|Title||Empowering development: capabilities and Latin American critical traditions|
This thesis theoretically and critically examines the move towards people-centred approaches to development. It offers a critical examination of the work of Amartya Sen using theoretical resources emerging from Latin American traditions.
Amartya Sen’s calls to understand Development as Freedom (1999) have significantly influenced mainstream development thinking and practice, constituting the clearest example of people-centred approaches to development today. Overcoming the limitations of previous state-centred notions of development articulated around ideas of economic growth, in Sen’s Capability Approach (CA) development is seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. In this understanding, the agency of development shifts from the state to individuals and the analytic focus moves from economic growth to individual capabilities. In this manner, this framework is structured towards the central goal of empowerment, wherein the expansion of capabilities is seen both as the means and end of development. Since its inception, the widespread support for the CA has allowed for the expansion of ethical considerations within mainstream
Even while the remarkable advances offered by Sen’s work should be praised, this thesis argues that these have come with new limitations. These limitations stem from, what is termed here, a “Paradox of Empowerment” that effectively encloses Sen’s approach within Western notions of development. While Sen’s approach is poised to provide a theoretical framework that is built on the expansion of freedom and individual agency, there is little agency here to move beyond the ideas of development fundamentally linked to liberal democracies and market economies. This thesis engages with several critical traditions from Latin America, recovering their often undervalued insights for development thinking. Crucially, this engagement provides the critical framework to illustrate the aforementioned paradox and explore multiple dimensions of empowerment central for contemporary development thinking and practice. In this, the thesis engages Sen’s work with the Liberation Theology of Gustavo Gutierrez, with Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy and with the contemporary discussions of ‘Buen Vivir’ associated with Indigenous philosophies of the Andean region. Throughout its chapters,it uncovers the conceptual baggage within the Paradox of Empowerment in Sen’s work and examines the ethical challenges and boundaries of this approach in relation to the collective dimension of development processes, the possibilities for structural transformation and concerns for sustainability. Progressively engaging the different dimensions of this paradox, this thesis advances the recovery of the transformative potential of the ideas of empowerment for development.