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Solava S. Ibrahim: “FROM INDIVIDUAL TO COLLECTIVE CAPABILITIES: THE CAPABILITY APPROACH AS A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK FOR SELF-HELP”

maggio 18, 2011

With this summary we are going to analyze the Self-Help initiatives importance in a “new” collective capability approach.

According with the article’s structure, the author moves on to the not easy situation of poor people that need particular actions to alter their condition, and then introduces us to the self-help initiatives.

These self-help initiative are a particular form of activity (“income-generating” or “social”l according with the author) that could help poor community to obtain better conditions in their individual and communal well-beings; it’s a key—word to improve the poor’s capabilities.

Furthermore the text stresses this concept by three different points of view:

  • Economic: there’s the possibility for poor people to “create and seize new opportunities”  and subsequently to invest in “their capital”;
  • Political: promotion of synergy between state and society, “complementing role of local NGO”;
  • Social: increase social capital and the “bargaining power” of poor people.

 

Explained this concept, the article stresses a crucial point about the importance of freedom and agency in self-help initiative;  starting to freedom the author says that it is a fundamental way to value development. Freedom and capabilities are complementary.

Starting by the connection between freedom and self-help initiatives, there’s an interesting call to Sen’s five instrumental freedoms (“political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees”, and “protective security”) necessary to create link by this two concepts; doing a quick summary:

  • Self-help initiatives give to poor communities the possibility to explain their needs (Political Freedom);
  • Self-help initiatives help poor people to wide their Social opportunities, challenge the unequal power relations in their communities, and (why not?) have an income that afford to take such actions (Economic facility);
  • Self-help initiatives are strictly linked with Transparency guarantees, because they are founded on the trust and reciprocity principles;
  • Self-help initiatives allow poor people to help each other, increasing their Protective security.

 

After discussing the freedom-self-help initiative connection, the article focuses on agency; here there’s a significant step where the author quote Sen as the paragraph treatment starting points: “human agency lies at the heart of any self-help activity, the ability of people to help themselves  and influence the environment” .  Quoting other famous thinkers the article remember us that freedom and agency are connected because freedom allows agents to achieve goals, and agency allows to wide agent’s freedom. The author talks about the link between agency and self-help introducing “critical reflections” and “self-scrutiny”  as basis of agency; surely it’s true that an agent start action only after careful reflection on his situation and how he can enhance it. The conclusion is that also the self-help initiatives start with a process of self-scrutiny, process that push the poor to undertake actions to enhance his conditions.

At this point the article is going to get to the heart of matter and start with the individual capabilities and social structures relation treatment; the analysis starts with a paragraph where the Capability approach’s critical are disclosed: in fact it seems to be focused too on the individual capabilities and doesn’t consider “how much the collectivities can affect them”  (Stewart).

On the other and Sen argues that individuals are embedded agents of society where they operate and their individual action must not detached by the collective action because the goals are the same: influence societies to extent and reach individual freedom. The Capability Approach gives an enormous importance to social structure in individual well-being and freedom influence.

Despite all concerns remain regarding the Capability Approach individual point of view; according with the article it’s necessary to:

  • Acknowledge the fundamental importance of social structures;
  • Emphasize the relationship between social structures and individual capabilities

 

This is possible because if on one hand social structures affect the individual capabilities, in turn the individual capabilities affect social structures, enhancing the pre-existing conditions and consequently the individual and social well-being.

Proceeding our analysis we can observe a further emphasis on the individual capabilities and society link;  the article brings into play different authors (Weber, Habermas, Bourdieu, Durkheim) to make true the claim at issue and confirm how the former two concept are closely related.

Now the focus moves on the article’s crucial part and the author prefers to start by the scholars point of view; according with these thinker collective capabilities are

  • made up of individual capabilities” (Stewart) ;
  • those capabilities that can only be achieved socially as result of social interaction, more than a simply aggregation of individual capabilities” (Comin and Kuklys).

 

By his point of view Sen doesn’t disdain this theory arguing that capability approach is influenced by democratic processes and all individual are alike influenced by the society around him, but he reject collective capabilities because all influences on capabilities  start by individual capabilities: collective capabilities should be considered only at global level.

According with the article the fundamental difference between individual and collective capabilities must be sought in process through which they come into being; we are not only talking about a simple sum of individual capabilities that generate collective capabilities but a new capabilities accessible only joining collectivity.

To deal with this speech it’s also necessary to introduce the collective freedoms concept (“freedom of a group of individual agents to perform a set of distinct actions in combination”) and their relation with collective capabilities: a range of choices available by the collective as result of individuals collective action.

On the other hand the author brings into play the step from individual to collective agency and the importance of the latter in changing the perception of goods and in opening eyes on participation in groups with similar targets, out so by individual pursuing of a goal.

Our attention now moves on the collective action. The article shows several examples of how this concept may crucially affect on the poor’s capabilities:

  1. Collective action can promote resource sharing, income generation and can push poor people (through a new “self-esteem sence”) to make their presence felt in local decision-making processes;
  2. Collective action affects values and beliefs, generates a new thinking of collective need;
  3. Collective action is an effective reinforce of individual freedoms
  4. Engaging a collective action is actually a capability.

 

The article shows also some critical aspects of the relation between collective action and capabilities:

  1. According to Sen “group affiliation is not always beneficial”;  joining a group may cause the impossibility to join other groups when individuals “have multiple affiliations and identities”. Sen seems to fear the individuals depersonalization;
  2. According with the author not all groups can help to enhance the human capabilities, indeed they could be cause of social conflicts. It depends probably by the exclusivist nature of certain groups  or by the purpose)

 

However , these negative aspects do not have to give up the idea that collective action can be an effective starting point to enhance human capabilities, overcoming the limited possibility for poor people to create groups and emphasizing the living condition improvements that a group formation can brings to poors.

The promotion of self-interest of group’s members and equity, the possibility to seize economic or social opportunities, the common ideology support or the cooperation are some of many self-help group success keys.

Now the article brings into play the institutions role in collective capabilities, especially in self-help initiative; institutions not only affect the individual opportunities and the self-help initiatives (because self-help initiative are institutions), but they are themselves affected or generated by the latters.

It’s also important to consider in our speech social capital, defined as “set of social relations and networls enabling the poor to form and substain self-help groups” . So what are the advantages that social capital brings?

  • It is another basic factor of collective capabilities expansion;
  • It is the trust and reciprocity engine among poors;
  • It helps poors to reach and bring collective decisions;
  • It is a form of protection against economic and social shocks;
  • It is a successful attempt to decrease information asymmetry through greater information sharing;
  • It is a way for poor people to get new individual and collective rights.

 

At this point the author try to give a general framework about collective capabilities based on economic, social and human factors. Making a quick summary of these points

  • Economic factors: in this juncture the author considers the endowments and the assets of poor like their economic resources to give up the collective action;
  •  Social factors: the author inserts “social capital” content like the way for poors “to build their capabilities”;
  • Human factors: basis of this concept are the individual capabilities, necessary to achieve their living conditions.

 

Then we must not forget the institution role in collective action implementation; according with the article if “collective action is effective and the institutions are supportive to capability expansion”  you can achieve some results like

  • Possibility for a group to take an collective agency  act to gain successfully new collective capabilities;
  • The highest participation in the collectivity due to these new capability can wide choices for individual;
  • The collective capabilities, transformed in collective functioning through different external actors (markets dynamics, political and social aspects…), can generate a new endowments accumulation; this creates a virtuous circle for an effective collective capabilities building process for poor people.

 

Before drawing conclusion the author give us three example of how self-help initiatives can enhance collective capabilities in the difficult reality of some villages in Egypt ; according to me the most interesting is the chicken breeding project case where, through a common ideology and starting endowments provided by a local leader, poor people undertake a collective action that give them some advantages like:

  • More employment for them
  • Enhancing infrastructure through part of the profits resulting by this activity
  • Economic support for disadvantaged groups

 

Summarizing this collectivity obtained due to self-help initiative an effective enhance by economic, social and human points of view.

The whole to conclude that self-help initiatives are a concrete starting point to wide the poor communities collective freedoms and capabilities.

Smooth and fairly to understand, the article, according to me,  it’s absolutely right to exit by the “individualist” capability approach point of view. Improving living conditions through joining a group that shares same problems and start a collective action to wide the poor communities capability set is a significant step of development. The strength and effectiveness of a collective action, focus of the article, is surely more clear than an individual initiative.

On the other hand, however, it seems to incorporate the individual in a situation in which the enhancing of living condition and the attempt to reach an higher income prevail individual personality. According to me the sharing of an ideology, a goal, or the desire to overcome a problem should not be a way to assert that individual personality is not a “parameter” to be considered; the development basis is overcome differences and reach a goal not only by an economic or social point of view but also by an “actual human” angle where, for example,  two guys that share the same ideology, goals and desire don’t forget what a guy prefers over the other, what emotions characterize a guy over another.

 

 

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