Call for Workshop on Collective Agency & Institutions, Sustainability, and the Capability Approach

Gerechte Nachhaltige Entwicklung auf Grundlage des Capability-Ansatzes (Fair sustainable development based on the capability approach): GeNECA

‘Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ (WCED 1987)

Workshop on
Collective Agency & Institutions, Sustainability, and the Capability Approach

27th and 28th of September 2012, UFZ, Leipzig, Germany

In terms of space and time, sustainable development (SD) requires much more responsibility than an individual can cope with: it stretches to the global level and well into the future. An individual can try to comply with rules of SD, but it cannot alone achieve the goal of sustainability. This fact has drawn some authors to think of SD as a mere political concept to be addressed by collectives as far as the world community (e.g. Biermann et al. 2012). In contrast to initiatives aiming at sustainable consumption, some authors argue e.g. that moral overburden renders individual action improbable, that knowledge deficits make it ineffective, and that our socio‐economic system is not geared towards achieving this normative aim (e.g. Grunwald 2010).

Others argue that only individuals can act. Individuals act as consumers and as citizens; governments cannot act against the interests of their electorates, and enterprises react to consumer choice. Therefore the transition to SD has to start on an individual level.

The capability approach (CA) focuses on the individual and is not fit to explain collective agency (Leßmann/Rauschmayer 2012). Yet, it acknowledges the influence of social affiliation, of groups and social norms on individual identity and individual goals. As a theory of justice the CA holds on to ethical individualism, i.e. the CA views individuals – and only individuals – as the units of moral concern (Robeyns 2005). Thus, the CA demands that SD should not hold for the generations on average, but for each single individual if it is to be judged just.

The aim of the workshop is to explore the role of collective agency & institutions both for SD and in the theoretical framework of the CA.

Concept of the workshop

The workshop starts the 27th of September with presentations of the work in the GeNECA project that has led us to think that the CA has to open up to collective aspects. A plenary discussion will then launch the debate and connect the workshop participants. Three keynote talks (see below) follow on 27th and 28th. These long inputs will be complemented by short inputs to be discussed in thematic parallel discussion sessions. Summing up and plenary discussion will conclude the workshop.

Call for Contributions

The key‐note speeches will be embedded in thematic parallel discussion sessions of all workshop participants. We welcome applications for short inputs (5 minutes) on a single idea or concept or question to start and inspire the discussions. Submissions should not exceed 300 words and include a short‐bio of 50 words on the current position and research interests. They should be sent to o.lessmann@hsu‐ or The final (!) deadline for submissions is June 15th. A notification of acceptance will be sent by July 10th.

Accepted contributions should be elaborated into draft or complete papers (4.000‐8.000 words) until 20th of September and will be sent around to all workshop participants who are supposed to read all contributions. The authors’ 5‐min presentations, complemented by a discussant’s 10‐min input on three clustered papers will serve to stimulate group discussions in the workshop.


If you want to participate in the workshop, please send an email to until 15th of July, specifying whether you would like to act as a chair, a discussant, or a note‐taker. The workshop can only accept a limited number of participants and participants will be selected in a first‐ come first‐serve order.

There is no funding available, but we are happy to confirm the participation in this research workshop. A small fee will be asked for in order to cover the catering during the workshop (coffee/tea, evening reception etc.).

Further Information