Monica Mookerjee (Keele University) on 'Exploring Dialogical Multiculturalism in Amartya Sen’s Capability Space'

2 May 2019, 5.00 PM - 2 May 2019, 7.00 PM

G1 7PR

The Centre of Ethnicity and Citizenship Seminar Series

Monica Mookerjee (Keele University) will be discussing 'Exploring Dialogical Multiculturalism in Amartya Sen’s Capability Space'

Date: 2nd May 2019 

Time: 5-7pm

Venue: G1 7 Priory Rd


Liberal theories, especially applied to developing states, usually aspire to be multicultural and cosmopolitan. They aim to show sensitivity to different cultures whilst also applying to humanity universally. Amartya Sen’s influential capabilities approach at first appears to contain these cosmopolitan and multicultural aspirations. While aiming to apply his theory broadly, Sen disputes the value of objective fixed lists of basic capabilities, thereby avoiding over-zealous assumptions of liberal conceptions of basic needs in developing states.

Yet Sen’s approach has been vigorously debated over the years. One persistent criticism has been regarding the liberal background of the capabilities approach, which, it is implied, fails convincingly to apply given the diversity of peoples and political cultures world-wide. Whilst these concerns seem pressing in view of Sen’s reliance on demanding conceptions of political agency and participation, this paper defends the consistency of Sen’s capabilities approach with a ‘dialogical’ form of multiculturalism, particularly that advanced by Bhikhu Parekh.

More specifically, I refer to key elements of Bhikhu Parekh’s influential approach, which searches for the good in liberalism without ‘absolutizing’ its central values such as rights to negative liberty and autonomy.

Finally, however, the paper addresses objections to this multiculturalist interpretation of Sen’s approach. In particular, I consider the charge of circularity - or the idea that this interpretation assumes the values of agency that would ideally require defence. I respond by suggesting that taking Parekh’s commitment to mutual learning across cultures seriously would likely press Sen beyond his usual emphasis on procedural democratic freedoms.


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