Aspirations and human development interventions
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What role can aspirations play in small-scale human development interventions? In this paper, we contribute to answering that question with both conceptual and empirical work. Aspirations can play at least two roles in small-scale human development interventions: the capabilities-selecting role and the agency-unlocking role. While aspirations also face the challenge of adaptation to adverse circumstances and unjust social structures, we argue that this challenge can be met by embedding the formulation and expression of aspirations within a setting of public discussion and awareness-raising activities, and that adaptation can be further countered by including a commitment to action. We then report on field research done in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town, South Africa, where a group of women went through a process of voicing, examining, and then realizing their aspirations. The action research confirms our theoretical hypotheses. We also do not find any evidence of adaptation of the women’s aspirations, and argue that the absence of such adaptation might be a result of active capability selection, reflection, deliberation, and the exercise of agency throughout the action research programme.