The Missing Dimensions of the Human Capabilities Approach: Collective and Productive

Abstract

In this paper we identify two missing dimensions of the Human Capabilities Approach (HCA)—the collective and the productive—and in doing so we advance a ‘productionist’ perspective on development, centred around the idea of ‘collective productive capabilities’. Bringing production back to the core of the development agenda calls for an integration of the HCA and those contributions which have focused their attention on the social, economic and institutional processes of learning, centred around productive organisations and systems. The lack of this focus on collective productive capabilities undermined the Millenium Development Goals Agenda and is still having negative impacts on the ways in which the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda is understood and implemented.

Résumé

Dans cet article, nous identifions deux dimensions manquantes de l'Approche par les Capacités Humaines (ACH)—le collectif et le productif—et ce faisant, nous avançons une perspective « productionniste» sur le développement, centrée sur l'idée de « capacités productives collectives». Afin de ramener la production au cœur du développement international, il faut une intégration de l’ACH et des contributions qui ont concentré leur attention sur les processus d'apprentissage à la fois sociaux, économiques et institutionnels, centrés sur les organisations et les systèmes productifs. L'absence de cette focalisation sur les capacités productives collectives a sapé l'agenda des Objectifs du Millénaire pour le Développement et a toujours des impacts négatifs sur la manière dont les Objectifs de Développement Durable sont compris et mis en œuvre.

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Fig. 1

Source Authors (adapted from Jackson 2005 and Robeyns 2005)

Notes

  1. 1.

    We note that HCA also fails to give due consideration of other important dimensions of development that are beyond the scope of this paper, including common goods like the environment. Indeed, the lack of contemplation of issues like ecosystemic constraints on production and the role of the environment in human wellbeing is a limitation, not only of the HCA, but of economics in general. Pressing environmental challenges, like climate change and toxic pollution (both essential for human survival and wellbeing) require profound changes in the sphere of production, which in turn require the acknowledgment of the importance of collective productive capabilities.

  2. 2.

    The philosophical roots of the CA can be found in Aristotle’s theory of ‘political distribution’ and the concept of eudaimonia—i.e. human flourishing—in classical authors like A.Smith and K.Marx and, finally, in the Theory of Justice (1971) by J.Rawls, although Sen and later Nussbaum have criticised Rawls’s use of primary goods as conceptual tools for interpersonal welfare assessment.

  3. 3.

    The concept of ‘structures of living together’ was originally introduced in Ricoeur (1992, p. 192).

  4. 4.

    Stewart (2002:199) interestingly stresses how ‘the ability to form such groups is not only a source of improved capabilities, but a capability itself’.

  5. 5.

    However, it has been stressed that ‘there is a tension in Sen’s capability approach between its formalization as an ethical liberal theory and its use as a developmental normative framework’ (Comim 2008, p. 635). In Sen’s most recent contributions, some existing social/institutional properties of Indian communities such as their ‘argumentative tradition—i.e. public reasoning’ (Sen 2004) or their ‘strong cooperative tradition’ in the state of Himachal Pradesh (Dreze and Sen 2002) are treated as systemic properties that have an intrinsic and irreducible value.

  6. 6.

    Sen has participated in several on the UN's Human Development Reports as a consultant or an advisor and participated in the definition of the metrics for the Human Development Index in the Reports.

  7. 7.

    Von Tunzlemann and Wang (2007) and Andreoni and Chang (2017) are the two only other contributions in which the link between these different streams of literature has been proposed.

  8. 8.

    Martins (2019) notes how Sen’s original formulation of his ideas in a 1978 lecture in Stockholm—published later in the 1984 collection Resources, Values and Development (Sen 1985) used then the term primary powers, to be contrasted with Rawls’ (1971) primary goods. But this terminology was abandoned in the following years.

  9. 9.

    See Chang (2002) for an extensive discussion of these policies and their role in development across countries and throughout history.

  10. 10.

    “Bilateral investment treaties and national policies in Ecuador: In October 2012 an arbitration tribunal of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled against Ecuador in a case brought by Occidental Petroleum Corporation and Occidental Exploration and Production Company under the United States–Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty. It imposed a penalty on Ecuador of $1.8 billion plus compound interest and litigation costs, bringing the award to $2.3 billion. What legal observers found striking about this judgement is that the tribunal recognized that Ecuador cancelled its contract because the company violated a key clause (selling 40 percent of the concession to another company without permission) but found that Ecuador violated the obligation of “fair and equitable treatment” under the United States–Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty” (UNDP 2016, p. 144).

  11. 11.

    “International investment agreements and bilateral investment treaties might restrict governments’ ability to define national policies and standards. These agreements often define expropriation as an action that reduces investors’ expected profits—a very broad definition that is ripe for litigation. An international entity, in most cases the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, resolves disputes related to these instruments. Proper regulation of foreign corporations might become difficult (box 5.4). Most countries have signed some of the 2958 bilateral investment treaties recorded by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development” (UNDP 2016, p. 143).

  12. 12.

    For a broader discussion of the criticisms and evolution from the MDGs to the SDGs, see Sakiko Fukuda-Parr (2016) From the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals: shifts in purpose, concept, and politics of global goal setting for development, Gender & Development, 24:1, 43–52, https://doi.org/10.1080/13552074.2016.1145895

  13. 13.

    See the United Nations Economic and Social Council (2016) Report of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators. New York: UN ECOSOC.

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Andreoni, A., Chang, HJ. & Estevez, I. The Missing Dimensions of the Human Capabilities Approach: Collective and Productive. Eur J Dev Res 33, 179–205 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41287-020-00356-y

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Keywords

  • Human capabilities approach
  • Collective capabilities
  • Productive capabilities
  • Development policy
  • MDGS
  • SDGS