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Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach Paperback – 3 May 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (3 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674072359
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674072350
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 88,954 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, 7th February 2011

"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, 3rd March 2011

" 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, 16th March 2011

"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 2nd September 2011

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 By Angelo Bottone on 15 Mar. 2012
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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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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By FKib on 6 Jun. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nussbaum's compact presentation of human development cannot get any!Simple read, catchy and provocative. Her humble expressions of tough subjects always strike a chord.
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