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Race for self-development & neoliberalism 

Race for self-development & neoliberalism 

It is almost inevitable for organizations to adopt a certain set of beliefs that are more or less aligned to a specific political orientation. But how can a political ideology shape personal spheres of life? Are an organizations’ dominant political beliefs directly reflected in the very individuals partaking in the culture of this institution? 

Let’s talk about neoliberalism. Simply stated, it refers to applying market principles on every social sphere of life; people start evaluating everything, including themselves, through the lens of profitability, (im)material value and other market-driven factors. It is the idea that individuals are the only ones responsible for their failures and successes, rooted in the individualistic ideas of (neo)liberalism. Within this ideology, the idea of human capital comes into light, whereby people view themselves as a good whose market value needs to be constantly increased in order to thrive in the competitive job market.

Through the lens of my personal experience of moving from Romania to a Western country (the latter which I think places a stronger emphasis on the idea of human capital), I noticed how people are trained and socialized into “becoming” human capital. As soon as I started being socialized into the culture of my university, I noticed a lot of differences between the way that education was framed in Romania and the Netherlands. In Rotterdam, I started viewing education as a way of improving my knowledge and developing the skills necessary to face a competitive, technologically driven job market. I also started considering the economic and financial value of my higher education. 

This was a significant change for me, because based on my experience in Romania, universities there are seen as something that “needs to be done”, based on inertia, with people pursuing higher education without proactively thinking of the ways that it might help them in the future. I noticed that a lot of Romanian students go to university because they “have” to, while many students in Rotterdam are driven by a mindset that they might not even be aware of – they take into account future financial prospects, as well as gain as many skills as possible in order to succeed in a complex, overwhelming job market.

Moving to the Netherlands and starting university here changed my behavior in important ways: I internalized the idea of human capital, I felt it was necessary to engage in as many activities as possible and gain as much experience and skills as I could. I started having a much more productive lifestyle, influenced by the general mindset of the students I met, who had a lot more determination to go through higher education than their Romanian counterparts that I met. I realized that students from my university want to increase their human capital as much as possible, under the pressure of future career opportunities. 

Universities are powerful socializing agents that help students prepare for the demanding neoliberal job market. But the lifestyle that universities encourage students to adopt can lead to mental health problems and personal stagnation instead of personal growth, due to the pressure and stress that arises from the need of increasing one’s human capital. The question of how much neoliberalism guides us in our daily lives remains open, but it may be partly answered by everything that I considered previously, even if it is only based on the experience that I had with almost two years of studying in the Netherlands. It is up to all of you to determine how much this idea fits your own goals. What underlying ideology do you think are dominant in the organizations you are part of?


Author: Bianca Raicu 

Editor: Gwendolyne Cheung

Illustrator: Hanh Tran

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