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Introduction to the Capability Approach

Sabina Alkire

  • The history and motivation for Sen’s work.
  • Definitions of capabilities, functionings, freedom, and agency.
  • The connection between the Capability Approach and issues for poverty measurement.

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Video (with guide)

Guide to the video

00:00 Introduction to an overview of Sen’s approach and complementary initiatives

02:56 An overview of the key publications in Sen’s work, note that there is a large secondary literature.

08:49 Sen’s background

Part 1: Understanding the Terms of the Capability Approach

10:10 Introduction to the capability approach, unpacking the terms included in the capability approach (freedoms, functionings, agents, capabilities).

14:25 A definition of functionings.

18:42 The interpretation of the space of resource, capability, functioning, and utility with an example of a bike and food

28:00 A definition of freedom

33:07 A definition of agency, brief, not the focus of the lecture

34:58 The link between capability and agency

36:55 Sen’s process freedom

40:18 Common misunderstandings of Sen’s capability approach

49:37 Introduction to other key authors’ work on Sen; M. Nussbaum and I. Robeyns

52:38 D. Thomson’s application of the capability approach to her own family

Part 2: The Capability Approach and Poverty Measurement

55:08 The link between the capability approach and measurement, the notion of space, indicators are often achieved functioning, and not capabilities (see also Normative Issues in Multidimensional Poverty Measurement)

58:55 Question asked to reflect on your own multidimensional poverty measure

60:17 Link between MPI and the capability approach, and a discussion on the practical implementation of the capability approach – how the AF methodology allows for diversity with valued functionings (a k cut-off larger than union)

66:21 The capability approach’s relation to human development (and the HDR), they have the same objective

70:14 The capability approach’s relation to other conceptual framworks (MDGs, human rights, human security, happiness)

Key readings covered in these lectures

Chapter 3, Inequality Reexamined by Amartya Sen; Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992

Chapters 11-13, Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1 edition (September 30, 2009)

Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen; Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999