Volume 2   Number 1      Fall 2007

The Discourse of Empowerment: A Dialogical Self Theoretical Perspective on the Interface of Person and Institution in Social Service Settings

Carolus van Nijnattan
University of Utrecht & Radboud University Nijmegen
pp. 337-359   (pdf)
ABSTRACT. The use of ‘I’ and ‘we’ was analysed in a single case study of a conversation between a child welfare professional and a client. Such conversations are ambiguous situations because although child care workers assume a caring attitude, at the same time they have to operate within a coercive frame. This study shows that child-care workers play a sophisticated game, alternately adopting dialogical positions that are either contiguous or different from that of the client. The argument proposed is that both in external and in internal dialogues, common ground must be reached before change resulting from conflicting I-positions can occur. For that reason, beside I-positions, we-positions play a crucial role in achieving the desired changes that in child welfare interventions. Both professional and client use these presentations to strengthen their communicative position. The same presentations may come about in the interactions between community psychologist and communities, when communities may change their positions in response to professional interventions, making explicit the tension between commonalities and differences. The challenge for agents of change is to look for common ground with clients in order to restore disturbed relations between groups or individuals and society.