The challenge of intersecting inequalities for the capability approach

Arciprete, Caterina (2014). 'The challenge of intersecting inequalities for the capability approach' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

This paper shows how the concept of intersecting inequalities poses new challenges to the capability approach that must be addressed in order to tailor effective policies. Intersecting inequalities refer to multiple deprivations connected to different social categories, such as gender, ethnic identity, social class, disability (Verloo, M.,2006).  These inequalities are particularly hard to eradicate as they combine economic deprivations with cultural devaluation on the basis of multiple axes of discrimination.  Intersecting inequalities are present in all the countries and they are gaining increasing attention of international organizations (i.e. UN System Task Team 2012, the post-2015 development framework, Tackling Poverty Center, 2014) .

The capability approach is more and more concerned with the issue of group. Responding to the critique that the 'capability approach is  too  individualistic',  a  number  of  scholars  emphasize  the  importance  of  social  structures, collectivities and groups for the building and expansion of  human capabilities (S. Ibrahim, 2013). These contributions are all of extreme importance because they highlight the importance of taking into consideration that individuals are socially embedded and thus that their action is contingent on social norms and social relationships. However, the focus on group capabilities risks overlooking that individuals are characterized by multiple identities (Davis, 2007) whose salience changes in accordance to age and context.  The capability approach should thus encompass more clearly the issue of identity, as most inequalities emerge from the process of identity distinction (Ballet and Radja, 2007). Understanding the mechanisms leading to the creation and persistence of identity based inequality is crucial to design effective policies. Indeed, by only enhancing individual attainments, traditional pro poor policies have hardly improved the life  chances of  those  individuals that  are  socially  excluded  by  virtue  of  their  group membership (Thorat, 2010). On the other hand, policies stemming from a pure collective perspective such as affirmative action risk addressing only the better off among the disadvantaged group while also strenghtening the prejudice.  This tension between recognition and redistribution (Frazer and Honneth, 2003) arises as a consequence of the different logics embedded in the two types of deprivation: while resource based disadvantage requires distributional remedies, the logic of identity based deprivation is diversity (Kabeer, N. 2000). This paper attempts to investigate the extent to which the capability approach can contribute to unravel this complexity.

This paper is structured as it follows: in the first part a clear distinction is made among collective capabilities, group capabilities, relational capabilities, social capabilities and external capabilities (Evans, 2002; Kabeer, 2003; Ibrahim, 2006; Ballet et al, 2007, Dubois et al, 2008, Foster and Handy, 2009; Stewart, 2013). In the second part intersectional inequalities are scrutinized with relation to the capability approach. In the third part the ratio that should insipire policies tackling intersecting inequalities within the lens of the capability approach is described. In the last part conclusions are derived. 

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