Sen’s Development as Freedom

Conceptual frameworks are important in development studies because they provide a lens through which research is conducted, showing what types of data are needed to address the problem at hand (Sumner and Tribe 82). Frameworks also provide a more nuanced analysis of research and analysis. To begin, it may be helpful to describe Sen’s concept of development as freedom before discussing how the framework can inform disability-inclusive development projects. In simple terms, Sen’s development of freedom concept states that development should allow individuals freedoms and capabilities to live the lives they desire and value (Sen 18). Sen’s framework involves both the processes of allowing freedom of behavior and the substantive opportunities to live freely (Sen 17). In other words, development as freedom entails securing the processes by which individuals can attain freedoms and the resulting opportunities that such freedom allows. Two important reasons for prioritizing individual freedom in development are the ability to evaluate society and the promotion of societal effectiveness. Success of society can be evaluated based on the freedoms that people have (Sen 18), a view that is not utilitarian but rather is more humanizing. Freedom also determines individual motivation and hence, social effectiveness (Sen 18). Thus, people’s ability to help themselves in turn helps society. Sen’s framework aligns with the notion of development as a “friendly” process, a view that exchanges can be mutually beneficial, similar to Adam Smith’s argument regarding international trade (Sen 36). Sen’s framework highlights the need to ignore common conceptions that human development (Sen 143), the establishment of social opportunities that benefit human’s capabilities and quality of life (Sen 144), is a luxury in which only rich nations can afford to engage (Sen 143). Sen argues that this belief hinders human development globally and believes that the ability for human development to take place is not limited to a country’s economic situation. 

In regards to disability-inclusive development projects, Sen’s development as freedom concept is useful as it addresses persons with disabilities. This may seem to be simple and broad criteria for examining theories, but many frameworks neglect to even recognize persons with disabilities and their needs. Sen writes that there is variation between income and the well-being and freedom that result as a function of that income. For example, people’s different physical traits, or “personal heterogeneities” as Sen writes, in regard to disability, illness, age, and gender diversify their needs (Sen 70). This means that people with different physical conditions may need differing levels of resources, requiring compensation in income. However, Sen writes that some physical conditions may be uncorrectable even with income compensation (70). The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes that evaluation should not just focus on means, but should take into account what certain groups of people can do with such means, in order to be sufficient for development (“Sen’s Capability Approach”). I found this to be a helpful summary of Sen’s example. Sen did not just mention disability; he provided context to how his conceptual framework applies to persons with disabilities. 

My capstone project is heading in the direction of analyzing the UN’s consideration of persons with disabilities and their needs when crafting and implementing Sustainable Development Goal #4, which aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” I intend to use Sen’s development of freedom concept as I have found it to be rather inclusive, based on my study of development theories over the past two semesters, and because the theory makes mention of persons with disabilities. To clarify, simply mentioning persons with disabilities is not enough in a theory; Sen provided contextual, real-life scenarios that applied his framework to the lives of persons with disabilities. Could he have addressed this community further? Of course. Theory is worthy of being critiqued, but in a field, disability-inclusive development, that is still in the beginning phases of getting the recognition in academia that it deserves, Sen’s mention and analysis are suitable to work with for now. In my first reflection, I posed the questions, “Do health and well-being include health for persons of disabilities as well? For example, are physical access, treatment, and medicines for persons with disabilities included in the promotion of health and well-being?” In both questions, I take care to ask about well-being, which is central to Sen’s argument about development. More specifically, Sen’s framework can help me examine how persons with disabilities are either granted or denied their capabilities and rights that all humans deserve. Analyzing SDG #4 will provide a focused look at how persons with disabilities and their capabilities and freedoms are incorporated into current development programs.