Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Human Affairs

Postdisciplinary Humanities & Social Sciences Quarterly

Editor-in-Chief: Višnovský, Emil

Ed. by Bianchi, Gabriel / Hrubec, Marek / Tartaglia, James

4 Issues per year

CiteScore 2016: 0.33

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2016: 0.172
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2016: 0.415

See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 24, Issue 2


Poverty and freedom

Gunter Graf / Gottfried Schweiger
Published Online: 2014-03-29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/s13374-014-0224-y


The capability approach, which is closely connected to the works of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, is one possible theoretical framework that could be used to answer the question as to why poverty is a problem from a moral point of view. In this paper we will focus on the normative philosophical capability approach rather than the social scientific and descriptive perspective. We will show that the approach characterizes poverty mainly as a limitation of freedom and that it is precisely this aspect, from its point of view, that makes poverty morally significant. This insight shifts the discussion away from questions regarding specific capabilities or lists of them-questions treated extensively in the literature-to the more general level of what constitutes the normative core of the capability approach. But as we will also discuss and argue, the role of freedom alone does not give us a complete picture of poverty but only presents us with one aspect relevant to evaluating it. A further aspect which we consider has not been adequately recognized and taken into account by most capability theorists is the experience of disrespect and humiliation, or to put it differently, a lack of recognition.

Keywords: poverty; capabilities; freedom; recognition

  • [1] Alkire, S. (2002). Valuing freedoms. Sen’s capability approach and poverty reduction. Oxford/New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

  • [2] Broussard, A., & Joseph, A. L. (Eds.). (2009). Family poverty in diverse contexts. New York / London: Routledge. Google Scholar

  • [3] Caillé, L., & Alain, C. (2006). Recognition today. The theoretical, ethical and political stakes of the concept. Critical Horizons, 7(1), 63–100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156851606779308134CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [4] Comim, F. & Teschl, M. (2005). Adaptive preferences and capabilities: Some preliminary conceptual explorations. Review of Social Economy, 63(2), 229–247. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00346760500129871CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [5] Comim, F., Qizilbash, M., & Alkire, S. (Eds.). (2008). The capability approach: Concepts, measures and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

  • [6] Dr ze, J., & Sen, A. (2002). India: Development and participation. Oxford/New York, NY: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199257492.001.0001CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [7] Gasper, D. (2004). The ethics of development: from economism to human development. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Google Scholar

  • [8] Honneth, A. (1996). The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar

  • [9] Honneth, A. (2003). Redistribution as recognition: A response to Nancy Fraser. In Redistribution or recognition?A political-philosophical exchange (pp. 110–197). London/New York, NY: Verso. Google Scholar

  • [10] Honneth, A. (2011). Das Recht der Freiheit: Grundriß einer demokratischen Sittlichkeit. Berlin: Suhrkamp. Google Scholar

  • [11] Hutchinson, P., Abrams, D., & Christian, J. (2007). The social psychology of exclusion. In D. Abrams, J. Christian, & D. Gordon (Eds.), Multidisciplinary handbook of social exclusion research (pp. 29–58). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9780470773178.ch3CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [12] Jahoda, M. (1982). Employment and unemployment: A social-psychological analysis. Cambridge/New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

  • [13] Jo, Y. N. (2013). Psycho-social dimensions of poverty: When poverty becomes shameful. Critical Social Policy, 33(3), 514–531. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0261018313479008CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • [14] Leßmann, O. (2013). Empirische Studien zum Capability Ansatz auf der Grundlage von Befragungen — ein überblick. In G. Graf, E. Kapferer, & C. Sedmak (Eds.), Der Capability Approach und seine Anwendung. Fähigkeiten von Kindern und Jugendlichen erkennen und fördern (pp. 25–61). Wiesbaden: SpringerVS. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-01272-4_2CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [15] Shropshire, J., & Middleton, S. (1999). Small expectations: Learning to be poor? York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Google Scholar

  • [16] Lewis, O. (1998). The culture of poverty. Society 35(2), 7–9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF02838122CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [17] Lister, R. (2004). A politics of recognition and respect: Involving people with experience of poverty in decision-making that affects their lives. In J. Andersen & S. Birte (Eds.), The politics of inclusion and empowerment (pp. 116–138). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Google Scholar

  • [18] Nussbaum, M. (2000). Women and human development. The capabilities approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511841286CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [19] Nussbaum, M. (2006). Frontiers of justice. Disability, nationality, and species membership. Cambridge, MA/London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Google Scholar

  • [20] Nussbaum, M. (2011). Creating capabilities: The human development approach. Cambridge, MA/ London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.4159/harvard.9780674061200CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [21] Nussbaum, M., & Sen, A. (Eds.). (1993). The quality of life. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Google Scholar

  • [22] Robeyns, I. (2005). The capability approach: A theoretical survey. Journal of Human Development, 6(1), 93–114. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/146498805200034266CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [23] Robeyns, I. (2011). The capability approach. In E. Zalta (Ed.). The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Summer 2011 ed.). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/capabilityapproach (Accessed: 24 March 2013) Google Scholar

  • [24] O’Neill, S., & Smith, N. H. (Eds). (2012). Recognition theory as social research: Investigating the dynamics of social conflict. Basingstoke/New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. Google Scholar

  • [25] Paul, K. I., & Moser, K. (2009). Unemployment impairs mental health: Meta-analyses. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 74(3), 264–282. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2009.01.001Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [26] Schweiger, G. (2013). Recognition and social exclusion. A recognition-theoretical exploration of poverty in Europe. Ethical Perspectives, 20(3–4), 529–554. Google Scholar

  • [27] Sen, A. (1980). Equality of what? In S. McMurrin (Ed.), Tanner lectures on human values. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

  • [28] Sen, A. (1983). Poor, relatively speaking. Oxford Economic Papers, 35(2), 153–169. Google Scholar

  • [29] Sen, A. (1987). The standard of living: Lecture I, Concepts and critiques. In G. Hawthorn (Ed.), The standard of living. The Tanner lectures (1–19). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511570742CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • [30] Sen, A. (1992). Inequality reexamined. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Google Scholar

  • [31] Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. New York: Anchor Books. Google Scholar

  • [32] Sen, A. (2009). The idea of justice. London/ New York: Allen Lane. Google Scholar

  • [33] Stewart, M. J., Makwarimba, E., Reutter, L. I., Veenstra, G., Raphael, D., & Love, R. (2009). Poverty, sense of belonging and experiences of social isolation. Journal of Poverty, 13(2), 173–195. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10875540902841762CrossrefGoogle Scholar

About the article

Published Online: 2014-03-29

Published in Print: 2014-04-01

Citation Information: Human Affairs, Volume 24, Issue 2, Pages 258–268, ISSN (Online) 1337-401X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/s13374-014-0224-y.

Export Citation

© 2014 Institute for Research in Social Communication, Slovak Academy of Sciences. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in