The capability approach and Cape York: Noel Pearson’s reconceptualisation and alteration of Amartya Sen’s development framework

Reeves, Nicola (2016). The capability approach and Cape York: Noel Pearson’s reconceptualisation and alteration of Amartya Sen’s development framework PhD Thesis, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Reeves, Nicola
Thesis Title The capability approach and Cape York: Noel Pearson’s reconceptualisation and alteration of Amartya Sen’s development framework
School, Centre or Institute School of Political Science and International Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2016-06-03
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Katharine Gelber
Heloise Weber
Total pages 198
Language eng
Subjects 1606 Political Science
1401 Economic Theory
1605 Policy and Administration
Formatted abstract
Amartya Sen’s capability approach has been gaining influence as both an evaluative and a prescriptive framework for improving human well-being. Most recently, a ‘deeper’ articulation of the capability approach has been presented by Sen in terms of Development as Freedom. He presents this as a more comprehensive approach to development, with the intention of it being universally applicable. Therefore, Sen’s approach has also been promoted as a framework for understanding, evaluating and achieving development in cross-cultural contexts. An important instance of its implementation is by Noel Pearson in an Australian Indigenous context. Pearson frames his approach to Indigenous development in terms of the capability approach. His project – the Cape York welfare reform trials – has been implemented through the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership and Cape York Partnerships in the Cape York Peninsula. Pearson and these organisations have the aim of creating further opportunities to extend policy trials to other Indigenous contexts in Australia. In this thesis, I compare and contrast Pearson’s use of the capability approach based framework with my interpretation of an ideal-typical version of Sen’s capability approach and Development as Freedom. This ‘ideal-type’ is reconstructed from Sen’s theoretical work and wider debates about it and allows me to demonstrate that Pearson reconceptualises and alters Sen’s framework, changing the conditions within which capability is to be realised with important social and political consequences. In particular, this thesis shows how Sen’s central development goals, which are oriented towards enhancing individual capabilities and expanding freedoms, are reframed and realigned by Pearson. His adaptations have the effect of inadvertently shoring up the premises of neoliberal political economic ideals at the expense of Indigenous cultural values and practices, a result of the central importance Pearson assigns to problems he associates with ‘passive welfare’ and welfare dependency. A critical engagement with the problems entailed in Pearson’s reframing of the CA also magnifies what critics have argued to be the unfreedoms and contradictions associated with liberalism in Sen’s work too (although in Sen’s work this is corrected through the provision of social safety-nets). In light of these findings, I argue that Pearson’s use of the language of the capability approach is rhetorical rather than substantive. It serves the purpose of justifying the development project of the Cape York Institute and Cape York Partnerships, and is typical in embodying problematic assumptions of mainstream, global Indigenous development paradigms.
Keyword Capability approach
Amartya Sen
Development as freedom
Economic and social development
Noel Pearson
Indigenous Australia
Indigenous development
Cape York
Passive welfare
Liberal political economy

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Created: Mon, 30 May 2016, 17:53:53 EST by Nicola Reeves on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)