What does the Capabilities Approach give us as a framework for emancipatory change?

Sarah Ward, Maureen Mcbride

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Richard Brunner, Nicki Hedge, Maureen McBride (all University of Glasgow); Sarah Ward (University of Edinburgh).

This panel presents a range of short perspectives from CA researchers based in Scotland. As a group, we contain both philosophers of CA and engaged social scientists, with a collective concern for challenging oppression. Using practical and philosophical examples from our research in both formal and informal educational contexts, and with a common focus on those experiencing oppression, the panel engages with the question: what does CA give us as a framework for emancipatory change? On the one hand CA offers an opening for ‘imaginative courage’ (Nussbaum, 2006: 415), for transformational thinking and envisaging social justice futures. It also operates as a highly pragmatic tool, seeking to enable self-understanding and conscientisation among oppressed groups and to move from the individual to the collective (Ibrahim, 2017). CA can be used to conceptualise and re-frame work done in formal and informal educational contexts. However, a common experience of our panel is that despite these diverse applications, enabling ‘voice’ among oppressed groups is distinct from empowering institutions and structures to listen and to act: ‘voice’ is not sufficient to satisfy social justice outcomes (Lundy, 2007) and misrecognition is rife (Honneth, 1999). There is a risk that CA research becomes an ever-decreasing circle of CA researchers in education, and other domains, who open up ‘imaginative courage’ for oppressed groups, only for the realisation of transformation to be denied or frustrated by institutional powers. The five presenters at this panel present empirical findings from work in Glasgow with children and young people, and with disabled people and their organisations, in dialogue with philosophical reflections on the potential of capabilities for human emancipation. The panel view this as an ‘opening up’ of their dialogues in Scotland, with audience contributions very welcome.

Honneth, A. (1996) The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts. MIT press.

Ibrahim, S. (2017) How to Build Collective Capabilities: The 3C-Model for Grassroots-Led Development. Journal of human development and capabilities. [Online] 18 (2), 197–222.

Lundy, L. (2007) ‘Voice’ is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. British educational research journal. [Online] 33 (6), 927–942.

Nussbaum. M.C. (2006) Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Pres
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sep 2022


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