Can the capabilities approach help us frame technology injustice?

If you think this question is only of “academic interest” then read on.   At the Human Development and Capability Association conference in Den Haag, The Netherlands I put this question before a group of donors, practitioners, and academics.   I wanted to start a conversation about how we can move away from the traditional ways of thinking about development and economies.   How do we address the twin issues of sustainability and inter-generational equity?

Sen[i] writes about social injustice and challenges much of the conventional approach to economics with his emphasis on well-being and capabilities.

Practical Action has had a focus on the use of technology to challenge poverty for the past 40 years, inspired by the vision of the economist Schumacher[ii] and based on the notion of intermediate technology.   Currently Practical Action is considering how it can best use the idea of technology justice to form a campaign and movement for change.   How can the capabilities approach help us to frame technology injustice?

Here are four practical advantages of using a capabilities approach to frame (and/or communicate) the idea of technology justice:

  1. It would allow us to challenge the assumptions of economic growth as a driver for human development.
  2. We could identify unanticipated outcomes (both positive and negative) of our interventions.
  3. It is a values based approach that promotes transparency.
  4. By using a process based approach we can learn about injustice that results from the negative impact of technologies.

Overall a capabilities approach is normative which fits in with the notion of developing a movement against technology injustices in the world.   Let’s keep the conversation going…


[i] Sen, A. (2009) The Idea of Justice, Allen Lane: London.

[ii] Scumacher, E.F. (1973) Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, Abacus Press: London.

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