By Robert Adams.
This is the third edition of a well-regarded volume that, when published in the late 1980s, was one of the first to draw out the implications of empowerment and users’ self-help for practitioners.
Adams says empowerment is a contested concept rooted in western individualism and self-advancement. He draws much inspiration from the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, who emphasised consciousness-raising and dialogue in working with oppressed peoples.
In successive chapters, he applies this framework to working with individuals, groups and communities. Essentially, Adams believes professional tasks such as assessment and planning can be harmonised with empowerment goals if practitioners reflect on the limitations of their “treatment paradigm”.
The book lacks reference to recent joined-up local initiatives from central government, while the chapter on evaluation does not always do justice to the participatory techniques that have emerged recently.
But Adams succeeds in his main mission, which is to set practitioners thinking about fundamentals and to draw out what can be done and what is feasible in amplifying citizens’ control over their services.
John Pierson is senior lecturer, Institute of Social Work and Applied Social Studies, Staffordshire University.