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As the proverb appropriately states, “we cannot help those who do not help themselves”. As it seems, this is the same type of argument Townsend (1995) and other scholars are making in regards to empowering local non-developed communities. Empowering self-development through communication strategies is a difficult task. In fact, as some researchers argue, it is not entirely possible; they argue, moreover, that researchers and other individuals are only able to aid in creating opportunities for locals to participate within systems of development. The concept of “empowerment”, then, becomes mangled in mixed meanings in terms of what it meaningfully offers to the issue of development in the non-developed world. This discussion will begin with an analysis of the concept of “empowerment” in how it has been interpreted by scholars in the field of communication and development; here, I will describe how the concept has been conceptualized and misconceptualized. Then, subsequently, the obstacles and major impediments of empowering local communities through participation will be examined in revealing problematic areas within the idea of empowering local communities through participatory communication. Lastly, this discussion will conclude with a final analysis on whether empowerment is, in fact, possible and whether or not it meaningfully creates a platform for necessary developmental change.
The concept of ‘empowerment’ is often misleading. Specifically, within issues of (participatory) communication and development, it suggests that local community members of non-developed areas are able to be ‘given’ power to participate within development processes. This notion is problematic – that is, it is almost as though it makes claim that power is something that is transferable from one person to another. Wright and Nelson (1995) provide a better conceptualization of empowerment in where they address it within the scope of participatory research. They pertinently claim that...
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