Living up to the empowerment claim? The potential of PRA

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The application of participatory approaches has raised increasingly critical questions about their impact. Not least among these is the issue of whether participation is simply a more efficient ‘means' of accessing information to achieve externally driven development aims, or whether it should be viewed as an ‘end’ in itself (Nelson and Wright, 1995). Many advocates and practitioners of one approach in particular, participatory rural appraisal (PRA), make a claim to ‘empowerment' as the objective of their work. They clearly distinguish PRA from earlier methodologies, such as Rapid Rural Appraisal, arguing that ‘[i]nstead of imposing and extracting, PRA seeks to empower' (Chambers, 1992:46). Thus at the core of PRA is the belief that it enables a group of people to analyse their condition, giving them confidence to state and assert their priorities, to present proposals, to make demands and to take action, leading to sustainable and effective development proposals. This concept of participation as ‘empowerment' is closely linked to the ideas of Paulo Freire (1972). He suggested that a process of ‘awareness-training' and ‘conscientization' occurs through the limited intervention of outsiders who interact with people by posing problems and generating discussions, thereby awakening them to structural causes (Bergall, 1993).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Myth of Community
Subtitle of host publicationGender Issues in Participatory Development
EditorsIrene Guijt, Meera Kaul Shah
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Electronic)978 1 78044 030 9
ISBN (Print)978 1 85339 4218
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Gender
  • Development
  • Participatory Rural Appraisal
  • Empowerment

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