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Locating Women in a Matrix

Maithreyi Krishnaraj

Edited by Bina Agarwal , Jane Humphries and Ingrid Robeyns
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

The book examines critically Sen’s contribution to some fundamental issues of human welfare from a gender perspective. Sen, has displayed feminist sensibilities, rare among economists. His ideas on notions such as justice, freedom, social choice, agency, ‘functionings’, and capability as a set of philosophical categories have not only enriched our understanding but has given us a whole new vocabulary and evaluative tools for judging human development, values that should underpin our goals. Firstly, he shifted the focus from the conventional approach of aggregating individual preferences, which are subjective evaluations ignoring the situations in which people live, to interactive processes that determine outcomes—the extent of participation of agents in decision making. Secondly, departing from the exclusive focus on wealth and utilities, he has made us recognize that ultimately what matters is what kind of life we can lead, what enables us to pursue the goals we value.   The editors have done a commendable job in their introduction, elucidating Sen’s main ideas, and how they can be fruitfully used for analysis of women’s location in the gender matrix of society. After the introduction, the volume carries articles by Fabienne Peter, Ingrid Rubeyn, Vegard Iversen, Des Gasper and Irene van Staveren Marainne T. Hill and Martha Nussbaum. These essays originally appeared in special issues of the journal Feminist Economics published by the International Association of Feminist Economics in 2000. The volume also includes some important works of Sen as well as the editors conversations with Sen. In his latest work Sen has defined development as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy and this can be achieved by removing the major sources of unfreedom, such as poverty, tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities and intolerance of repressive states. Freedom is not merely a primary end of development but also its principal means. Sen enunciated five instrumental freedoms: political, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees and protective security. Sen does not ignore the role of social values, prevailing mores in influencing gender equity, nature of child care, family size, fertility patterns, treatment of environment among a host of others.   What really then are ‘gender’ critques? The following remarks by the authors in the volume present some of them. Robeyn points out that Sen underspecifies ‘capability’. Freedom which he supports is over extended—it can only be one value among others. ...

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