Santos, Cristina (2017). 'Relational Capabilities and Human Development' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


While the importance of group capabilities has already been established within the capabilities approach (Stewart, 2005), the extent to which individuals benefit from group participation and identity will necessarily vary. Sen (1990) has made an excellent case for how perceptions of contributions and of own value directly impact on the relative entitlement and well-being individual members attain from being in a group. More traditional economic approaches (Himmelweit et al., 2013) have made similar arguments about how differences in relative income and bargaining power impact on outcomes and individual well-being. This paper adds a dimension to this intragroup dynamics by bringing to the front the importance of relational capital, and by proposing a typology of the main determinants which contribute to its flourishing, and to its inhibiting.

Using evidence from a sociological and psychological empirical study (Barker and Gabb, 2016), and building on the framework of agency and structure (Oppong, 2014), this paper aims to make a case for the importance of relational capabilities in forming groups which promote individual flourishing, and most importantly, to avoid groups which do not safeguard basic capabilities (such as physical integrity). Following that, this paper will propose a parsimonious model which identifies the main inhibitors and promotors of relational capabilities. The grouping of these relational capability drivers will be similar to Sen’s grouping of conversion factors, according to environmental, social and individual, drivers.

The author is drawing on her work on domestic violence using the capabilities approach, her work on intrahousehold inequalities form an Economics tradition, and her more recent ongoing multidisciplinary work on relationship quality (Almeida and Santos, 2017). While the focus of this paper, and of the contribution is mostly in terms of interpersonal relationships, this approach and contribution can be of potential use to political economy and diplomacy studies also.

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