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Home arrow Geography arrow Global Perspectives on Human Capital in Early Childhood Education: Reconceptualizing Theory, Policy, and Practice


Methodological Considerations

Governmentality is a complex term coined by Foucault (1991). Briefly, it is about “how we think about governing others and ourselves in a wide variety of contexts” (Dean, 1999, p. 209). Governmentality or governmental rationality refers to particular “mentality[ies]” of rule. Foucault signals the emergence of a distinctive mentality of rule that became the basis for modern liberal politics making the freedom of the individual the target of government. Different mentalities offer different ways to think about governing individuals and are associated with various avenues, or technologies, for their regulation in the form of policies or ritualized and routinized institutional practices, that is, regimes of practices. It presupposes understandings of the governed subject. These constitutions assume certain capacities, attributes, orientations, and statuses of its subjects. The provision of ECEC, with its associated policy and pedagogical and curriculum regimes, is considered a technology for the regulation of conduct in order to align it with changing aims of governing.

Human capital theory’s future-oriented focus makes it a strategy for governing the population toward certain ends by connecting goals of education with a future societal aim. At the same time it also serves as a technology of anticipation with its cost-benefit analysis that seeks “to bring some aspects [of the future] about and to avoid others” (Rose & Abi-Rached, 2013, p. 14). To demonstrate how human capital theory changed its shape, constructed shifting notions of the human subject, and affected entity in policy, I provide a short historical review of models of human capital in Australian education policy. These models draw on Luke’s (1997) analysis. I demonstrate how developments in (expert) knowledge production and its uptake in policies altered the ways in which the human capital model constructed problems, made them intelligible, and shaped interventions. I briefly point to what understandings of human being, child subjects, or “natural foundations” these interventions were administered through, offering some examples for these narratives from historical Australian ECEC policies. Then, by using the same analytical strategy, I describe the knowledge production associated with the neurosciences and draw out some considerations as to their possible effects when they entangle with human capital theory. Thus, the “findings” in this chapter are speculative and they aim to trouble the mostly unproblematic uptake and unfettered promotion (Sripada, 2012) of neuroscientific discourses in ECEC globally in general and in the Australian context in particular (see exemptions, e.g., Corrie, 2000; Einboden, Rudge, & Varcoe, 2013, in the health area; MacNaughton, 2004; Pykett, 2012, on geographies of contemporary educational practice; and Sumsion & Grieshaber, 2012, in the Australian ECEC).

Expert knowledge has power effects and shapes what is possible to say, think, and do in relation to the child (Foucault, 1972). Expert discourses construct particular notions of “the child” as the subject of education and care. They define the child’s capacities (or the lack of thereof) and assign techniques to effect those to reach particular goals. The inclusion of neuroscientific knowledge into ECEC has made visible particular biological processes, such as brain activity or hormone levels, which I explain in more detail later in this chapter. This inclusion reconfigured (Sripada, 2012) the educational and care knowledge of the human body and biological processes, and made them the target of regulation. For example, it is not only the biological needs of the child, such as eating, toileting, resting, and so on that are targeted by care practices but seemingly hidden processes of the body, such as brain activities and stress levels. Neuroscientific knowledge therefore reconfigured the child as the subject of education by visualizing and assigning novel neural and biological capacities to them that were previously not considered in policy and practice. Mirroring these changes, educators are also changing to facilitate optimal brain development and stimulate hormonal and neural processes.

Luke borrowed Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the “machine” to understand the human subject in human capital theory “as a generic, infinitely perfectable industrial-era machine” (1997, p. 5). The metaphor of the machine becomes useful for emphasizing how different forms of governing mandates shape both the subject (the individual) and the working of the machine (by assigning capacities and related actions), simultaneously producing particular power effects on the conduct of the individual (Foucault, 1991). Foucault’s analytics of government established a close link between forms of power and processes of subjectification and forms of knowledge underpinning them. In this perspective governmentality stresses the close link between technologies of power, technologies of subjectivation, and forms of knowledge (1991).

For the analysis performed in this chapter I have found Fejes’s (2006, p. 697) concept of the “educable subject” helpful. The educa- ble subject expresses the relationship between a particular mandate, rationality of governing, where the subject is constructed as the target of this particular form of regulation that is directed on certain capacities. The subject is understood according to the same rationality. For example, if the subject is characterized by stress level or choice, regulation aims to govern the stress level or choice of the subject. I have also adapted Fejes’s (p. 698) questions for the purpose of my analysis: How are educable subjects constructed as beings with certain capacities (or the lack of thereof) and what are they to become? What kinds of techniques have been created to govern these subjects? How does human capital theory interplay with neuro-health knowledges in the construction of the educable subject? How can care and education be speculatively imagined for these child subjects? My analysis is not based on a comprehensive analysis of discourses in a marked area and era, or on a full review of literature, rather it offers a review and speculative creation of a series of possible scenarios to explore and critique (and destabilize) the possible effects of neuro discourses in ECEC.

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