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Research_

Asset ownership and the new inequality

The asset economy: inclusion, exclusion, debt
An exploration of the logics of asset-based capitalism and the new forms of inequality and precarity that have accompanied its rise.

We aim to develop a more nuanced understanding of the forms of stratification associated with the asset economy.

House-price inflation, rampant labour insecurity, intergenerational inequality and the rise of precarious asset-sharing economies such as Uber and Airbnb are among the most pressing issues policymakers face today. Yet these phenomena are generally treated as unrelated. We are synthesising a view of the asset economy that will allow us to explain connections and possible solutions. We are also developing a comprehensive account of:

  • the relationship between house-price inflation and wage stagnation
  • growing inequality and housing
  • barriers to educational and professional mobility
  • the growing importance of inherited wealth
  • the blurring of the boundaries between precarious work and asset-renting.

We are working closely with think tanks that have established research programs in these areas with a view to producing co-authored policy publications and developing longer term collaborations.

Our latest research


Our podcasts

Headshot of Michel Feher

Keeping up with our rated selves

30 April 2019

Speaker: Belgian philosopher and cultural theorist, Michel Feher

Listen to the podcast.

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The worth of nations

23 May 2019

Speaker: Belgian philosopher and cultural theorist Michel Feher

Listen to the podcast.


Our events

Join us to explore how human capital theory and policies have been pivotal to the neoliberalisation of contemporary capitalism, especially through contributing to the assetisation of work. We are hosting a series of free workshops, forums and seminars, including several led by renowned cultural theorist and philosopher Michel Feher. Explore the full list and register.

Past events

Featuring: Michelle Chihara, Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature, Whittier College, California

In behavioural economics, friendly masculine explainers tell entertaining stories about the economy, or the behaviour of characters in stories is explained as fundamentally motivated by the same kind of decision-making that governs markets. In this mode, hegemonic financial explainer Michael Lewis wrote bestselling books about the world of high finance. These became the dominant popular narratives about the arrival of big data (Moneyball), the financial crisis (The Big Short), and the rise of behavioral economics (The Undoing Project). Michelle Chihara will analyse the epistemological consequences and narrow horizons of behavioural economic storytelling.

Find out more.

A common protest heard from the asset poor is one of ‘no future’. The asset poor have few mechanisms available to them to build up assets which will enable them to secure viable futures. This applies especially to young adults who are not in receipt of intergenerational transfers of wealth. By contrast, the futures of the asset rich are guaranteed and underwritten by institutional mechanisms ensuring the growth of their assets (especially housing prices and superannuation)

This series of workshops will highlight how assets have replaced the wage and the wage earner as the key mechanisms of social reproduction and how they are serving to link pasts, presents and futures in novel ways.

Find out more.

Monday 15 April 2019
9.30am-4.30pm

Seminar Room 650
Social Sciences Building
Science Rd, The University of Sydney

Find out more and register.

In Australia, human capital theory informed the adoption of income-contingent loans on the part of a third-way Labour government and marked a turn-around from the labour-focused politics of a previous era toward a new vision of democratized asset investment.

Yet the dream of moving beyond the limitations of wage labour through investments in human capital has not played out in quite the way that was expected. As higher education becomes a minimum threshold of attainment, expected rather than exceptional, the trade-off in terms of secure professional employment and higher wage returns is less certain than ever. As a category of “human” assets, higher education has rapidly depreciated in value. In the meantime, we are seeing the rapid proliferation of physical asset economies which have transformed the income-poor but asset-rich into small time “rentiers.”

Older Australians who benefited from housing inflation but are surviving on minimal incomes have taken to renting out rooms through Airbnb and other so-called sharing platforms as a way of earning a living. Uber represents another form of precarious rentierism in which the driver is not only performing a service but renting out an asset. These worker-rentier hybrids are becoming increasingly common and involve forms of insecurity that defy traditional categorisations of class.

This workshop will offer a series of presentations from Australian and international guests critically reflecting on such issues. Participants include Michel Feher, Kean Birch, Kylie Jarrett, Niels van Doorn, Sophia Maalsen, Guy Redden, Brett Neilson, Jim Stanford, Monique McKenzie, Jathan Sadowski, Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings.

Tuesday 16 April 2019
9am–3pm

Seminar Room 650
Social Sciences Building, Science Road
The University of Sydney

Find out more and register.

Gleebooks
Upstairs space
49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe
6pm for 6.30 start

Join us as we launch three vital new works:

  • Michel Feher, Rated Agency: Investee Politics in a Speculative Age
  • Martijn Konings, Capital and Time
  • Lisa Adkins, The Time of Money

Find out more and register.

Tuesday 16 April 2019
3pm-5pm

Seminar Room 203
R D Watt Building
The University of Sydney

Find out more and register.

A debate between Jim Stanford and Michel Feher.

Households are shouldering levels of mortgage debt that appear increasingly unsustainable while growing numbers are locked out of the property market and relegated to a rental sector designed to sustain the asset-holdings of the homeowner. The growth of asset-based inequality has an important generational dimension, as young people are living at home much longer than in the recent past and increasingly dependent on parental assistance or inheritance to get onto the property ladder. Homelessness, forced immobility and intergenerational households are the flipside of house price appreciation: the stunted futures that accompany the speculative futures of asset price inflation.

We aim to explore a clear perspective on what can be done to address these issues. 

Entry to this event is free, and all are welcome to attend and participate in the Q&A session following the debate.

Thursday 18 April 2019
5.30pm–7.30pm

Seminar Room 650
Social Sciences Building, Science Road
The University of Sydney

Find out more and register.

Pitching a book idea and preparing a manuscript can be a daunting prospect. For first-time academic authors, knowing which publishing house to pitch to and what editors want can be confusing. But this landscape can be just as opaque to established authors.

This workshop brings together, Michel Feher, the founding editor of the renowned Zone Books and coeditor of the Near Futures series, with two series editors at Stanford University Press, Martijn Konings and Melinda Cooper, to discuss the ins and outs of academic publishing today.

We welcome scholars from early-career researchers to experienced authors, to gain an insider’s perspective on the art of scholarly book publication.

Tuesday 23 April 2019
4pm-6pm

Room 341
Social Sciences Building, Science Road
The University of Sydney

Find out more and register.

Wednesday 24 April 2019
12.30pm-3pm

Seminar Room 200
R D Watt Building
The University of Sydney

Hosted by Michel Feher for postgraduate students and staff.

Find out more and register.

Monday 29 April
4.30pm-6.30pm

Seminar Room 650
Social Sciences Building, Science Road
The University of Sydney

Hosted by Michael Feher for postgraduate students and staff.

Find out more and register.

Tuesday 30 April 2019
5pm–8pm AEST

Seminar Room 203
R D Watt Building
The University of Sydney

Renowned philosopher and cultural theorist Michel Feher will present a double lecture on the social and affective implications of the increasing assetisation of the economy.

Find out more and register.

Contact us

Address
  • Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences The Quadrangle A14, the University of Sydney NSW 2006, AUSTRALIA

Research Director

Headshot of Professor Lisa Adkins
Professor Lisa Adkins
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Research Director

Associate Professor Melinda Cooper
Associate Professor Melinda Cooper
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Research Director

Professor Martijn Konings
Professor Martijn Konings
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