The Relational Ontology of Amartya Sen's Capability Approach: Incorporating Social and Individual Causes
Matthew Longshore Smith
While Sen has written extensively on the social factors of capabilities, the exact nature of these social factors and how they interact to form and influence capabilities is contested and unclear. Consequently, how to coherently integrate social components into capability research remains a concern for those attempting to put the capability approach to practical use. This paper proposes one approach to understanding and integrating the social nature of capabilities. Building upon two recent contributions by Martins, we argue that underpinning Sen's notion of capabilities is an ontological conception of a relational society. In this perspective, an individual's capabilities emerge from the combination and interaction of individual-level capacities and the individual's relative position vis-a-vis social structures that provide reasons and resources for particular behaviors. Crucially, this conception of society is predicated upon a contextual notion of causality that is flexible enough to incorporate both individual and social causes into social analysis.
Capability approach, Causality, Ontology, Relational society, Social theory,
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