Valuing Freedoms: Sen's Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction

Valuing Freedoms: Sen's Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction

Valuing Freedoms: Sen's Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction

Valuing Freedoms: Sen's Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction


Friendship, knowledge of foreign groups, the ability to purchase milk and shoes, the scent of summer roses: of what interest is this type of information to economists? Sabina Alkire shows how Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen's capability approach can be coherently---and practically---put to work in poverty reduction activities. Sen argues that economic development should expand 'valuable' freedoms. Alkire probes how we identify what is valuable. Foundational issues are addressed critically---dimensions of development, practical reason, culture, basic needs---drawing on Thomist authors who give central place to authentic participation. A participatory procedure for identifying capability change is then developed. Case studies of three Oxfamactivities in Pakistan---goat-rearing, female literacy, and rose cultivation---illustrate this novel approach. Valuing Freedoms will be of considerable interest to economists, philosophers, development practitioners, and theologians, as well as to followers of Sen's work.


This is a book about Amartya Sen's capability approach—his proposition that the objective of development should be that of 'expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy'. The book is written for academics and practitioners in economic development who consider using the tools of their trade—whether these be econometric analyses or small non-governmental organization activities or monitoring and evaluation procedures—in order to expand people's real freedoms. They wish to think through, systematically, such questions as 'what are valuable capabilities in my areas?', 'how do I think through trade-offs', and 'who should decide what?' In short, they wish to consider how to operationalize Sen's approach—to put it into practice in uncomfortable, messy, compromised practical work at the microeconomic level. It is also written for sceptics (philosophical and economic) who claim there to be nothing value-added in the capability approach because it leaves too many values issues unresolved and thus is impractical.

These pages address, in a number of ways, the question: 'how do we identify “valuable” capabilities?'. This question contains a number of sub-questions, such as 'valuable to whom?' and 'how valuable?' and 'who are the “we”?'

Each chapter of Part I synthesizes Sen's position on one issue, the criticisms he has received, and shapes a way to operationalize the capabilities approach on these issues. It refers to the corpus of Sen's writing on capabilities and poverty but is by no means complete in its treatment of the discussions he has led others to undertake. It sketches the shape that further work in these areas may helpfully pursue. Part II sketches some methodologies of participation and qualitative ranking which identify capability changes that are not now considered. It does not purport to provide a complete analysis.

Anyone who undertakes to publish a sketch is bound to feel self-conscious, as it exposes so many roughnesses of knowledge and mind. However, there may be value in offering up a sketch to the public space, that others may adapt it, contribute to it, and above all improve it. It is to that end that this book has been devoted.


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