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The Capability Approach

The Capability Approach as a Surmounting, Justice-Based Framework for Interdisciplinary Understanding of Education Processes

The CA was developed by the Nobel Prize winner for economics, Amartya Sen, and the philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum. It represents a theoretically well-grounded approach to capture agency and social well-being of individuals as well as to evaluate the provisions of educational institutions and arrangements. The CA goes beyond the question whether young persons receive good educational services or a sufficient amount of resources (in material, cognitive and personal terms). In addition, the CA takes account of pervasive inter-individual differences in people’s abilities to convert resources and services into valuable states, actions and affiliations. It refers to the realisation of valuable activities and states such as the mastering of linguistic and social competences that make up young people’s wellbeing. The notion of capabilities points to the scale and scope of the real, actual possibilities and positive power of young persons to choose and enjoy different worthwhile activities and to pursue different meaningful life paths he or she has reason to value. Capabilities are therefore not only instrumental but the essential in-use-values of education as they point to young person’s authentic opportunities to exercise control over their own future in their individual social and economic life.

An educational system which adequately provides fundamental capabilities constitutes not only a basis for social progress and productivity but also for educational justice with respect to a flourishing development of young persons particularly those who are considered as educationally disadvantaged. As the RS assesses educational processes and provisions in the space of capabilities, it applies a new auspicious approach which is more inclusive and considered scientifically more appropriate than previous concepts of educational research such as resources, utility outcomes or client satisfaction.

The CA constitutes a particularly suitable basis for an interdisciplinary research context, clearly extending earlier theoretical and empirical approaches in research on education, socialization, and learning. As an overarching framework it thus provides an analytical tool with which to conceptualise and evaluate causes of educational inequality. Although the relevance of the CA for issues of education and acquisition has been pointed out repeatedly, it has not been applied to these areas so far. Due to this innovative step the RS claims international leadership for the field of education and capability research, aiming to integrate social theory and empirical research within educational science.

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