The capability approach in risk analysis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The standard meaning of risk adopted by risk analysts from a broad range of fields is that risk is the probability that a certain set of consequences will occur given a hazardous scenario. Risk analysis is the process of determining the probability of occurrence and consequences as well as evaluating the determined risks. Capability refers to the genuine opportunity that an individual has to do and become things of value, such as being educated and maintaining bodily integrity. Such doings and beings are called functionings. A capability approach provides a distinct evaluative space for conceptualizing and judging states of affairs on the basis of how the capabilities of individuals are affected. This chapter examines the reciprocal contributions of a capability approach and risk theory. A capability approach has been used to enrich risk theory in three ways. First, it has been argued that the consequences component of risk should be conceptualized and assessed in terms of the impact of a hazardous scenario on capabilities, instead of either resources or utility. Second, instead of evaluating risks on the basis of either public or expert judgment, risks should be judged acceptable or tolerable on the basis of whether certain threshold levels of capabilities are maintained. Third, a capability approach provides a distinct alternative to a prominent way of managing risks, cost-benefit analysis. Instead of comparing alternative policies on the basis of their relative advantages and disadvantages, policies should be evaluated on the basis of whether they address unacceptable or intolerable risks and on the basis of their likely affectability. Likely affectability considers the dollar per unit change in the expected impact of a hazardous scenario on capabilities. Risk theory has enriched the capability approach in two ways. First, considering risk has highlighted an important dimension of capability, security, not previously recognized. Second, attempts to operationalize a capability approach to risk have led to the development of a novel way to assess capabilities, and not simply actual functioning achievements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Risk Theory
Subtitle of host publicationEpistemology, Decision Theory, Ethics, and Social Implications of Risk
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789400714335
ISBN (Print)9789400714328
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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