About the Dossier Empowerment

Empowerment has been understood as the increasing of political, social, economic and spiritual strength of communities or persons structurally disadvantaged through social constructs such as »Race«, religion, gender, sexuality, class, disability and age. The term »empowerment« arose into common political usage with the US-based civil rights movement in the second half of the 20th century. Similar to Positive Action , Empowerment is understood here as an approach aimed at strengthening subjects and communities who are deprived of equal opportunities, to exercise their rights and participate on all levels in society.


This collection of essays, interviews and film addresses the empowerment of people marginalised by racist dominant structures - People of Color, Black persons, non-White migrants and ethnic minorities. By focussing on empowerment these pages demonstrate an important part of empowerment processes themselves - the stepping beyond a complete occupation with the problem of disempowerment and discrimination. This dossier thereby extends the canon of writing that documents empowerment in practice, explores what it means, and explains how it works.

It looks at different individual and structural approaches to empowerment in different spheres of life – at work, school, in the family and in the streets.

The aim of this dossier is firstly to give an overview of the basic theories and historical context of empowerment in Germany and internationally: How and where did the use of the term develop? How does empowerment distinguish itself from other anti-racism paradigms? And how is it related to struggles of decolonisation? Secondly, it will look into a variety of empowerment strategies and approaches, from different types of empowerment training, to artistic expressions and explorations, to new forms of networking and strategy sharing enabled through new technologies. We ask how does empowerment along colour/racial lines intersect with empowerment along lines of gender and ability? What pedagogical approaches are working around the world for empowering young people? And what roles do community and social networks play in the empowerment process?

Very often disempowerment is a physical experience; it is not necessarily a solely cognitive process focussed on racist thoughts or words. Although cognitive empower-ment methods such as trainings and mentoring are one of the most common official tools, empowerment need not always be squeezed through the eye of the needle of language and thought. If racism is inscribed onto our bodies, which methods work with our physical selves as a medium of empowerment? While the »empowerment for people of colour« framework is playing a central role in tackling racism in Germany and elsewhere, we also touch upon its current limits.

In Teaching Critical Thinking bell hooks writes: »Knowledge rooted in experience shapes what we value and as a consequence how we know what we know as well as how we use what we know.« As such, what empowerment means to People of Color in Germany and other countries around the world today underpins the dossier. Because these empowerment processes can go hand in hand with a balancing of power, those groups who have privileged access to resources in society are not forgotten. Reference is also made to what the responsibilities and duties are of those who are systematically over-empowered, and what it is that they lose through their over-empowerment, particularly on the level of identity, security and self. Empowerment is therefore closely related to a shift of paradigms that improves the quality of life for society as a whole. An understanding apparent throughout the dossier is that power resides within the disadvantaged individual or group. Power can thus be perceived as an untapped resource, an existing source not valued or acknowledged, or simply one that needs to be shifted for it to come into force.

A slightly different preface
Gün Tank, Commissioner of Integration, Berlin Tempelhof/Schöneberg district, provides us with a very personal approach to the topic and pleads for a combination of solidarity and empowerment.

The Basics
The first section introduces the various theoretical approaches that underpin empowerment work in Germany. The contributions explore the movement’s roots, connecting these with decolonial theory, case work, antiracism and cultural studies.

International Perspectives
The second section expands beyond Germany, offering an insight into examples and creative concepts internationally, including in Qatar, the United Kingdom and South America.

Strategies and approaches in Germany
The third and last section highlights Germany’s diverse empowerment work, offering examples of empowerment in practice and platforming empowered voices.


Julia Brilling                      Sofia Hamaz & Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung         Dossier Editors