Introduction to the Capability Approach

Instructor: Sabina Alkire, OPHI Director

Class Objectives:

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

Introduction to Capability Approach Presentation


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Reading List
Suggested basic readings on this topic:
ALKIRE, S. Capabilities and Functionings: Definition and Justification
ALKIRE, S. and S. DENEULIN (2008), “Human Development and Capability Approach” in DENEULIN, S. and L. SHAHANI (eds) An Introduction to Human Development and Capability Approach, draft chapters.
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).

Further readings:

ALKIRE, S. (2005), “Why the Capability Approach?” Journal of Human Development 6:115-133.
ALKIRE, S. (2007), “Measuring freedoms alongside well-being”, in GOUGH, I. and J. A. MCGREGOR (eds.) Well-being in developing countries: new approaches and research strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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 “well-being” 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.)
ROBEYNS, I. (2005), “The Capability Approach: a theoretical survey.” Journal of Human Development 6:93-114.
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. (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
SEN, A. (1993), ‘Capability and Well-being’ in A. SEN and M. NUSSBAUM, The Quality of Life, Clarendon Press.
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).
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.
KUKLYS, W. (2005): Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach: Theoretical Insights and Empirical Applications. Berlin: Springer.