Introduction to the Capability Approach and Choice of Dimensions

Instructor: Sabina Alkire, Director OPHI

Class Objectives:

  • History and Motivation
  • Capabilities
  • Functionings
  • Agency
  • Implications for economics
  • Issues for measurement
  • Choice of Dimensions



Part 1

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Part 2

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Introduction to Capability Approach and Choice of Dimensions Part 1 

Introduction to Capability Approach and Choice of Dimensions Part 2

Reading List
Basic readings:
SEN, A. (1999), Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press.
SEN, A. (1989), “Development as Capability Expansion” In S. FUKUDA-PARR and
A.K. SHIVA KUMAR, Readings in Human Development, Oxford University
Press (2003).

Other suggested readings:
On the capability approach:
SEN, A. (1993), ‘Capability and Well-being’ in A. SEN and M. NUSSBAUM, The Quality of Life, Clarendon Press.
ALKIRE, S. (2005), “Why the Capability Approach?” Journal of Human Development 6:115-133.
ROBEYNS, I. (2005), “The Capability Approach: a theoretical survey.” Journal of Human Development 6:93-114.
ALKIRE, S. and S. DENEULIN (2008), Introduction to Human Development in Theory and Practice draft chapters. Chapter 2 and possibly Chapter 1 (These are very basic introductory chapters but are easily available).
THORBECKE, E. (2008), “Multidimensional Poverty: Conceptual and Measurement Issues.” in edited by KAKWANI, N. and J. SILBER (eds.), The Many Dimensions of Poverty. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Further readings:
SEN, A. (1985), ‘Well-Being Agency and Freedom: The Dewey Lectures 1984’, Journal of Philosophy 82(4): 169–221.
SEN, A. (1992), Inequality Re-Examined, Oxford: Clarendon Press

On the choice of dimensions:
SEN, A. K. (1992), Inequality Reexamined. Chapter 7: “Poverty and Affluence”. (This Chapter lays out the case for considering multiple dimensions of well-being or poverty – in Sen’s cases, through measures of capability – rather than focusing on income or utility).
GRUSKY, D. and R. KANBUR (eds) (2006). Poverty and Inequality. Stanford: Stanford University Press. “Introduction” (p 1-29). (Kanbur’s introduction situates the rise of multidimensional poverty and inequality within economics from 1970 on, and identifies standing questions including how to choose dimensions. Grusky then introduces sociological approaches to multidimensional poverty, outlining their relation to previous research over the last 50 years).
RANIS, G., F. STEWART, and E SAMMAN. (2006). “Human Development: Beyond the Human Development Index.” Journal of Human Development 7(3): 323-358. (This paper draws on various approaches to well-being, proposes eleven categories of human development, and identifies and examines certain
ALKIRE, S. (2007), “Choosing Dimensions: The Capability Approach and Multidimensional Poverty.” (This paper observes how researchers have, in practice, selected dimensions of poverty, and finds they generally use one of five methods).
MCGILLIVRAY, M. (ed.) (2007), Understanding Well-Being: Concept and Measurement, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Further readings on the choice of dimensions:
ALKIRE, S. (2002), “Dimensions of Human Development” World Development 30: 181-205. (This article surveys the ‘lists’ of dimensions of human development that have been proposed – on the basis of participatory planning or research, philosophy, synthesis of existing literature, cross-cultural psychology,
psychology of human development, and so on).
ATKINSON, A.B. (2003), “Multidimensional Deprivation: Contrasting Social Welfare and Counting Approaches.” Journal of Economic Inequality. 1:1 from p 51. (This article identifies the problem of aggregating multiple attributes, and some of the methods in use to address them).
NARAYAN, D, CHAMBERS, R., SHAH, M.K. and P. PETESCH (2000), Voices of the poor: Crying out for change. New York: Oxford University Press for the World Bank. – (This influential study tries to synthesise participatory poverty assessments in order to identify the dimensions of “ill-being” and of “wellbeing” that emerge across contexts).
ROBEYNS, I. (2003), “Sen’s capability approach and gender Inequality: Selecting Relevant Capabilities.” Feminist Economics. 9:61-92. (This more philosophical article argues that, to select capabilities (or dimensions), we need to observe four procedural criteria.)
RUGGERI-LADERCHI, C., SAITH, R. and F. STEWART (2003), “Does it Matter that we do not agree on the definition of poverty? A Comparison of Four Approaches.” Oxford Journal of Development Studies. 31:3 243-274. (This paper compares monetary poverty, capability, social exclusion, and participatory measures of poverty).
SEN, A. K., ‘Capabilities, Lists, and Public Reason: Continuing the Conversation’, Feminist Economics, 10:3 (2004). (In this rather thunderous short piece, Sen defends his decision not to adopt ‘one’ list of capabilities).