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Sociological empowerment often addresses members of groups that social discrimination processes have excluded from decision-making processes through - for example - discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender. Note in particular the empowerment-technique often associated with feminism: consciousness-raising.
In the sphere of management and organizational theory, "empowerment" often refers loosely to processes for giving subordinates (or workers generally) greater discretion and resources: distributing control in order to better serve both customers and the interests of employing organizations. (This use of the word appears somewhat at odds with other usage, which most often assumes the empowerment of groups and of individuals to better serve their own interests.)
One account of the history of workplace empowerment in the United States recalls the clash of management styles in railroad construction in the American West in the mid-19th century, where "traditional" hierarchical East-Coast models of control encountered individualistic pioneer workers, strongly supplemented by methods of efficiency-oriented "worker responsibility" brought to the scene by Chinese laborers. In this case, empowerment at the level of work teams or brigades achieved a notable (but short-lived) demonstrated superiority. See the views of Robert L. Webb.
Empowerment in the workplace is regarded by critics as more a pseudo-empowerment exercise, the idea of which is to change the attitudes of workers, so as to make them work harder rather than giving them any real power, and Wilkinson (1998) refers to this as "attitudinal shaping".
In the arena of personal development, empowerment forms an apogee of many a system of self-realisation or of identity (re-)formation. Realising the solipsistic impracticality of everyone anarchistically attempting to exercise power over everyone else, empowerment advocates have adopted the word "empowerment" to offer the attractions of such power, but they generally constrain its individual exercise to potentiality and to feel-good uses within the individual psyche.
Wilkinson, A. 1998. Empowerment: theory and practice. Personnel Review. [online]. Vol. 27(1): 40-56. Available from: Emerald on the World Wide Web: http://hermia.emeraldinsight.com/vl=2601464/cl=84/nw=1/fm=docpdf/rpsv/cw/mcb/00483486/v27n1/s3/p40 [Accessed 16.02.2004].
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