Dealing with Human Capital

Technologies for the Assessment, allocation and production of human capital, 1960-2000

Malte Bachem, Brigitta Bernet, Eneia Dragomir, David Gugerli

The project aims to explain the rise of the human capital theory. It intends a comprehensive historical analysis of those administrative and informational technologies that were used for (1) the assessment, (2) the allocation and (3) the production of human capital from 1960 to 2000. We will argue that “human capital” has become a central resource of the information and knowledge society and stands for the theoretical and practical transformation of work in the second half of the 20th century. Over this period the “human motor” has ceased to be a leading metaphor for the working body. We will argue that the shift from the industrial to the information and knowledge society can be understood by analyzing the shift from physical capital to intellectual capital, from energy to information, from physiology to psychology, from workers to employees, from work force to skills provided by education, from factories with assembly lines to offices with databases - in short from human motor to human capital. The history of science and technology approach provides us with the analytical tools for studying human capital as a “concept in action”. The project will provide us with new insights into the anthropology of the “flexible human being” and hence the culture of flexibility in the information and knowledge society.

This project is sponsored by the SNF: Vom 'Human Motor' zum 'Human Capital'. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Wissensgesellschaft in der Schweiz (1960-2000), project number 140363, 2012-2015.

  • Malte Bachem
  • Brigitta Bernet
  • Eneia Dragomir
  • David Gugerli
  • Brigitta Bernet, Lutz Raphael, Dietmar Süss, Nina Verheyen: »Auf den esten Blick quer« : Stress als flexible Regulierung und die Dis-Kontinuitäten des 20. Jahrhunderts. Positionen und Perspektiven. In: Zeithistorische Forschungen 11 (3) 2014, 444 – 461.

    Brigitta Bernet: „Depressed? It might be political!“. Die Pathologien der Leistungsgesellschaft im Fokus der ausserklinischen Literatur. In: David Gugerli, Michael Hagner, Caspar Hirschi, Andreas B. Kilcher, Patricia Purtschert, Philipp Sarasin, Jakob Tanner (Hg.): Nach Feierabend - Zürcher Jahrbuch für Wissensgeschichte. 8, Gesundheit. Zürich: Diaphanes 2012, 189 – 198.


    Malte Bachem, Ruben Hackler: Überlegungen zu einer historischen Anthropologie des Verfahrens. In: H-Soz-Kult 2012.

    Malte Bachem: Dealing with Human Capital in Space. Computergestützte Tests in der Berufsberatung der Schweiz. In: Traverse 20 (2) 2013, 125 – 138.

    Daniel Speich: Sputnik-Schock und Bildungsoffensive. Wissenschaftspoltiische Dynamik in den 1960er-Jahren. In: Monika Burri, Andrea Westermann (Hg.): ETHistory 1855-2005 : Sightseeing durch 150 Jahre ETH Zürich. Baden: hier + jetzt 2005, 45 – 47.


Bernet B., 2014. Deregulierung. Zeithistorische Forschungen, 3 (im Druck).

Bernet, B., 2012. Die Pathologien der Leistungsgesellschaft. Nach Feierabend, 8, pp.189-198.

Bernet, B. & Gugerli, D., 2011. Sputniks Resonanzen. Historische Anthropologie, 19(3), pp.433–446.