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The Relational Ontology of Amartya Sen's Capability Approach: Incorporating Social and Individual Causes

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  • Matthew Longshore Smith
  • Carolina Seward
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    Abstract

    While Sen has written extensively on the social factors of capabilities, the exact nature of these social factors and how they interact to form and influence capabilities is contested and unclear. Consequently, how to coherently integrate social components into capability research remains a concern for those attempting to put the capability approach to practical use. This paper proposes one approach to understanding and integrating the social nature of capabilities. Building upon two recent contributions by Martins, we argue that underpinning Sen's notion of capabilities is an ontological conception of a relational society. In this perspective, an individual's capabilities emerge from the combination and interaction of individual-level capacities and the individual's relative position vis-a-vis social structures that provide reasons and resources for particular behaviors. Crucially, this conception of society is predicated upon a contextual notion of causality that is flexible enough to incorporate both individual and social causes into social analysis.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Journal of Human Development and Capabilities.

    Volume (Year): 10 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 2 ()
    Pages: 213-235

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    Handle: RePEc:taf:jhudca:v:10:y:2009:i:2:p:213-235

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    Keywords: Capability approach; Causality; Ontology; Relational society; Social theory;

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    Cited by:
    1. Cecile Renouard, 2011. "Corporate Social Responsibility, Utilitarianism, and the Capabilities Approach," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, Springer, vol. 98(1), pages 85-97, January.
    2. Demals, Thierry & Hyard, Alexandra, 2014. "Is Amartya Sen's sustainable freedom a broader vision of sustainability?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 33-38.
    3. Natera, Jose Miguel & Pansera, Mario, 2013. "How Innovation Systems and Development Theories complement each other," MPRA Paper 53633, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Birkin, Frank & Polesie, Thomas, 2013. "The relevance of epistemic analysis to sustainability economics and the capability approach," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 144-152.
    5. Griewald, Yuliana & Rauschmayer, Felix, 2014. "Exploring an environmental conflict from a capability perspective," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 30-39.
    6. Griewald, Yuliana & Rauschmayer, Felix, 2013. "Exploring a nature-related conflict from a capability perspective," UFZ Discussion Papers 7/2013, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (├ľKUS).

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