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24Mar2016

PROBLEMS OF AGENCY

Social movements undertake many different types of work, besides seeking external change. They also engage in inwardly oriented work, such as empowering activists and building their confidence. Constituents (those whose confidence and empowerment is the object of such work) and adherents (those whose are not) are differently positioned with respect to the work. The question is whether, when and how that matters.

In my research project Other People’s Struggles, I try and develop a theory to answer it.

Empowerment work cannot be done entirely on behalf of others. You can help to empower me – e.g. by teaching me – but you cannot become empowered for me. I have to do this do for myself. So, I suggest, the scope for adherents to help with empowerment work turns on how the process of empowerment is envisioned. Am I learning something you know how to do (and I don’t, but wish to)? Or are we learning from each other, with the attendant possibility that you might be wrong, or have something to learn yourself?