Capabilities and valuation: A pragmatist account

Zimmermann, Bénédicte (1,2) (2016). 'Capabilities and valuation: A pragmatist account' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Keywords: Capability, empirical enquiry, judgement of practice, pragmatism, valuation.
Understanding capability as the range of possibilities people have to achieve doings and reach states of being they value, as the capability approach (CA) does, makes a topical issue of values. Focusing on what is of value for people rather than on values that are given once and for all and among which individuals may choose, makes the activity of “assigning value to” or “valuing” an important aspect of the diversity prospect that underlies the CA. Although widely addressed in theoretical and epistemological discussions, this point paradoxically remains empirically under-investigated. From the theoretical literature, we learn that inquiring into valuing without falling into the traps of value essentialism, on the one hand, or subjectivism on the other, requires analyzing a whole range of interacting factors, extending from individuals’ features to environmental ones. But what does valuing mean concretely? It is not just a matter of expressing satisfaction or preferences. Beyond outcomes, complex valuation processes are involved. What are they actually? How can they be empirically addressed and grasped? And is everyone able to articulate and formulate what is of value to her? Rather than taking valuation for granted or leaving it to philosophical debates, empirical social sciences may gain by translating it into more specific research sub-questions, if they want to bring more than a descriptive contribution to the study of diversity.
John Dewey’s pragmatist account of valuation can fruitfully complement the CA in view of opening the black box of valuation. His approach is all the more suited in that, as early as 1891, he pointed to the subtle nuance between capability and capacity, making freedom, capability/capacity, and development three pillars of his work.
In a first part, we will present the notions of capability and development according to Dewey and discuss their affinities to and differences with the CA. In a second part, we will address Dewey’s valuation approach, focusing on three main dimensions: valuation as judgment of practice; valuation as a matter of inquiry; and valuation as deliberation. In a last step, we will elaborate on the consequences that may follow from this for empirical inquiries on valuation, using capabilities in the field of work as a case in point. Finally we will address some critical issues left open by such a framework.

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