Choosing Dimensions: The Capability Approach and Multidimensional Poverty

31 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2010 Last revised: 27 Jul 2012

See all articles by Sabina Alkire

Sabina Alkire

Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative

Date Written: August 1, 2007


The capability approach defines poverty as a deprivation of capabilities, as a lack of multiple freedoms people value and have reason to value. Chronic poverty focuses attention on that subset of poor persons whose capability deprivations endure across time. But how should the dimensions of chronic poverty be selected? This question is complex because the relevant dimensions must in some sense be chosen at the start of a study, and yet preferences or values may change. Nussbaum argues that there should be a 'list' of core capabilities; Sen argues that the capabilities should be selected in light of the purpose of the study and the values of the referent populations, and that their selection should be explicit and open to public debate and scrutiny. In the literature, if authors give any justification at all of their selection (many do not), they justify it on the basis of up to five criteria. This paper argues that the dimensions of chronic poverty for research studies should be selected using a 'mixed' method approach that combines the selection of a static set of core dimensions (using explicit criteria which are described) with participatory studies that report the relative importance of each dimensions to the respondents during different waves of the survey.

Keywords: Multidimensional Poverty, Human Development Capability Approach, Chronic Poverty, Basic Capabilities

Suggested Citation

Alkire, Sabina, Choosing Dimensions: The Capability Approach and Multidimensional Poverty (August 1, 2007). Chronic Poverty Research Centre Working Paper No. 88, Available at SSRN: or

Sabina Alkire (Contact Author)

Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative ( email )

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