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³The process of empowerment, by enabling people to articulate and assert by words and by deeds their urges and thinking, is a core dimension of social development.´Discuss this statement, and explain the key challenges that may arise from adopting ³empowerment´ as a development objective. Introduction In discussing empowerment and the challenges that arise from adopting empowerment as a development objective, it is necessary to understand the context in which the concept of empowerment has gained currency. We examine briefly how the term empowerment has come to populate development discourses. In doing so, we also analyse the many facets inherent in such a loaded term and reflect on the question of what constitutes empowerment. We identify that empowerment is a process that enhances agency; however, the ability to exercise agency must be viewed within the multiple contexts including the political, social, cultural and economic institutions which affect people¶s lives. We conclude that even if people are free to articulate and assert by words and deeds their thoughts and urges, there are interactions arising from the complexities of social relations that may inhibit or constrain the exercise of agency. Social development and people-centered approaches In essence social development is the nexus of all development efforts. Regardless of the development intervention employed, ultimately the end-goal is to achieve some form of improvement in people¶s lives and by extension, society at large. However, the idea of social development as a discipline in itself was absent in the early development theories and practices from the 1950s and 1960s. Instead, development discourses were focused primarily on the objectives of economic growth and modernisation as a means to eradicate poverty (Corbridge, 1995; Willis, 2001). Esteva (1992) has argued that during this period, social development and economic growth were perceived as interchangeable. Progressive economic growth on a measurable, predictable scale was thought to equate to social development. Free markets, if you will, was seen to be synonymous with liberation and greater democratisation, and ultimately the way out of poverty. Newly independent post-colonial countries ascribed to this prescription of economic growth, where industrialisation and modernisation copied along Western or Eurocentric models, were perceived as the ³common pathway to development´ (Corbridge, 1995, p. 3). However, despite the ambitious interventions of the time, uneven growth and disparities continued to persist along a North-South divide, between the richer developed countries (the North)and what was seen as the poorer and underdeveloped parts of the world (the South). It became apparent that development theories and practices, formulated primarily from North American and European historical experience with its focus on economic growth, were too myopic and ignored the historical and social contexts of individual nation states and their peoples (Escobar, 1992; Frank, 1995). In the 1970s, the idea that social development as opposed to only economic development should be the focus of development efforts gained traction. During this time, social development achieved significance on par with that of economic development as a development objective in itself (Midgley, 2003). This unified socio-economic approach was enshrined within the Cocoyov Declaration of 1974 at a symposium held by the United Nations Economic Planning (UNEP) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), where it was recognised that development as a desired outcome was futile if it did not prioritise improving the quality of people¶s life. This led to the promulgation of social policies to ensure minimum standards of living. This came to be seen as the basic needs approach, where the crux of development efforts rested on the provision to meet such needs as healthcare, education and sanitation (Esteva, 1992). From the 1980s onwards, reaction to what was perceived as formulaic, top-down development practices resulted in backlash. This period was characterised by anti-statist and post-modernist ideologies of the day, where government intervention was seen to be less effective than the free hand of the market (Arce, 2003; Midgley, 2003) and top-down development approaches were seen as a continuation of oppressive colonialism under new guise (Escobar, 1992; Frank, 1995). Further, there was increasing acknowledgement of the role individuals and the community played as social actors; it became clear that how they perceived poverty and development (and therefore the necessary remedy) were not the same as that of multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, governments or development practitioners. This disparity has
self-belief and confidence. In recognizing this. it lays the responsibility for development outcomes on beneficiaries and absolves practitioners. one can say that the battleground for empowerment is not only in the tangible world but one which also involves the mind and heart. while community participation approaches highlighted the collective power manifested through civic society groups to address social injustice (Midgley. 2003). Cornwall et.been credited with some of the failures of development interventions. Mosedale. 5). Against this backdrop. Instead. a reality that their oppressors reinforced. In referring to Batiwala (1993). decentralised and bottom-up approaches gained ground. came to the fore as being crucial to development. Sen (1997) further proposed that the empowerment process ³must alter both people¶s self-perception and their control over their lives and their material environments´ (p. political and cultural. ³actor-oriented studies µdemythologized¶ planning as a technical rational process´ (Arce. In this way. 2). To be economically empowered is to have access to assets that will secure and sustain one¶s livelihood. informational. Such views are reminiscent of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire¶s ideas about conscientisation or critical consciousness. in its World Development Report 2000/2001. for ³critical thinking leads to critical action´ (p. Fundamentally. He surmised that to be critically conscious was to engage in a continuous struggle for freedom. It became evident that beneficiaries had to be included in the planning process to capture their experience and perspectives. Landel-Mills (1992) has proposed that the poor implementation of structural adjustment programmes in some African states were a result of lack of consultation. we will attempt to address these questions. Freire proposed that individuals are active agents able to create their own reality. 2003. non-material and ³ideational elements´ which involve. they propose that the issue is not what people are empowered to do but how much. Rather cynically. At the crux of Freirean philosophy is intervention. the poor have been recast as ³agents of change´ that needed to be empowered (Wolfensohn. such as access to education. then. Grassroots approaches. Henkel and Stirrat (2001) have suggested that in doing so. power over others in terms of influence or dominance. What empowerment actually entails remains vague and contested (Moore. 2000). p. p. Mayoux. 2005). Strutton and Bird (2007) suggest that empowerment is multidimensional and encompasses the economic. Quiroz.2005. It is manifested through power from within in terms of awareness. As such. Oxaal and Baden. ideas around people-centric. In exercising these endowments. empowerment relates to intrinsic capability and capacity. in Freire¶s view. p. power with others as a collective group and the power to create change (Rowlands. it lacked popular consensus. Human and social empowerment relates to ideas surrounding identity. for power is derived not in isolation but through interaction. 2003. Narayan (2002) and Luttrell. Personal agency. that is. 2001). 840). belonging and self-determination. 1997. al. 44) Therefore.2001. Perhaps a reason for this is because empowerment falls within the category of intangible. For example. there are critics that question whether this is merely another buzzword or fashionable window-dressing for business-as-usual practices (Moore. Rather than being passive recipients. among other things. The process of empowerment Despite the proliferation of the term empowerment within the lexicon of development-speak. Consequently. employment and financial resources. Political 2 . human and social.even termed empowerment as one of the ³pillars of poverty reduction´ (Alsop et. 48).1997). Individuals as social actors were perceived to be imbued with agency or asset endowments consisting of psychological. This was because. individuals were seen to be able to exert some form of control and choice. Not only do such elements carry multiple and often subjective meanings to different people. they are also difficult to measure. (2005) proposed that the original emphasis of empowerment is ³building personal and collective power in the struggle for more a more just and equitable world´ (p. lent growing prominence to ideas about individuals as social actors (Willis. It also stems from power in relation to others. attitudes and beliefs. concepts such as self-actualization. as such.. they become critically conscious which fosters ³a selftransformation providing a stance of intervention in one¶s context´ (p.1998). social. Cornwall and Brock. power relations are central to empowerment issues. al. This leads us in turn ask what constitutes empowerment? How can empowerment be engendered? What does being empowered mean? In the following sections. The World Bank. 849). material. 2003. as well as extrinsic control. 1046). 2001. 2003). the poor adopted a subordinate reality of themselves as powerless and ineffectual to affect changes for their own betterment. capacity-building and social integration (Midgley. which popularised the importance of local contexts and indigenous knowledge. financial and human capital (Alsop and Heinsohn. Others have suggested that empowerment is about changing power relations so that those who were previously powerless are able to exercise self-determination with regards to their lives (Sen. Sen summarised empowerment as control over resources such as physical and financial capitals and control over ideology such as values. 2005).
including the Jubilee 2000 international coalition. I would suggest that the issues surrounding empowerment can be grouped into two broad over arching themes ± one relates to agency. 2005). However. 2000. social. For example. neither can it be given or done to someone (Sen. For example. social and structural contexts have been neglected in favour of ³the µsocial¶ (being) primarily interpreted in terms of process. al. By an enabling environment. These take the forms of political. develop and voice their needs and interests. Oxaal et. The founder of Grameen Bank has steadfastly refused funds from the World Bank as doing so. It also extends to the ability to hold accountable institutions which affect one¶s life. to organise. The irony of Uganda¶s plight vis-à-vis World Bank influence appears to have been lost in the face of such a tour de force of participation. 2003. to make a decision and actually achieve the desired outcome when doing so (Mosedale. 2001). because empowerment cannot be reduced to a specific activity. Therefore. it is undoubtedly multidimensional in scope.´ and how these became the basis for the shape and nature of debt relief under HIPC (World Bank. Francis (2001) has critiqued the World Bank¶s use of participatory processes. Another less obvious irony is the picture of a Grameen fisheries project on the report cover. al. Cultural empowerment relates to the rules and norms which are inherent in one¶s culture and is often linked to ideas about ethnic minorities and diversity. a World Bank 2000 report reads that policies ³have a much greater chance of success if a broader range of actors is consciously and concertedly included´ (World Bank. whether such approaches in themselves empower is a matter of debate. a development agency or national government. to be represented. consultation and partnership´ (p. reducing dependency and promoting greater freedom. 75)and goes on to detail how Uganda µqualified¶ by meeting several World Bank-determined requirements.empowerment is closely linked to rights issues. for example. would allow the World Bank to ³dictate to us and make us conform to their views´ (Yunus and Jolis. p. 3 . the ability to access one¶s entitlements. but by confining programmes to materialist concerns. (2007) contend that participants must be engaged at all stages of the project for it to promote empowerment. in his view. Agency refers to the personal capability and capacity to influence. while the structural relates to an enabling environment. It touts Uganda as ³one of the first countries to qualify for help´ (p. It then details how reviews were undertaken with a broad network of organisations. 3) may result from narrow interpretations of what it means to empower. to be empowered requires one to have rights. resulting in ³an exchange of views involving a convergence of interests and agreement on functional goals. From the above descriptions. 2003). 1997. as well as the ability to exercise those rights. such programmes are fundamentally no different from pro-poor programmes that had gone before. I mean the availability of space in which to exert that power. 73). al. 73-74). ´Uganda is held up as an exemplary case of how participatory practices have been successful in the country¶s implementation of the High-Indebtness Poor Countries(HIPC) Initiative. to engage with and participate in civil society.14) Empowerment is not a thing that can be bestowed. such as improving economic conditions. The World Bank however appears to equate participation with empowerment. Moore (2001) suggested that multilateral organisations may use theword empowerment. Sen (1997) cautioned that ³cursory consultation´ (p. 85). Therefore. So while empowerment has proven to mean different things to many people. p. Luttrell et. by implementing a programme or instituting a policy cannot be said to have empowered its beneficiaries or citizens. p. 2003. it cannot be a development objective in itself. cultural and economic institutions which constrain or enable the exercise of agency. Mosedale. This is because ³it involves a process whereby (people) can freely analyse. while the other relates to the structural. Multilateral organisations have come under much fire for adopting participatory approaches. Under the section heading ³bolder action by broader coalitions. 2007). Rather interventions can help promote greater degrees of empowerment by engendering an enabling environment which increases both personal agency or choice and opportunities (Alsop et. 2000. Empowerment in practise and challenges In an effort to empower beneficiaries. to have choices. That is.. many development agencies have adopted participatory approaches in their programs (Cooke and Kothari. In his view.
the greater the attachment. For example. 146). 7). Chaves and Stoller (2002) argue that the individual has been reduced to ³an abstract entity isolated from any social context´ (p. their lifeexperiences and the social context in which such contestations take place. If the actor perceived his agency was a result of the collective which informed the social structure. p. they either avail of the reward offered (aid) or face the consequences (disqualification for aid). Such relations exert influence in many ways and may not always be apparent. She contends that behaviours are influenced by social and cultural norms. in neglecting to examine social relations is to be blind to how these relations order society and the motivations that cause someone to act in certain ways. In such cases. that is. the outcome is unpredictable and therefore cannot be planned. Lawler argued that the actor would then adopt the ³collective welfare and redefine their individual interests´ (p. Often.1997. Apart from the emotional benefits the actor derived from having agency. or lack thereof. In recognising that the process of empowerment can change power relations. Lawler referred to this relation as ³affective attachment´ (p. He pointed to cases where the PRSP drafting process was ³driven by concerns to deliver the kind of product expected in Washington´ (p. there will be perceptions of trade-offs and zero-sum games.6). and examples of contradictory behaviour´ (p. Firstly. The latter we can equate to agency. 2001).330). andis in itself constrained by existing social relations and power structures. 337).without them being pre-defined. whether or not individuals will exercisewhatever agency they possess to their fullest potential is also open to debate. Booth(2003) cited examples of disparities that arose from the Poverty Reduction Strategy Planning (PRSP) exercises between the World Bank and some African nations. or imposed«´ (Oxaal et. he would also feel a sense of responsibility towards this collective. Because it is a transformative process.However. In this way. The premise of Lawler¶s theory rests on two central points. these have been largely ignored or downplayed(Moore. In this way. the client or the beneficiary subjugate themselves to fulfilling the requirements laid down by the patron. In doing so. therefore what is promoted may be the sanctioned collective view rather than the individuals. 873). As social actors. social actors ³interpret a social structure in terms of either the constraints it imposes or what it enables them to do´ and secondly that it is from this social structure that actors derive their ³sense of control´(p. Arce (2003) echoed a similar view when he proposed that the divergence between planned development outputs and unintended development outcomes is a result of variable social or human dimensions. as illustrated by Booth¶s example of the PRSP exercises and the earlier example of the World Bank-Uganda HIPC programme.873). he would form an attachment to the collective. in development practice. al. where ³there were inconsistencies between statements and actions. For example. In their view.. 4 . As long as the politics of power relations is embedded within the empowermentprocess. al. they adapt planned interventions into existing strategies or create new paths for change rather than follow prescription. The more freedom of choice the actor credited to the collective. (2002) attributed such behaviour to the existence of clientelism. Social relations also manifest themselves in other ways. He suggested that people engaged in counter-tendencies and negotiations when interacting with development interactions. one should take into account the many dimensions involved. He therefore proposed that when considering how people and institutions react.8). where the patron-client relationship is characterised by a ³system of reward and punishments´ (p. 327). This raises the issue of the complexities of power relations embedded in social relations.Chaves et. Kothari (2001) has suggested that what people say and do may ³mask the power structure of the community´ (p. Lawler (1992) has also proposed that an individual may adjust his preferences accordingly in favour of the collective¶s. Lawler proposed that the process of enabling or empowerment was determined by the actors¶ perceptions of freedom or control. including people¶s sense of agency. whether such intervention can result in true empowerment is a contentiousissue. we can thereforeconclude that development intervention focused on creating an enabling environmentmay enable the voiceless to be heard and the powerless to act for their own interests. and a relunctance tocede autonomy to the people. how they negotiate or resist reform.
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