What good is literacy? Insights and implications of the capabilities approach

Bryan Maddox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The capabilities approach has consistently promoted literacy as an important social entitlement, a key determinant of well‐being and a goal of human development. This significance of literacy is reflected in the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports. Nevertheless, as Martha Nussbaum highlights, adult literacy statistics are a pervasive reminder of social inequality and capability deprivation on a global scale. This paper examines the insights into literacy provided by the Capabilities Approach, and the distinctive rationale that it provides for supporting adult literacy programmes. The article begins by discussing the place of literacy in human development, and the work of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. In so doing, the paper examines the intrinsic value of literacy as a good, and its instrumental role in enhancing wider capabilities. The discussion is then extended in relation to ethnographic examples drawn from fieldwork in Bangladesh.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-206
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Human Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008

Cite this