The terms 'power' and 'empowerment' crop up a great deal in research related to social justice. This is not surprising. Improvements in justice are related to power: who has it, how it is exercised and where it manifests itself. It sounds as if researchers for social justice would find a lot to agree about here. But this is not the case. The use of the terms can obscure profound disagreements about what to do, rooted in disagreements of theory. At the same time, the terms can be useful in that they draw attention to a fundamental agreement about the importance of altering power relations in order to enhance justice. Further, the very differences invite greater reflexivity and clarity about what researchers think they are doing, and whether it is worthwhile. This is of practical importance all through the research; from the start (clarifying the aims, designing the methods) to the end (evaluating its worth, and deciding on future actions). It is worth noting, for instance, the significance of 'power' and power relations in all the examples of research for social justice described in Chapter 2 - including in my critiques of them. David Gillborn and Caroline Gipps's overview of research is, precisely, framed by the category of ethnicity and race: these are categories which are significant precisely because of the power relations they signal. Mehreen Mirza's methodology is based, methodologically, in a theoretical understanding of power. Stephen Ball's analytical framework depends on power as a central category. Melanie Walker evaluates her own research in terms like 'oppression' and 'emancipation'.
The concept of 'empowerment' is popular in educational research. Some examples demonstrate the range of claims to be undertaking research for empowerment. They show that it is not the prerogative of any one view of the politics of research. First, central to liberalism is a belief in the usefulness of knowledge to gain power and to use it wisely, as I discussed in relation to Bacon's and Comte's view that 'knowledge is power' (Chapter 4). But