, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 54-60

Collective capabilities, culture, and Amartya Sen’sDevelopment as Freedom

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Sen showed his usual wisdom and astute judgement in keeping his argument carefully focused and, therefore, elegant and compelling. Nonetheless, the understanding and pursuit of “development as freedom” must go beyond the arguments he lays out. As the global political economy moves with ever greater determination toward the implantation of more thoroughly marketized economic relations, analysts must correspondingly focus more closely on how to prevent market-based power inequalities from undermining “development as freedom.” Centralization of power over the cultural flows that shape preferences is a more subtle form of “unfreedom” than those which Sen highlights, but no less powerful for being subtle. Institutional strategies for facilitating collective capabilities are as important to the expansion of freedom as sustaining formal electoral institutions. Indeed, without possibilities for collective mobilization formal elections too easily become a hollow farce. Sen’s capability approach provides an invaluable analytical and philosophical foundation for those interested in pursuing development as freedom, but it is a foundation that must be built on, not just admired.

Peter Evans is professor in the Sociology Department at the University of California, Berkeley. His current research interests focus on globalization and global governance institutions, and their effects on ordinary citizens. He has written numerous articles and books on subjects ranging from globalization, the role of the state in industrial development, and urban environmental issues. A current project supported by the Russell Sage Foundation examines possibilities for constructing North-South links between labor movements as a strategy for increasing the bargaining power of labor movements in the global South.