Sessione 19 Sottosessione 1

Capabilities and social investment: similar words, different spaces.

(R. Mulè) 


The aim of this paper is to assess similarities and differences between Sen’s capability approach and the social investment perspective. It argues that while both views point at ‘enabling’ and ‘empowering’ individuals, such similarity is merely terminological. The reason is that the capability approach is based on the concept of human development that moves beyond the utilitarian ethics while the social investment view rests on human capital and productivism. The two approaches radically differ in terms of both ’spaces’ of poverty and the type of link between individual and society. Empirically, the capability approach emphasises the fact that poverty is multidimentional – health, education, income, ethnic and gender discrimination- and should therefore not be measured exclusively with economic variables such as income. By contrast, social investment is interested in individual’s ability to cope and benefit from the economic market. It emphasises individual responsibility, proactive behaviour, as opposed to passive welfarism. The paper concludes that the capability approach and the social investment perspective are radically different views of social welfare, the first connecting rights to capabilities the second to responsibilities. The social investment perspective does not represent a rupture with the past because social policies are still subordinated to economic concerns as they have been over the postwar period. This subordination is the key difference between the capability approach and the social investment approach.