Economics and Agency

sen_image002.gifI have had the book Development as Freedom by the Nobel-Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen on my to-be-read shelf for some time, but this past week I was prompted by our discussion of agency to pull it off and have a closer look. Sen argues that economic and social development in the poorest parts of the world depend on providing greater agency (freedom) to the impoverished. One chapter is titled “Women’s Agency and Social Change;” there he argues that women’s agency, in particular, is restricted in many parts of the world and that tremendous benefits would accrue to all from removing those restrictions. He argues that it is particularly through greater access to education and the labour force that women gain increased agency within their families and communities. He cites statistics to show that this agency results in lower birth rates and higher rates of child survival (particularly female child survival), two processes that, in turn, can be shown to contribute greatly to the well-being of a society. He also argues that greater access for women to capital together with extended rights for land and business ownership have similar positive effects for the society as a whole.

I am wondering if we might think of the work Belenky describes as an example of enhancing the agency of women who are disenfranchised by the cultural system within which they have developed. If by gaining agency within their families and communities, the society as a whole develops, then we have even more reason to understand and contribute to the work of those in the tradition that has no name as we, too, become a part of the communities in which they work.

Development as Freedom is available at Scott Library with the call number HD 75 S44, and one copy is on reserve at the Scott Reserve Desk. The text of a lecture by Sen on the importance of education for addressing poverty is available here and presents some of the same arguments found in the chapter on women’s agency.

One Response to “ Economics and Agency ”

  1. ron says:

    Today’s Toronto Star has an article closely connected to the ideas presented by Sen and the ideas about development of women leaders in the Belenky book. You will find it here:

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