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Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 6: Capability Approach
Ingrid Robeyns What is the capability approach? The capability approach is a broad normative framework for the evaluation and assessment of individual well-being and social arrangements and the design of policies and proposals about social change in society. Its roots can be traced back to, among others, Aristotle, Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Nonetheless, it has become especially well known in the past three decades through the work of economist and philosopher Amartya Sen (for example, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1999) and classicist and philosopher Martha Nussbaum (1988, 1995, 2000, 2003, 2006). The capability approach is employed in a wide range of academic disciplines, most prominently development studies, welfare economics, social policy and political philosophy. It can be applied to evaluate inequality, poverty, the well-being of an individual or the well-being of the different members of a group (whether the average, or other aspects of the distribution). It can also be employed as an alternative evaluative tool for social cost-benefit analysis, or as a framework for the design and evaluation of policies. These latter range from welfare state design in affluent societies to development policies by governments and non-governmental organizations in developing countries. The literature includes a wide variety of studies, from the very abstract to applied empirical works. The capability approach also provides the theoretical foundations for the human development paradigm, which is often described as an alternative to neoliberalism and the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’ in development thinking (FukudaParr 2003). It is not a theory that in itself...
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