In community development practice, practitioners and organizations play many different roles in the planning, implementation and diffusion of the ideas and projects that they seek to promote. Some of these roles can serve to empower communities, while others can result in their disempowerment. In this article, eight roles commonly played out in development practice are briefly examined through the lenses of empowerment and disempowerment. Four of these roles are recognized as being ‘traditional’ and four are identified as ‘alternative’. It is hoped that the exercise of examining several of the generalized roles that practitioners play will allow us to take a closer look at how theory impacts practice and, more importantly, at the potential of such practices to truly achieve their theoretical aspirations.