Announcing the Capability Project

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 15, 2014

Within a week or so, I will start writing a series of posts on the capability approach, a theory/paradigm/framework that is used in philosophy and the social sciences for a variety of purposes (wiki, IEP, SEP). This Capability Project is in part a self-binding mechanism to make sure that by the end of the Summer I will not have to write to my editor at Open Book to tell them that, for the third year in a row, I need another year to finish my book on the capability approach; and the post series is also in part a chance to publicly respond to some issues that students and others have been emailing me about privately, or issues that have popped up in seminars or teaching.

If you have topics that you want to see discussed, or if you have questions about the capability approach, you can send them to me at ingrid.robeyns [at]; I will most likely not respond to those emails [apart from possibly acknowledging safe receipt] but hope to address all or most of them in due course here on our blog. Other Timberites have also done some work on the capability approach, so perhaps they may also join the party at some point.



Ingrid Robeyns 02.15.14 at 6:31 am

I should of course have added that you can also list topics or questions or worries or critiques or whatever else you want us to talk about in this series of post here in the comments thread…


Rakesh Bhandari 02.15.14 at 11:42 pm

On his bookforum blog Scott McLemee linked to an interesting critique of the capabilities approach by Frances Stewart.


js. 02.16.14 at 7:10 am

This sounds great. I look forward to it. Any discussion of situating it vis-a-vis a Rawlsian approach would be hugely appreciated. ‘Situating’ in the broadest sense, of course.


harry b 02.16.14 at 3:56 pm

js: I’m sure Ingrid will cover that. In fact, she and I edited a whole book which does that!
Measuring Justice: Primary Goods and Capabilities


Paul K 02.16.14 at 5:15 pm


js. 02.16.14 at 8:38 pm

harry b:

Thanks! Mildly embarrassed that I didn’t know about that book, but will be checking it out very soon. And thanks to Paul as well. Fun Sunday reading!


Ingrid Robeyns 02.16.14 at 8:44 pm

js.: I have a book chapter on that topic in ‘Arguing for a better world’, Festschrift for Sen’s 75th Birthday – which is not only about the metric but about other aspects of comparison. Drop me a line if you want a PDF.


vaes 02.19.14 at 1:20 pm

sj: Is is possible to send me Sen’s 75 th Fest – Schrift as well plse? I’ m working on “The better me”
John Gray vs Steven Pinker
I can ask Jean Drèze but he travels by train in India and this is an out of this world experience in its own right.


Luis 02.19.14 at 5:10 pm

Ingrid, I hope you don’t let the (relatively) small number of comments here dissuade you – I think this is one of the most exciting CT posts in a while. For those of us who would like to follow along, where is the best place to start reading/refreshing ourselves on capabilities? Is it still your “The Capability Approach: An Interdisciplinary Introduction”? For those who have read that, where would you recommend going next? (I suppose at some level what I really want is a course syllabus/reading list…)

[My interest, for what it is worth, is as a former political theory student who now works in open source/open culture and is interested in applying a capabilities approach to techno-social infrastructure.]


Luis 02.19.14 at 5:23 pm

In case someone else stumbles across this later, I see that in the two years since I last assembled a reading list on this topic, a book specifically on tech and capabilities approach has been published. In what I can only assume is ironic meta-commentary on the impoverished capabilities provided by the technology of the publishing industry, it is digitally published in PDF and EPub without DRM (hooray!), at twice the cost of the hardcover on Amazon (boo!).


Ingrid Robeyns 02.19.14 at 7:52 pm

Luis, thanks – and no, I’m not worried – I also received a number of emails in response to this post, and in any case get on average one email a week from an unknown student asking me a question on the CA. This is one important reason for writing the book – and the series of blog post is basically like writing the book, but then in pieces and with a chance for me also to learn from the discussion and improve the final manuscript – the better that final manuscript, the better for anyone who needs a good introduction.


vaes 02.19.14 at 8:01 pm

Feels like concurrent engineering in the car or microprocessor industry. They design engines or other components before the total body is in final design stages. By sharing real time plans and material descriptions (templates and syntax or thesaurus in the research world) time to market and errors were reduced significantly.
Way to go! Congratulations

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