by Gunter Bombaerts and Erik Laes, TU/e

Gunter Bombaerts and Erik Laes presented “Technology Participation And System Change. Empowerment in Community based Virtual Power Plants” at the International Conference “Technology and Society”, KU Leuven, September 10th, 2019. Find abstract here.

They made a distinction between ‘empowerment’ and ‘emancipation’. The first focuses on giving co-creators ‘power’ in the process, but not necessarily with the purpose of changing the incumbent system. People who learn to use a new technology that is omnipresent and indispensable (i.e. cell phone or internet for elderly) is an example. Emancipation refers to a movement that focuses on system change, but not necessarily by empowering people. A union for example can change a system with or without making its members stronger. It can limit certain forms of robotization to protect workers.

Gunter and Erik apply this on one of the TU/e’s cases (community-based virtual power plants cvpp). They showed the audience how Shelly Tsui will challenge the DART model (dialogue, access, reflexivity/risk and transparency); how Mandi Astola develops the idea of a Mandevillean intelligence, where vices of individuals contribute to the collective good, an idea that goes against classical ideas of participation as equal contribution; and how Erik Laes analyzes Foucault’s concept of governmentality in which autonomy of co-creation processes as CvPP is not opposite or limit to neoliberal governance, but could be seen as social control through ‘responsible self-management’.

They concluded claiming that we need much more elaboration on empowerment and emancipation in co-creation which SCALINGS will help to answer.

Get in touch with Gunter and Erik if you have any questions about their research:,