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Title: Empowerment unmasked : welfare professionals and the reluctant exercise of state power
Author: Wainwright, David
ISNI:       0000 0001 3550 5429
Awarding Body: University of Kent at Canterbury
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 1996
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This study employed the methods of critical ethnography to examine the phenomenon of 'empowerment' as it occurred in a south London community project. The initiative aimed to form a partnership between welfare professionals and loca people, in order to identify the health needs of the population, as a basis for collective action to address the social, economic and environmental influences on health. However, this strategy proved unsuccessful and the focus of the project shifted towards the psychological empowerment of individual participants, and the provision of social support and health advice at a Drop-in Center. By combining a detailed ethnography of the community project with a broader historical and structural critique of empowerment, the study aimed to appraise the emancipatory potential of the phenomenon. Key themes of the research were: the extent to which such initiatives could produce emancipatory knowledge, whether th exercise of professional power could be dismantled, and the effect that empowerment would have on the consciousness and practical activity of participants. It was found that despite their subjective commitment to an emancipatory agenda, the welfare professionals' location within the state effectively neutralised the emancipatory potential of empowerment. Rather than producing a highly mediated social critique capable of informing emancipatory activity, the initiative produced a positivist needs assessment aimed at influencing local statutory agencies. Instead of generating critical consciousness amongst its lay participants, the project further subordinated them to professional surveillance and regulation, and created a culture of low expectations and authoritarianism. It was concluded that the professionals' self-identity made them the unwitting bearers of state-power, and that despite their subjective commitment to empowering people they were unable to participate in genuinely emancipatory activity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: HM Sociology