Re-evaluating and Re-conceptualising the Capability Approach (CA): Sustainable Human Development Panel Session II

Crabtree, Andrew (2014). 'Re-evaluating and Re-conceptualising the Capability Approach (CA): Sustainable Human Development Panel Session II' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Des Gasper's paper, Human Development Thinking Needs a Human Rights Agenda and a Framework of Shared Human Security, argues that an adequate response to climate change requires, besides scientific analyses, ethical and policy languages that can motivate and mobilize worldwide for a move beyond unlimited economic expansion to an acceptance of finitude and a rethinking of the contents of 'human' and 'well-being' (COMEST 2010). Emphatically liberal versions of human development/capability language, that primarily emphasise increasing the range of attainable valued options, seem to have been inhibited in making a major contribution here. The Human Development Report 2011 reflected this (Gasper et al., 2013a). Human rights language, in contrast, makes clear that injustice is occurring against future generations and already born children, as highlighted for example in the Human Development Report 2007/8; but human rights language is not sufficient (Gasper et al. 2013b). This paper suggests that we need to extend it into a fuller framework of human security thinking, which more fully conveys what is 'human'—including vulnerability and mutual dependence, connection to future generations and dependence on a global ecology—and encourages us to consider humankind as a 'community of fate'. Only then will the 'common sense' that guides institutionalized routine practice in politics, policy and business begin to be changed. To a normative ontology of the value of human persons, as in human rights work, human security thinking may add an explanatory ontology of interconnectedness (O'Brien et al. 2010). This would provide the basis necessary for climate change ethics and public action.



In Counting the 'Phantom' Trees - Corruption and Carbon: Can sustainable human development help in realizing better governance? PB Anand reasons that cost, magnitude, apathy and mistrust are among the fundamental impediments to action especially with regard to climate change mitigation in low and medium human development countries. The main focus of this paper is on corruption and whether the way we understand the causes of corruption acts as a further impediment to national and international co-operation to deal with policy challenges in the real world rife with corruption possibilities. There is some evidence to suggest that the 'great recession' has made the public in the Global North less altruistic. Governments are also re-evaluating their contributions to global public goods. In such contexts, perceptions of corruption in the developing world further justify withdrawal or global non-action. The paper critically examines how we theorize corruption, to what extent corruption both manifests and causes injustice and whether and how a sustainable human development approach can potentially help in resolving some the policy challenges.


In Social Sustainability: A Capabilities perspective to understand its role in sustainable human development, Meera Tiwariexplores the conceptualisation of sustainable human development and social sustainability within the Capability approach. The paper builds on the sustainability discourse and applies it within the social dimensions human development.  The objective of the investigation is to go beyond the interchanging of 'human needs' with 'human capabilities' in extending the sustainable development premise to the sustainable human development and the social sustainability discourse. In doing so it is envisaged that the paper will first present an in-depth discussion of the meaning of social sustainability and sustainable human development using the Capability Approach. Secondly, it will theorise the dynamics of capabilities that maybe necessary for achieving social sustainability and sustainable human development. Third, the paper will ground the theoretical framework into a Self Help Group model of grassroots development from India. The selected case study provides a conceptual platform to explore the genre of capabilities being deployed towards achieving the objectives. The paper further investigates whether such capabilities led models for grassroots development could be the foundation – the basic building blocks for social sustainability and the sustainable human development dialogue.

The case study in rural India is situated in people centered participatory methods within an overall 'bottom-up' approach to development.  The conceptual model for the selected Self Help Group - an externally funded state initiative is human centered and agency led. Based on 'savings' the self-help-groups comprise the poorest and the socially excluded women. The focal point of the process is the individual rural woman – the 'agency', belonging to the poorest and the most socially excluded cohort in the village. After all, it is these individuals whose lifting out of poverty is the development agenda. The 'newness' of this initiative though is embedded in its structure such that the drivers of the change are these women, the 'agency' itself.



COMEST. 2010. The Ethical Implications of Global Climate Change. World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, Paris: UNESCO.

Gasper, D., A.V. Portocarrero, A.L. St.Clair, 2013: An Analysis of the Human Development Report 2011 'Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All'. S. African J. on Human Rights, 29(1): 91-124.

---- 2013b. The Framing Of Climate Change And Development:  A Comparative Analysis of the Human Development Report 2007/8 and the World Development Report 2010. Global Environmental Change 23 : 28-39.

O'Brien, K., et al. (eds.). 2010. Climate Change, Ethics and Human Security, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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