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Book review: Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen is an important author, economist, and philosopher for anyone in human rights work to know, and his book Development as Freedom (1999) is a perfect example of his expertise and deep understanding of human development and the importance of human rights. Sen argues that human freedom should be both the means and the end of development, rather than a casualty of it, as is often the case. He advocates for an integrated approach to development that involves multiple institutions and creates freedoms such as economic opportunities, political freedom, social supports, transparency from authorities, and security for society. Stating that development often forsakes freedoms and opportunities in the name of economic and human development, Sen argues that freedom must be central to development in order to create sustainable and effective change. He also addresses concerns and critiques surrounding the universal human rights discussion, including arguments about legality of human rights, duties involved in fulfilling rights, and questions about cultural relativism. In particular, Sen uses his own experiences from and expertise in Asian culture to argue that human rights and freedoms are not dependent upon cultural values or morality. He writes, “The case for basic freedoms and for the associated formulations in terms of rights rests on: 1) their intrinsic importance; 2) their consequential role in providing political incentives for economic security; 3) their constructive role in the genesis of values and priorities” (p. 246). Even through the extensive sidebar on Asian values, Sen tries to make this book accessible to a broad audience by avoiding jargon and technical terms, even encouraging readers to skip through certain theories and arguments, particularly those that contain major flaws. Development as Freedom is an important theoretical text for anyone studying or working in human rights, especially for those in the development field.

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