Difficult Dreams

Unpacking the Mythologies of Human Capital





human capital, graduate students, adult education, gender, race, international


Human capital theory (HCT) has moved from a core tenet of neoclassical economic theory to a normative and prescriptive policy position that guides our understanding of economic growth across multiple scales, from the individual to the national. In this paper, a diverse group of graduate students interrogate their experiences of accumulating and realising ‘human capital.’ They argue that HCT holds at its centre an abstract and falsely universal subject that obscures how transnational relations of patriarchy, race, and coloniality constitute class relations and thus create a reality in which investments in human capital cannot be realised by all. This paper further elaborates how this group of adult learners developed an understanding of class as a socially constituted relation within capital and thus foregrounds the need for adult educators to work from a more nuanced articulation of class that recognizes relationality with other forms of oppression.


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Author Biographies

Sara Carpenter, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Canada

Associate Professor, University of Alberta, specializes in Adult, Community, & Higher Education. A scholar of Marxist feminist approaches to educational research, she is co-author (with S. Mojab) of Revolutionary Learning: Marxism, Feminism, and Knowledge (2017, Pluto). Her most recent books are The Ideology of Civic Engagement (2021, SUNY Press) and Marxism & Migration (2022, Palgrave), co-edited with G. Ritchie and S. Mojab. Recent articles can be found in the journal Critical Education and the forthcoming special issue of the Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education ‘For the People: Dorothy Smith & Adult Education.

Danielle Gardiner Milln, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Canada

PhD student in Adult, Community, and Higher Education at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include educational policy, equity in educational praxis, and intersections of human rights with education, and she has recently co-written the University of Alberta Student Experience Action Plan. Her work can be found in the Canadian Journal for the Study of of Adult Education and the Journal of Engineering Education.

Joshuha Connauton, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Canada

PhD student in Adult, Community, and Higher Education at the University of Alberta. His research interests are human capital theory, microcredentials in higher education, the intersections of capital public higher education, and labour education/trade union revitalization.

Laura Woodman, Depart. of Human Ecology, Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, University of Alberta, Canada

PhD student in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. A long-time professional in home-based early childhood education, her research focuses on the policies and practices of day home provision in Canada. Her recent publications can be found in the Journal of Childhood, Education, & Society, In Education, and Education & Research Archive.

Meshia G-K Brown, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Canada

MEd student in Social Justice and International Studies in Education at the University of Alberta. She is an international educator, having taught in Asia, the Caribbean, and Canada. She is currently conducting research on the politics of student cultural expression and discipline in Jamaica.

Wilson Javier Mora Rivera, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Canada

MEd, is a graduate of the Studies in Educational Leadership program at the University of Alberta. An international educator, he has taught in Asia, Latin America, Australia, and Canada.

Fatemeh Mirikarbasaki, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Canada

Recently completed in MEd in the Studies in Educational Leadership program at the University of Alberta. An international English language educator, she has taught in the Middle East and Canada and currently works in the college sector in Alberta. She recently completed research on international students sense of belonging in Canada. Her research interests are psycholinguistics, education and capitalism, and social justice in educational settings.

Arina Ehsan, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Canada

MEd student in Secondary Education at the University of Alberta. She received her bachelor’s degree from a university in Iran and decided to continue her education in a new country, first to challenge herself and second to provide more opportunities to learn and grow.


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