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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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UBBINK, M.J.; ROUX, A.A.  and  STRYDOM, H.. A postmodern empowerment approach in social group work with previously disadvantaged individuals from underprivileged communities. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.4, pp.618-634. ISSN 2224-7912.

By means of a literature study, this article focuses on providing social workers with insight regarding the process of empowering people from previously disadvantaged communities through a narrative approach to social group work. Communities ought to be motivated to play a role in their own development and be guided beyond their negativity and helplessness. The researchers believe that the community's active participation during the identification of their own needs, as well as their own subsequent real-life experiences and achievements, will lead to further motivation and empowerment. Although the narrative method is primarily used in therapy, the same assumptions and principles can also be applied in the context of group work. The hypothesis of the social construction theory on which narrative therapy is based, theorises that the "self is constructed within social interaction. Community members are given the opportunity to make sense of their lives through the relation of their life experiences. Social group work gives the "self a piece of the bigger social network in which the "self can develop. Social group work with a narrative base is furthermore also studied through a postmodern (rather than modernistic) approach, which similarly advocates the belief that events and experiences in everyday life have a direct influence on the development of the "self". In contrast with modernism which assumes single truths, postmodernism is founded upon the assumption that there are no absolute truths and that the world is a subjective experience. Community members are thus seen in relation to their complex network of relationships with others and the "self". Empowerment starts with the relevant party, the way in which he/she gives meaning to it as well as the way in which he/she wants to approach it. Complementing the narrative approach, postmodernism regards language as fundamental, seeing that language constructs meaning and also influences the way in which reality is viewed. The "self is seen as a continuously evolving and developing entity. Through postmodernism, the question of "how" the "self plays a role in the way the relevant party creates sense and meaning for himself, is addressed. The "self is seen as a system which seeks and creates meaning through dominant beliefs about the "self (Monk, Windslade, Crocket & Epston,1997:33-34; White, 2007:137). These thoughts place individuals in charge of their own lives by creating alternative ways to understand their "self". Individuals thus create the meaning of their own lives. During therapy, new meanings with regard to the "self" are formed by constructing alternative stories. Individuals make sense of their lives by relating life experiences within their context and relationships with others. Meaning is therefore attached to their lives through the stories they construct about their lives. Thus, life and stories are recursive in relation to each other; each influencing the other. Through interaction and the relaying of narratives, the relevant individual's life develops - which incorporates the idea of empowerment. The construction of a self-narrative contributes to the therapeutic task, the redevelopment ofpersonal narratives and the reconstruction of identity (White & Epston, 1990:15). Therapeutic social group work thus provides individuals with an opportunity to develop their lives through the construction of alternative stories and new meanings. The "self" is described by the researchers as a construct existing of a dynamic self, a social self as well as a preferred self, which are used in combination to attempt a richer description of the way in which individuals make life choices. These three selves influence each other continuously and reciprocally while the circumstances within which a person functions also has an influence. Although the accountability of self-narratives depends on the interpretation thereof by others, the researchers add that the "self" for the individual is dependent on what he/she experiences in different situations. Social work requires an awareness of the developing social self of others, but also carries an awareness of his/her own "self". The "self"of the social worker will have an influence on a relevant empowerment process, but the researchers also describe how the worker's own "self" will simultaneously be influenced. By using the narrative approach, the involved parties are thus given an opportunity of personal empowerment which refers to the individual's own ability to generate development. The immediate needs of the individuals are identified through the intense reality described by the individuals' stories. If social workers consider and manage these descriptions seriously, it equips the relevant individuals with a feeling of control over their lives - with a subsequent increased quality of life. The researchers strongly believe that this experience empowers community members. The narrative approach challenges the social worker to overcome the client's social construction of his situation and needs. By use of externalisation, the individual gets the opportunity to investigate these needs intensely, while he/she is assisted through the process to explore new and unique outcomes. These outcomes for inspired empowerment might be lodged within an individual's skills, talents, work opportunities, values and hopes. The social worker can assist in identifying these outcomes through facilitation of a group of individuals; and by so doing, leading them to improved social functioning. The effects of a narrative approach on social group work within the social work environment are thus studied with the intention of self-development and self-empowerment.

Keywords : empowerment; postmodern approach; previously disadvantaged individuals; social group work; underpriviledged communities.

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