Fetishes of "empowerment": the arguments, the confusions in contemporary feminist theory
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“Empowerment” is a term used liberally throughout feminist theory. However, the term has a number of assumed meanings, depending upon the context of its use. In this dissertation, I examine primarily second-wave feminist theory arguments, dividing the concepts according to quadrants of human experience (Habermas, Wilber) in order to reveal the context of the theorists’ views of “empowerment.” I also examine relevant worldview perspectives (Beck & Cowan, Graves) within each quadrant in order to reveal the underlying assumptions about what it is hoped “empowerment” might achieve. I show that there are two primary types of “empowerment”: empowerment of the autonomous self and empowerment of the relational self. These two distinctive types are of utmost importance because, though largely unacknowledged, they lie as the core foundation of conceptual frameworks that divide feminists into two opposing camps. Further, within these two primary types, there are diverse, nuanced understandings of “empowerment” that are based upon varied notions of what it should accomplish.
Wilson, Elizabeth Ann (2007). Fetishes of "empowerment": the arguments, the confusions in contemporary feminist theory. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from