Reconceptualizing Educational Capabilities: A Relational Capability Theory for Redressing Inequalities

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Education is regarded as a core capability, fundamental to enhancing other capabilities and well-being. Yet education capabilities may not necessarily be agency or well-being enhancing if they do not identify and alter the forms of social relations that marginalize young people. This paper departs from a discussion of Robeyns’ [2017. Wellbeing, Freedom and Social Justice: The Capability Approach Re-Examined. Open Book Publishers] essential modules of the CA, in which she regards capabilities and functionings as value neutral. Yet, using only the essential modules of the CA can produce knowledge that may not reveal and disrupt inequalities, which are important for scholars using the CA in education. This paper discusses how postcolonial and feminist perspectives can be used to address critiques about the CA related to questions of power and the individualized and decontextualized nature of capabilities. These perspectives offer a relational analysis grounded in historical, social and economic relations that can impede a person from expanding and acting on their capabilities. The paper compares two groups of educational capabilities found in the CA scholarship and how a relational ontology can account for power constituted in social relations and structures. These two groups of educational capabilities are (1) affiliation, social networks, and recognition; and (2) critical thinking/practical reasoning; aspirations; and reimagining alternative futures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-35
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Human Development and Capabilities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2020


  • Critical feminist
  • Educational capabilities
  • Postcolonial
  • Recognition
  • Reimagining alternative futures

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