Tag Archives: well-being

Concepts and Measures of Agency

Agency is inescapably plural in both concept and measurement. In Sen’s account of agency, i) agency is exercised with respect to goals the person values; ii) agency includes effective power as well as direct control; iii) agency may advance wellbeing or may address other-regarding goals; iv) to identify agency also entails an assessment of the value of the agent’s goals; v) the agent’s responsibility for a state of affairs should be incorporated into his or her evaluation of it. This chapter refracts the literature on agency measurement through the first four fo these characteristics showing how particular survey-based measures of individual agency elucidate or obscure each distinction. It also observes that existing measures used in development tend to focus on control but not effective freedom, on goals the agent has reason to value rather than goals she values, and on own rather than other-regarding agency. The literature on measurement also raises a number of very relevant issues for the conceptual approach.

Citation: Alkire, S. (2008). ‘Concepts and measures of agency’, OPHI Working Paper 9, University of Oxford.

External Capabilities

The capability approach of Amartya Sen evaluates well-being in terms of an individual’s achievements and abilities to function. The traditional view of capabilities is that they are discernable as part of an individual’s own set of characteristics, or as part of a package of socially provided services. We argue that individuals also have access to a broad array of capabilities through their family, friends and other persons with whom they have relationships. We introduce the concept of ‘external capabilities’, which are defined as those abilities to function that are conferred by direct connection or relationship with another person. Several examples are provided, and we distinguish between our new concept and other existing notions of capabilities originating in groups. The perspective of external capabilities can be especially valuable in formulating development policies or understanding how existing policies work. As an illustration of this, we show how information and communications technologies (ICT) can enhance development by augmenting external capabilities.

Citation: Foster, J. and Handy, C. (2008). ‘External capabilities’, OPHI Working Paper 8, University of Oxford.