Capabilities, culture and social structure

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Sen's capability approach has a culturally specific side, with capabilities influenced by social structures and institutions. Although Sen acknowledges this, he expresses his theory in individualistic terms and makes little allowance for culture or social structure. The present paper draws from recent social theory to discuss how the capability approach could be developed to give an explicit treatment of cultural and structural matters. Capabilities depend not only on entitlements but on institutional roles and personal relations: these can be represented openly if capabilities are disaggregated into individual, social and structural capacities. The three layers interact, and a full analysis of capabilities should consider them all. A stratified method implies that raising entitlements will not on its own be enough to enhance capabilities and that cultural and structural changes will be needed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Economics
EditorsW. Dolfsma, D.M. Figart, R. McMaster, E. Mutari, M.D. White
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Print)9781138810754
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

Publication series

NameCritical Concepts in Economics

Bibliographical note

This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details


  • capability approach
  • culture
  • social structure
  • human agency
  • social policy

Cite this