“What should I do with that by which I do not become immortal?”: Religion, freedom and development

In Volume 2 of Human Welfare, Manini Sheker from the Department of International Development, University of Oxford, won the Steve Ngo Welfare Prize for her discussion of religion, freedom, and development.

Can a religio-moral framework provide a check on unrestrained economic growth and mitigate against any non-economic consequences that may be incumbent in following a path of poverty alleviation?

How might Catholic theology offer a more expansive notion of freedom and well-being that enriches the capability approach?

Can secular institutions or social arrangements benefit from critically examining their objectives within a religio-moral framework without compromising their plural nature or imposing a particular view of the ultimate good?

Might the capability approach provide a necessary link between theology and the social sciences?

Read a summary of her article below, read the full article here, and post your comments to her questions!

It is only in recent years that scholars in the field of development studies have challenged the assumption that the process of modernization is also one of secularization, and called for rewriting the dominant secular script in development theory and practice. In this paper, I build on recent efforts to reconsider the place of religion in the process of development by comparing the moral basis and understanding of “freedom” posited by Catholic social teaching on the one hand, and the capability approach on the other, in order to bring these views into a dialogue that would enable a more holistic conception of human welfare. I argue that the capability approach can benefit from considering the objectives of development within a more explicitly moral framework, though I show also that such an undertaking is not without problems.

In the first part of the paper, I trace the moral framework and views of the “good life” that underpin the capability approach (regarded by many as the best alternative approach to welfare economics). I show that the capability approach rests on liberal assumptions regarding the individual that derive from the traditions of the western Enlightenment, and on a conception of the “good life” where primacy is placed on the exercise of one’s agency and the realization of freedoms one has reason to value. In the second part of the paper, I discuss the conceptions of freedom and the “good life” according to Catholic social teaching, and I show that the latter has a more expansive view of freedom and what it is to be human, and is more deliberate in its considerations of non-economic aspects of poverty alleviation, suggesting that if a path of poverty alleviation is not followed with reference to material, and equally ethical and salvific liberation, it will result in spiritual impoverishment.

I conclude by offering some suggestions on how these two views may be able to enrich each other, with the important caveat that although there is a value in the critical use of a religio-moral framework in evaluating social arrangements, such a framework can never be fully implemented without compromising the plural nature of secular institutions or constricting the definitions of the ultimate human goods.

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European Union Enlargement and Roma Migrants’ Welfare: The Role of Changing Migration Status in UK Education Policy and Practice

In the latest issue of Human Welfare, Rachel Humphris from the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, discusses European Union Enlargement and Roma Migrants’ Welfare.

Should there be local policies or programmes targeted at specific ethnic groups? On one hand, these policies may provide an approach that encompasses culture, identity, and protective measures against prejudice, bias, and discrimination. However, on the other hand, they may also create a negative reaction among others, as non-beneficiaries. It also creates a situation where individuals have to self-identify to a particular group in order to receive support.

Is it enough to grant entitlements to rights? How can we ensure that people have continuous access to those rights? And in practice, what repercussions does this have on how local municipalities represent residents in increasingly diverse societies (and in an age of austerity)?

Read a summary of her article below, read the full article here, and post your comments to her questions!

“The central aim of this paper is to explore the significance of legal status on the welfare of Roma migrants. I argue that although EU accession changed the relationship between Roma from enlargement countries and the UK state, it did not necessarily increase their welfare. Rather, processes at a local level are complex, with some increasing access to services whilst others have limited them. I focus on UK national education policy and processes in one local area. Through this I chart how the construction of Roma in national policy changed. Although EU enlargement played a role, specific actors at a local level and wider UK Government priorities such as the ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda and the increasing awareness of Gypsy and Traveller issues were also pivotal.

Importantly I place these developments in the context of EU policy-making on Roma migration. I illustrate that the policy dilemma pertaining to Roma welfare in the UK is inextricably linked to wider political discourses throughout an evolving EU landscape.  This helps to explain why Roma have been separated as a distinct category in debates about migration in the region with repercussions for how UK policy has constructed Roma minorities.

This paper also illustrates that developments in one Government Department do not necessary create similar understandings in other Departments or within wider funding structures. This might help to explain why Roma have remained largely invisible in other national policies, such as access to health and social inclusion. It therefore concludes that changing legal status is a necessary but insufficient factor for increasing the welfare of Roma migrants in the UK.” – Rachel Humphris

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Cameron’s Shuffle: What are Your Thoughts on the New Cabinet?

As the US Republican National Convention ended last week and coverage of the Democratic National Convention will dominate the media this week, the UK political scene provided some big news of its own today.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron shuffled his cabinet for the first time.

The move has already received heavy media attention:

What are your thoughts on the new cabinet: smart move? biased reorganisation? inconsequential?

Share your views below!

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From ‘Snakes in Suits’ to ‘Devils in Diapers’: The Conceptualization of Psychopathy in Very Young Children

The post below is by Ms Rebecca Waller, DPhil Candidate in Social Intervention at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford.

Read the synopsis below, check out her Media Commentary in Human Welfare here, and post your comments below!

Ms Rebecca Waller: “I was pleased recently to come across an article in the New York Times Magazine, titled ‘Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?’ and a similarly-themed article appeared a few weeks ago in the Daily Mail. The term ‘psychopath’ has long been associated with adult criminal samples, and while affective and interpersonal deficits differentiate the most violent and aggressive offenders, there is increasing recognition that the construct be usefully extended to children. Indeed, interest in psychopathy as a way to subtype youth has increased dramatically in the last 15 years, fuelled by a keenness to identify and provide support to those children most at risk of developing severe forms of antisocial behavior. Studying psychopathy in even younger preschool samples of children may be especially informative because it avoids the confound of antisocial behavior, and represents an opportunity to gain information about early manifestations of psychopathy and unique etiological factors. For example, Lynam (1997, p. 434) wrote with regard to applying the concept of psychopathy to youth, “we can observe the development of the disorder before it has had an opportunity to destroy its host”.

Empirical evidence suggests that when children display a similar profile of socio-emotional and interpersonal characteristics to that of adult psychopaths (including callousness, lack of guilt and remorse, and the ability to manipulate others), they are more likely to develop antisocial behavior. However, it has long been recognized that adaptations to psychopathic tendencies can be both maladaptive and adaptive. For example, Hall & Benning (2006) described the ‘successful psychopath’ as someone who has “the essential personality characteristics of psychopathy but who refrains from serious antisocial behavior”, an idea that forms the thesis of Robert Hare’s book ‘Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work’. Indeed, in Cleckley’s (1941/1976) original writings on psychopathy, he dedicates significant time to the notion of, “the psychopath as businessman…as man of the world…as gentleman…and as scientist, physician – and psychiatrist”. As my interest lies in preventative programs for antisocial behavior and working with at-risk children and their families, I find the dimensional message in these writings intriguing, because it suggests that a predisposition for psychopathic personality does not sentence an individual to poor social outcomes, crime, or incarceration.

From what we know about the development of psychopathy, it appears to result from a complex interplay of both biological and social factors. Research with adult and youth samples suggests that the biological risk may be a genetically conferred dysfunction of the amygdala. This dysfunction produces deficits in the recognition of fear, sadness or cues of punishment, meaning that moral transgressions or causing harm to others are not experienced as aversive (Blair, 2003). In terms of the early social environment, recent evidence also suggests that children show increases in psychopathic-like behavior if exposed to particularly harsh parenting practices (e.g., Pardini et al., 2007; Waller et al., 2012) or to low levels of parental warmth (Kroneman et al., 2011; Pasalich et al., 2011). In my article for Human Welfare, I focused on the theoretical and methodological challenges associated with extending the construct of psychopathy to very young children and testing questions relating to its development.

These challenges aside, key research questions that I am interested in studying are: (1) can we identify and reliably measure psychopathic-like behavior in preschool-aged samples of children? (2) Can we identity causal factors associated with the emergence of these behaviors? (3) How do early psychopathic-like behaviors combine with risk processes in the environment of children to result in an outcome of antisocial behavior? (4) What social or parent-focused interventions prevent a child, who manifests early psychopathic-like behavior, from developing severe forms of antisocial or criminal behavior? I also welcome the opportunity that this blog provides to hear other people’s thoughts on the types of research questions we could ask in relation to these issues, and ways to test these questions. I look forward to your comments!”


Blair, R.J.R. (2003). The neurobiological basis of psychopathy. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182, 5-7.

Cleckley, H. (1941/1976).  The Mask of Sanity (1st and 2nd eds.).  St Louis: The C.V. Mosby Company.

Hall, J.R., & Benning, S.D. (2006). The “Successful” Psychopath: adaptive and subclinical manifestations of psychopathy in the general population. In C.J. Patrick (ed). Handbook of Psychopathy (pp. 459-651). Guildford Press.

Kroneman, L., Hipwell, A., Loeber, R., Koot, H., & Pardini, D. (2011). Contextual risk factors as predictors of disruptive behavior disorder trajectories in girls: The moderating effect of callous-unemotional features. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 52, 167–175.

Lynam, D.R. (1997). Pursuing the psychopath: Capturing the fledgling psychopath in a nomological net. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106(3), 425-438.

Pardini, D., Lochman, J., & Powell, N. (2007). The development of callous-unemotional traits and antisocial behavior in children: are there shared and/or unique predictors? Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 36, 319-333.

Pasalich, D., Dadds, M., Hawes, D., & Brennan, J. (2011). Callous-unemotional traits moderate the relative importance of parental coercion versus warmth in child conduct problems: An observational study. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 52, 1308–1315.

Waller, R., Gardner, F., Hyde, L., Shaw, D., Dishion, T., & Wilson, M. (2012). Do harsh and positive parenting predict reports of deceitful-callous behavior in early childhood? Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, in press.

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No Action on Climate Change without Development: Why the Clean Development Mechanism Needs Reform

The following post comes from Mr William Bibby from the School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, University of Oxford.

Read the synopsis below, check out the full article in Human Welfare here, and post your comments below!

Mr William Bibby: “At a time of economic turmoil, the future of action on climate change remains uncertain.

Many countries and regions either have or are in the process of implementing a carbon price in one form or another. Australia’s recent carbon price1 took effect on 1 July. California, the world’s 8th largest economy, has also recently implemented an emissions trading scheme (ETS)2. China, too, is currently piloting carbon pricing in several provinces3 before possibly moving to a countrywide price by 2015. Almost a billion people are now living with a carbon price.

Yet the EU ETS4, the world’s largest scheme to reduce CO2 emissions, is facing serious trouble, a reflection of the Eurozone crisis. In addition, international agreement concerning action on climate change remains on a knife’s edge. The outcome at COP175 in Durban is a step in the right direction, but is a far cry from what is needed to ensure effective international action.

What is certain, though, is that there will be no binding agreement without the support of developing countries, and in particular China. But in order to ensure support of developing countries, it is imperative to link emissions reductions with sustainable development in developing countries.

This is the aim of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)6. However, sustainable development is often lacking in many projects. What’s more is that projects are incredibly unevenly distributed7 geographically – only 2.3% of all projects under the CDM are located in sub-Saharan Africa, for example.

The problem is that currently any sustainable development effects that a project might have are not reflected in the price of a carbon offset under the CDM. But often projects that have the biggest sustainable development benefits have higher transactions costs associated with the difficulties of measuring and calculating the emissions reductions.

To overcome this barrier additional ‘co-benefits’, such as poverty alleviation or conservation, must not only be reflected in the carbon price, but also made a stricter requirement of the CDM. Given the uneven distribution of offset projects, the least developed countries should also be targeted.

To be sure, what the future holds for the market carbon is unclear and this is just one of many actions that are necessary for international agreement. But in order to ensure the support of developing countries, sustainable development must be at the core of any agreement, both in principle and in practice.”

1 Australian Government 2012, ‘Clean Energy Future – Carbon Price’, <http://www.cleanenergyfuture.gov.au/clean-energy-future/carbon-price/&gt;.

2 California Environmental Protection Agency 2012, ‘Cap-and-Trade Program’, <http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/capandtrade/capandtrade.htm&gt;.

3 Financial Times 2012, ‘China injects vigour into carbon debate’, <http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9a7218c6-9e74-11e1-a767-00144feabdc0.html#axzz20hznXyaz&gt;.

4 European Commission 2010, Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), <http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ets/index_en.htm&gt;.

5 World Resources Institute 2011, Reflections on COP17 in Durban’.

6 UNFCCC 2012, ‘Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)’.

7 Bibby W. 2012, ‘Technologies of the Clean Development Mechanism: Neoliberal Barriers to Carbon Offsetting in sub-Saharan Africa’, <http://hwc.gtc.ox.ac.uk/documents/Bibby%202012.pdf&gt;.

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Welfare State Theory in an Age of Austerity

The post below is by Mr Faraz Vahid Shahidi, MPhil Candidate in Comparative Social Policy at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford.

Read the synopsis below, check out the research note in Human Welfare here, and post your comments below!

Mr Faraz Vahid Shahidi: “As a direct result of the recent economic crisis and consequent attempts to arrest it, the fiscal crisis of the welfare state has returned as a central political problem in the protection and promotion of human welfare. Despite manifesting itself unevenly across the landscape of advanced political economies, the fiscal crisis of the welfare state has prompted a nearly universal return to an orthodoxy of conservative economics which has placed regressive welfare state reform at the centre of post-crisis policy narratives. The political consolidation of this new so-called ‘age of austerity’ can be expected to have devastating and lasting implications for human welfare.

Efforts to interpret contemporary crisis management and the politics of austerity governing it have given rise to a number of interesting questions. How are welfare states changing and to what extent do these changes imply an end to systems of social welfare as we know them? Have cross-national reforms been more similar or different in their cast and content? Who will ultimately be expected to bear the human consequences resulting from these transformations? Departing from these questions, this research note offers one interpretation of the political economy of contemporary crisis management. It concludes that the fiscal crisis of the welfare state is as political as it is economic in nature. Accordingly, students and scholars of human welfare must recognize it as such if they are to successfully participate in debates over how it should be addressed.”

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Ideological Preferences of Policy-Makers and the Development of Policy: A Post from Dr Chris Brown

The following post comes from Dr Chris Brown at the Institute of Education in London.

Read the synopsis below, check out Dr Brown’s full article in Human Welfare here, and post your comments below!

Dr Chris Brown: “My research interests have always been concerned with how government policy is made and the role of research, evidence and knowledge within this process. As a result, the notion of ‘evidence-informed policy’ became the focus of my DPhil, which I completed last year.

The fieldwork for my study involved interviews with politicians, civil servants, academics, members of think tanks and others who actively seek to influence policy (I focused specifically on education policy). From these interviews, two things became abundantly clear: i) if the topic(s) of the research in question are not ‘sympathetic’ to the political leanings of the government of the day, then the reaction of policy makers will be to challenge, rather than reconsider their position; ii) if research is based on ‘unscientific’ approaches (such as case studies) then policy makers are more more likely to ignore it, rather than seek to appreciate the nuanced understanding such approaches can provide.

These findings led me to argue that, because of this narrowed focus on what evidence might be considered, policy is often less efficient, effective or as equitable as it might be. This is not to decry the role of value and ideology, but when dealing with the education of millions, one would hope that Ministers are relying on more than dogma.”

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