Where's the Power in Empowerment?

Answers from Follett and Clegg

David M. Boje & Grace Ann Rosile

Paper published in Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, issue on Historical Perspectives of Workplace Empowerment. Scheduled for publication in
March, 2001, Vol. 37(1): 90-117.

(Pre-publication draft April 2000)

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to do a critical postmodern reading of the century and a half, empowerment- disempowerment debate. We will review parallels between turn of the century positions of both the 19th and 20th centuries. Contemporary work on empowerment-disempowerment shows a conspicuous absence of discussion of power. We seek to fill this gap, by drawing on the work of Mary Parker Follett and Stewart Clegg. Follett's theory of co-active power offers us a key to overcoming the empowerment-disempowerment dualism which characterizes the current debates. In addition, Clegg's circuits of power theory opens up the every-day machinery of power and empowerment for our inspection. Follett's understanding of managerial power, combined with Clegg's deeper sociological understanding of systematic disempowerment and domination, yields an integrative perspective which incorporates both empowering and disempowering faces of power. This "co-power" perspective has important implications for organization development and change.


 

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This paper proceeds From Title/Abstract  through 7 steps: (1) briefly reviewing the current empowerment-disempowerment debate; (2) contextualizing Mary Parker Follett's work with a review of the democratic workplace movements of Marxist socialism, trade unionism, guilds, cooperatives, and non-union workers' councils; (3) discussing Follett's theory of co-active power circularity, with its roots in Hegel's and Dewey's philosophy; (4) summarizing Clegg's circuits of power theory; (5) combining Follett's power-as-capacity concept with Clegg's circuits of power in an assimilative reading we term "co-power," which can move us beyond today's empowerment-disempowerment duality; (6) drawing implications for organizational development and change practices regarding co-power as a way of linking micro and macro issues; and (7) offering conclusions regarding co-power as a way of increasing the effectiveness of organizational change efforts. (And References).