Human capabilities and diversity

Overheard corridor conversations in 2020

My friend O overheard (oversaw?!?) this gem at one of those big summer conferences academics go to, the kind that migrated to Zoom in 2020. She knew I’d like it. I did.

Skip forward a few months and I’m desparately hacking at a piece of writing that is far too shrub-like for its own good. The following passage was a distraction from the story I was trying to tell, but entirely relevant to the corridor compadraes above.

Explicit apprehension of diversity is an integral property of the capability approach, with which Amartya Sen wanted to develop “an account of the good, which is attuned to the actual complexity of the world and the actual complexity of how human actors think about value” (Couldry 2019 p. 2). In opposition to utilitarian frameworks (the limitations of which motivated Sen’s foundational works and remain dominant in many contemporary policy domains), the core evaluative logic of the capability approach is in taking account of the particular, the plural and the diverse. This accords with the requirements of this study for an evaluative framework which recognizes the potential for a myriad of methodological fitting, arrangements, and values, and complexity in practicing research that transgresses social, disciplinary and institutional boundaries.

O’Donovan, C. (2020) The cutting room floor.

It seems to me that this focus on situated values is as good a defense of Sen’s usefulness to the cause of assessing different kinds of diversity – those that are actually valued by real people in real contexts – as any. This is particularly useful when we start thinking about human capabilities for collective action and collaboration – where shared experiences, resources and common values are all essential ingredients in cultivating and sustaining action.

This surely is the very opposite of a neoliberal, or indeed liberal, outlook. Sen then as the ultimate team player.


Categories: research notes