Critical Psychology Teaching Materials

Empowerment Theory & Practice

University of Michigan
Winter 1996

Lorraine M. Gutierrez



Psychology 978
Social Work 818

Doctoral Course

Wednesday 2-5 PM


May I warn you against doing good to people, and trying to make others good by law? One does good, if at all, with people, not to people. Jane Addams

Overview of Course

This course addresses ways in which the concept of empowerment has been developed through social theory and practice. The literature on empowerment has mushroomed within the past twenty years within a large number of disciplines and professions. The purpose of this course is two fold: to critically analyze current thinking on empowerment and to identify ways in which empowerment theory can be applied to new areas for research and practice. The course will focus initially on theories of empowerment and provide us with a common base to understand and analyze current models. Critical to this discussion will be an understanding of theory and research on power, consciousness, and self concept. We will move from theoretical abstractions to applications in research and practice. In this section we will look at ways in which empowerment has been applied to different areas of study. Students will participate in selecting the topics for these final weeks.


Through a variety of activities in the course students will:



1. Class Participation:

This class will be conducted as a seminar. In our first class session each student will sign up to facilitate our class discussion twice during the term. Facilitation will involve working with one or two other students to summarize the readings and prepare the discussion for that class period. Facilitation teams can use any format they wish (e.g. guided discussion, group exercises, videos, guest speakers, etc.) when conducting the class. Class facilitation will be evaluated through a peer grading system.

2. Tests:

There will be a take home midterm covering basic theories of empowerment the week of 2/12/96. Class will not meet on 2/14.

3. Papers:

Students will complete one major paper. The paper can be an individual activity or one involving groups of students with a common interest (e.g. health). The purpose of the paper will be to apply empowerment theory, research, and practice to a specific area of interest. The paper should locate the specific problem or issue in literature, relate it to the empowerment perspective, and identify how research or practice in this area can utilize empowerment methods or concepts. Each paper should include a component which addresses issues related to the measurement of empowerment processes or outcomes.

In the final class session each student or student group will take some time to discuss their paper and what they learned.


A 100 point system is used. At the end of the term, the numerical grades earned for each written assignment will be averaged and translated into letter grades using the following formula:

A+ 97-100 B+ 87-90 C+ 77-80 D <69

A 94-96 B 84-86 C 74-76 (no credit)

A- 91-93 B- 81-83 C- 70-73

Grades in the B range reflect satisfactory completion of course requirements (competent performance). C grades reflect less than satisfactory work. A D indicates deficient performance and is not acceptable at the graduate level. A grades are given for exceptional individual performance. Assignments turned in on time can be revised if students desire.

Assignments can receive the following number of points:

Midterm 30
Class facilitation 30
Paper 40



Freire, P (1994). Pedagogy of hope: reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1994.

Gaventa, J. (1980) Power and powerlessness: quiescence and rebellion in an Appalachian valley. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Gutierrez, L. & Nurius, P. (1994). Education and Research for Empowerment Practice. Center for Social Policy and Practice, University of Washington: Seattle, WA.

Simon, B. (1994). The empowerment tradition in American social work: a history. New York: Columbia University Press.

A reader of articles is made available at Michigan Document.

A readings will be on reserve at the Undergraduate Library.


Course Topics

Conceptual Frameworks

1/10/96 Overview of the Course and Central Concepts

In this first week we will focus on familiarizing ourselves with the course, each other, and basic concepts of empowerment

1/ 17/96 Definitions of Empowerment:

Group one:
Simon, B. (1994). The Empowerment Tradition in Social Work Practice. NY: Columbia Press.
Group two:
Simon, B. (1994). The Empowerment Tradition in Social Work Practice. NY: Columbia Press. Chapter 1

Breton, M. (1994). On the meaning of empowerment and empowerment-oriented social work practice. Social Work with Groups, 17(3). 23-37.

Wallerstein, N. (1992). Powerless, empowerment and health: Implications for health promotion programs. American Journal of Health Promotion, 6, (3), 197-205.

Rappaport, J. (1981). In praise of paradox: A social policy of empowerment over prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 9(1), 1P25.

Group Three:
Simon, B. (1994). The Empowerment Tradition in Social Work Practice. NY: Columbia Press. Chapter 1

Conger, J. & Rabindra, K. (1988). The Empowerment Process: Integrating Theory and Practice. Academy of Management Review, 13 (3). 471-482

Gutierrez & Nurius (1994). Section 1: Conceptual Frameworks

Swift C., & Levin, G. (1987). Empowerment: An emerging mental health technology. Journal of Primary Prevention, 8(1&2), 71-94.


1/24/96: Empowerment Theory

Gutierrez L. (1994). Beyond Coping: An empowerment perspective on stressful life events. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 21(3). 201-220

Gutierrez, L. DeLois, K. & GlenMaye, L. (1995). Understanding empowerment practice: Building on practitioner based knowledge. Families in Society. 76 (9). pp. 534-542.

Kieffer, C. (1984). Citizen empowerment: A developmental perspective. In J. Rappaport, C. Swift, & R. Hess (Eds), Studies in Empowerment: Toward Understanding and Action (pp. 9-36) New York: Haworth Press.

Rissel, C. (1994). Empowerment: The holy grail of health promotion? Health Promotion International. Vol 9(1) 39-47

Solomon, B. (1976). Black empowerment: Chapter 1. New York: Columbia University Press.

Zimmerman, M. & Rappaport, J. (1988). Citizen participation, perceived control, and psychological empowerment. American Journal of Community Psychology, 16, 725-750.


1/31/96: Empowerment and power:

Barnes, B. (1988). The Nature of Power., Chapter 1. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Feld, A. (1987). Self-perceptions of power: Do social work and business students differ? Social Work, 32, 225-230.

Gaventa, J. (1980) Power and powerlessness: quiescence and rebellion in an Appalachian valley. Chapter 1. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Hasenfeld, Y. (1987). Power in social work practice. Social Service Review, 61, 469-483.

Deutchman, I (1991) The politics of empowerment. Women and Politics, 11 (2). 1-18.

Riger, S. (1993). What's wrong with empowerment. American Journal of Community Psychology (27) 3. 279-292.


2/7/96: Empowerment and Cognition

Gutierrez, L. (1995). Understanding the empowerment process: Does consciousness make a difference? Social Work Research, 19 (4), 229-237.

Tajfel, H. (1981). Human Groups and Social Categories: chapter 15. pp 309-343. Cambridge: Cambridge Press.

Freire, P (1994). Pedagogy of hope: reliving Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1994.

Ozer, E. & Bandura, A. (1990). Mechanisms governing empowerment effects: A self-efficacy analysis. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. Vol 58(3) 472-486

Serrano-Garcia, I. (1984). The illusion of empowerment: Community development within a colonial context. In J. Rappaport, C. Swift, & R.

Hess, (Eds.), Studies in empowerment: Toward understanding and action (pp. 173-199). New York: Haworth Press.


2/14/96: Take home midterm

Perspectives on Research:

2/21/96: An empowerment perspective on research:

Gutierrez, L. & Nurius, P. (1994). pp. 249-290.

Simmons, C. & Parsons, R. (1983). Developing internality and perceived competence: The empowerment of adolescent girls. Adolescence, 18(72), 917-922.

Israel, B., Checkoway, B., Schulz, A., & Zimmerman, M. (1994). Health education and community empowerment: Conceptualizing and measuring perceptions of individual, organizational, and community control. Health Education Quarterly., 21 (2), 149-170.

Florin, P. & Wandersman, A. (1990). An introduction to citizen participation, voluntary organizations, and community development: Insights for empowerment through research. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 41-54.

Yeich, S. & Levine, R. (1992). Participatory research's contribution to a conceptualization of empowerment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22-24, 1894-1908.


2/28/96 Participatory Research

Gutierrez & Nurius, pp. 291-302.

Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1993). Researching change and changing the researcher. Harvard Educational Review, 63(4). 389-411.

Flynn, B.; Ray, D.; Rider, M. (1994). Empowering communities: Action research through Healthy Cities. Special Issue: Community empowerment, participatory education, and health: II. Health Education Quarterly Fall Vol 21(3) 395-405

Sohng, S. (1992). Consumers as research partners. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 3 (2), 1-14.

Sommer, R. (1990). Local research. Journal of Social Issues, 46, 203-214.


3/13/96 Analyzing outcomes

Guest Speaker: Marc Zimmerman

Segal, S.; Silverman, C.; Temkin, T. ( 1995 ) Measuring empowerment in client-run self-help agencies. Community Mental Health Journal. V. 31(3) 215-227

Zimmerman, M. (1990a). Toward a theory of learned hopefulness: A structural model analysis of participation and empowerment. Journal of Research in Personality, 24, 71-86.

Zimmerman, M. (1990b). Taking aim at empowerment research: On the distinction between individual and psychological conceptions. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 169-177.

Zimmerman, M.; Israel, B.; Schulz, A.; Checkoway, B. (1992). Further explorations in empowerment theory: An empirical analysis of psychological empowerment. American Journal of Community Psychology. Vol 20(6) 707-727

Gutierrez, L. & Nurius, P. (1994): pp. 219-234.


Applications to the Field

3/20: Empowerment and Health

3/27: Empowerment Across the Life Span

Clark, P. (1989). The philosophical foundation of empowerment: Implications for geriatric health care programs and practice. Journal of Aging & Health. 1(3) 267-285

Heger, R. (1989). Empowerment-based Practice with Children. Social Service Review, 63 (3). 372-383.

Garfat, T.; Craig, I.; Joseph, C. (1989). Reflections on being in care: A demonstration of youth empowerment. Child & Youth Care Quarterly. 18(1) 5-16

O'Brien, S. & Vertinsky, P. (1991). Unfit survivors: Exercise as a resource for aging women. Gerontologist. 31(3) 347-357

4/3: Developing Empowerment Interventions

McWhirter, E. (1991). Empowerment in counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development, 69(3). 222-227.

4/10: Organizational Empowerment

Chiles, A. ; Zorn, T. (1995 ). Empowerment in organizations: Employees' perceptions of the influences on empowerment. Journal of Applied Communication Research. 23(1) 1-25

Keedy, J.; Finch, A. (1994). Examining teacher-principal empowerment: An analysis of power. Journal of Research & Development in Education. 27(3) 162-175

Levine, M. (1988). An analysis of mutual assistance. American Journal of Community Psychology. 16(2) 167-188

Segal, S.; Silverman, C; Temkin, T. ( 1995 ) Measuring empowerment in client-run self-help agencies. Community Mental Health Journal. V. 31(3) 215-227

Thomas, K.; Velthouse, B. (1990). Cognitive elements of empowerment: An "interpretive'' model of intrinsic task motivation. Academy of Management Review. Vol 15(4) 666-681

4/17/96: Dialogue and Discussion: What have we learned?

Class presentations of papers. Be prepared to bring a dish to pass and copies of your bibliographies.

Another syllabus by Lorraine Gutierrez: Multicultural, Multilingual Organizing

See also a Community Psychology Reading List

Home Page NoticesDocumentsLinksArchivesBooksTeaching Materials Administration Applying Critical Psychology Radical Psychology Journal

 Up to top

Updated 30 September 2007 - Contacts
RadPsyNet: http://www.radpsynet.org