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Instructional capital

Instructional capital is encoded symbolic know-how that persons, communities, organizations and software exploit to predict, or avoid future events they deem not desirable, or create those they desire. It is inherently shared, predictable, and empirical. Many people or machines can read it, test it, use it, and in many cases, they can change or challenge it.

Patent or non-fiction copyright laws provide a means of protection for such shared instructions when compiled and registered according to the instructions of the law itself. Law may itself be the best example of instructional capital.

As a capital asset, the Wikipedia article database itself is most reasonably considered a piece of instructional capital. When separated from the individual and social context of its users and contributors, e.g. as visible in the meta and other name-spaces, and with its brand and associated user interface removed, one is left only with - instructions.

human sometimes, individual never, social intangibly

The term seemingly originated in post-secondary school administration where budgets were forced to differentiate between "instructional" and "non-instructional" or "infrastructural capital". And, to consider their professors and other staff not simply as labor or even "human resources" but a form of "human capital" in themselves.

For instance, a professor who stands in front of a class and who writes a textbook containing the same material are clearly in some sense providing at least some of the same economic value. The individual capital of the professor (teaching ability, morale boosting, coaching, spontaneous examples) cannot be duplicated in the textbook - rather, the textbook frees the professor to do more of such work. As does the social capital, or trust, the professor puts in assistants. The theory of human capital is focused on how these three can interact.

mild variance in sociology or military usage

There is a mild variance in the usage of the term "instructional capital" in different fields, but perhaps thanks to its prevalence in university circles it is limited - sociology and military sciences have the widest variance, but it is still recognizably the same thing, assigning different roles to the individual and the society, but always acknowledging and separating out the "instructional" from either:

In sociology it is often overlapped or confused with human capital although Oliver Harding, focusing specifically on promoting human health, is careful to differentiate instructional and individual contributions of the professions and their practitioners, from the larger question of social trust. Hospitals, like universities, are careful about these distinctions.

However, more general studies of social capital, e.g. by Paul Adler, draw broader strokes and may sometimes assume instructional capital that is implicitly passed between individuals, e.g. "implicature" or "moot" assumptions that are not questioned but passed on as part of nonverbal or gestural communication, or simply indistinguishable as a cultural bias.

In military circles (and some dotcom schemes) instructional capital is sometimes called knowledge capital where it focuses on preventing the "indiscriminate discarding of knowledge as an enterprise asset," Strassmann, and can more easily ignore the voluntary nature of instructions passing from persons to persons in non-military roles.

However, in macro-economics, instructional capital is usually considered part of human capital and not differentiated from individual capital or social capital assets. This may be closest to the military usage.

The understanding reflected here is closer to the more standard medical usage.

instructions drive infrastructure - and people?

Instructions are very strongly associated with infrastructural capital, e.g. textbook experiments or patented blueprints cannot yield real results or objects without requisite apparatus, nor the trades, documents, training and certification programs required to operate it. Perhaps the most strongly bound type of instructions is software code running on computers - the political economy implied by "Code" was explored in Lawrence Lessig's 1999 book of the same name. He argued that without control of code, there is no way to control coders, user interfaces, and therefore, ultimately, users.

In effect, code is just "intellectual capital without the people" - indeed, it can be autonomous, as software is, and work with little or no human individual intervention. It can control people, potentially, if they are obedient to what they see on a screen, or whispered in their ears by someone.

It may even control people or their careers quite completely, as evidenced by the way suicide bombers can be reliably motivated from certain deprived populations, or the way that Chinese railway engineers under Mao were assigned to one locomotive for their entire careers, and learned that equipment inside out - often retiring with it. A similar strategy was employed by the Soviet Union - which would retire its equipment and its reservists in regular cycles, and bring them back into active service together. Thus, older reservists would patrol Soviet streets using older equipment while younger ones were elsewhere with the very latest weaponry.

Such examples, and the milder analysis of Lessig, spark us to ask "who's using who?" Often, people in such roles seem relegated to, or assumed to have, no individual capital at all - Maoism or capitalism have no monopoly on treating humans as property, as products, even as "commodities".

instructions as property, weapons, art

Such arguments are part of a broader debate about political economy, intellectual capital, creativity, artificial intelligence, nonproliferation and the role of individuals in choosing, learning, compiling and sharing codes - dangerous or otherwise. Probably because of the drastically different outcomes of using instructions different ways, this debate assumes very different roles for individuals and their creative or moral contributions. This is expressed in the range of entities that are concerned about, and study, instructional capital in use and action:

Military agencies, trade unions, professions, guilds and corporations are often major repositories of instructional capital, maintaining it as a barrier to entry and a means of risk management, i.e. controlling competitive entries, e.g. with a patent pool, or control over certification procedures or licenses, simple secrecy, or "security by obscurity", i.e. rendering instructions incomprehensible to an outsider.

political economy as instructional capital?

Most theories of political economy, being instructional capital in and of themselves, predictably put instructional capital in a somewhat central role:

Karl Marx, and most forms of socialism and trade unionism that he influenced, emphasized the inherent political power of controlling an enterprises' instructional capital. IBM in the 1970s and Microsoft in the 1990s were respectively accused of monopolistic practices in the handling of their instructional capital, most notably, their computer operating systems.

Unlike IBM or Microsoft, Marx admitted that his goal was to seek monopoly in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. However, he abandoned this objective, when he realized that such a monopoly was inherently inefficient, and that instructions would have to be controlled closer to point where they were used - syndicalism echoes some of these concerns and heavily influenced modern trade unionism.

what's the consensus?

All three (Marx, IBM, and Microsoft) were concerned with organizing those workers who were closest to the infrastructural capital (i.e. factories, computers) and promulgating a certain interpretation of it to monopolize the way they discussed, thought about, and directly used means of production. In all three cases, control of the dictionary in which instructions were to be expressed, was thought to be crucial.

As with micro-economics and factors of production, there is little difference between the way different macro- and political theories define or exploit instructional capital. Academics who agree strongly with Marx can use computers made by IBM and software from Microsoft, and few would argue that off-loading individual responsibilities onto reliable instructions or the social network of their colleagues and teaching assistants does not in some way improve "production" of the competences they are there to "teach".

Relation to other terms

Some debates around instructional capital have been framed under the title intellectual capital. However that term does not describe a capital asset, as "intellect" is not as specific or actionable a concept as "instruction".

In human development theory, instructional along with individual and social make up so-called human capital (as that term is understood in macro-economics).

See: capital (economics), individual capital, social capital

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