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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Cheryl McEwan

McEwan, C. & Bek, D. (2006). (Re)Politicizing empowerment: Lessons from the South African wine industry. Geoforum 37(6): 1021-1034.

Author(s) from Durham


Despite being a poorly defined and vague concept, empowerment is currently of political and theoretical significance and nowhere
more so than in South Africa, where it seen as central to post-apartheid transformation. This paper explores the ways in which empowerment
has been understood, defined and deployed by post-apartheid governments in the context of a gradual shift from nation-building
to neo-liberal governance. It examines the impact of legislation and government policy through a critical examination of empowerment
initiatives in the wine industry. Drawing on research conducted in the Western Cape in 2004, the paper analyses how empowerment is
interpreted and appropriated both within legislation and specifically within the wine industry. It explores what the wine industry reveals
about the disempowering work of neo-liberalism, even as it is couched in the discourses of empowerment. Findings suggest that equating
empowerment with economic empowerment threatens to reinforce structures of domination, rather than transforming them, while leaving
power relations largely untouched. The case study reveals that until more radical understandings of power and empowerment are
acknowledged and incorporated into government policies the failure to address broader issues of social and economic transformation
will persist and policies aimed at the empowerment of marginalised individuals and communities will continue to have apparently
pre-determined and depoliticised outcomes.


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Article linked to research project: Nuffield SGS/00909/G: "New Beginnings & Old Identities..."