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Democratizing InequalitiesDilemmas of the New Public Participation$
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Caroline W. Lee, Michael McQuarrie, and Edward T. Walker

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479847273

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479847273.001.0001

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Spirals of Perpetual Potential

Spirals of Perpetual Potential

How Empowerment Projects’ Noble Missions Tangle in Everyday Interaction

(p.165) Chapter 9 Spirals of Perpetual Potential
Democratizing Inequalities

Nina Eliasoph

NYU Press

This chapter explores previously hidden consequences of the transformation of volunteering and civic life in the empowerment projects during the last twenty years. In contrast to hierarchical social relations, empowerment projects aim to promote civic participation and help the needy, while also fostering transformation and innovation as well as sustainability. Drawing on a nearly five-year-long ethnographic study, this chapter considers the language used to the work of empowerment projects and the relevance of equality to the very existence of such initiatives. It also highlights the tensions between helping the needy, documenting accountability and transparency, and being “soul-changing” for those involved. It shows that those who are supposed to become “empowered” are forced to manage unintended contradictions between rhetoric and reality. In their effort to mesh civic participation and helping the needy, volunteers tend to ignore inequality and social conditions.

Keywords:   volunteering, civic life, empowerment projects, civic participation, needy, inequality, accountability, transparency, equality, social conditions

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