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Empowerment : a reflection on the normative in sociology Seary, Jesse Keith

Abstract

Empowerment is a "moral" event which provides the opportunity for sociology to reflect upon the normative dimension. of critical sociological investigation. Previously, the normative was set within broad emancipatory (praxis) dialogues. Empowerment suggests these are vestiges of the critical rationalism carried by modernist discourses. With the appearance of empowerment, the normative has become localised in a plurality of empowerment claims which express the desire to reconstruct our relationship with our self, others, and a "good" society. As such, if sociology is to retain its critical normative dimension, it should reflexively restructure its understanding of, and methodological approach to, the normative. It should do so consistent with what empowered actors are expressing about the moral dimension of contemporary life unless, of course, it wishes to identify itself (alongside the empowering helping professions) as a colonising enterprise. The sociological meaningfulness of empowerment is obscured by discourses of the helping professions. Three of these are examined - Social Work, Psychology, and Evaluation - and it is demonstrated how their respective programmatic rationales, informed as they are by the modernist essentialist and scientistic discourse, resist a reconsideration of empowerment as a "moral" event. By "pegging" the empowerment claims of social actors to the broader discourses of self, via a conceptual mapping approach, there is shown to be not one (as the helping professions would have it) but several empowerments within the present conceptual landscape. Each is consistent with, and illustrative of, different selfs claiming selfconstruction as an accomplishment within varying imaginings of others and a "good" society. Together, they suggest empowerments are existential "phenomena" which point to the (re)emergence of "moral" . issues within the ontological domain of self construction. This has implications for the normative within critical sociological analysis. These implications are framed within three "reflective considerations". They are meant to steer critical sociological analysis (and hopefully empowering helping professionals) toward a focus on and a reconsideration of its normative content, given that the moral dimension of contemporary life may be an event constituting a plurality of moral imaginings.

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