Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Understanding migration and development through the Capability Approach

Rajapakse Nadeera RAJAPAKSE, Université Pantheon-Sorbonne, Paris 1, PHARE

Empirical studies on development and migration have mostly adopted quantitative, micro and macroeconomic approaches or qualitative anthropological and sociological perspectives. Theoretical work has debated the development–migration nexus and has moved towards multidisciplinary research, though the underlying neoclassical paradigm remains dominant. The particular example of Sri Lankan migrant women workers, mainly low skilled domestic workers in the Middle East, calls for a better representation of migrants. Many factors render most migration theories insufficient to grasp the complexity of migration. In this example the vulnerability associated with low skilled labour, the gendered perspective, social costs outweighing economic gains, the open question of the impact of remittances on development remain inadequately addressed by neoclassical theory. Amartya Sen’s work has contributed to both migration and development fields, by presenting a holistic liberal view of development as a process of expansion of people's capabilities. For migration theories also Sen’s capability approach has provided a multidimensional framework with a migrant-centred focus. This paper will discuss the Capability Approach as it applies to this particular type of labour migration. To understand the link between migration and development, the paper will explore how Sen’s approach enables a better representation of migrants. First, the concept of rationality as it relates to migrants’ wellbeing, and, in a larger sense, to the development theory of wellbeing will be analysed. Next, the paper will attempt to deconstruct the concept and the reality of vulnerability, characterising the experience of migrant women workers, which will lead to discussing the ways in which protection against such vulnerabilities has been conceived and applied. Sen’s approach is most relevant in accepting migration as a fact, as a capability set, and all stakeholders may better benefit from the perspective it offers.


Keywords: Amartya Sen, Capability Approach, development, migration, remittances, vulnerabilities, well-being, women workers

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