Communities and capabilities

Tonon, Graciela (2018). 'Communities and capabilities' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The beginning of this century presents us with new models of community which imply that the traditional concept has changed, together with the way people participate in community spaces. The present social transformations have affected the community’s distinctive traditional characteristic of being contained within space limits, to the idea of being formed by a few members that daily meet each other face to face.

The capability approach consists in the identification of freedom as a major principle of development furthermore, the analysis of social and economic policies aims at establishing empirical connections which render the focus on freedom coherent and convincing as a guiding perspective in the development process. In this respect, the capability approach represents a theoretical proposition in order to assess, namely: life satisfaction; perception of social situations; design for public policies which affect economic development; social policies; and international development.

Capability is the actual ability which allows individuals to accomplish valuable life achievements by reflecting alternative combinations of their performance – the aforementioned performance being everything these persons manage to accomplish or become in the course of their lives. It is further directly related to people´s well-being and freedom, while exerting an indirect influence over economic production and the process of social change.

Richardson (2007) points out that, according to Sen, capability is referred to what people may really choose, and people may only choose certain functionings – performance – provided that, once they have made their choice, the latter is respected, put into practice, and guaranteed.

Traditionally, the CA has been criticized because of being considered an exclusively individual approach. Nevertheless, authors such as Stewart (2005) have pointed out the importance of groups, acknowledging the fact that persons actually live in groups: families, communities, or neighborhoods.

Regarding collective capabilities the work of Ibrahim (2006) is worth mentioning, for he reflects upon capabilities and attempts to relate them to the social structures, emphasizing the importance of communities in the expansion of capabilities. Yet the concept of collective capabilities is not a synonym of community, since collective capabilities may also be expanded in different types of organizations.

The community is a totality which is meaningful to the people who are part of it. Lo Biondo (1999 quoted in Tonon, 2012, p.21) asserted that the specificity of the concept is related to inter-subjectivity and to matters of sharing. Maya Jariego (2004, p. 190 quoted in Tonon, 2012, p. 22) explained that community could be understood both as locality and group; the former referred to the neighborhood, the city or a rural area; while the latter was based on interpersonal relations rather than geography.

The etymology of the word community – whether regarded as mutual obligation or as the experience of living together in unity – regards the individual as the central issue; “being in common” is a notion which is always open to definition, for we may regard as common not only what is shared but also what is divided, since the prefix “in” is not an index to situate what is regarded as common but an indicator of the boundary of localization, thus allowing the generation of images of what there is in store (Rosman, 2005, pp.119-123).

Community life is a type of social relationship based on strong subjective connections such asfeelings, territorial proximity, beliefs, and common traditions – in other words, the neighborhood and friendship which lead to subjective feelings of collective belonging. This in turn leads to an identification of the different contemporary concepts of community: namely, as a mode of existence, as a social connection, as a mobilization project, or a political space. (Torres Carrillo 2002).

Keywords: Community, Capability Approach, Local Community, Urban-Rural, Community-Based Rehabilitation.

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