The Politics of Empowerment

The Politics of Empowerment

The Politics of Empowerment

The Politics of Empowerment

Synopsis

"Allegedly, empowerment will cure everything from personal disorders to declining city centers. Weissberg conducts an FDA-like inquiry across numerous academic disciplines to assess the worthiness of this cure. He balances a close reading of the underlying theoretical foundations with empirically demonstrated effectiveness. Entire chapters are devoted to empowerment as a cure for personal problems ranging from health to homelessness, education, community development, and the problems afflicting African Americans. Despite all the promises, however, evidence of accomplishment is not forthcoming. Indeed, as Weissberg demonstrates, much of the evidence is twisted to disguise failure. Worse, much of this helpfulness is merely admonitions for greater dependency and misdirection away from cures of proven utility. Given that almost all this advice emanates from academics, the discrepancy between promise and result raises some troubling issues about today's academy. Clearly, professors do not suffer from ill-conceived remediation, though their careers may flourish from publications about uplifting. Bound to be controversial, The Politics of Empowerment is a tonic for social scientists, policy makers, and citizens concerned with America's myriad sociopolitical problems." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The writing of The Politics of Empowerment was, not surprisingly, a learning experience. The project began almost casually, observing the term empowerment here and there and then coming to the conclusion that it was “everywhere.” This was confirmed by some preliminary computer-assisted searches—merely typing in empowerment elicited thousands of entries in almost every imaginable social science field and then some. Perhaps “epidemic” might better describe this popularity. Such fashionableness quickly drew my curiosity and, ultimately, my suspicion. Had we discovered some remarkable yet unpublicized new cure for our aliments? Was empowerment the equivalent of antibiotics or other medical miraclelike cures for faulty education, poverty, racial antagonisms or whatever? Judged by the prodigious energy and enthusiasm being poured into empowering projects, it certainly seemed so. The chorus of praise singers was immense. Being naturally skeptical of heralded novelties, I concluded that an “outsider” inquiry might be useful. Perhaps my own (and eventually disappointing) personal experience as a hopelessly idealistic teenager easily infatuated with “instant cures” for formidable problems awakened this curiosity.

Initial expectations, admittedly, were not high. I reasoned that if all these projects were successful, their masterful accomplishments would have already reached me without having to dig deeply into obscure academic outlets in often oddly defined fields. After all, upgrading dismal inner-city schools is hardly the Manhattan Project, to be kept concealed lest the Evil Empire filch its secrets. On the other hand, those skilled at solving vexing problems need not be skilled publicists. Perhaps all these alluring cures, like some imminent hi-tech laboratory breakthrough, were merely on the edge of being mainstreamed. If that were true, then I could be the happy mes-

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