, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 765-794

Speaking truth to power: Empowerment ideology as social intervention and policy

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The popularity, and subsequent ambiguity, in the use of the term “empowerment” has created an even greater need for reassessment in the applied context than in the theory and research literatures. This paper outlines some of the areas of community, organizational, and societal level social intervention and policy ostensibly based on the concept of empowerment. These include neighborhood voluntary associations (for environmental protection, community crime prevention, etc.), self-help groups, competence-building primary prevention, organizational management, health care and educational reforms, and national and international community service and community development policies. Issues in applying social research to community organizations and to legislative and administrative policy making are reviewed. Ten recommendations are offered, including the value of a dialectical analysis, for helping researchers and policy makers/administrators make more effective use of empowerment theory and research.

Portions of this paper were first presented in the program “Empowerment Theory, Research and policy” at the Biennial Conference on Community Research and Action, Williamsburg, Virginia, June 18, 1993. The author thanks Barbara B. Brown, Jo Ann Lippe, Ken Maton and his students, David V. Perkins, Marc A. Zimmerman, and the anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts.