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Re-conceptualizing Sustainable Development on the Basis of the Capability Approach: A Model and Its Difficulties

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  • Ortrud Lessmann
  • Felix Rauschmayer

Abstract

This article sketches a re-conceptualization of sustainable development (SD) on the basis of Sen's capability approach (CA). The notion of sustainable development was developed as a compromise in a political process and has been reinterpreted (some say diluted) again and again over the last 20 years. When modelling the notion through the lenses of the capability approach, difficulties occur that are at the core of SD and of CA or that are due to their combination. This article shows why it is not easy to replace ‘needs’ in the Brundtland definition of SD with ‘capabilities’. In our model, the differences between systemic and individual levels become clear and herewith the necessity to include both when dealing with issues of SD. The most salient difficulties relate to the multidimensionality and dynamics on both levels. Confronted with these difficulties, demanding individuals to consciously choose sustainable actions seems to be heroic. We propose two ways to alleviate the cognitive and moral burden on individuals by concentrating on the natural environment and by introducing collective institutions. Both alleviations are far from evident, however; this concerns their justification as well as their operationalization.

Suggested Citation

  • Ortrud Lessmann & Felix Rauschmayer, 2013. "Re-conceptualizing Sustainable Development on the Basis of the Capability Approach: A Model and Its Difficulties," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(1), pages 95-114, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jhudca:v:14:y:2013:i:1:p:95-114
    DOI: 10.1080/19452829.2012.747487
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gutwald, Rebecca & Leßmann, Ortrud & Masson, Torsten & Rauschmayer, Felix, 2011. "The capability approach to intergenerational justice: A survey," UFZ Discussion Papers 8/2011, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
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    Cited by:

    1. Krumm, Raimund & Volkert, Jürgen, 2015. "Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der politischen Realisierbarkeit intra- und intergenerativer Gerechtigkeit," UFZ Discussion Papers 11/2015, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
    2. Leßmann, Ortrud & Masson, Torsten, 2015. "Sustainable consumption in capability perspective: Operationalization and empirical illustration," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 64-72.
    3. Rauschmayer, Felix & Bauler, Tom & Schäpke, Niko, 2013. "Towards a governance of sustainability transitions: Giving place to individuals," UFZ Discussion Papers 17/2013, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
    4. Pelenc, Jérôme & Ballet, Jérôme, 2015. "Strong sustainability, critical natural capital and the capability approach," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 36-44.
    5. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:2:p:409-:d:130229 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Gébert, Judit, 2015. "Mit is kell fenntartani?. Fenntarthatóság a képességszemlélet perspektívájából
      [Sustaining what?. Sustainability in terms of the capability approach]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(9), pages 972-989.
    7. Pelenc, Jérôme & Bazile, Didier & Ceruti, Cristian, 2015. "Collective capability and collective agency for sustainability: A case study," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 226-239.
    8. Pelenc, Jérôme, 2014. "Développement humain responsable et aménagement du territoire. Réflexions à partir de deux réserves de biosphère périurbaines en France et au Chili
      [Responsible Human Development and Land-Use Plann
      ," MPRA Paper 56094, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:7:p:2485-:d:158248 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Britta Stoever & Thomas Drosdowski & Ulrike Lehr & Marc Ingo Wolter, 2014. "Socioeconomic consumption modelling in an input-output model," EcoMod2014 6721, EcoMod.
    11. 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.
    12. Dr. Thomas Drosdowski & Britta Stöver & Dr. Marc Ingo Wolter, 2015. "Consumption modelling considering different socio-economic household types," GWS Discussion Paper Series 15-15, GWS - Institute of Economic Structures Research.
    13. Rauschmayer, Felix & Bauler, Tom & Schäpke, Niko, 2015. "Towards a thick understanding of sustainability transitions — Linking transition management, capabilities and social practices," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 211-221.
    14. repec:gam:jsusta:v:11:y:2019:i:4:p:1023-:d:206432 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Volkert, Jürgen & Strotmann, Harald & Moczadlo, Regina, 2014. "Sustainable Human Development: Corporate challenges and potentials. The case of Bayer CropScience's cotton seed production in rural Karnataka (India)," UFZ Discussion Papers 5/2014, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
    16. Mock, Mirijam & Omann, Ines & Rauschmayer, Felix & Fuchs, Daniela, 2013. "Do community currencies enhance sustainable quality of life?," UFZ Discussion Papers 16/2013, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
    17. repec:eee:ecolec:v:144:y:2018:i:c:p:304-313 is not listed on IDEAS

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