The (im)possibilities of representing voice in capability approach education studies.

Del Monte, Pablo (2018). 'The (im)possibilities of representing voice in Capability Approach education studies.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


This paper discusses the notion of “voice” in Capability Approach (CA) education studies. The CA has foregrounded the perspectives of individuals in the study of education for human development as it queries about what people “have reason to value” (Sen 1992) rather than about resources available to them or outcomes.

some ideas about distribution rest on what an outsider determines is best to create maximum opportunities or achieve appropriate outcomes for, say, different kinds of schools or students. The problem is often phrased in terms of what forms of curriculum, teaching, school management, and learning resources will yield the education achievements, such as examination results or skill sets, that an economy needs (Unterhalter and Walker 2007: 2)


These approaches, as Unterhalter and Walker mention, contribute to the imposition of outsiders´ determinations on local living conditions. Researchers – vis a vis policy-makers -  have a central role in the definition of these resources and outcomes. In this framework the CA approach opens spaces for new voices to be heard both in the processes of knowledge and policy production by asking about “the opportunities or freedoms to achieve what an individual reflectively considers valuable” (idem).


This, however, poses several challenges for research. One topic that has been widely discussed is how or to what extent should the voices of individuals be considered in processes of human development. On one hand, the question of how the evaluation of capabilities should be operationalized has been extensively developed (Sen 2004, Robeyns 2003, Comim 2001). On the other hand, the question on the authenticity of individuals´ processes of valuing has been addressed in childhood studies (Biggeri et al 2006) and around the idea of “adaptive preferences” (Teschl and Comim 2005). However, a question that has not been widely addressed is how these voices are captured and objectified in the research process, and what are the possibilities to respresent those voices for research purposes.


From a Foucaultian approach (Foucault 1984a, Tamboukou and Ball 2003) this paper discusses the potential and limitations of narrative research (Andrews, Squire and Tamboukou to represent the voices of individuals. The role of the author in its relationship with participants will be discussed, arguing that the reconstruction of native voices is always a co-construction between the researcher and the participant (Tierney 2003). On this basis the position of the researcher in CA education studies is reconsidered. While intending to strengthen the attempt to include new and disempowered voices in research and policymaking processes, it is argued that researchers are necessary outsiders who intervene in the definition of individuals´ valued capabilities to the extent that they act as writers, editors and translators of participants´ voices. Furthermore, drawing on Foucault´s notion of “author-function” (Foucault 1984b), the researchers´ autonomy in this process will also be questioned, arguing that there are a set of rules in the field of research to which this one is subject. As a conclusion, the paper will present strategies for researchers who are committed to the empowerment of disadvantaged populations, to work with/in (Lather 1991) the complexities presented above.

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