’s persons are trapped within the human capital concept borders. The scholar based his rationale on extensive and explicit reasoning of the argument from a historical perspective referring to an intersection of Marxian liberalism and Foucault’s neoliberalism as its roots. In general, the above notion refers to “the impact on future incomes that can be expected from schooling and other forms of training”. However, limiting comprehension of the term solely to education is unjustified, and the theorist has aptly emphasized on a few other integral elements of the concept. Through a narrowed focus, Feher has simply defined human capital as “the skill set that defines me”. Indeed, each person is one’s own human capital and capable to determine its extent and value on one’s own and with relation to specified living circumstances. This is due to the fact that he or she possesses a particular set of genetic features and innate abilities which define one’s intellectual and other inputs. Further, an individual grows within certain social, economic and environmental factors that can either facilitate or minimize one’s personal and professional development opportunities. Moreover, this list of characteristics may be too limited or too extended based on the specificities of a community one lives in or in accordance with demands and opportunities of time. For instance, a self, or human capital asset, with respect to an individual of the early 1990s had a less scale of socio-economic and environment growth opportunities as compared to a person born in the early 2000s. The latter has had more possibilities for enhancing self-worth as human capital, especially due to availability of constantly evolving and updating technological devices and upgrading their individual toolkit on this basis. As a result, modern perception of self has indeed grown to marketability of the self rather than spiritual, emotional or other paradigms as primary drivers of this growth. 

Apart from that, Feher’s self-appreciation concept should not be underestimated per contemporary life requirements. To be more precise, self-appreciation is an ideology aimed at growing oneself as a human capital asset, which seems more than relevant given labor market and overall living conditions to date. For instance, modern working environment does not “presuppose a separation of the spheres of production and reproduction”, recalling the arguments by Davis that will be further reviewed. On behalf of a person, technology, especially the Internet, is the most vivid example of this trend. In other words, an online dimension allows an individual an opportunity to socialize, develop individual genetic abilities, train and educate oneself, self-employ, and even expand one’s entrepreneurship aspirations overseas, to list a few. What is more, interconnectedness of human life spheres mediated by technologies enables instant linkage and even addiction of an individual within this circle. Such a social system has managed to develop strict rules and requirements for individual survival and success where one has to permanently increase self-value to achieve at least some favorable outcomes in high-level competition. Therefore, despite that each person possesses a particular set of self-worth qualities, one is not possessive but speculative laborer so as to these features enable him or her with a possibility to maximal returns for own self-appreciation. 

By the same token, this situation provides organizations, governments and states with tools and mechanisms of power and influence on the masses for “playing the human capital market”, “betting for and against certain behaviors”, “sentiments and lifestyles to shape the portfolios of conducts that the governed are taken to be”. It follows that not only individuals but also social institutions have been involved in the process of redefining human capital and referring to a person as asset capable to bring profits. In this light, Feher has succinctly emphasized that self-appreciation of human as capital investment “does serve the function of regaining the territory that the welfare state increasingly surrenders to the nonmarket sector in the name of reproducing an eager and functional free laborer”. 

Following the above discussion, it seems evident that an individual in the context of modern society is a commodity who is self-appreciated and self-marketed on the grounds of multidimensional self-investment. Thus, self is still a stance of personality, though one’s determination and driving forces to comprehensive development are of financial nature. In accordance with the scholar, the analyzed notion has become “a way of relaunching the politization of the personal” whereas individuals are enticed to develop into “champions of personal responsibility”. For contemporaries, this conclusion may seem a routine truth and a too evident daily activity, though such a sociologically enticed approach towards human development if of two-fold nature. Namely, self-appreciation indeed enhances self-reliance of an individual which is a vital constituent of today’s commoditized life. At the same time, this concept is a valuable society-manipulation instrument when the top hierarchy of society and organizations can apply ready-to-use self-grown human capital as they find reasonable. 

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Davis’ Vision of the Issue 

Although Davis has expressed somehow similar ideas, the scholar’s insight into the problem reveals more clarity in terms of person-to-organization and person-to-person relationships. Undoubtedly, the time has passed when “organizations are the key to society because organizations have absorbed society”. Financialization of human-related values has resulted in defining self as a centerpiece of community interests, activities, and events. In particular, the role of organizations and mega-corporations in today’s society has substantially diminished. Again, technologies and other society-wide advancements have transformed the ways of knowing making knowledge and skills easily accessible to the general audience. Such a situation led to extended self-appreciation opportunities for individuals, as previously stated by Feher. As a result, organizations faced a challenge of being potentially lost behind the growing force of individualized competitive laborers. Within this paradigm, human capital development has become an option for organizations and governments to stay afloat by recruiting and retaining self-sufficient and self-appreciated individuals or partnering with them in multiple ways, e.g. outsourcing.  

Therefore, investment can be justifiably referred to as “the dominant metaphor” defining a person’s “place in society and a guide to making one’s way in a new economy”. Specifically, investment should be regarded from two perspectives. On the one hand, an individual is forced to invest in own self as a commodity, to a certain degree, and increase his or her potential value in any way possible in order to be marketable, employable, and demanded, thus, successful in life. In this way, people are capable to enhance more diversified segmentation of labor market based on self outsourcing portfolio. On the other hand, organizations have to invest in providing growth opportunities to their staff, consumers and individuals who are in any way related to their activities. The latter is due to the fact that any individual is an embodiment of potential worth, hence, has financial capital implications. To be more precise, people are interconnected within social domains, for instance, by means of social networks, along with family and friends in-person contacts. In this respect, their socialization area comprises worthy social capital, e.g. Facebook friends, as investments that may pay off down the road. Thus, by investing in individuals, organizations will enable themselves with return on investments possibilities targeting business initiatives in the long run. 

The above explanation demonstrates a clear transition from ownership society, which has been a previous stage of social development involving mega-corporations as global rulers and dictators, to share ownership where individuals have their own shares in all processes, activities and their outcomes. To a certain extent, such phenomena as the changed nature of “employment relation and economic mobility,” modification of society where “the capital fiction dominates” and selves become “free-agent day traders” can be considered an approach to gaining just attitude towards individual characteristics of every person. Indeed, the situation may be equalized to reshaping social norms and a win-win approach to maintaining all-embracing equality when organizations are forced to surrender their shares to people. Moreover, investment in self-appreciation is a great way for subjects to diversify their capabilities to survive in the changing world instead of overreliance on a particular means in so doing and experience a collapse. For instance, a 2008 mortgage crisis can be referred to as an example. On a similar note, promotion of this self-centric philosophy just seems a suitable adaptation strategy of organizations with an attempt to stay competitive and flexible to internal and external pressing points, such as financialization of subjectivity along with availability of such opportunities.

Relevance of the Arguments within the Financial After-Crisis Conditions

The arguments provided by the scholars are valuable in the wake of the crisis. Specifically, contemporary life circumstances and requirements make individuals doomed to invest in their selves and increase their financial value in order to correspond to the pace and demands of the time and ensure their survival as the fittest. This ideology is already governing the minds of millions of people throughout the globe. Even looking back on one’s life, any person can discover how he or she searches for means and tools of increasing own self-value. The theorized approach already constitutes an integral part of human mindset. Thus, the issue of self-investment and ongoing self-appreciation cannot be simply ignored. Moreover, constant self-enhancement can be a great way to individual flexibility, and thus, readiness to change all the time. Such a quality should be crucial in successful addressing the toughest difficulties, or at least minimizing the detrimental impact of the crisis.

In addition, self-appreciation investment is still a valid strategy for survival. To illustrate, instead of seeking for a single panacea to be secured in after-crisis time, such as house-related investments analyzed by Davis, diversified self-investment in different share ownership domains may be helpful. This factor will allow one to have a number of alternatives to choose from when critical conditions will be the acutest. For instance, the Internet provides not only opportunities for self-employment but also life-long learning, to list a few. Hence, investing time and money in one’s permanent self-education may be a good approach to increase self-appreciation and ensure adaptability of one’s position in the labor market, notwithstanding the crisis and its consequences. For example, if a person fails to find decent employment or launch own business, self-awareness in different areas will help one to become a freelancer. 

Finally, the scholars emphasize self-reliance, but it can be regarded as individualism and individuality, which are distinct notions. Both these terms may mix up uniqueness and originality based on self-appreciation with “exaggerated self-centeredness” and “selfishness”. Thus, there is a need to refine this aspect in the discussed ideology, possibly, in light of collectivism so as to make sure the whole communities will strive and survive encountered difficulties and self-appreciated individuals will evolve altogether. If society will be overwhelmed with too self-reliant and overly self-focused individuals, the after-crisis selves relationships will likely to transform into survival of the fittest races. Therefore, the arguments by Davis and Feher are relevant for post-crisis times. However, they have to be slightly modified in terms of enhancement a more team-focused and collectivist appreciations of selves in order to eliminate any possibilities of ego-centrism as potential destroyers of social relations. 

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