Introduction The Capability Approach (CA) has been initiated and guided by Amartya Sen, since the 1980s, as an alternative to neoclassical welfare economics. The approach emerged gradually out of his rich critique of mainstream economics, in particular his dissatisfaction with conventional notions of rationality (e.g. in Rational Fools, Sen, 1977), efficiency (e.g. in Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal, Sen, 1970), utility (e.g. in On Ethics and Economics, Sen, 1987), and wellbeing (e.g. in Development as Freedom, Sen, 1999). Arising out of this critique, the CA can be characterized as an alternative approach to the analysis of poverty and wellbeing, one that has tried to find a middle ground between purely subjective theories of wellbeing on the one hand, such as the preference-based neoclassical paradigm, and, on the other hand, purely objective theories focusing on goods or, a bit less objective, needs. In the CA, it is people’s capabilities to function that is the central focus of wellbeing analysis, in other words, what people are able to be or do, rather than what they have in terms of income or commodities.

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Manuscript version of a chapter published in J. Davis and W. Dolfsma (eds) The Elgar Companion to Social Economics, pp.139-152 Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2008
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

van Staveren, I.P. (2008). Capabilities and Well-being. In ISS Staff Group 0. Retrieved from