Human Rights and Agency: Sociological Opportunities in the Capabilities Approach

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 9:00 AM
Room: Booth 46
Oral Presentation
Spiros GANGAS , Department of Sociology, Deree-the American College of Greece, Athens, Greece
In this article I shall argue that Amartya Sen’s capability approach offers a promising renewal of sociological approaches to human rights. Sociology has only recently titled towards the capabilities approach. I shall suggest that, on the one hand, any new normative understanding of action, like the one that Sen and Nussbaum offer, can gain from sociological theory simply because the program’s central categories have a precedent among many social theorists. Seeing this affinity as an opportunity for creative theory-building in sociology, and drawing on sociology’s accomplishments, I argue that normative components of Sen’s ideas have been prefigured primarily by Parsons and to a lesser extent by Giddens. The capability approach mediates, I shall suggest, the formal aspects of Parsons’ idea of ‘capacity’ with Giddens’ idea of ‘capability’ in the context of the latter’s theory of structuration. On the other hand, many theories of agency in sociology are normatively wanting. If configured along the tracks of capabilities, sociological categories, like agency, can signal a progressive problem shift in sociology attentive to human rights, a core component of Sen’s research program. Compounded with capabilities, a new notion of agency can offer the appropriate normative justification to the ‘public sociology’ paradigm which re-introduces normative considerations in sociological discourses. If this proposed reconstruction is plausible, then it can contribute towards regenerating the capabilities approach sociologically, reconfirming its progressive explanatory capacities, the merits of which have already been successfully tested and implemented across diverse sites, movements and organizations that promote human rights.