Development ethics, Sen's Idea of Justice and the reproduction of injustice
: reconceptualising injustice in the context of development policy in Mexico

  • Oscar Garza Vazquez

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This dissertation analyses the contribution that Amartya Sen’s idea of justice can make to inform development policies. Particularly, it examines to what extent Sen succeeds in presenting a useful theoretical framework for orienting political action towards justice-enhancing change.In The Idea of Justice (2009), Sen argues that ideal theories of justice which aim at identifying the nature of a perfectly just society—what he calls ‘transcendental’ theories—are not appropriate either for examining prevalent injustices or for rectifying them. Sen therefore proposes a ‘comparative framework’ of justice capable of providing useful practical guidance to advance justice or reduce injustice, a task for which ‘transcendental’ Rawlsian-like theories are redundant. This dissertation critically assesses these two claims advanced by Sen. Taking John Rawls’ Theory of Justice as an illustration, it argues that ideal theories are indeed essential, even if not sufficient, for the reduction of injustice. Therefore, it advances that it is necessary to complement ideal and nonideal approaches to justice. It then advocates for a ‘dual Rawlsian/Senian framework’. Yet this dissertation argues that, even if coupled with an ideal theory, Sen’s nonideal theory remains insufficient to orient injustice-reduction actions because it fails to take into account the overarching social nature of injustice and its perpetuation. In the light of this shortcoming, this dissertation stresses the need to conceptualise injustice as something different from simply the lack of justice and to understand it in a more dynamic and relational way. Ultimately, this implies further complementing a dual framework with a broader conceptualisation of injustice. The dissertation illustrates this argument with the social policy of Oportunidades in Mexico. It concludes that, in order to create a more just society, injustice-reduction policies need to go beyond the removal of capability-deprivations and address the ways in which injustice is reproduced through social interactions.
Date of Award26 Apr 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSeverine Deneulin (Supervisor)


  • Amartya Sen
  • ideal/nonideal theory
  • Development ethics
  • Critical theory
  • Oportunidades/Prospera
  • Mexico

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