Technology, capabilities and critical perspectives: what can critical theory contribute to Sen’s capability approach?

Abstract

This paper explores what insights can be drawn from critical theory to enrich and strengthen Sen’s capability approach in relation to technology and human development. The two theories share some important commonalities: both are concerned with the pursuit of “a good life”; both are normative theories rooted in ethics and meant to make a difference, and both are interested in democracy. The paper provides a brief overview of both schools of thought and their applications to technology and human development. Three areas are identified where critical theory can make a contribution to the capability approach: conceptually, by providing a critical account of individual agency and enriching the concept of technology beyond the simplistic notion of commodities; methodologically, by sensitising towards reification and hegemony of scientific tools, and, finally, by emphasising reflexivity of researchers.

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Correspondence to Yingqin Zheng.

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An earlier version of this paper was accepted as a poster by the ICTD 2010 conference, London.

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Zheng, Y., Stahl, B.C. Technology, capabilities and critical perspectives: what can critical theory contribute to Sen’s capability approach?. Ethics Inf Technol 13, 69–80 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-011-9264-8

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Keywords

  • Sen’s capability approach
  • Critical theory
  • Capabilities
  • Technology