Interning and Investing: Rethinking Unpaid Work, Social Capital, and the “Human Capital Regime”

  • Sophie Hope Birkbeck, London
  • Joanna Figiel City University London
Keywords: internships, human capital, employability, unpaid work, policy


For young workers, interning is a strategy for speculating on one’s asset portfolio. Students and graduates undertake internships as a way of maintaining their self-appreciation and avoiding depreciation in a “human capital regime.” In this article, we explore the specific example of interning in the creative industries as the self-management of human capital vis-à-vis the human capital theses. Taking three cultural objects and recent representations of the issue of unpaid internships—Intern magazine, an advert for a “volunteering opportunity” student placement, and testimonies from interns—we analyze how unpaid work in the creative industries and the neoliberal version of human capital entrepreneurship can be seen as embodied by interns.


Author Biographies

Sophie Hope, Birkbeck, London

Sophie Hope is a practice-based researcher in the Film, Media and Cultural Studies Department at Birkbeck, University of London. She has worked as an independent curator and evaluator of public and socially engaged art and developed a number of practical projects through which to research cultural policy, labour conditions and community art histories. Her PhD (completed in 2011), entitled “Participating in the Wrong Way? Practice Based Research into Cultural Democracy and the Commissioning of Art to Effect Change,” explored the limits and possibilities of criticality in the context of an artists’ contract.


Joanna Figiel, City University London

Joanna Figiel is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Culture Policy Management, City University London. Her research focuses on labour issues, unpaid work, precarity and policy within the creative and cultural sectors. She is a member of the ephemera editorial collective and collaborates, among others, with Minor Compositions, Artleaks, and the Free/Slow University of Warsaw.

Interrogating Internships: Conceptualizing Internships