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Empowering the people: 'empowerment' and the British Journal of Social Work, 1971–99

McLaughlin, K (2014) Empowering the people: 'empowerment' and the British Journal of Social Work, 1971–99. Critical and Radical Social Work, 2. ISSN 2049-8608

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Abstract

This paper offers a historical and contextual discussion of the concept of empowerment, a term that proliferates in contemporary social work and social policy discourse. First, I discuss the rise of 'empowerment' within social policy and social work highlighting some of the factors that have led to it becoming embedded within such circles, discussing the justifications and criticisms of both the term and the interventions that can result from it. Second, I take a more specific look at the way empowerment was discussed and debated within the British Journal of Social Work from the journal's inception in 1971 through to the end of 1999. The discussion alerts us of the need to view empowerment not as a fixed a priori good, but as embedded within social and political relationships, and therefore as a concept that can be used for either progressive or regressive social policies and related social work practices.

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