Re-thinking Tenant Empowerment – Post 1

From Steve Sharples Director PS Consultants For some time (and very slowly) I have been working on a book entitled ‘Re-thinking Tenant Empowerment’. Essentially it is a critique of what currently passes for tenant empowerment in UK social housing. One of my main claims is that what is really being delivered to tenants is a form of ‘consumer sovereignty’ which does not contain any ‘power’ in the sense in which that word is used in the contemporary literature in social science and philosophy. I further argue that it is no coincidence that the age of tenant activism ends precisely at the point that what was then called ‘tenant participation’ begins. Indeed, that the whole design and purpose of ‘participation’ represents a move to replace what was essentially a relationship of opposition and resistance between two externally related actors (landlord and tenants) with a process in which tenants have become increasingly incorporated within the operation of social landlord organisations as ‘partners’ and ‘customers’. To that extent I don’t think I am saying much more than others have previously said.

What I hope will be new however is my attempt to theorise empowerment by a detailed analysis of its root word i.e. power. I am trying to show how the meanings of the word power ( and concepts with which it is increasingly linked such as influence, domination, and resistance) help us understand how consumer sovereignty comes to be passed off as empowerment, and how we might construct a concept of empowerment that truly empowers tenants.

Of course, and however defined, tenant empowerment has never truly belonged to tenants. It has long been the province of what might be called the Tenant Empowerment Industry (TEI) of which, I must acknowledge, PS Consultants has been an active part for 20 years.This loose amalgam of consultancy and training organisations , tenant participation staff , government, professional bodies, regulators, and so on. has long acted as tenant empowerment’s social gatekeepers and interlocutors. Part of the task of the book is also to examine how this process works. In particular, I want to show that schemes that claim to ‘accredit’ tenant empowerment, offered by TPAS and others, are part of the problem of how to truly empower tenants, and never part of its solution.

So I will use this blog, amongst other reasons, to flesh out from time to time some of these ideas.

Comments, positive and negative , are welcome