In this telling piece Emma Wilkinson and Peter Leonard seek to rescue empowerment from the bland interpretation of its meaning prevalent nowadays.
Empowerment, Power and Powerlessness
Empowerment is a social-action process that promotes participation of people, organizations, and communities towards the goals of increased individual and community control, political efficacy, improved quality of community life, and social justice. (Wallerstein, 1992: 1)
At The Warren, a young people’s resource centre based in Hull, empowerment is about facilitating each young person to have control over their own lives. We recognise the inequalities of power and resources in our society and actively support those young people who wish to join together to address such matters.
We understand that our attempt to develop empowerment is an ongoing, often contradictory and, at times, conflictual process. This emphasises the importance of creating opportunities for youth workers to share, discuss and debate the place of empowerment in current youth work provision.When young people are finding themselves in situations where they have less and less control over their own lives and are less hopeful about their futures, is empowerment a futile philosophy?
Recent public spending cuts have had a huge impact on youth work provision, with services closing all over the country. The impact here is two-fold; young people do not get the support they need and those services that are left are overwhelmed and understaffed. How is empowerment working here? The simple answer is that it is not. Staff morale across the youth work sector is low due to the uncertainty of their futures, and many workers are having to concentrate more and more on finding funding rather than on doing the job they love. Youth work has become an exercise in managing uncertainty and chaos.
This raises the question as to whether it is possible for youth workers to empower others, when they feel disempowered themselves. Furthermore, the impact this is having on a generation of young people needs.
We believe that discussion and debate is needed about the relevance of empowerment in youth work today. Youth workers operating in the current climate need to reflect on the following questions: • Is empowerment possible for young people today? • Are youth workers facing disempowerment? • Where does empowerment fit into the current climate of austerity?
At this point they propose a group exercise for youth workers and we would urge you to explore further their proposal and thoughts.
To read in full, hover your cursor on This is Youth Work : The Book in the brown header at the top of this page and click on Innovation in Youth Work : Thinking in Practice. This will take you to a designated page, where the full pdf of the book can be viewed. The chapter is contained within pages 27 – 29. As ever responses welcomed.