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Capability Approach and Human Development

  • Sakiko Fukuda-ParrEmail author
  • Ismael Cid-Martinez
Chapter

Abstract

Human development is a development paradigm that puts people at the center of development—as its principle end and means. Human development is built on the theoretical concepts of capabilities originated by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, which provides a normative framework for assessment of individual well-being, social outcomes and public policies. In systematically and consistently applying the capability approach in empirical evaluation of development progress, and in the analysis of policy alternatives, the human development paradigm challenges standard prescriptions in a broad range of areas including social, macroeconomic, political, environmental and cultural arenas. It is often misinterpreted as an agenda for social welfare programs and social investments. The rich and complex concept of human development is imprisoned in its reductionist measurement tool, the Human Development Index that only includes education, income, and a decent standard of living. This chapter provides an overview of the capability approach and human development paradigm and situates them within development economics, thought and practice, highlighting its contrasts with conventional thinking, and complementarities with human rights and feminist economics. It argues that the capability approach and human development paradigm have had enormous reach and influence in development thought and practice. It has strengthened complementary approaches that are also motivated by human freedom and flourishing, notably human rights and feminist economics. All these paradigms have led to the rise of a ‘people centered’ approach to development as a discourse, and the consensus on poverty as a principle objective of development as reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals. However, the concepts of capabilities and human development have only been partially reflected in these discourses about policy agendas given the misrepresentation of human development as an agenda for meeting basic needs.

Keywords

Capabilities Human development Human rights Amartya Sen Feminist economics 

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New School for Social ResearchNew YorkUSA

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