Sustainable Development Goals and the Capability Approach: what’s not to like?

Palmer, Eric (2016). 'Sustainable Development Goals and the Capability Approach: what’s not to like?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract This past September, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted with great fanfare. In February, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark voiced the goal of ensuring “that the UNDP is fit for purpose in the SDG era.” What’s not to like in this alignment, when viewed through the lens of capability theory? How does what we see on display in the SDGs — in intergovernmental development programs funded by politicians and administrators working within the global market regime — affect prospects and possibilities for human flourishing? Seventeen Goals have been adopted, but we shouldn’t treat the SDGs as settled. The history of the MDGs indicates that politics will demand their renegotiation, in subtle respects, throughout their term of application: for the MDGs were revised in 2007 and restated in significantly different ways at different times. Progress in development of measurement tools in social science, and research in sociology and psychology should demand their revision, too. The Goals should also be re-envisioned through conceptual development in philosophy, political theory and social theory, consequent upon critical examination of the results of the work of development professionals over the coming fifteen years. This panel contributes to that conversation. Mitu Sengupta and Eric Palmer consider SDGs as political outcomes that generate policy, noting the ramifications of their design and implementation for social justice. Stephen Marks and Sridhar Venkatapuram bring the discussion to more specific aspects, considering the Goals’ relation to human rights and health capability.

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