Measuring autonomy through a subjective evaluation

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In the last decades, the use of subjective measurements within socio-economic research has intensified. Besides the valuable contributions of this type of measure, they are inherently characterized by the problem of individual incomparability. The individuals’ perceptions about the conditions that they are experiencing strongly depend on their specific backgrounds and situations. This leads to the problem of ‘adaptive preferences’. The aim of this thesis is to elaborate and test a methodology that captures the individual perception of agency and takes into account the problem of adaptive preferences. We are interested in evaluating agency since it presents a fundamental role in reducing poverty, as well as increasing well-being. In order to capture the individual agency, we rely on the concept of autonomy, and in particular on the Relative Autonomy Index. While, in order to increase the comparability between the individual perceptions, we employ the Anchoring Vignette methodology. Moreover, we develop this methodology in order to investigate individual autonomy in several dimensions.
The first chapter introduces the thesis. In the second chapter, we present the key arguments in favour of the use the subjective measurements, as well as the problem of adaptive preferences. While presenting several acknowledged questions used in order to investigate individual conditions, we explore the problem of individual incomparability. We then introduce the Anchoring Vignettes methodology, which we see as the best technique to overcome this problem. In the third chapter, we investigate and test our methodology through a pilot study. In particular, we test whether our methodology reduces the individual incomparability. Moreover, we control whether the inclusion of several dimensions produces a bias in the vignette ordering. The results of the pilot study show that our methodology is able to capture dissimilarities in response behaviours. In the fourth chapter of our thesis, through a second data collection, we apply our methodology in order to investigate the impact that the commercial relationship between Solidarity Purchasing Group and beneficiaries (Italian producers, workers of social cooperatives, and local artisans) has on the latter. Our findings indicate that the involvement in the social innovation does not lead to an increase in the level of autonomy for the majority of the respondents’ to our questionnaire. The involvement in the social innovation primarily avoids the reduction of the autonomy that it actually is experienced by the producers that are not involved in the Solidarity Purchasing Group. This work tries to address the problems of individual incomparability in the measurement of subjective perceptions. Our findings suggest that the methodology we proposed can provide a consistent solution to this shortcoming. Notwithstanding the necessity for further improvements of the proposed technique, we consider the results of our analysis as an important advancement towards the solution of a central methodological issue.
Date of Award13 Apr 2017
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorEnrica Chiappero-Martinetti (Supervisor) & Enrico Fabrizi (Supervisor)

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