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Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach [Hardcover]

Martha C. Nussbaum
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Mar 2011
If a country's Gross Domestic Product increases each year, but so does the percentage of its people deprived of basic education, health care, and other opportunities, is that country really making progress? If we rely on conventional economic indicators, can we ever grasp how the world's billions of individuals are really managing? In this powerful critique, Martha Nussbaum argues that our dominant theories of development have given us policies that ignore our most basic human needs for dignity and self-respect. For the past twenty-five years, Nussbaum has been working on an alternate model to assess human development: the Capabilities Approach. She and her colleagues begin with the simplest of questions: What is each person actually able to do and to be? What real opportunities are available to them? The Capabilities Approach to human progress has until now been expounded only in specialized works. Creating Capabilities, however, affords anyone interested in issues of human development a wonderfully lucid account of the structure and practical implications of an alternate model. It demonstrates a path to justice for both humans and nonhumans, weighs its relevance against other philosophical stances, and reveals the value of its universal guidelines even as it acknowledges cultural difference. In our era of unjustifiable inequity, Nussbaum shows how--by attending to the narratives of individuals and grasping the daily impact of policy--we can enable people everywhere to live full and creative lives.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (4 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674050541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674050549
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 423,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Offering a forceful and persuasive account of the failings of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an accurate reflection of human welfare, the distinguished philosopher Nussbaum provides a framework for a new account of global development based on the concept of capabilities...The author argues that human development is best measured in terms of specific opportunities available to individuals rather than economic growth figures...This small book provides a strong foundation for beginning to think about how economic growth and individual flourishing might coincide. Publishers Weekly 20110207 Nussbaum looks at what it really means for a country to experience prosperity. Traditionally, a country's economic well-being was measured by its gross domestic product. Nussbaum takes a more personal approach by focusing on how economic prosperity plays out in ordinary citizens' lives. She analyzes the life of a woman in India by taking a close look at her situation to see what capabilities and opportunities she--and women like her--might have. The key is not to look simply at the hand they've been dealt, but whether their particular society affords them opportunities to win with it. Nussbaum calls this the "capabilities approach," and it offers a novel way to measure prosperity on a national level by seeing how well a country can provide life-changing prospects for all its citizens...By demonstrating the philosophical underpinnings of this approach and how the theory plays out in the real world, Nussbaum makes a compelling case. Not only is this a more realistic measure of wealth, but it is also a far more compassionate one. For readers who enjoy economics laced with humanity. -- Carol J. Elsen Library Journal 20110301 In her new book, Creating Capabilities, the philosopher and legal scholar Martha Nussbaum argues that we need to refocus our ideas about development on the scale of individuals: on concrete human lives and the way they actually unfold. Quantitative measures like per capita GDP, she writes, are poor measures of development; they can't capture the shape and texture of individual lives, even though individual lives are what matter. Development isn't about how rich your nation is, on average--it's about whether people can live in a way "worthy of human dignity."...Nussbaum's book comes at an interesting time, just as growth in the rich world is slowing. That slowdown makes her ideas relevant for rich people, too. Dignified life in the rich world isn't only about being "well-fed," either...Even amid a slowdown, there are other dimensions in which life can keep improving. -- Josh Rothman Boston Globe online 20110316 Renowned philosopher Nussbaum concisely captures the essential ideas of a new paradigm of social and political thought, the "human development and capabilities" approach to global social justice, founded on the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, and now used by the World Bank, the IMF, the Arab Human Development Report, and the United Nations Development Programme. -- S. A. Mason Choice 20111001

About the Author

Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The capabilities approach to human development intends to switch the attention of scholars and policy makers from resources (income, Gross Domestic Product) to people's capabilities, i.e. to the combination of personal abilities and opportunities presented by the social, economical and political environment. Having been inspired by the works of the economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, in this book Martha C. Nussbaum aims at challenging the dominant models in economics with a counter-theory based on a simple question: What are people actually able to do and to be? Her proposal serves as a theory of social justice (for both nonhuman animals and human) and for comparative quality-of-life assessment, bringing moral philosophy into development economics.

The book contains eight chapters, a postscript and two appendices.

Nussbaum begins, as she often does in her works, with a narration. The life of Vasanti, a poor Indian woman who has struggled to escape from an abusive husband, is discussed in terms of the opportunity she has for choice and action in her specific political, social, and economic situation. In the second chapter she maintains that when comparing and assessing societies, each person should be taken as an end, considering not the total or average well-being but the opportunities available to each individual person. Societies should promote an asset of opportunities, or substantial freedoms, which people may or may not exercise. Nussbaum's approach is strongly based on choice and freedom. Capabilities are "not just abilities residing inside a person but also the freedoms or opportunities created by a combination of personal abilities and the political, social, and economic environment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars World Changing 6 Jun 2012
By FKib
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Nussbaum's compact presentation of human development cannot get any better..wow!Simple read, catchy and provocative. Her humble expressions of tough subjects always strike a chord.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clarity and empowerment 5 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Nussbaum is a key thinker for any of us engaged in education and/or developement.
Not always easy to read, this book is highly accessible and I recommend it to anyone coming fresh to Nussbaum's ideas.
Her 10 central capabilities are the best framework we have for guiding our educational and economic activities.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Important idea, well written 28 Mar 2013
Format:Hardcover
I think perhaps calling the Capabilities Approach and important idea sells it, more than a little, short. For a summary of the idea (and, in fact, of the chapters) see the review by Angelo Bottone (linked at bottom of this review).

I have not given this book 5 stars because it feels as though it is written more as an introduction for those looking to study this idea academically. If that is indeed the target audience then perhaps they should think bigger, this idea needs to be common knowledge. I should be clear that this is not a heavy philosophical analysis, it is still easily accessible to the lay person. I think instead, Nussbaum's intent is much more practical, and rightly so, looking to provide the foundations for the implementation of the Capabilities Approach.

I do have other criticisms of this book, both of the way it is written and of the idea (or rather the philosophical details used to support the idea). However i shall not elaborate them here as i think at this point in the development of the approach they are academic.

If the Capabilities Approach were adopted as the framework for political functioning by the major nations then, in terms of human progress (especially humanitarian), we would be so far ahead of where we are now that quibbling over details feels trivial (and provides unnecessary ammunition for those that wish to perpetuate the deeply unsatisfactory status quo).

This should be essential reading for policy makers of all levels but the idea also needs to be disseminated to the wider population so as to exert pressure on our politicians (in particular) to pursue a fairer, more just agenda.

This is an accessible introduction to an important idea that, in the last analysis, fundamentally impacts us all.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R2U7TSWO0V442O/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0674050541&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=266239&store=books
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nussbaum vs. Sen, + refinement of view in light of recent objections 12 May 2011
By Matt Mitterko - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Creating Capabilities is a significant achievement. Nussbaum has managed to accomplish four major tasks with her book, any of which would have made this a good book: write an accessible version of the Capabilities Approach; clearly differentiate her view from Amartya Sen's, who stands as the standard bearer of the approach; address some common criticisms of the Capabilities Approach that have arisen over the past decade; and to synthesize a large portion of her work over the past 15 or so years into a coherent whole.

The territory she covers is very familiar to those who know the Capabilities Approach. Capabilities are "substantive freedoms" - "a set of (usually interrelated) opportunities to choose and act" in one's life. They involve a choice between a set of activities for one's life, which are also known as functionings. So functionings are the active usage of one of your capabilities (e.g. voting (functioning) to participate effectively in political decisions (capability)). She also maintains the view that there are ten Central Capabilities, all of which must be grounded in a commonsense understanding of what a just society must have: human dignity.

One new feature of Nussbaum's approach is to split capabilities into two types: internal and combined. Internal capabilities are the general characteristics of a person (physical/mental/emotional) that are developed through interaction with external features of society. Combined capabilities are the "totality of opportunities [one] has for choice and action in [one's] specific political, social, and economic situation," which are the result of nurtured internal capabilities. As such, the two types of capabilities are interrelated, and cannot be separated within a society.

Another addition to the approach lays out specific principles which support the aim of a basic minimum or threshold of capabilities: Nussbaum utilizes the Stoic notion of the equal worth of all humans, as well as the Aristotelian notion of human vulnerability, the latter of which requires that governments provide citizens with the option to lead a dignified life via the freedom of choice. These two notions are crucial to her inclusion of the disabled, as well as efforts to include non-human animals in her sufficientarian theory of justice. Competing theories of justice struggle to include both of the aforementioned groups, since the simple fact that all sentient beings are vulnerable to some degree, which does include animals as well, means that no theory can capture what the average human or most humans require to have sufficient capabilities.

As far as Nussbaum's specific version of the approach goes, it's clear that she was making a clear break between her capabilities view and Sen's. Her view provides a means for determining whether a society's conditions are unjust. She contrasts this with Sen's view, which gives us an evaluative framework concerning quality-of-life, but does not seek to fully adjudicate what is just. In this sense, Sen's view has more in common with contemporary welfarist views on justice, and less in common with the development of the Capabilities Approach over the last decade.

If there's one problem I do have with the book, it's that I don't know that her version of the Capabilities Approach will convince many egalitarians to adopt it. For all the objections Nussbaum does try to address, it's not clear how she would address inequalities in society after the threshold of Central Capabilities has been met. That is, is an injustice committed if some citizens, say, live significantly longer than others, or are able to move freely with less of a threat of violence than others, simply because the affluent can afford to do so? So long as all other citizens live a normal life, and face a sufficiently small threat to move freely, Nussbaum seems committed to saying that this is acceptable.

But one might argue that simply having the income to purchase such benefits doesn't demonstrate that the inequalities between the two sets of citizens are just. For specific goods like one's respect within the community, a citizen's basic education, or health, it isn't clear why the Capabilities Approach should allow any segment of citizens to face significantly more vulnerability or a set of drastically reduced capabilities, simply because of wealth. She could counter by saying she has only set out conditions for what is minimally just, but this wouldn't address why some injustices should be allowed, and some (below the threshold) wouldn't be.

All in all, I'd recommend this book for anyone interested in a theory of justice that is accessible and innovative, particularly one that sets a threshold for a just society that isn't based on finding the right distribution of wealth or opportunities. I'd also recommend it for anyone unfamiliar with the Capabilities Approach who's curious, or anyone who needs a refresher.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid Overview of an Important Theory of Justice 23 Aug 2011
By MBF - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In Creating Capabilities, Martha Nusbaum provides a lucid overview of her version of capabilities theory, which is a theory of justice built on the idea that a society is just if it enables individuals to achieve their potential as human beings. Capabilities theory stresses both the importance of enabling people to develop inner, personal abilities and their living in a society that permits them to use their abilities. In a sense it integrates concepts of liberty and of equality and of postive and negative liberty, concepts that are often viewed as in tension with each other. Prof. Nusbaum also comments on the similarities and differences between her view of capabilities and that of Amartya Sen.

Capabilities theory is an important alternative to traditional and contemporary theories of justice, including John Rawls' theory of justice as fairness. This book makes the theory accessible to non-philosophers and could become important in discussions of what the nature of a just society and a just world should and can be in the 21st century.
5.0 out of 5 stars absdlutely wonderful. A break through in understanding human development 12 Sep 2014
By Shirley C. Browning - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
absdlutely wonderful. A break through in understanding human development, economic development and human freedom and dignity.
8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple and easy Capabilities approach 20 Mar 2011
By tfk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I had a class on capability approach. As an international student, I think this book is much easier to read than her previous Women and Human Development, so I recommend this book for students who want to learn capabilities approach. The book also provides answers for some criticisms to her previous book.
6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars problematic philosophy 22 April 2013
By tom abeles - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This volume, in many respects is an attempt to put philosophical legs underneath the empiricism of Sen's thinking and the foundation for the Human Development and Capabilities Association. This is a Herculean task, since like Economics which forms the underpinnings of much of Sen's thinking, the HDCA professes a "theology" such as discussed in the writings on economics of Robert Nelson. Unfortunately, economics, try as it might via its mathematical models, can not present the same framework as that of "science". It's an evolving philosophy as we are seeing with the rise of what is now termed Heterodox Economics which has much of the same persuasion as embodied in the thinkings manifest in the community within the HDCA. For the Capabilities community, Sen represents the closest to presenting a dogma such as Gandhi and other social thinkers but not at the level of a sacred text or tablets. Only time will tell if Sen's thoughts will survive the test of time, probably forever captured in digital media, or whether his ideas are a product of the needs of the time.

Nussbaum, following her philosophical roots and the ideas of Sen attempts, in this volume to provide a foundation. Unfortunately, she, as with Sen, in the typical tradition of western thought, wants to build on the shoulders of the past, both East and West. Throughout the discussion, she evokes these philosophers and their theories but can take none of them whole cloth; so we get a pastiche. She does point out where she thinks the philosophies are flawed or unable to offer a consistant or cohesive foundation. And she does point out that many of these issues remain unresolved in the dogma she is attempting to construct. It's a work in progress.

Much of the thinking of Sen, Nussbaum and others falls within the domain of social justice, particularly for those communities which are seen in many societies, today, as disenfranchised or lacking empowerment to exercise their full capacities to participate in or receive, pare passu, the benefits of their society. In the present that includes such populations as women and persons of different ethnic or cultural backgrounds. This is particularly problematic in a global society where there are unresolved differences even within communities- think religious factions as a paradigmatic example and particularly relevant today. These are the issues that have plagued humans since the "Fall" and Nussbaum seems at sea grasping at philosophical floatsam to create a cohesive metaphysics. Unlike some of her other writings, she seems uncomfortable not being able to build a solid frame to encompass the issues confronting the HDCA-neither theory or clear practice except for specific issues, and therein most are specific within a cultural and time-bound frame. What this volume offers is a faint light to uncover the plethora of unresolved issues. One can understand these issues at the level of practice where much of the thinking within the HDCA community resides. What makes the volume problematic is the default to the pragmatic issues and a failure to provide the solid philosophical underpinnings which seems to have been the volume's hope-unfortunately, without adding any new or substantive ideas to advance the community.
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