Social Welfare as an Apparatus of Power : A Critique on 'Empowerment' from the Foucault's Theory of Power

권력의 장치로서의 사회복지 : 푸코의 권력이론에 입각한 '권한부여' 비판

  • Lee, Hyuk-Koo (Dept. of Social Welfare, Sung Kyun Kwan University)
  • 이혁구 (성균관대학교 사회과학부 사회복지)
  • Published : 2000.11.30


From Foucault's Perspective of power, this study is trying to illuminate the characteristics and limitations of 'empowerment' which is widely accepted as a central value and practice skill of social work. Notwithstanding the superficial consensus on the empowerment, the author shows that it is a confusing concept with contrasting expectations and conflicting methodologies or only a wishful rhetorical jargon. Furthermore, he argues that the empowerment is not just a value-free intervention skill working outside the ruling power but a ruling-discourse or power-mechanism of a liberal society which makes citizens responsible voluntarily. For a theoretical background for these arguments, the 2nd chapter reviews Foucault's theory of power. The 1st part of the 3rd chapter summarizes the historical background of empowerment practice and its methodological characteristics and meanings, the 2nd part reviews the existing critics on the conceptual and practical limitations of empowerment, and the last part reveals, based upon Foucault's theory of power, that the empowerment is a typical mode of ruling power in liberal societies. The author expects that this study may warn the moral and intellectual superiority complex of social work discourse and help stimulate the ethical sensibility and responsibility in social work practice.