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From Individual to Collective Capabilities: The Capability Approach as a Conceptual Framework for Self-help


  • Solava Ibrahim


This paper emphasizes the importance of collectivities for human capabilities. Using the example of self-help, the paper demonstrates how the poor can act together to expand and exercise new 'collective capabilities'. The paper argues that the Capability Approach (CA), with its emphasis on freedoms and agency, is a suitable — however insufficient — conceptual framework for self-help analysis. It points out the limitations of the CA in capturing the interactive relationship between individual capabilities and social structures. To incorporate this 'collective' dimension within the CA, the paper re-emphasizes the intrinsic and instrumental value of social structures, explores the concepts of collective freedoms and collective agency, and compliments the CA with the literature on collective action, institutions and social capital into an integrated analytical framework for 'collective capabilities'. The paper finally operationalizes this framework through three case studies of self-help initiatives among the poor in Egypt.

Suggested Citation

  • Solava Ibrahim, 2006. "From Individual to Collective Capabilities: The Capability Approach as a Conceptual Framework for Self-help," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(3), pages 397-416.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jhudca:v:7:y:2006:i:3:p:397-416 DOI: 10.1080/14649880600815982

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Mozaffar Qizilbash, 2014. "Are modern philosophical accounts of well-being excessively ‘individualistic’?," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 61(2), pages 173-189, June.
    2. James Foster and Christopher Handy, 2008. "External Capabilities," OPHI Working Papers ophiwp008, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
    3. Giraud , Gaël & Renouard, Cécile, 2009. "Relational Capability: An Indicator of Collective Empowerment," ESSEC Working Papers DR 09012, ESSEC Research Center, ESSEC Business School.
    4. 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).
    5. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:2:p:409-:d:130229 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. de Vries, Bert J.M. & Petersen, Arthur C., 2009. "Conceptualizing sustainable development: An assessment methodology connecting values, knowledge, worldviews and scenarios," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(4), pages 1006-1019, February.
    9. 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.
    10. Nicolas Buclet & David Lazarevic, 2015. "Principles for sustainability: the need to shift to a sustainable conventional regime," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 17(1), pages 83-100, February.
    11. 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.
    12. 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 (ÖKUS).
    13. 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).
    14. Scarlato, Margherita, 2012. "Social Enterprise, Capabilities and Development: Lessons from Ecuador," MPRA Paper 37618, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Richard Heeks, 2010. "Do information and communication technologies (ICTs) contribute to development?," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(5), pages 625-640.
    16. Bakker, Karen & Kooy, Michelle & Shofiani, Nur Endah & Martijn, Ernst-Jan, 2008. "Governance Failure: Rethinking the Institutional Dimensions of Urban Water Supply to Poor Households," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(10), pages 1891-1915, October.
    17. Knight, David W. & Cottrell, Stuart P., 2016. "Evaluating tourism-linked empowerment in Cuzco, Peru," Annals of Tourism Research, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 32-47.
    18. Griewald, Yuliana & Rauschmayer, Felix, 2014. "Exploring an environmental conflict from a capability perspective," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 30-39.
    19. Cecile Renouard, 2011. "Corporate Social Responsibility, Utilitarianism, and the Capabilities Approach," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 98(1), pages 85-97, January.


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