Foundational Issues in the Capability Approach

Watene, Krushil; Waldmuller, Johannes; Khilji, Taimur; Gilabert, Pablo (2014). 'Foundational Issues in the Capability Approach' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Foundational Issues in the Capability Approach

This panel brings the capability approach into conversation with a range of theorists, theories, and issues in order to demonstrate how the capability approach might be further enhanced, refined, and developed. Each of the papers contributes to this end by:

1. Demonstrating how concepts central to the capability approach can be enriched or further refined.
For instance, the first paper by Taimur Khilji entitled: 'Ordinary Language approach to Unpacking Development Vocabulary' will approach current development discourse using two strands of thought evident in Ludwig Wittgenstein's (LW) writings. First, LW's Lecture on Ethics offers a novel approach to critique value we have come to attach to development related concepts. Additionally, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, especially the sections on 'method' (sections 89 to 133) and LWs overall approach to language can be effectively employed to critique the language of development (i.e. the biases development vocabulary and discourse may introduce, and the misconceptions it may create).
The paper will unpack development language, by observing how certain critical concepts, such as 'democracy' and 'market' manifest themselves in practice as opposed to their idealized and formulaic usage in development discourse. Such a textual analysis should shed light on the dissonance we observe between development discourse, on the one hand, and the on-the-ground reality it attempts to depict on the other. It would also help clear the ground for developing policies that are informed by context and ground realities.

2. Demonstrating how non-western values are able to enrich the capability approach as a theory of global justice

The second paper by Johannes Waldmuller entitled: 'Corazonar', 'Self-Transformation', 'Bio-centrism': from Western Universality to Global Pluriversality? introduces and engages non-Western philosophical contributions for the purposefulness of rethinking notions such as '(human) development', 'development ethics' and 'agency'. The paper draws on a range of critical theorists to expand the notions of capabilities and functionings beyond anthropocentric conceptualizations. In such a way, the paper aims to expand capabilities and functionings to non-human beings, such as mountains, rivers or even objects. Such an approach, resonating with indigenous worldviews (among others) would seek to undo the notion of 'resources' and could point the way forward to metabolic conceptions of human-nature rights. Such a 'Pluriversal' approach (Mignolo 2011) would, or so the paper argues, present a promising (albeit tentative) approach to global justice and development.

3. Demonstrating how the capability approach provides space, tools, and reasons to enter into cross-cultural discussions of well-being, development, and the good life.

The third paper by Krushil Watene entitled: 'Indigenous Self-Determination: Lives we have Reason to Value' asks how self-determination for indigenous peoples can best be understood in practical and theoretical terms. First, the paper highlights the difficulties of pursuing and achieving self-determination and uses the Maori (indigenous peoples of Aotearoa/New Zealand) as a case study to draw attention to what self-determination has and continues to mean. On the back of this discussion the paper shows how philosophical insights are able to move conversations forward. Secondly, this paper highlights the deeper philosophical claims inherent in the declaration about indigenous peoples (in this case Maori) being able to live lives they value. In such a way, this paper highlights the importance of the declaration in creating space for indigenous values to be brought into conversation with contemporary accounts of well-being, development, and valuable lives. On the back of this discussion, the paper looks at what this means for the scope of philosophical interpretations and conversations of well-being and development. The paper ends with reflections on how the capability approach provides space for these conversations to occur.

4. Demonstrating how human dignity sheds much needed light on human rights in relation to labor.

The final paper by Pablo Gilabert entitled: 'Labor Human Rights and Human Dignity'explores two questions: 'Are labor rights human rights?' and 'How are labor rights related to human dignity?' Section 2 surveys the entitlements to freely chosen work, to decent work conditions, and to form and join labor unions within the most important documents of the legal and political practice of human rights. Section 3 argues that these rights are morally justified because they protect extremely important human interests and provide a feasible and reasonable support for the human dignity of workers. Section 4 explores some central normative issues about the relation between labor rights and human dignity. It shows why work is particularly important for human dignity, why labor human rights may not exhaust the demands of dignity regarding labor, and how we can address a common tension between independence and solidarity within our practical affirmation of human dignity. Section 5 concludes.

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