Sen's Capability Approach

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Amartya Sen, an Indian economist and political philosopher, first articulated the “The Capability Approach” in the late 1970s and 1980s in order to create an alternative and new framework of thinking and evaluating issues of poverty, development, well-being and equality by embracing complexity, plurality and individualism with the aim to not overlook anything. Through his creation of the Capability Approach, Sen shows that his primary concern is to create a pluralistic conception of poverty and development. His intention was to create a framework of thinking and evaluating that would embrace the complexity that comes with issues that of well-being and development. In other words Sen believes that reality, poverty, people and development are intrinsically complex and therefore an intricate and pluralistic evaluation of these matters should be adopted. This creation of an alternative framework that embraces complexity and individualism also acts as a criticism of traditional and other approaches to evaluating human well-being. Sen’s focus on creating a pluralistic conception of development and wellbeing that focuses on opportunities lies in stark contrast with previous and more traditional schools of thought on these issues which are mostly concerned with outcomes, commodities, standards of living and justice as fairness (Walker & Unterhalter, 2007:4). Sen states that he is against Welfarist and Utilitarian approaches and any other income/resourced based theory on development (Robeyns, 2003:9) because he disagrees with how these theories tend to rely on exclusively one aspect of development. Sen states how he is much more concerned with the information that these theories tend to exclude. The Capability Approach also criticizes how economists’ have a tendency to focus on utility in their theoretical work which often translates in to a focus on income in applied work. For Sen, income is only a rough proxy. As well as criticizing the income perspective on poverty, Sen states how he is against theories that concentrate on primary goods because this also neglects the importance of human diversity. These are some of the reasons behind Sen’s conception of the Capability Approach – how he created this framework of thinking in order to try and encourage a pluralistic evaluation that would trump theories that practiced income and resource-based measures which he deemed as having a narrow conception of people, poverty, development, well-being and equality. The Capability Approach provides a broad normative framework of thinking and space to conceptualize and evaluate individual well-being and social arrangements. It does not act as a theory that looks to explain poverty, but instead acts as a tool for evaluating individual well-being, equality and poverty (Robeyns, 2005:94). What is intrinsic to the Capability Approach is its focus on people’s capabilities; what people effectively are able to be and do. It is used in a wide variety of fields as well as providing a tool to evaluate a wide variety of aspects of people’s well-being (Robeyns, 2003:5). This approach argues for social evaluations and policy design to therefore focus on what people are able to be and do and to aim to enhance the quality of their life by removing any obstacles that stand in the way of people’s ability to expand their freedom to live the kind of life, which upon reflection, they deem to be valuable (Robeyns, 2003:6). And so as discussed before, the Capability Approach does not focus on outcomes, or postulate the equalizing of resources in order to alleviate poverty and enhance the well-being of people. Sen postulates the equalizing of capabilities to be central to doing so. Instead the primary goal of the Capability Approach is for the expansion of capabilities instead of primary goods. Primarily, the Capability Approach is a people-centered approach that focuses on human-beings as individuals and their success and well-being instead of focusing on wider,...
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