Human development and social inclusion in urban margins: towards a framework for capability-promoting policies

Lepore, Eduardo (2018). 'Human Development and Social Inclusion in Urban Margins: Towards a Framework for Capability-Promoting Policies' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


Latin America is the most urbanized continent, with 80 per cent of its population living in urban areas. A third of Latin Americans live in cities with more than 1 million people (CEPAL, 2014). Argentina does not escape to this Latin American characteristic. About 90 per cent of its population is urban, and a third of its overall population is concentrated in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. Latin America has also long been the most unequal continent (Cornia, 2014; Lopez-Calva et al. 2015). In 2010, a quarter of the Latin American population lived in informal settlements (UN Habitat, 2012). Argentina has followed the same urban fragmentation trend. According to a survey of seven urban agglomerations which contain 60 per cent of the total Argentinian population, there were 1834 informal settlements in the country in 2013 totalling more than 532 thousand families (TECHO, 2013). The City of Buenos Aires, which counts with 3 million people, has 41 informal settlements in which more than 200,000 people live (Suárez et al., 2014).

In the last five years, from the Interdisciplinary Program on Human Development and Social Inclusion, we have focused on the study of concentrated poverty, developing a multidimensional diagnosis of quality of life in the informal settlements of Buenos Aires (Lépore et al., 2012; Súarez, Mitchell and Lépore, 2014). The evidence obtained is consistent in indicating the incidence of educational, labour and housing deprivations in the emergence of barriers to human development related to the neighbourhood. It also highlights the role of civil society organizations based in these territories and the relevance that the religion can play in promoting agency and capability expansion.

This Thematic Panel has the double objective of deepening the analysis of quality of life in the informal settlements of the City of Buenos Aires and of proposing some guidelines for action aimed to promote human development and social integration in marginalized urban contexts. Thus, our contribution seeks “to put into praxis the human development approach” in the context of urban marginality.

According to Deneulin et al. (2018), a first feature of framing policies with the capability approach is its multi-dimensional perspective. It is foremost a comparative framework which helps to evaluate if one situation is better than another (Sen 2009). The capability approach provides a normative framework to assess what a ‘better’ life could consist of, and provides criteria or evaluation tools to measure what kind of lives people are able to live. To reflect the dynamic of this multi-dimensional perspective, Wolff and De-Shalit (2007) have introduced the notions of ‘corrosive disadvantages’ and ‘fertile functionings’. Because of its multi-dimensional perspective, the capability approach makes possible an analysis of how different wellbeing dimensions affect each other.

A second feature of using the capability approach to frame policies is its institutional perspective. Well-functioning institutions are essential components of people’s quality of life. An unregulated property market, and insufficient provision of low-rent housing, may create homeless families. A corrupt police force that cooperates with criminal gangs may create violent environments. Lack of coordination between different levels of government in a given territory, and competition between them because of different political party allegiances, or lack of coordination between state and civil society actors, may lead to poor or insufficient access to basic services.

By last, a third feature of the capability approach is its agentic perspective. Human beings are not passive recipients of state benefits, or passive victims of badly functioning institutions (Sen 1999). Within the capability framework, urban residents are conceived as agents, responsible for creating the economic, social and political conditions for all residents to equally enjoy a basic set of capabilities independently of where they live.

The three papers selected consider these main features of the capability approach in the context of urban inequality, focusing on the informal settlements of the City of Buenos Aires. Firstly, Macció, Mitchell and Outes´s paper describes the multi-dimensional dynamics of deprivation in the informal settlements. Secondly, Lépore and Simpson Laap´s contribution provides evidence of the relationship between concentrated poverty and the labour market. They draw attention to the design of public programs to tackle the consequences of spatial concentration of disadvantaged. Finally, Facciola and Suarez´s paper discusses the agentic feature to examine the role that the parish schools can play in fomenting agency and capability expansion.

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