Methodological issues in operationalizing Sen’s capabilities approach: a critical review of empirical literature

HASAN, HAMID (1,2); KHAN, HAYAT (3) (2016). 'Methodological issues in operationalizing Sen’s capabilities approach: a critical review of empirical literature' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract While Sen’s capabilities approach (CA) provides a framework of justice for an assessment of human wellbeing, it faces a challenge on the operationalisation side in practice. The present paper addresses most of the issues in operationalizing the CA, critically reviews the empirical literature on the application of the CA, and proposes a new way of subjective evaluation of capabilities using the techniques developed in happiness approach (HA) and argues in favor of using an exploratory modeling methodology. The paper discusses issues like positional-dependent objectivity, selection of functionings from exogenously or endogenously given capability set, subjective adaptation, positive versus negative freedoms, circularity in capability dimensions, and human diversity. Sen has been criticized on using ambiguous terminology for capability and various uses of the term capability. The paper attempts to remove misconceptions regarding the nomenclature used in the CA and provides a clear understanding of these terms. The paper suggests a way to resolve these issues to a large extent. The CA has also been severely criticized regarding the problems associated with identification of capabilities list, hence problems of inter-personal comparison of well-being and determination of weights, high informational requirements for the measurement of functionings, and even high informational requirement for the measurement of capabilities because of their counterfactual nature.   The paper argues that some of the methodological problems, reviewed in this paper, can be greatly minimized if we consider capabilities of “being achieved,” which is an overall functioning. The paper regards capability as freedom oriented and counterfactual notion whereas aspiration as a future-regarding concept. Hence, both of these concepts, along with human diversity, which is generally masked by the assumption of homogeneity, are better operationalized in a subjective way. The paper proposes sense-of-achievement (SA), sense-of-freedom-to-achieve (SFTA), and sense-of-ability-to-achieve (SATA) which measure Sen’s functioning, freedom and conversion efficiency respectively in a subjective way, as capability dimensions of “being-achieved”. The proposed subjective solution to these problems is defended against Sen’s popular criticism on happiness using Sen’s position-dependent argument. Keywords: Sen, Capabilities, Functionings, Welfare

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