Essay Example on Amartya Sen's Capability Approach CA

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Over the last decade Amartya Sen's Capability Approach CA has emerged as the leading alternative to standard economic frameworks for thinking about poverty inequality and human development generally The capability approach CA is a broad normative framework for the evaluation of an individual's well being social arrangements and the design of policies and proposals about social change in the society Robeyns 2005 Sen s 1999 CA is essentially concerned with freedom which in a broad sense refers to the effective opportunities people have to live the kind of lives they have reason to value The core characteristic of the capability approach is its focus on what people are effectively able to do and to be that is on their capabilities This contrasts with philosophical approaches that concentrate on people's happiness or desire fulfilment or on theoretical and practical approaches that concentrate on income expenditures consumption or basic needs fulfilment Some aspects of the capability approach can be traced back to among others

Aristotle Adam Smith John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx see Nussbaum 1988 2003b Sen 1993 1999 but the approach in its present form has been pioneered by the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen Sen 1980 1984 1985b 1985a 1987 1992 1993 1995 Drèze and Sen 2002 and more recently also been significantly developed by the philosopher Martha Nussbaum Nussbaum 1988 1992 1995 2000 2002a 2003a Sen argued that in social evaluations and policy design the focus should be on what people are able to do and be on the quality of their life and on removing obstacles in their lives so that they have more freedom to live the kind of life which upon reflection they find valuable The capability approach to a person s advantage is concerned with evaluating it in terms of his or her actual ability to achieve various valuable functionings as a part of living The corresponding approach to social advantage for aggregative appraisal as well as for the choice of institutions and policy takes the set of individual capabilities as constituting an indispensable and central part of the relevant informational base of such evaluation Sen 1993 30 The conceptual foundations of the CA can be found in Sens critiques of traditional welfare economics which typically conflate well being with either opulence income commodity command or utility happiness desire fulfilment see Crocker 1992 and Clark 2002 pp 29 34 for more extensive discussions of these critiques Sen distinguishes between commodities human functioning capability and utility as follows

A capability of an individual is an ability to achieve something having the agency or the freedom to tap into or acquire certain opportunities The functioning of an individual is the realization of the opportunity Functionings are considered constitutive of well being or fulfilled expectations whereas the capability is the freedom to be able to exercise on realizing an expectation For example if a woman in Iraq wishes to pursue higher education for herself the functioning here becomes education and her ability to achieve this goal becomes her capability Her freedom to realize this goal is restricted by many factors such as her religious background her family culture and traditions the socio cultural background of the country She may not be able to fulfil her goal because the cultural norm of patriarchy of Iraq does not allow a woman to pursue higher education or have a career but instead pushes them to be home makers Her family might not support her in pursuing this or even if they do decide to support her they might not have the financial means to help her with this Therefore from the perspective of the capability approach her freedom to achieve this goal is restricted which has made her incapable of achieving it Now if a woman in Melbourne Australia has the same goal her ability to achieve it is higher than that of the woman in Iraq

The Australian woman's family might be supportive of her career and educational goals and even have the financial means to help her realize this goal The socio cultural norm of patriarchy in Australia is much more relaxed as compared to Iraq s and hence she even might get societal support to pursue this goal Robyens 2005 explains that the difference between capabilities and realised functionings is between the freedoms or valuable options from which one can choose on one hand and achievements on the other Moreover Alkire 2005 noted that it is important to concentrate on capabilities rather than functionings because people value free choice For example a person who is fasting is in the state of undernutrition which may be likened to a person who is starving But in the one case the person fasting could eat and chooses not to whereas the starving person would eat if he she could Alkire 2005

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