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Arguments for a Better World: Essays in Honor of Amartya SenVolume I: Ethics, Welfare, and Measurement$
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Kaushik Basu and Ravi Kanbur

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199239115

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199239115.001.0001

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Concepts and Measures of Agency *

Concepts and Measures of Agency *

Chapter:
(p.455) Chapter 24 Concepts and Measures of Agency*
Source:
Arguments for a Better World: Essays in Honor of Amartya Sen
Author(s):

Sabina Alkire (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199239115.003.0025

Agency is inescapably plural in both concept and measurement. In Sen's account of agency, (i) agency is exercised with respect to goals the person values; (ii) agency includes effective power as well as direct control; (iii) agency may advance wellbeing or may address other-regarding goals; (iv) to identify agency also entails an assessment of the value of the agent's goals; and (v) the agent's responsibility for a state of affairs should be incorporated into his or her evaluation of it. This chapter refracts the literature on agency measurement through the first four of these characteristics, showing how particular survey-based measures of individual agency elucidate or obscure each distinction. It also observes that existing measures used in development tend to focus on control but not effective freedom, on goals the agent has reason to value rather than goals she values, and on own rather than other-regarding agency. The literature on measurement also raises a number of very relevant issues for the conceptual approach.

Keywords:   agency, autonomy, empowerment, efficacy, effective power, control, imperfect obligation, well-being freedom

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