Pearson and responsibility: (mis-)understanding the capabilities approach

Johnson, Matthew, Brigg, Morgan and Graham, Mary (2016) Pearson and responsibility: (mis-)understanding the capabilities approach. Australian Journal of Politics and History, 62 2: 251-267. doi:10.1111/ajph.12248

Author Johnson, Matthew
Brigg, Morgan
Graham, Mary
Title Pearson and responsibility: (mis-)understanding the capabilities approach
Journal name Australian Journal of Politics and History   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1467-8497
Publication date 2016-06-01
Year available 2016
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1111/ajph.12248
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 62
Issue 2
Start page 251
End page 267
Total pages 17
Place of publication Richmond, VIC, Australia
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Asia
Collection year 2017
Language eng
Abstract Aboriginal Australian public intellectual Noel Pearson has gained prominence and influence for his brand of policy reform in Indigenous affairs by drawing upon the capabilities approach. This article challenges the coherence of Pearson's position, arguing that his unrelenting focus on personal responsibility leads him to conflate different elements within capabilities thinking. Pearson 1) mistakes social capabilities (to which people are entitled) for human potential to be unfolded, and 2) casts and prescribes personal responsibility as a type of latent capability. The latter a) inverts the capabilities approach wherein phenomena such as personal responsibility arise as an effect of the realization of latent capabilities rather than serving as latent capabilities themselves, and b) is at odds with the liberal basis of the capabilities approach that rejects imposing “good” ways of life on people. This is illustrated through reference to Pearson's advocacy of Direct Instruction teaching and engagement with the “real economy”. The paper recognizes Pearson's contribution to the policy debate and that the problems he highlights are real, but argues that the remedial approaches adopted are problematic, including in terms of Pearson's stated stance against assimilationist policy agendas.
Keyword Social capabilities
Human potential
Personal responsibility
Aboriginal community
Indigenous affairs
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: HERDC Pre-Audit
School of Political Science and International Studies Publications
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