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Is Sen's Capability Approach an Adequate Basis for Considering Human Development?

Listed author(s):
  • Des Gasper
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    Sen's capability approach (SCA) has supported valuable work on Human Development (HD). It has brought attention to a much wider range of information on people's freedoms and well-being than in most earlier economic planning; but it also has troubling features and requires modification and enrichment. This paper first identifies the approach's components, the contributions of the HD Reports, and the doubts about whether SCA has a sufficient conception of human personhood to sustain work on HD beyond finding indices superior to GDP. It then examines SCA's central concepts. The concepts of capability and functioning lead us to consider both possibilities and outcomes, but their definition and use has been confusing. Besides Sen's opportunity concept of 'capability' we must distinguish skills and potentials; and distinguish levels and types of 'functioning'. To understand both consumerism and what can motivate and drive more humanly fulfilling development, we must elaborate different aspects and sources of 'well-being' and the content and requirements of 'agency', more than in Sen's chosen strategy. SCA's priority category of opportunity-capability must be read as a measure of personal advantage relevant in many public policy situations, rather than as a theory of well-being; and its concept of freedom must be partnered by concepts of reason and need.

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    Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Review of Political Economy.

    Volume (Year): 14 (2002)
    Issue (Month): 4 ()
    Pages: 435-461

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    Handle: RePEc:taf:revpoe:v:14:y:2002:i:4:p:435-461
    DOI: 10.1080/0953825022000009898
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    1. Des Gasper, 2000. "Development as freedom: taking economics beyond commodities-the cautious boldness of Amartya Sen," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(7), pages 989-1001.
    2. Vivian Walsh, 2000. "Smith After Sen," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(1), pages 5-25.
    3. Ananta Kumar Giri, 2000. "Rethinking human well-being: a dialogue with Amartya Sen," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(7), pages 1003-1018.
    4. Sudhir Anand & Amartya Sen, 2000. "The Income Component of the Human Development Index," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 1(1), pages 83-106.
    5. Ravallion, Martin, 1997. "Good and bad growth: The human development reports," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 25(5), pages 631-638, May.
    6. Simonis, Udo E., 1992. "Least developed countries - newly defined," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 17-29.
    7. John Cameron, 2000. "Amartya Sen on economic inequality: the need for an explicit critique of opulence," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(7), pages 1031-1045.
    8. Richard Lipsey, 2001. "Successes and failures in the transformation of economics," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 8(2), pages 169-201.
    9. Simonis, Udo Ernst, 1992. "Least developed countries: Newly defined," Discussion Papers, Research Professorship Environmental Policy FS II 92-404, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
    10. Charles Gore, 1997. "Irreducibly social goods and the informational basis of Amartya Sen's capability approach," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 9(2), pages 235-250.
    11. Simonis, Udo E., 1992. "Least developed countries - newly defined," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 5-19.
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