Empowerment

Riger (1993) states that empowerment as a concept can be problematic because of its perpetuation of individualism and traditionally masculine concepts over traditions of feminine concepts.  Is the construct of empowerment adequate for enabling positive social change?

Empowerment can be used at multiple levels of analysis, being a process centered in the individual or in the larger levels.  Empowerment is presumed by many in the field to be a positive thing, the enabling of individuals to gain mastery and control over their resources over their surroundings.  Depending on how empowerment is defined, empowerment may or may not adequate for positive social change.
Riger (1993) makes the point in her argument that empowerment focuses too much on individualistic constructs such as mastery, power, and control and not enough on constructs such as cooperation and communion.  She also makes the point that this could lead empowered groups to compete and come into conflict into one another.  This is consistent with Rappaport’s view that paradoxes need to be embraced and explored in terms of empowerment.  The problem with her view is that she downplays the importance of an individual possessing a sense of empowerment.  While this is only on an individual level, it does serve as a good starting point.  What purpose is there for having resources available to an individual if that person does not believe that have the ability to make use of them?  Zimmerman (1990) states that individuals react differently to situations depending whether they are perceived to be controllable or uncontrollable.  However, such psychological empowerment not only includes perceived control, but it also includes the behaviors needed to exert control.  Regardless the issues with her argument, she is definitely correct in her assessment of the need to bring two paradoxical concepts together.

Rappaport (1981) presents the need for community psychologists to use divergent reasoning to help to solve issues because so many of them are very complex.  He asserts that convergent reasoning only creates one solution and many times creates another problem to be fixed.  While this is true many times, he does not seem to consider the fact that convergent reasoning may be necessary in some situation.  Even in community psychology, sometimes there may be an issue that has one solution.  In a sense, he is contradicting himself by his argument of using divergent reasoning.  Divergent reasoning takes into account that there can be multiple right answers.  His support of divergent reasoning seems to come from a convergent reasoning.  While he states the important of different viewpoints, he seems to ignore the possibility that convergent reasoning may be the correct option sometimes.  Empowerment has to find a balance between a needs perspective that sees individuals as children in need and a rights perspective that sees individuals as citizens with rights.  The point is to view people as having both rights and needs.  This allows community psychologists to advocate for individuals who may not be able to do, while at the same time not trying to force anything onto people.

Empowerment can be adequate in enabling positive social change, but it cannot be heavily influenced by the biases of the community psychologists and the approach has to be balanced.  They cannot come in and act as parents of children to be taken care of, but they also cannot go too far on the other side and resort to victim blaming if the community members do not choose to take action.  Empowerment as a concept has to bridge the gap between two contradictory poles in order to adequately serve the community.

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