Capabilities and Education

Hans-Uwe Otto, Holger Ziegler


In its process of development from a philosophical idea - proposed by Amartya Sen - into a broad interdisciplinary evaluative framework, the so called 'capability approach' has currently received considerable attention in both theoretical and empirical research in social and human sciences. But despite the fact that the capability perspective - which includes a focus on the individual's abilities to act or, more precisely to exercise agency - as suggested by Nussbaum, Anderson, Alkire, Robeyns and others has received substantial attention not only from philosophers but also by economists and other social scientists, and despite the fact that there is seemingly a potentially strong and mutually enhancing relationship "between […the] capability approach and education” (Saito 2003), it was only recently that it has gained increased interest in an analytical and empirical examination from an educational point of view. This is surprising not only that this “approach is clearly apt for exploration from an educational point of view” (Saito 2003), but also because education and literacy might actually be considered as key factors in the capability approach: Both might be regarded as fundamental resources enabling people and structuring the effective opportunities of people to live a life they have reason to choose and value. There is hardly any doubt that being literate, knowledgeable and “having access to an education that allows a person to flourish is generally argued to be a valuable capability” (Robeyns 2005a; Unterhalter 2003).

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