The University of Edinburgh -

Working Papers on the Reconciliation of Work and Welfare in Europe

REC-WP 03 / 10

The Capability Approach in social policy analysis. Yet another concept?

Alexander Goerne

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There is still some lack of clarity regarding the question of what the Capability Approach actually is, how it should be interpreted and operationalised, and not least whether it is an adequate and useful concept for the analysis of social policy in Europe. Against the backdrop of these questions, this paper looks at recent contributions which use the Capability Approach (CA) for analysing social policy. This leads me to argue that the most interesting applications of the CA may not lie in policy evaluation in the classical sense, but rather in an analysis of policy outputs through the lens of concepts such as individualisation and diversity. In this sense, the CA may serve as normative foundation for addressing the dependent variable problem in comparative welfare regime research. In order to play this role, however, CA-applications will need to clearly differentiate between the potential and implications of the CA itself, and various external normative reference points which should not be identified with the CA.


Capability Approach, Amartya Sen, Social Policy, Individualisation, Evaluation, Normative Research