capability formation and transformative professionals, BERA 2010

Melanie Walker and Monica McLean, University
of Nottingham, UK
[email protected]
What will help to bring about a better society or a better
world? (Tony Judt)
Research project: developing an original public-good
professional education Index, 2008-2009 (ESRC/DfID
funded); set in South Africa and widely applicable
Public good: oriented to professional contributions to
poverty reduction (What can universities do through
professional education to foster such a professional
Conceptual framework for a public good professional:
capability expansion Plus ‘other regarding’ agency goals
Index of four interlocking tables as an evaluation
heuristic, for testing and public scrutiny
Mahbub Ul Haq - key purpose of (human)
development is to enlarge people’s choices to
lead good lives
Public-good professionalism is conceptualised
both as expanding the capabilities of people
living in poverty (which fits with the human
development idea of the poor as active
participants in development processes), and also
expanding the professional capabilities of people
who might make the choice to contribute
professionally to equitable social improvements.
The relationship between comprehensive capabilities and
professional capabilities and functionings
(eg. Bill of Rights;
Government policy)
(eg. Welfare
grants, service
inclusive access
to HE)
and inclusion
capabilities for
each person to
have wellbeing
and quality of life
capabilities and
responsibility of
universities and
formation and
Public good
improve lives of
and reduce
poverty by
The approach is used to evaluate well-being and to guide
policy and action to remove ‘unfreedoms’ or obstacles
which stand in the way of people being able to achieve
quality of life and to choose a life they have reason to
value, to be and to do in ways they value (Sen, 1999).
Robeyns (2003, p.7) describes capability-based well-being
as people having the ‘effective opportunities to undertake
actions and activities that they want to engage in and be
whom they want to be’. Capability deprivation thus
reduces well-being.
Agency in turn involves ‘what a person is free to do and
achieve in pursuit of whatever goals or values he or she
regards as important’ (Sen 1995, p.203).
The approach can evaluate both the opportunity or
freedoms each person has for well-being and agency, as
well as actual well-being and agency achievements.
Capability = obligations to others (Sen, Nussbaum)
De Swaan et al and research on elites and social change
‘Social consciousness’:
awareness of the interdependence among social groups in
society – and, most relevantly, of the external effects of
poverty upon the elites, which they may perceive either as
threatening [eg crime] or as promising opportunities [eg
labour power, clients for their services];
they realize that as members of the elite they bear some
responsibility for the conditions of the poor;
they believe that feasible and efficacious means of
improving the lot of the poor exist or might be created.
We translate this into a three-dimensional model of otherregarding, socially conscious agency, having these
elements: aware agents; responsible agents; activist
Three basic attitudes to poverty among elites
in a country:
complete indifference
concern based on perceived threat to their
own well-being and the opportunities the
poor present [as consumers, voters and so
on], but remain inactive and resigned to
are concerned and confident about their
ability to act to bring about change
Development Discourses: Higher Education and
Poverty Reduction in South Africa’ project from
July 2008-December 2009.
Aims were to explore (i) how professional
education in South African universities might
contribute to poverty reduction and social
transformation; and (ii) the equity trajectory of
universities and their role in addressing the
challenges of poverty and human development
needs of South Africa.
3 South African universities; 5 professional
Informed by theory, research, qualitative data
and dialogue
Generating the Index
Four meta-functionings
(capability achievements)
Dimensions to be evaluated
1. prof caps 2. educ. arrangements 3. univ.conditions 4. social constraints
Research process
1. theories
2. empirical cases (5)
3. participatory dialogue
Recognise the full dignity of every human
Act for social transformation and to reduce
Make sound, knowledgeable, thoughtful,
imaginative professional judgements
Work/act with others to expand the
comprehensive capabilities (‘fully human
lives’) of people living in poverty.
Interlocking Dimensions
Detail (theory, research,
Table 1
Professional capabilities
informed vision; affiliation
(solidarity); resilience; social
and collective struggle;
emotions; integrity;
assurance & confidence;
knowledge, imagination, and
practical skills.
Table 2
curriculum, pedagogy,
encouraging professional
ways of being, supportive
Faculty/departmental culture
Table 3
University conditions
institutional culture and
environment; advancing
criticism, deliberation and
responsibility; social
engagement;, building just
Table 4
Social constraints
Material, historical,
The question: How do the elements of the
Index play out in professional education
sites? Here we have selected Law to illustrate
how the Index can assist an evaluation of
public-good professionalism, including the
formation of other-regarding agency in a
profession with social power and potential
influence for transformation.
Interviews with students, lecturers, university
managers, alumni, NGOs and professional
Reasonably encouraging narrative across professional
capabilities, formation of professionals at Faculty and
module (Legal Process) level, and University ethos.
Some educational constraints (crowded 4 year
curriculum, large classes, under-prepared students,
specific pressures on poor students; lack of staff
But significant social constraints (repeated by all
nature of the law
lack of political will for change
persistent racial prejudice
Public good professionalism precarious
Transformation somewhat haphazard as
discourse and practices – but also evidence of
aware, responsible activist agents (and potential
for solidarity, rationality and reflective
Pessimism from nature of HE changes globally
(‘logics’ of the market, managerialism, human
capital) –professions prioritize self-interest over
public good
Judge Mohamed Navsa, former chairperson of the
South African Human Rights Commission - South
Africa's legal practitioners ‘are losing their social
Index captures the three key elements of Sen’s
idea of justice (2009):
(i) a focus on accomplishments and capabilities
in actual lives;
(ii) a focus on obligations to vulnerable others;
(iii) a focus on public reasoning in arriving at
decisions regarding justice and social change.
Not ‘perfect’ justice or ‘perfect’ public-good professional
thinking comparatively, that is, evaluating, local conditions, the
proximity of socio-economic arrangements from feasible
conditions of justice. In parallel, we can usefully think of publicgood professional education comparatively. For example, a
practical step would be for the Faculty to expand the Legal
Process module so that it could be taken by all students, which
would provide more exposure to the realities of working with
disadvantaged communities. This would be a first step towards
making students aware of the choices in working for
Index has the potential to be ‘critical, transgressive,
transformative’ (Fournier, 2002, p. 192), its collaborative
production can be seen as a ‘movement of hope’(Ibid.). It is not
a blueprint for a perfect public-good professional education, but
a space for imagining alternatives and for ‘public reasoning’
about public good professionals.

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