Development As Freedom, Freedom As Exchanges: Understanding the Relationship Between Forms of Exchange and Human Capabilities in a Developmental Context: The Case of Old-Alagados in Salvador De Bahia (Brazil)

Vannier, Hélène Marie Élise (2016). Development As Freedom, Freedom As Exchanges: Understanding the Relationship Between Forms of Exchange and Human Capabilities in a Developmental Context: The Case of Old-Alagados in Salvador De Bahia (Brazil). PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000efaa

Abstract

Since the dawn of the new millennium, poverty and inequalities have become a central concern of development. Both phenomena are now recognised as multidimensional - i.e. beyond their material aspect - and the more predominant Human Development paradigm now condemns people’s lack of (unequal) freedoms to be and do what they value, namely their capabilities (Sen, 2010: 93). Fighting poverty and inequalities represents a challenge: we need to understand how capabilities work and to define how to guarantee people’s basic (if not equal) opportunities to be and do what they value. This thesis argues that analysing the relation between capabilities and exchanges in their substantive form - i.e. using a comprehensive theoretical definition and empirical approach - is key to such endeavour.

In a theoretical approach, the thesis adopts a Polanyian understanding of forms of integration (Polanyi, 1957b) in order to categorize exchanges as discrete patterns of distribution. Moreover, the thesis conceptually frames the normative understanding of social dynamics shaping poverty and inequalities through a combination of Sen’s capability approach (CA) and Bourdieu’s sociology of practice and theory of social reproduction. In an empirical approach, focusing on a disadvantaged yet dynamic neighbourhood of Salvador (Brazil), this doctoral research explores different exchanges in four formal and informal groups, and their members’ relative capabilities.

As a result, the thesis offers a new categorisation of forms of exchange. It argues that the characteristics of such forms, but also additional structural, cultural and agency dynamics reproduce the people’s unequal opportunities. Those are respectively: specific combinations of forms of exchange, the understanding of their role, suitability and value, and the different control and claim people may exert over exchanges or the empowerment they experience through their exchange. Those elements matter since they influence the unequal empowerment of exchanges and shape their role in the (re)production of poverty and inequalities. The thesis finally discusses the array of possible exchanges, their actual understanding, articulation and the negotiation of their use for the (unequal) empowerment of the population, and more importantly, their potential for challenging practices and situations of disentitlement.

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