Measuring capabilities: taking people’s values seriously

Hirai, Tadashi (2019). 'Measuring capabilities: taking people’s values seriously' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


While the Capability Approach stresses the significance of taking people’s values seriously in assessing their living, it has struggled with how to put it into practice. On the one hand, Sen advocates that individual values be respected with the proviso that they need to be scrutinised in public to avoid the problem of adaptive preferences formed in unfavourable circumstances. On the other hand, Nussbaum maintains that a list of central capabilities be used as a starting point to secure citizens’ fundamental entitlements with the proviso that it is revisable at the legislative stage reflecting respective cultures and societies.

So far some research has been conducted to take Nussbaum’s route. For example, Anand et al. (2009) and Lorgelly et al. (2015) evaluate people’s well-being subjectively based on Nussbaum’s list; and Comim and Amaral (2013) referring to the Human Development Index. While asking people about their level of each dimension, they all keep the importance across the dimensions unaltered. Now one possible way to reflect people’s values is to ask them about how important each dimension is for them in addition to their attainment, so that their values can weigh accordingly on their attainment of each dimension.

In this research, two types of scale are used: OCAP-18 and Aspirations Index. OCAP-18 was introduced in Lorgelly et al. (2015) as a short version of Anand et al. (2009), to measure capabilities based on Nussbaum’s list. Aspirations Index has been used widely in the Self-Determination Theory in the field of positive psychology, to measure aspirations in terms of their importance and attainment after distinguishing them into an intrinsic type (e.g. personal growth, relationships) and an extrinsic type (e.g. wealth, image). The uniqueness of this research is to ask people about not only the attainment but also the importance of each capability by applying Aspirations Index to OCAP-18. By doing so, the attainment level of each capability can be weighed in proportion to the importance level (i.e. values) individuals place on each capability.

The data come from the biggest cities in each of the BRIC’s countries (Sao Paulo, Moscow, Mumbai and Shanghai) where people are in economic transition and their well-being fluctuates more revealingly. The sample size is around 1,600 in total (400 from each city). As it is collected from both wealthy and poor areas, the difference in the importance of each capability can be revealed across the areas in addition to the difference in the attainment of them.

Building on the preceding study in the capability school and positive psychology, this research will offer a way of measuring people’s values on each capability and reflecting them on the attainment level of each capability, and thus enable us to take their values seriously in measuring capabilities.

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