Individual or collective agency? Needs and capability approaches for sustainable development

Rauschmayer, Felix, and Ortrud Lessmann (2011). "Individual or collective agency? Needs and capability approaches for sustainable development" Paper presented at the 8th annual conference of the HDCA, 6-8 September 2011, the Hague, the Netherlands.

This paper sketches a re-conceptualisation of sustainable development (SD) on the basis of the capability approach (CA). The notion sustainable development was developed as a compromise in a political process and has been re-interpreted (some say: diluted) again and again in the last 20 years. When modelling the notion through the lenses of the capability approach, difficulties occur that are at the core of SD and of CA or that are due to their combination. Our paper shows why links that seem rather obvious (e.g. replacing needs in the Brundtland-definition of SD with capabilities) are not that easy. Other issues come up as well that make us aware of issues still lacking clarity in the CA: collective capabilities, governance, morality, uncertainty (including ignorance, risk, and ambiguity), integration of systemic developments and the role of the environment in the capability formation. It will become evident why these issues are important when one wants to go beyond a mere theoretical reflection. We will not be able to go into detail of all these issues, but rather close our paper with a call for further work on the link between the individualistic CA and political, necessarily collective decision processes. Blindness in this regard makes the CA inapt to really address issues of SD.
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