Taking Institutionalized Power Seriously

Keleher, Lori (2011). "Taking Institutionalized Power Seriously" Paper presented at the 8th annual conference of the HDCA, 6-8 September 2011, the Hague, the Netherlands.

In this paper I consider a general version of a criticism that various scholars (including philosopher Christine Koggle and economist Marianne Hill) have made of Amartya Sen’s capability approach. The criticism is that Sen does not do enough to engage the important role that institutionalized power plays in generating, reinforcing, and reproducing the inequalities that prevent or limit various groups of individuals (including women) from experiencing empowerment. After examining Sen’s considerable but often neglected contributions to this topic, I conclude that although Sen is certainly aware of the importance of institutionalized power and of the role it plays in generating inequalities and limiting empowerment, he fails to provide a sufficiently complete account of these issues. I submit, however, that this failure to completely account for institutionalized power is not an insurmountable problem for Sen or for the capability approach for at least two reasons. First, Sen has not only done valuable work on the topic, but he also recognizes that there remains important work left to do. Second, Sen’s work and the capability approach can be extended to more adequately address the relevant issues of institutionalized power. I suggest that work done in feminist economics (including Nailia Kabeer’s Social Relations Approach) and feminist philosophy (including Christine Koggel’s Relational Theory of Equality) can provide the basis for a more complete understanding of institutionalized power and, in turn, empowerment.
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