Capability and Diversity in a Global Society: Democracy, Equality and Beyond

Mackle, Danielle Elizabeth (2016). 'Capability and Diversity in a Global Society: Democracy, Equality and Beyond' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Sen (1992: xi) writes that “human diversity is no secondary complication to be ignored, or to be introduced ‘later on’; as it is a fundamental aspect of our interest in equality”. And Robeyn’s (2011:9) has noted that “human diversity is one of the main theoretical driving forces of the Capability Approach” as it focuses on the personal, socio-economic and environmental factors as well as the social and institutional factors that can impact on an individual or group. Tying in with this year’s conference theme, “Capability and Diversity in a Global Society” this panel will focus on the sub-theme: Equality among different beings – Democratic equality and beyond. The panel will explore how democratic freedom is an important facet of well-being (Sen, 1999; 2001) that can afford individuals and groups the capability to live free and flourishing lives. Using research conducted in South Africa, Asia, Canada, the UK and Northern Ireland, this thematic panel helps show that the development of human capabilities cannot fully happen without democratic freedom (Sen, 2002:79). The variety of research conducted by the panel will highlight the scope of the Capability Approach to describe, assess, and promote human development and social justice in an increasingly globalized world where people’s circumstances and values differ and evolve.
Dr. David Clark will begin by reflecting on the role that public participation can play in theory and practice from a capability perspective, providing a brief assessment of the state of ‘open democracy’ in South Africa today. His paper will explore the values, priorities and aspirations of ordinary South Africans and consider how these relate to public policy and development initiatives. Furthermore, the paper will consider three or four moments in the history of a relatively young democracy in order to explore how public action and pressure impact the capabilities and freedoms people have reason to value.
Dr. Shailaja Fennell will put forward the case that inequalities are neither inevitable nor a natural fact of social life (Sen, 1999). On the contrary, they are socially constructed and rooted in the design of institutions (rules, laws, and social norms), which are shaped by powerful groups in society. The paper argues, following the Akerlof and Kranton (2010) proposition, that the manner in which social institutions perceive individuals has a decisive and sometimes negative, impact on the decisions made by an individual. The paper argues that the democratisation agenda that explicitly recognises the central principle of equality needs to engage directly with the new political ideologies that are becoming prominent in Asian countries. The paper shows that there has been a distinct shift from a nationwide approval of the commitment of the state to have responsibility for the provision of education that benefit all citizens, to the acceptance of increasingly hierarchical educational services that militate against individual and group mobility, which is necessary for ensuring the fruits of a diverse population. The case of educational services in China and India will be used to show that the implications of a stratified provision of education have negative impacts on how marginalised individuals and groups regard their own sense of citizenship. It concludes deconstructing inequalities (such an perverse educational outcomes) and learning to value diversity are necessary first steps towards a better society and fairer future for Asia.
Dr. Margurite Cassin will report on early results from field studies which explore capabilities and wellbeing in rural Atlantic Canadian communities. Economic development policy pursued in Atlantic Canada development agencies has focussed upon supporting and enhancing businesses to create and replace jobs being lost through ongoing decline of and cycles in resource industries. Despite ongoing evidence that these forms of development benefit from associated policy on local and community development this aspect of public policy has had only episodic support and use. Based on policy interest from four previous case studies, this research, supported by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (Government of Canada) looks at rural decline and vitality from the point of view of capability and wellbeing of people and communities. It reports on local initiatives and comments on the creation of policy directions which are informed by applied notions of Sen’s ideas about justice and freedom.
Dr. Susan Hodgett will highlight how the capability approach has informed well-being public dialogues held in the UK on community well-being over the course of 2015 in Belfast and Bristol. The process undertaken for the What's Works Centre for Wellbeing UK will outline how the Integrated Capabilities Framework developed by Hodgett and Clark informed the process of the dialogues and the interesting results which were gleaned. The paper will consider the importance of deliberative democracy and public reasoning in understanding wellbeing and the public's appreciation of same.
Danielle Mackle will compare the LGBT community in Canada (which the Pew Research Centre (2015) ranks as one of the highest LGBT friendly countries in the world) to the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. Both are democratic developed countries, however existing work in Northern Ireland has shown that despite this, some of its citizens are unable to participate in the life of the communities in which they live due to their sexual orientation (Fish, 2008; Hayes, 2014; Hicks, 1997). Some life choices that are available in Canada, are not available in Northern Ireland for the LGBT community and many opportunities in life remain inaccessible, allowing many to feel socially and politically excluded (Fish, 2008). Using qualitative data taken from thirty interviews, this paper will determine whether the LGBT community’s capabilities to do and to be are reduced in Northern Ireland compared to Canada as a result of the differing legislation and policies. The paper will reflect on whether the LGBT community’s ability to flourish, to be the best that they can be and do, may be facilitated or diminished by government intervention (Nussbaum 2006; Clark, 2006).

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