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Re-conceptualising sustainable development on the basis of the capability approach: A model and its difficulties


  • Leßmann, Ortrud
  • Rauschmayer, Felix


This paper sketches a re-conceptualisation of sustainable development (SD) on the basis of the capability approach (CA). The notion sustainable development was developed as a compromise in a political process and has been re-interpreted (some say: diluted) again and again in 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. Our paper shows why it is not that 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 to 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, though; this concerns their justification as well as their operationalization.

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  • Leßmann, Ortrud & Rauschmayer, Felix, 2012. "Re-conceptualising sustainable development on the basis of the capability approach: A model and its difficulties," UFZ Discussion Papers 03/2012, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:ufzdps:032012

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Guillen-Royo, Monica, 2010. "Realising the 'wellbeing dividend': An exploratory study using the Human Scale Development approach," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 384-393, December.
    2. Bill Hopwood & Mary Mellor & Geoff O'Brien, 2005. "Sustainable development: mapping different approaches," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 13(1), pages 38-52.
    3. Elinor Ostrom, 2000. "Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 137-158, Summer.
    4. Paul Anand & Cristina Santos & Ron Smith, 2007. "The measurement of capabilities," Open Discussion Papers in Economics 67, The Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economics.
    5. Daly, Herman E., 1987. "The economic growth debate: What some economists have learned but many have not," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 323-336, December.
    6. Laurent, Éloi, 2011. "Issues in environmental justice within the European Union," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(11), pages 1846-1853, September.
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    capability approach; sustainable development; systemic level; collective institutions; dynamics;

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