Prof Amartya Sen
Nobel Laureate Economist

Michael Mutter

"You have to show me how it relates to human life, how it relates to their well-being and the freedom to be well. And the freedom not only to be well, but the freedom to lead the kind of life they value leading. That's the connection."

Prof Amartya Sen
LSE 2003

Jo Beall

Smita Biswas


Welcome to the Removing Unfreedoms website

Cities can power both local and national development and this makes them the obvious recipients for carrying out the crucial changes in International Policy advocated by Amartya Sen.

Since April 2002, we have promoted the work of the Nobel economist, Amartya Sen's "Freedom Approach" from research theory to current implementation models in the built environment. Collaborations include consultation with Amartya Sen, academic institutions and NGO's.

More recently the practice, Removing Unfreedoms Design Associates, was established in February 2005, and has undertaken consultancy, research, tool kits and training throughout the world. Clients include national governments, the UNDP, UK Department for International Development (DFID), UN-HABITAT, and various NGOs and universities. A range of materials, including books, articles, and documentary films can be found on this site including the DFID funded publication link to Removing Unfreedoms: Citizens As Agents of Change in Urban Development (ITDG 2005).

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In 1998 Amartya Sen's seminal work "DEVELOPMENT AS FREEDOM" was recognised by the Nobel committee for it's contribution to economic development theory establishing a fundamental new paradigm that defined new goals for international policy.

Sen evaluates societal arrangements in terms of their contribution to guaranteeing the substantive freedoms of individuals viewed as active agents of change, rather than passive recipients of dispensed benefits. He specifies five freedoms as instruments to influence the potential and capabilities of the individual citizen. This participatory freedom-centred understanding of economics and of the process of development explicitly recognises the positive role of free and sustainable individual agency:

"Freedom is the primary end as well as the means to Development"

Throughout the project all research discussions have been documented on this website to provide a valuable resource for urban policy makers, government agencies, international organisations, donors, local governments, academic institutions and everyone. All the material has been published. If you would like to replicate any of this material, including the frameworks and analysis in other publications you will need to request copyright references and permission from the administration. Please email:

Research funded by UN-Habitat and the UK Department for International Development.

The authors of the material on this site are primarily Romi Khosla, Jane Samuels, and Sikander Hasan for the UN-Habitat framework and discussion paper. Other authors are listed accordingly to their presentations including the National Federation of Slum dwellers and Sparc. We are extremely grateful to Professor Amartya Sen for his inspiring support and invaluable contribution to this work. We would also like to thank Lord Meghnad Desai for his dynamic contribution to the LSE Colloquium, Antonio Vigilante from the UNDP office in Cairo, and all those who attended the LSE participation day, particularly those who journeyed from Africa, Brazil and India.

The authors acknowledge the help of Nabeel Hamdi at CENDEP, Jo Beall from LSE, Nick Hall and Smita Biswas at WSP, Patrick Wakely at the DPU, Rick Davies for his innovative work on evaluations, Alison Barret in India and Jolly Shah from CENDEP for transcriptions. Most importantly we would like to thank Sheela Patel and those at SPARC, the Mahila Milan Women's Savings Group, the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India and Jockin, their remarkable director.

The October 2002 UN-Habitat Removing Unfreedoms discussion paper was commissioned by Michael Parkes, then Director of the UN-Habitat Liaison Office Brussels. The project continued under the direction of Michael Mutter, then Senior Architectural and Urban Planning Advisor of the UK Department For International Development whose enthusiasm and extensive experience in Urban Development was responsible for the operational success of the Removing Unfreedoms Project.
Web Design by Kevin Towell

The views expressed in the publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of DFID.

As the new century begins, we observe the world caught up in a fast moving process of urbanisation that is unprecedented in the history of urban settlements. In the last twenty years, more than a dozen mega cities have appeared and an urban population of 10 million is not uncommon. If estimates in the Economist are to be believed, " in the next decade an extra 100 million people will join the cities of Africa and 340 million in the cities of Asia: equivalent of a new Bangkok every two months. By 2030, nearly two-thirds of the world, population will be urban.

Noble Laureate Professor Amartya Sen has explored five development-freedom linkages in his seminal work "Development as Freedom." In their citation announcement for the 1998 Award of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science, The Royal Swedish Academy mentioned that Sen, "By combining tools from economics and philosophy, had restored an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems".

Amartya Sen has advocated the need to re-evaluate the framework of development to encompass a much wider concept that centres on freedom rather than on a debate about poverty versus prosperity. New parameters are defined that include an expanded definition of development. There is an assumption that development integrates economic, social and political considerations with equal weightage.

The traditional narrower and almost exclusive focus on economic criteria as the determinant of the level of development is thus re-described. These earlier narrower criteria tended to subjugate the social and political aspects of society. Thus social and political aspects were regarded as less important than economic aspects. Governments could justify undemocratic or repressive regimes to achieve high growth rates.

This re-defined freedom approach describes processes of development as a quest by individuals for ever expanding freedoms. Hitherto, economistic criteria for evaluating development consisted of measuring Gross National Product, personal incomes, levels of industrialisation and technological advances and so on. While these continue to remain valid for evaluation, they are now seen only as means to expand freedom and not as ends. The goal of development becomes the pursuit of enabling ever-expanding freedoms to be gained and this becomes the overarching objective of human development.
The constraints to ever expanding freedoms are termed "un-freedoms" - barriers that could exist in economic, social or political realms of society. Thus poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, tyranny, poor economic opportunities, social deprivations, poor public facilities, intolerance, communalisation, ethnic centricity, repressive state apparatuses, lack of education, absence of health care, lack of security, and corruption can all be termed un-freedoms. They are all regarded equally relevant.

In the efforts to remove un-freedoms, vital roles are played by markets, market related organisations, governments, local authorities, political parties, civic institutions, educational facilities, media, opportunities for free speech and public debate, social norms and values about childcare, gender issues as well as the treatment of the environment.

In evaluating the degree of freedom available to the individuals of a society or community, the citizen's rights and opportunities are perceived through the perspective of the five instruments, or components, of freedom. In a sense these instruments are considered to be five different and distinct types of interdependent freedoms and are seen to be instrumental because they are the principle means of accessing the rights and opportunities that help individuals to expand their freedoms and capabilities. These five instruments of freedom are explained as poltical freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees and protective security.
In the middle of the last century, the realities of the impending cold war provoked extensive academic debate on how alternate economic and social systems could improve the human condition. This debate was centred on how the so-called factors of production - land, labour and capital could be combined in the best way possible to increase the wealth of nations. Marx had introduced the notion of the need to wrest control of these factors of production from private ownership and to place them in public ownership.

The liberal and pro-capitalist economists formulated theoretical alternatives to demonstrate that private ownership of these factors could provide a better alternative to the communist planned economies. These contesting theories of economic growth were exacerbated in the midst of decolonisation. As large parts of the world became independent, the new leaders began to look for ways to improve their wealth and prosperity. In searching for these ways they had to choose between two alternative models of economic growth - one the Soviet and Chinese models of post revolutionary society and the other, the American model of private enterprise.
The depression of the 1930s as well as the significant role that Keynesian policies played in mitigating its worse consequences had confirmed that the state needed to play an important role in supporting development. The downward cyclical depression spiral of lack of demand leading to a lack of investment leading to massive unemployment, in turn leading to further reduction in demand, needed to be broken. This break could only be introduced by macro level state interventions as classical economics solely relying on market mechanisms could not deliver.

The Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe firmly established the pro-active role of the state in economic affairs as a balancing force to market mechanisms. Many new independent nations followed policies of state interventions in their economic programmes. Keynesian doctrine as well as the experience of the Soviet Union endorsed, at varying degree, the economic responsibilities of the state. Borrowing the terminology of the Soviets, India, for instance, adopted the instrument of The Five-Year Plan to direct social investments.

The early development theories advocating a rush towards industrialisation and Take- Off (best seen in W.W. Rostow's "Stages of Growth") were postulated as alternatives to the Soviet Model that had industrialised at a phenomenal rate. Such approaches saw development as an aggressive process that was fierce and tough and contested the socialist view of development, which was pre-conditioned by traumatic Revolution.

Opposing views on development engaged the two power blocks in a contest for constituency gains in the poor world. Both power blocks poured aid into the developing world to support vast capital-intensive infrastructure projects. There were enormous and undeniable gains from these investments, but the solution to poverty eradication remained elusive.

In the second half of the Twentieth Century, theories of economic development in the democratic world continued to evolve. This evolution was partly in response to the mixed choices that many developing countries had made about their routes to economic prosperity. For instance India, Egypt and Ghana chose to opt for non-aligned, non-revolutionary policies that combined socialist planning with state protected private enterprise.

Development economists needed to consider the constraints that arose from the varying choices of economic growth models chosen by post colonial countries. Despite considerable improvements in the economic status of these developing countries, the national wealth seemed to be continually eroded by the continuation of overwhelming poverty despite half a century of searching for solutions.
The issue of "continuous development" as a broad goal for the improvement of the human condition has always been placed within an area of concern that lies somewhat equidistant between the disciplines of economics and philosophy. In the twentieth century however, this issue seems to have dominated the field of economics more than the field of philosophy.

This is understandable since great strides have been made in the theoretical formulations that have informed the realm of economics. The establishment of the Soviet Union enhanced enormously the theoretical formulations of Marxism as a defined alternative economic system. Across the ideological divide, equally large strides were taken in the theoretical body of thought that proposed free enterprise as a solution to the predicaments of continuous development.

The cold war profoundly affected the discipline and literature of economics as also it influenced so much else. The whole issue of human rights came to the fore. The confrontation of the cold war polarised the criteria for achieving improvements in the human condition. On one hand, the West accused the socialist countries of having a poor record of human rights while on the other hand, the socialist countries accused the west of tolerating poverty and deprivation as the evils of the market system.

Both ideologies were in agreement that a process of development was required and that it needed fiscal investments. But the two sides always answered the eternal philosophical question of justifications and "ends and means" in diametrically opposite ways. Indeed these opposite views were clearly apparent in the contrasting ways and means of raising and spending fiscal investments in development.

The two sides in the cold war were thus not only military adversaries but also philosophical, economical and moral adversaries. The formalised collapse of the Socialist project in the last decade has brought about fundamental changes in the future potentials of the measures and goals of development because both ideologies had expressed their achievements in contesting measurable indicators of the economy related often to the levels of industrialisation.

Fifty years of contesting with the Soviet Union had affected liberal core attitudes and policies towards both developed and underdeveloped communities. In rejecting the centrally planned economy approach, liberal attitudes advocated development through decentralised, unplanned economies that could be reliant on the market mechanism and the spirit of private enterprise.

The achievements and successes of both approaches were measured and evaluated by a range of indices that emphasized the measurement of economic prosperity as represented by National Income. Thus average per capita income levels, National Income, Gross National Product, level of industrialisation, percentage of urban population, literacy levels etc provided a seemingly convincing criteria for the comparison of the development levels of a community or a country.

The two contesting systems used these indicators to gauge the relative merits and successes of each ideological system. Such criteria facilitated a convincing way to compare the status of societies across the ideological divide. Moreover, as data from these indices was cumulative across a time span, it became possible to compare the trajectories of development that a society had achieved under each ideological system.

The twenty first century has certainly begun with a sense of triumph for the liberal democratic system. The freedom approach to development has been vindicated as opposed to the anti-freedom approach of the Soviet system. This victory has, however also raised questions about the future adequacy of measuring development in ways that had more narrowly focused on comparisons with the "other".

In the absence of the "other", there are now new opportunities available to widen the focus on development to include more fundamental philosophical issues that relate to the real goals of development. No longer are the criteria for levels of development constrained by the need to compare and contest economic systems based on the duality of the ideologies of the last century.

While new and variant ideologies may continue to emerge and fade, the discipline of economics can now return to some of its early concerns about the nature of the human condition in free societies.


Order ITDG 2005
Book Publication !

The Removing Unfreedoms project began in May 2002 with the launch at the UN-World Habitat day in Brussels October 2002.

Further research in consultation with development experts resulted in a workshop facilitated by the NGO Sparc and the National Slum Dwellers Federation in Mumbai, India in May 2003.

By July 7th 2003 an international colloquium had been convened at the London School of Economics highlighted by an all day participation event with the Nobel Laurete Amartya Sen and Lord Meghnad Desai.

Jane Samuels
Consultancy & Culture advisor,
author of DFID project research 2003

Romi Khosla
UN advisor and author of the
UN Habitat Discussion Paper documented on this site

Nick Hall

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