"So it is a great achievement, partly because the world has changed, partly we have all changed, partly because we have discovered a variety of things about the human condition.
We have re-focused ourselves not on the state, although the state is rather important, we have focused back on the individual. It is not an individual listing doctrine that Amartya has put forward, rather it is the individual connected with collectivity. At the same time the collectivity, on the one hand is enabling, but for many, many people it is also an adversity.
We are older and perhaps if not wiser and we have seen that collectivities which were not democratic and fully participating are not good collectivities. The fact they are either sanctioned by tradition or doctrine or religion or whatever, it's not a sufficient reason to live with them.
It is liberating that we go back to the individual, focus on the individual, and ask yourself what are the un-freedoms that we can cure."
Lord Meghnad Desai, LSE Colloquium 2003
THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL
THE JUST SOCIETY
At the beginning of the new century, it can perhaps be said that the highest goal of a society's achievement is to enable its individuals to be able to live in a free society. Since the beginnings of economics, and earlier, writers have been discussing the qualities that such a free society should bear. Traditional philosophical concerns about the goals of seeking a just human society can be considered as a combination of a number of approaches. Amongst the more important ones is "Utilitarianism" which focuses on seeking a sense of satisfaction or happiness achieved through the acquisition of utility goods in as much as they fulfill one's desires.
Such an approach does not consider the importance of the value of freedom or the nature of the distribution of the goods and happiness amongst the community. The need to have recognised rights does not feature as a desirable goal. Thus an unjust society is one that is unhappier than it should be and the measurement of this unhappiness might indicate what needs to be done to rectify the situation. The other ideas about a just society defines, with various intensities, the importance of liberty. "Libertarianism" preoccupies itself with liberties and rights of different kinds. Satisfaction and happiness are not regarded as important. Thus having rights of freedom, the right to own property, civil rights etc is considered an absolute necessity. Social goals have no priority in this view of a just society. Each of the proponents of these ideas put forward different ways to evaluate what they considered to be the goal of social stability. Current paradigms on poverty reduction and social justice have evolved from these earlier ideas.
These original concerns of seeking ways to form just societies remain pivotal to most development theories. Many subjective, qualitative and relative approaches aiming to incorporate the individual agent in the evaluation of poverty have been proposed since the late 1970's. The better ones include the Human Development Index tailored by the UNDP, Amartya Sen 's entitlement perspective representing poverty as a failure to access resources, and a Social Anthropological notion of vulnerability as relating to poverty from which led to the Sustainable Livelihoods approach of Robert Chambers.
All these alternatives have in common an attempt at comprehending poverty in its complexity, diversity and subjectivity. Participatory means have helped to convey alternative people centred views of poverty so that the poor cease to be seen as a monolithic static and impersonal group of individuals but become to be considered as agents of change. Not recipients in, but accelerators of, the development processSIGNIFICANCE OF THE INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN
Current approaches to urban aid and investment have shifted away from an almost exclusive focus on macro issues towards sophisticated approaches that address micro level intervention. With the growing importance of the work of world wide NGOs, policy makers have begun to be better informed about micro sectors. This has resulted in a growing understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of poverty. Poverty is no longer regarded just as the absence of income but as a much more complex condition that varies from community to community and needs to be tackled with a multi-pronged approach. Thus policy directives as well as identification of goals and targets have widened considerably and social investment has become a crucial component of economic investment. As a result of this widening, the role of the individual as the basic building block of change has gained wide acceptance in many policies. Sen's recasting of the priorities of development has reinforced the pivotal role of the individual in any development strategy. Developing the individual's potential capabilities is the ultimate purpose of improving the condition of mankind. The more unrealised his potential; the lower is his level of development. His potential and character are constrained by unfreedoms and are the components of his special and unique identity. This identity is expressed often through culture.
JULY 7th COLLOQUIUM DISCUSSION ON
THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE COLLECTIVE
QUESTIONS TO PROFESSOR AMARTYA SEN
CELINE D'CRUZ, SPARC, MUMBAI, INDIA
Professor Amartya Sen has already answered the question on the individual and collective. However when I read your books Professor Sen, the emphasis on the individual was very stark and it surprised me like you said, and I'm sure you had this question earlier. In most of our work with slum dwellers our experience has been that collective behavior helps them to achieve that individual empowerment either through getting ration cards, getting a house or getting secure tenure. Obviously this question has been answered very well by both of you but if you would like to highlight it more ?
PROFESSOR AMARTYA SEN
You are right. Individual freedom is enhanced in this case by the social collective action, and that is the way to look at it. That is, you have to distinguish between what are you trying to do it for, individual freedom or collective action. It does not make any sense to me to have a kind of worshipping of society in a way that it is not related to an individual sense, saying no one's life is going to be better, but my God it's a better society !
If society is better, then somebody's life must be getting better in some way. But I think that feature, I would like to argue, is quite distinguished from the other feature that you cannot do very much with individual lives without having social changes, social institutions, social co-operation and just the kind of thing the institution that you recommend do. There is no tension in that question. The great individualist, in this respect, called Karl Marx has some very interesting things to say on that, exactly on that ! By the way, it is surprising people do not read this very much anymore.In fact when I did my first book mathematical book about "Collective choice and Social Welfare", there was a quotation from Marx on the front page about what has to be avoided, above all, is the viewing the individual as alienated from society and also viewing society as alienated from the individual. You have to look at the individual in the society that is the point. And I think in a sense that captured many theories that I would not think Marx would have been interested in, but in terms of a general approach that actually captures the spirit exactly right.
LORD MEGHNAD DESAI
I always thought by reading Marx, more than anybody else, that in the future we all want every individual would be valued. It's not to do with individualistic in the sense of a certain eighteenth or nineteenth century thinking but individualistic at a higher level, to use an old fashioned expression. So the idea is not the individual only matters and there is no such think as society as somebody said, but that if you do not value the individuals within a collectivity, very often as I have said with a collectivity it can be extremely repressive. Women especially have known that the notion of community can be used in a very oppressive way indeed. And therefore we have to say, how do we get into a better level of individual collectivity intervention which is in a sense liberating.
PROFESSOR AMARTYA SEN
I will supplement that. When I first started work on gender, that was late sixties early seventies, we were looking at the inequality within the family, in all kinds of ways including what leads to the morbidity rate, the mortality rate, and nutrition and so on. One of the responses I received from one colleague at the Delhi School of Economics in the cultural anthropology department, was that I was using the wrong concepts because the Indian woman does not have concepts for the individual. She has concepts only of the family. Now, for me the concept of the individual was what made that equality possible and the absence of it makes the inequality survive. So the concept of the individual as distinct but not unrelated to the family was an enormously important part of the liberation that one was trying to work to form.