Development within or Against Capitalism? A Critical Appraisal of Amartya Sen’s ‘Development as Freedom’

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Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom represents an original and realistic critique of mainstream conceptions of development. The latter (whatever their political hue) stress the importance of poor countries pursuing rapid economic growth to ‘catch-up’ with economically advanced countries. By giving primacy to economic growth, and assuming that benefits will accrue to developing country populations through various ‘trickle-down’ mechanisms such perspectives often disregard the conditions of the poor during attempted catch-up. Worse still, they often encourage political repression in order to stimulate high rates of economic surplus generation. Sen illustrates that such perspectives are often counter-productive (not leading to fast economic growth) and myopic (reducing capabilities amongst these populations). He argues that freedom is both the goal and means of development, and further, that through States enhancing poor people’s capabilities (for example providing them with higher levels of education, and access to basic necessities) the poor can in turn participate more fully in the development process. However, Sen weds his conception of enhancing the poor’s capabilities to the presence and expansion of capitalist markets. This paper argues that this constitutes a serious weakness, and that for his vision to be realised it is necessary to link the concept of enhancing capabilities to a vision of anti-capitalist development. It does so by comparing Marx’s and Sen’s conceptions of capabilities. The paper also provides case studies where grassroots movements have given rise to alternative, capability enhancing development practices.


Keywords: Amartya Sen, Development, Freedom, Capitalism, Anti-Capitalism
Stream: Sociology, Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Benjamin Selwyn

Lecturer in Global Politics and International Development, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton
Southampton, UK

Ben Selwyn teaches global politics and international development at the University of Southampton, UK. His interests include globalisation and north-south relations, strategies and possibilities of poor countries pursuing and achieving development, global value chains, organised labour's contribution to development processes, the evolution of historical capitalism, and anti-capitalist development. For his Phd he conducted research in North East Brazil into how new regions’ integration into global horticulture markets impacts on local developmental outcomes and labour regime formation and evolution. He has recently published an article “Labour Process and Workers Bargaining Power in Export Grape Production, North East Brazil” in the Journal of Agrarian Change, and has several forthcoming articles on related subjects.

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