Action research in psychology, or research that takes place within communities of oppressed or exploited populations works to identify problem areas and facilitate social change collectively (Brydon-Miller, 1997). In the past, researchers have sought to discover connections between participatory action research and empowerment amongst the oppressed. One study that was conducted on homeless individuals observed that empowerment was an individual process that must be done autonomously (Brydon-Miller, 1997).
Empowerment has proven to have an essential role in predicting the wellbeing and positive development of youth. Essentially, empowerment is the process of individuals and groups finding action-oriented solutions to relieve difficulties they face within their lives (Lardier et al., 2019). More recent studies have been conducted to reveal that empowerment that inevitably causes social change may be inspired with community participation. In modern times, empowered youth have joined together and become instrumental in promoting social change for the oppressed by demanding social justice, equal rights, and police reform in movements such as #BlackLivesMatter (Lardier et al., 2019). Still, the mechanisms through which youth empowerment and critical awareness occur remains under-researched, especially within diverse populations and people of color.
According to Lardier, Reid, and Reid (2019) psychological empowerment is comprised of three components. The intrapersonal component dictates a person’s ability to engage in change with personal and sociopolitical contexts. Then, the interactional component is largely comprised of awareness of one’s sociopolitical environment and their functional capabilities to engage in change. This type of cognitive empowerment includes critical awareness, decision making, resource mobilization, and relational processes such as shaping ideologies and creating change through relationships. Lastly, the behavioral component explains how the individual or group behaviors provoke influence and change over their social, political, and cultural factors that impact their communities and lives (Lardier et al., 2019).
It is important to recognize that the aspects of empowerment stretch far beyond the intrapersonal and behavioral components. Investigations that have examined cognitive empowerment have found an empirical relationship with organizational types such as political or service-based, and features of the organization such as an organizational sense of community and empowerment, with relation to critical hopefulness and consciousness (Lardier et al., 2019). For marginalized ethnic groups to become empowered, it has been discovered that these groups must develop a group identification and consciousness to empower each other to think critically about their social positions to invoke participation in a manner that leads to collective group consciousness (Lardier et al., 2019).
Overall, the researchers discovered that a strong connection to one’s ethnic group makes him or her equally aware of oppressive structures that fuel perceived problems and contribute to past and present social inequalities (Lardier et al., 2019). Hence, such connections will allow individuals to think more critically about concerns affecting their ethnic-racial group. Then, critical awareness about social inequalities reinforces collective feelings of solidarity, efficacy, culture, and identity (Lardier et al., 2019). Altogether these group processes have been found to lead to successfully empower ethnic minorities to have a strong ethnic group identity that creates greater community belonging and the efficacy to enact and spearhead sociopolitical change to better the social world.
Brydon‐Miller, M. (1997). Participatory action research: Psychology and social change. Journal of Social Issues, 53(4), 657-666. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00042
Lardier, D. T., Garcia-Reid, P., & Reid, R. J. (2019). The examination of cognitive empowerment dimensions on intrapersonal psychological empowerment, psychological sense of community, and ethnic identity among urban youth of color. The Urban Review, , 1-21. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1007/s11256-019-00504-7