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An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency

Séverine Deneulin and Lila Shahani
Earthscan, IDRC

Available formats

Since 1990, the United Nations Development Programme has been publishing Human Development Reports at the global, regional, national and local level. The message in these reports is simple: development is about giving people the opportunities to live lives they value, and about enabling them to become actors in their own destinies. The message is based on the “capability approach” of economist and Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen. Today, there is little doubt that the approach has had a considerable impact on both academics and policymakers alike. 

Aimed at undergraduates and post-graduates in the social sciences, as well as development practitioners, this textbook provides an introduction to the human development and capability approach; it also clarifies key concepts and fosters debate on a number of critical issues. The book offers new perspectives on a wide range of topics, which include the conceptualization and measurement of well-being and inequality; the role of markets and economic growth in promoting development; the importance of democracy and public debate; culture and religion; health; equality and justice; and the connections between social and economic policy in addressing poverty and inequality.

Case studies from across the world are used to illustrate concepts and highlight the relevance of the approach in addressing contemporary development challenges. A set of questions accompanies each chapter for seminar discussion to help readers assimilate central points and apply the approach to diverse realities. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to the human development and capability approach for students and practitioners worldwide.

The editors

Séverine Deneulin is Lecturer in international development at the University of Bath and Education Officer at the Human Development and Capability Association.

Lila Shahani is Editor for the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation at the United Nations Development Programme.