2015 HDCA Conference – Washington, D.C.



The 2015 HDCA  conference will be hosted by Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C. on the theme:

“Capabilities on the Move: Mobility and Aspirations”

September 10-13, 2015

The 2015 HDCA Program Committee cordially invites scholars, government policy makers, practitioners and other interested parties from all over the world to participate in the 2015 HDCA conference.  Original empirical research, theoretical issues, case-studies or reports of experiences, or findings from major research projects, and book panels relevant to conference theme or more broadly related to human development/capabilities approach will be presented.



Conference Theme

“Capabilities on the Move: Mobility and Aspirations”

Human development has in large part been a story of mobility.  Geographically, people move to seek a better job or a better life, and when they succeed, they move up the socioeconomic ladder, whether as assessed by income or by capabilities.  People’s aspirations fuel these efforts; yet aspirations can be quashed by poverty, inequality, or social exclusion.  Mobility can also pose challenges to human development, ranging from overcrowded cities to widening inequality, as some get left behind.  Examining how mobility and aspirations interact provides an important window on the dynamics of human development.

Upward mobility is a dynamic counterpart of equality, offering the possibility that those born in poverty might escape it.  Support for basic capabilities, especially in the areas of health and education, is essential to enabling such upward mobility.  How do the aspirations of the poor and vulnerable figure into this process?  How can their success in meeting them begin to match that of the rich and powerful?  Long-entrenched cultural barriers often inhibit social and economic mobility and put in place a kind of social distance. This can make it hard for highly trained professionals, such as doctors, to work effectively with the poor and less educated.  How can these barriers be overcome?  And how can those who are relatively deprived and excluded be adequately protected against downward mobility resulting from inadequate social policies, war, ill health, educational deprivation, or even climate change?

Such evils and misfortunes spur much of the world’s geographic mobility.  Among those forced to flee epidemics, economic crises, natural disasters, and human conflicts, the poor and vulnerable are disproportionately represented.  How can the ideals of human development adequately reach the world’s millions of refugees?   And as another billion of the world’s poor migrate voluntarily to cities, or to other countries, aspiring to improve their lot, how can their human development be adequately addressed?  All around the world, migration to cities is putting huge strains on the infrastructure that is meant to provide sanitation, transportation, health, education, and personal safety, thus threatening basic capabilities even while holding out hope for them.

People’s aspirations, which can drive them to move, can be a powerful engine of development.  Whether individuals’, families’, or communities’ pursuit of their aspirations translates into improvements in their capabilities and functionings, however, is a further question.  Understanding people’s aspirations, and their capabilities to aspire, is crucial to understanding poverty and human development.  Do we know how to encourage aspirations without setting people up for frustration?  Where people’s aspirations are stunted by lack of opportunities, development will languish; but where people’s aspirations are frustrated by barriers to education or employment or needed health care, apathy and resentment may set in.

Importantly, people aspire to agency as well as to well-being.  They seek an end to local oppressions.  They seek democracy and liberty for their own nations, and a real voice for those nations in international forums.  How can these agential aspirations—these political aspirations—be harnessed to promoting human development?  At a more theoretical level, aspirations deserve study also because they represent a deeper layer of human psychology than is ordinarily captured by preference-based models.

The theme of mobility and aspirations, then, will provide an enriching way to focus on capability enhancement over time, one that will deepen the social, political, and psychological richness of the capability approach.



Plenary Sessions (location: Gaston Hall)

1.     Aspirations Symposium

Thursday 9/10, 5-6:30 pm
Caroline Sarojini Hart, Martha C. Nussbaum, and Debraj Ray

Human aspirations express people’s deepest hopes, revealing a psychology and a pattern of valuing that is richer and more complex than that of simple desires.  Capturing this depth and subtlety of motivation and evaluation is a challenge for economic theory, for empirical understanding more generally, and for philosophical accounts that attempt to articulate our fundamental commitments to justice and human flourishing.  Each of our distinguished symposiasts takes up this challenge in a distinctive sphere and in a distinctive way.

2.     2015 Amartya K. Sen Lecture

Friday 9/11, 10-11 am
James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics (The University of Chicago)
“Creating Flourishing Lives: The Dynamics of Capability Formation”

This lecture presents recent research on the economics of creating flourishing lives.  The implications of this research for the design of effective policies are discussed.

3.     2015 Mahbub ul Haq Lecture

Friday 9/11, 5:15-6:15 pm
Ernesto Zedillo, Former President of Mexico (Yale University)
“Tales from Latin America and Africa: Growing Policy Challenges at a Time of Vanishing Tailwinds”

This lecture will observe that the recent period of significant improvements in key social indicators in regions such as Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa have been driven, not exclusively but certainly significantly, both by better terms of trade and by the adoption of unprecedentedly effective social policies –like the conditional cash transfers programs. It will argue that such improvements, in the absence of more ambitious structural reforms, could stall or even reverse now that the commodity super-cycle is over, and that the impact of the innovative social programs either have entered their diminishing returns phase, in some cases, or, in others, are at risk of being interrupted or at least dwindling for fiscal reasons.

4.     A Dialogue on Justice and Aspiration
Friday 9/11, 6:30-7:15 pm
Martha C. Nussbaum, and Amartya K. Sen
Professors Nussbaum and Sen have agreed to an extraordinary plenary session in which they discuss one of the main issues on which their interpretations of the capability approach appear to diverge.

5.     Migration Panel

Saturday 9/12, 10-11:30 am
“International Migration and Human Development”

International migration and development intersect in many ways. The development process affects whether and how people move across international borders; migration in turn affects the development of both source and destination countries. In this session, four prominent experts in migration and development will discuss the interconnections between migration and development, its relevance to the post 2015 development agenda, and ways to enhance the human development and capabilities of migrants, their countries of origin and countries of destination.

The panelists include:

  • Hein de Haas, Professor of Sociology, University of Amsterdam’s (UvA) Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
  • Peggy Levitt,  Professor of Sociology, Wellesley College
  • Kathleen Newland, Director, Migrants, Migration, and Development, Migration Policy Institute
  • Dilip Ratha, Director, Lead economist and Manager of the Migration and Remittances Unit, World Bank. Founder and Head of the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD), World Bank
  • Moderator: Susan F. Martin, Donald G. Herzberg Professor of International Migration, Georgetown University

6.     2015 Martha C. Nussbaum Lecture

Saturday 9/12, 4-5 pm
Seyla Benhabib, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy (Yale University)
“Democratic Iterations and Cosmopolitan Human Rights: A New Paradigm for the Dialectic of Law and Politics”

This lecture examines how we can interpret the relationship between democratic sovereignty and transnational legal order in a new age.  Critiquing the “new sovereigntism” and arguing that transnational human rights norms strengthen rather than weaken democratic sovereignty, this lecture will challenge us to think beyond the binarisms of the cosmopolitan versus the civic republican; democratic versus the international and transnational; democratic sovereignty versus human rights law.

7. World Bank Panel

Sunday 9/13, 10-11:30 am
“The Role of Governments and Markets in Promoting Mobility and Ending Poverty”

In 2013, the World Bank Group (WBG) declared two goals: ending extreme poverty by 2030 and achieving shared prosperity. This session will discuss the roles the government and the market will have to play to achieve these goals. What are the policies that can facilitate upward mobility among the poor? How much should we rely on growth and how much on targeted interventions? Empirical findings suggest that economic growth raises the incomes of the poor, but is that enough? In this session, leaders from the WBG will highlight some of the ongoing research related to the above questions, and will also introduce the audience to the open questions and challenges which the WBG currently confronts.

The panelists include World Bank Group leaders:

The session is being organized by Kaushik Basu and Garance Genicot.

Pre-conference events

The pre-conference events will take place on Thursday, Sept. 10, prior to the opening of the conference itself at 5:00 p.m. that day. The workshops and talks planned for that day are below.

Children and Youth, Human Development, and Research Methods: operationalising the capability approach

Sept. 10, 9:00 am – 10:30 am
Georgetown University Conference Center, Salon D

Organized by the Children and Youth thematic group, this workshop is an opportunity to meet in person with group members and others to share methods, information, and ideas for improving research. Research methods for research on/with children and young adults will be discussed (both qualitative/participatory and quantitative). The workshop will be divided in two parts: In the first part, participants will work together in small groups and will focus on critical aspects of their research on/with children; in the second part, each small group will present their results to the other participants.

Organizers: Mario Biggeri, Caroline Hart and Caterina Arciprete

Steven Radelet talk: “The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World”

Sept. 10, 9:00 am – 10:30 am
Copley Formal Lounge

We live today at a time of the greatest development progress among the global poor in world history. Never before have so many people, in so many countries, made so much progress, in so short a time in so many dimensions of development. Since the early 1990s more than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, average incomes in developing countries have nearly doubled, child mortality has fallen sharply, life expectancy has grown, war and violence have declined, millions more girls are in school, and democracy—often fragile and imperfect—has become the norm. In this talk Steven Radelet will discuss what has happened and how this progress can be sustained and expanded to those still left behind.

Professor Radelet holds the Donald F. McHenry Chair in Global Human Development at Georgetown and was formerly the Chief Economist at USAID and Senior Advisor on Development to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This talk is a preview of his book on this topic, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

Global Justice Philosophy in 2015- Taking Stock

Sept. 10, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Georgetown University Conference Center, Salon B

This event takes stock of the current state of global justice theorizing. The program begins with Leif Wenar presenting from his new book Blood Oil which exemplifies engagement with empirical evidence. Other scholars will present work taking new directions in global justice theorizing.

Sustainability and Human Rights: Ethical Dimensions of an Urban Agenda

Sept. 10, 9:00 am -12:30 pm
Georgetown University Conference Center, Salon F

Sponsored by the Ethics and Development, Human Rights, and Sustainability Thematic Groups and the International Development Ethics Association. The event will consist of two panels; the first panel focuses on Human Rights as LGBTQI Rights internationally, as United States immigration issue, and finally within Washington, D.C. The second panel looks at Sustainability issues within Washington, D.C.

8:45 am -9:00 am:  Welcome
9:00 am -10:30 am:  LGBTQI rights; D.C., the Border and Beyond
10:30 am -10:45 am:  Break
10:45 am – 12:15 pm: Washington, D.C. as a “Sustainable City”

An ‘activation day’ event will be held on Weds., Sept. 9 from 10:00 am-1:00 pm. Participants in the activation day will volunteer with Martha’s Table, a local organization that focuses on feeding the more than 93,000 hungry residents, including 31,000 hungry children, of Washington, D.C.

Capability Measurement: An Overview

Sept. 10, 10:45 am-12:15 pm
Georgetown University Conference Center, Conference Rm 5-6

The workshop provides an overview of research conducted during a fifteen year period that has sought to develop questionnaires, datasets and analyses that illustrate an explicit and full operationalization of Sen’s (1985) original version of the theory. More specifically we shall look at research developed with teams of philosophers, social scientists and economists to operationalize Sen’s core relations and concepts and we shall see how Nussbaum’s list can be adopted for use within the Senian framework.  This may be of interest both to academics who are looking for explicit measures of capabilities as well as development practitioners in policy and practice who wish to use data on capabilities to identify needs or evaluate interventions. In the session, participants move from reasons why utilitarianism is a limited ethical framework to developing an understanding of how the capability approach now includes alternative tools that are genuinely ‘workable’ – see for example Anand et al (2009). In addition, we note applications ranging from clinical trials in Oxford to work with marginalised people in Ireland that promise to deepen understanding of human development whilst extending the reach of our approach.

Rajiv Shah talk:  “How Data & Evidence are Transforming the Fight for Global Health”

Sept. 10, 10:45 am – 12:15 pm
Copley Formal Lounge

Rajiv Shah (USA) served as Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from January 2010 to February 2015, advancing its mission of ending extreme poverty and promoting resilient, democratic societies. He pioneered new public-private partnerships, catalyzed scientific innovation and enlisted the private sector and Congressional leaders of both parties to join in this cause. He also led the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response to catastrophic crises around the world, including the Haiti earthquake, Typhoon Haiyan and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.  Previously, he served as Under Secretary and Chief Scientist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Prior to that, he spent eight years at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from its inception, where he led efforts in global health, agriculture, and financial services.

Health and Disability Worshop

Sept. 10, 12:30 pm – 2:15 pm
Georgetown University Conference Center, Salon E

This workshop will bring together scholars and practitioners who have been working on health and disability issues in relation to the human development and capability approach.

This workshop will be a unique opportunity for participants to discuss their works in progress or planned work on health and disability. Each participant will be given the opportunity to present a relevant project and to receive feedback from other participants.

Frances Stewart talk: “Human Development in Practice: Lessons from 40 years’ country experience”
Click here to download the slide presentation

 Sept. 10, 1:15 pm – 2:15 pm
Copley Formal Lounge

Frances Julia Stewart is a world-renowned development economist who directed the Department for International Development at Oxford University and then the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) there; she remains an advisor to the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative.  She was president of the HDCA 2008-2010.  She has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sussex, the 2013 Leontief prize for advancing the frontiers of economic thought from Tufts University, and the 2009 Mahbub ul Haq award for lifetime achievement in promoting human development from the United Nations Development Programme.


Exploring Education with the Capability Approach

Sept. 10, 1:15 pm – 3:15 pm
Georgetown University Conference Center, Salon D

This workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to meet others interested in the field of education ahead of the main HDCA conference.

In particular this workshop will explore the opportunities and challenges of applying a capability approach to researching and understanding educational matters.  The scope of educational matters may encompass formal and informal teaching and learning opportunities across the life course as well as policy in all its guises. We are interested in sharing experiences of developing research strategies, questions and methods in ways that draw upon, or reflect, a capability paradigm.

You do not need to be an active researcher to attend this workshop.  However, we welcome proposals from individuals or groups who wish to present or discuss their work in this arena.

Indigenous Peoples Living on Tribal Lands: Challenges and Opportunities

Sept. 10, 2:00-4:00 pm
Georgetown University Conference Center, Conference Rm 5-6

This will be a discussion led by members of the Native American Students’ Council of Georgetown University, who will provide an overview of American Indian life on reservations with a particular focus on youth.

In the morning, there will be a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian (http://nmai.si.edu/) including the featured exhibition: Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations.


HDRO Panel: Human Development at a Crossroad – Revisiting the Concept and the Measurement

Sept. 10, 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm
Copley Formal Lounge

Human Development Reports have been published near annually since 1990, addressing development issues and challenges ranging from globalization to cultural diversity, from economic growth to environmental sustainability, from democracy to climate change. The time has come to revisit the simple but powerful basic notion of human development – a process and outcome of enlarging people’s choices. It is also time to reflect on how we continue to measurement of human progress.

There are issues and aspects which till now remain unresolved, unanswered and unvisited. For example, the human development notion focuses on individual choices, but the issue of collective choices was never addressed. How does the society make trade-offs? Similarly, there is a hierarchy among choices and there is a prioritization at individual and societal levels. How does the human development concept deal with these?

Lead speaker: Dr. Selim Jahan, Director of the UNDP Human Development Report Office (HDRO), since September 2014. He earlier contributed to nine HDRs. From 2002-2014 he served as Director of the UNDP Poverty Division.


Dr. Gaël Giraud, S.J., Chief Economist at the Agence Française de Développement

Dr. Jaya Krishnakumar, Professor of Econometrics, Institute of Economics and Econometrics, GSEM, University of Geneva