Understanding Limits to Human Development: Group Affiliation and Social Conditioning

BARUAH, JOYDEEP (2014). 'Understanding Limits to Human Development: Group Affiliation and Social Conditioning' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

In the capability approach, human development is typically viewed as the enhancement of choice over valued functionings that an individual enjoys. The approach, thereby, underlines the critical significance of individual freedom in brining improvements to lives of people and decries un-freedoms of all sorts. While identifying the primary components of freedoms, the approach stresses upon healthier life, better knowledge and increased income of individuals and the human development index summarises the capability of individuals given by any combination of these three that they possess. The human development index, thus, suggestive of the extent of overall choice or freedom that an individual can exercise given his level of capability, and primary concern of development is to endow him with greater freedom by enhancing his capability. The functional form that permits such summarisation – whether additive or multiplicative is monotonic in nature which provides the insight that increase in any of the three dimensions should ideally result in enhancement of capability and, consequently, individual freedom.

The tenets of capability framework hold, however, good only when group affiliations of individuals are ignored. Because, it is an established fact that in a highly stratified society even individuals with equal capability might end up experiencing differential outcome simply because equal capability need not, and indeed, does not get translated in to equal freedom. It can be argued, therefore, that group affiliation of individuals serve as the conditioning factor in realising effective freedom given the individual capability. The social conditioning, thus, surfaces as an important dimension in understanding differential human development outcome.

The present paper makes an attempt at accommodating social conditioning in the capability framework. It is argued that like capability, social conditioning too is a function of three factors – participation, perception and subjectivity of individuals. Notwithstanding, in a visibly stratified society these are determined by the group affiliation of individuals. It is possible to obtain an index, like the human development index, that summarises the overall social conditioning in the society such that the index of social conditioning indicates the extent of limit imposed upon individual freedom on the average i.e. higher is the value higher is the limit. Now, the HDI which is indicative of an individual's freedom without his group affiliation needs to be discounted by the index of social conditioning which is indicative of the limits imposed by his group affiliation in the society where he lives in order to derive the effective freedom that he would possibly enjoy. The policy insight that the paper offers is that while emphasis must be on empowering all individuals with improved health, knowledge and income, in order to improve their lives, policies of positive discriminations alongside measures to remove the social barriers need to be undertaken. The paper, therefore, intends to supplement the application of capability framework in understanding capability deprivation in most of the developing countries where society faces deep-rooted stratification of myriad forms and nature.

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