The Capability Approach as the normative foundation of Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development (SD) is ultimately about affording a good human life to all human beings today and in the future and this within the context of scarce resources and fragile natural and societal systems that support a good life. A critical and vividly discussed topic within the scholarly sustainability community is the conceptualization of intra- and intergenerational justice. Recently, authors have been working on combining the Capability Approach (CA) with SD and two areas have emerged as barriers for such a conceptual endeavor. First, the CA is understood as a group of theoretical components rather than a clear and unified theory and it is therefore unclear what exactly is invested when investing the CA. Second, the CA has thus far neglected environmental issues and so the question remains whether or not it can be invested without expanding its conceptual basis. This PhD-project strives to contribute to a clarification of the conceptual basis that the CA provides as a conception of justice by answering the research question: Does the CA have to be theoretically expanded to serve as a normative foundation for SD? To achieve this, five steps are taken: (i) the problem is framed and the rationale for the research question is demonstrated; (ii) the current state of CA justice is reviewed; (iii) discrepancies between the CA and adequacy conditions for an SD-conception are identified; (iv) possible theoretical extensions to overcome these inadequacies are reviewed and; (v) these extensions are interpreted as true expansions of the theory and not only illuminations. The result will lay the groundwork for a capability based sustainability conception.

Supervisor: Paul Burger
Co-Supervisor: Barbara Schmitz


Emily Schultz completed her B.A. in philosophy and economics at the University of Delaware (2006), worked as an au pair in Germany for a year and then continued her studies at the University of Basel, completing her M.A./Sc. in sustainable development (2012). From February to July 2012, she worked as an assitant to Prof. Dr. Paul Burger at the group Sustainability Research. She is currently working towards her PhD (expected graduation 2015).

Research interests: Ideal and non-ideal justice, the Capability Approach, Sustainable Development theory.


Emily Schultz
Schanzenstr. 46, Büro 484
4056 Basel

Tel: +41 61 207 04 37