, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 443-455
Date: 05 Apr 2012

Subject to empowerment: the constitution of power in an educational program for health professionals

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Abstract

Empowerment and user participation represents an ideal of power with a strong position in the health sector. In this article we use text analysis to investigate notions of power in a program plan for health workers focusing on empowerment. Issues addressed include: How are relationships of power between users and helpers described in the program plan? Which notions of user participation are embedded in the plan? The analysis is based on Foucault’s idea that power which is made subject to attempts of redistribution will re-emerge in other forms. How this happens, and with what consequences, is our analytical concern. The analysis is contrasted with ‘snapshots’ from everyday life in a nursing home. The program plan communicates empowerment as a democracy-building instrument that the users need. It is a tool for providing expert assistance to the user’s self-help. User participation is made into a tool which is external to the user him-/herself. Furthermore, the analysis shows that the plan’s image of empowerment presupposes an ‘élite user’ able to articulate personal needs and desires. This is not very applicable to the most vulnerable user groups, who thereby may end up in an even weaker position. By way of conclusion, we argue that an exchange of undesirable dominating paternalism for a desirable empowerment will not abolish power, but may result in more covert and subtle forms of power that are less open to criticism. The paper offers insights that will facilitate reflections on the premises for practising empowerment-oriented health care.