Power, paternalism, and partnership
: a postcolonial critique of the philosophies and practices of empowerment within a Sport for Development programme in Malawi

  • Elizabeth Rogers

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The period since the turn of the new millennium has witnessed the burgeoning growth of sport within international development efforts which has been underpinned by an uncritical acceptance of the value of sport in facilitating sustainable development and empowerment (Lindsey and Darby 2018). Situated within development discourse, empowerment is a “buzzword” (Kingsbury et al. 2012) that remains loosely defined (Rowlands 1995). Its lineage reveals that empowerment can be understood through two broad variants: the radical model that pursues emancipation from the unequal structures that (re)produce “underdevelopment”, and the neoliberal version that aspires for individuals to be effective within the system through personal transformation (Inglis 1997). Despite this “fuzziness” (Cornwall 2007), empowerment is synonymous with the aspirations of the Sport for Development (SfD) field and yet there is a lack of research into this concept within SfD. This thesis redresses this lacuna by analysing how empowerment is understood and practiced in the programme, Sport Malawi, by exploring the forms of empowerment enacted and what facilitates or mitigates these. To address this aim, a broad postcolonial theoretical framework rooted in critiques of empowerment was adopted (Jönsson 2010; Deepak 2011). For the purposes of gathering the perspectives of stakeholders in the programme’s “aid chain” (Banda and Holmes 2017; Darnell and Hayhurst 2012), ethnography was adopted to analyse the “view from above” in the “sending community” (n = 28) and the “view from below” in the “host community” (n = 49) (Sherraden et al. 2008). This thesis illustrates that this SfD programme: enacts the neoliberal variant of empowerment; is characterised by a paternalistic partnership that privileges the interests of the global North partner; reinforces the white-saviour complex prevalent elsewhere in mainstream development; negates historical and contemporary power structures that sustain poverty; and offers neoliberal solutions that (re)produce the conditions that reinforce inequality.
Date of AwardJun 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKatie Liston (Supervisor) & Paul Darby (Supervisor)


  • Sport
  • Development
  • Africa

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