'Human Capital': l'avers et le revers d'un terme métaphorique.

  • Catherine Resche Université Panthéon-Assas - Paris 2

Abstract

This paper focuses on the notion of human capital from two theoretical angles: that of terminology and that of metaphor. As a term, i.e., the denomination of a notion, “human capital” belongs to the domain of economics and can be dated back to the 1960s, when it was coined by Schultz and used by Becker in his seminal book which brought him the Nobel Prize for Economics, along his many other research articles. The metaphorical term enabled its creators to devise the human capital theory. From then on, the definition of the term evolved, and although it originated in the field of economics, it was soon connected with social and educational spheres, and has aroused interest among government officials, education specialists, sociologists as well as managers in the corporate world. As a metaphor, human capital raises questions about man as capital or man as the owner of capital. It suggests a new type of capital that cannot be separated from its owner. It suggests that man can capitalize on his knowledge, education, past experiences and can decide whether to invest in himself or not. At another level, governments and firms are led to consider education and training as a form of investment, as levers of innovation and wealth creation. As any metaphor, the term can be interpreted in both a positive and negative manner. Its impact, however, is undeniable. A diachronic approach helps to confirm two main ideas. One is that a term’s notional surface can evolve, and the other is that a metaphor can play several roles : it can fill a lexical void, help investigate new territories and look at the world differently, have a rhetorical impact, drive change or reflect it, and build bridges between different disciplines. Although it may seem to be lexicalised after a while, and thus disregarded as a metaphor, its metaphorical nature never dies. It is just dormant and ready to be revived to give life to new notions, and even new metaphors.
Section
Articles