Empowerment as Contested Terrain. Employability of the Dutch workforce
Sociological analysis has mainly portrayed empowerment as a manipulative masking discourse. However, various actors in society view it as the opposite of domination and espouse it as a goal. Empowerment can constitute a discursive field shaped by its internal contractions between autonomy and control, between ambition and risk of programmed failure – exacerbated by the emphasis on responsibility, and between focus and stigmatization. The paper presents a case study of employability policy in the Netherlands. Employability can be seen as empowerment in matters of career. The study is based on 41 interviews with policy makers, managers, union and employers’ leaders and politicians. It shows that actors drawing on the principle of empowerment as a goal in itself can reset or reclaim a drifting empowerment project in its inceptive phase and add their own twist during execution, evaluation and efforts to engineer improvements.