An application of the nussbaum’s capability approach to urban development in latin america

Carvalho Mendonça, Matheus Thiago (2018). 'An Application of the Nussbaum’s Capability Approach to Urban Development in Latin America' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The human being has always looked for better ways of survival. With the advent of modern civilization, however, this aspiration has been transformed into a demand for all or most individuals and nations to raise their well-being at multiple levels (political, economic, social, cultural, etc.) and thus also serve to improve their quality of life.

In this sense, the article will discuss the capacity approach in the thinking of the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, presenting a proposal to apply this approach to the context of urban development in Latin America.

Nussbaum proposes that people have certain "capacities" (or freedoms) within them that relate to the outside at various levels, such as political, social, economic, through opportunities given to them, since only opportunities make them possible the relationship of the interior with the exterior. In this sense, "capacities" are the set of "workings" that prove essential for a person, what everyone can and cannot do, what he is capable of being and doing, how he acts in each moment of his life, according to the circumstances of the context in which it operates.

In this context, the discussion presented in this article is justified in noting that, although Latin America has great political and economic centers, it also presents low rates of social development in a broad spectrum, which raises the following question: considering the complex historical framework of Latin America and the efforts already made in the field of education, how the quality of life affects the skills and potential of the people segregated in urban development? To create an interdisciplinary interlocution, the article questions the potentiality of laws to enable social justice, after all, can law create quality of life?

To make such a proposal, the starting point is the capacity approach of the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, focusing on three of her works: Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach; the book Creating Capabilities, where Nussbaum develops and develops a list of ten skills considered essential so that the life of each person can be brought in a worthy and valuable way. Finally, the work Frontiers Of Justice, being the work that demands more attention.

Thus, the paper will present two considerations on Nussbaum's philosophical production: the first one will be to offer a comprehensive and introductory overview of the capacity approach that is developed throughout his works. The second consideration is to point out an application of Nussbaum's thinking to urban development in Latin America, combined with a discussion of the effectiveness of laws in the effective promotion of social justice.

To support this hypothesis, the following points will be presented and explained: (1) that people and their well-being constitute the center of gravity of Nussbaum's capacity theory; (2) that Nussbaum created a list to define all the levels to take into account in the life of each person so that it can enjoy human dignity (central aspect in the life of each human being); (3) that for human dignity to come to fulfillment it is necessary to take into account what each person is really capable of being and doing, or rather what opportunities are given to them to be and to do; (4) that it is necessary to find ways to expand the capacities of each person by increasing the sphere of opportunity for realization through the implementation of adequate public policies; and (5) that Law, as a tool of social regulation, plays an important role in the implementation of human development and the achievement of the common good.

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