Title: Community Psychology In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-being

    Publisher Details


    About the Authors

      Chapter Authors


    Note to Instructors

      Note to Instructors and Students



    Context and Overview

    Community Psychology: Journeys in the Global Context

        Warm-up Exercise

      What Is Community Psychology?

      The Emergence of Community Psychology in the United States

      The Emergence of Community Psychology around the World

    The Journeys of the Authors/Editors



    The Journey of the Reader

    Chapter Summary

    Values and Principles of Community

  The Project of Community Psychology: Issues, Values and Tools for Liberation and Well-being

        Warm-up Exercise

      Oppression: Silence and Invisibility

      Resistance and Liberation: Framing Problems, Listening to the Voices and Making the Invisible Visible

      Towards Well-being

    Issues and Problems


      The Global Context

    Values of Community Psychology

    Principles and Conceptual Tools of Community Psychology


      Prevention and Promotion




      Commitment and Depowerment

    The Science of Community Psychology

    Chapter Summary

  Values for Community Psychology

        Warm-up Exercise

    Sources of Values




    Criteria for Choosing Values

      Balance between Theoretical and Grounded Input

      Balance between Understanding and Action

      Balance between Processes and Outcomes

      Balance between Differing and Unequal Voices

    Values for Community Psychology

      Values for Personal Well-being

      Values for Relational Well-being

      Values for Collective Well-being

      The Synergy of Values

    Principles for Action

    Chapter Summary

    Socioethical Ecology of Community Psychology:

  Ecology, Prevention and Promotion

        Warm-up Exercise

      What Is the Ecological Metaphor?

      Why Is the Ecological Metaphor Important?

      What Is the Value Base of the Ecological Metaphor?

      How Can the Ecological Metaphor Be Implemented?

      What Are the Limitations of the Ecological Metaphor?

    Prevention and Promotion

      What Are Prevention and Promotion?

      Why Are Prevention and Promotion Important?

      What Is the Value Base of Prevention and Promotion?

      How Can Prevention and Promotion Be Implemented?

    Chapter Summary

    Domestic Violence: An All Too Familiar Story

    Community and Power

      What Are Community and Power?

      Why Are Community and Power So Important?

      What Is the Value Base of Community and Power?

      How Can Community and Power Be Promoted Simultaneously?

      What Are Some of the Risks and Limitations of Community and Power?


    Chapter Summary

    Parents Involved in Schools:

  Commitment, Accountability and Inclusion

        Warm-up Exercise

      Commitment to What? Accountability to Whom?

      Why Are Commitment and Accountability so Important?

      What Is the Value Base of Commitment and Accountability?

      How Can Commitment and Accountability Be Promoted?

      What Are the Limitations of Commitment and Accountability?


      What Is Inclusion?

      Why Is Inclusion Important?

      What Is the Value Base of Inclusion?

      How Can Inclusion Be Implemented?

      What Are the Limitations of Inclusion?

    Chapter Summary

    Living up to Community Psychology

  An Overview of Community Psychology Interventions

      The Making of a Community Psychologist

      Can I Make a Living Disrupting the Status Quo? Community Psychologists as Insiders and Outsiders

      The Community Psychologist as a Professional


    The Focus of Community Psychology Interventions: Amelioration versus Transformation

      Framing the Issues


      Levels of Analysis

      Prevention Focus

      Desired Outcomes

      Intervention Process

      Roles for Community Psychologists


    Settings for Interventions

      Community Psychology Begins at Home

      Human Services

      Alternative Settings

      Settings for Social Change


    Chapter Summary

    Virtues and Vocation: Community

    What Are Social Interventions?

      In the Belly of the Beast

      Challenging the Status Quo

    What Is the Value-base of Social Interventions?

    Why Are Social Interventions So Important?

      What Are the Strengths and Limitations of Government Social Interventions?

      What Are Some of the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working in Government?

      What Is the Role of Community Psychologists in Social Movements and Non-Government Organizations?

      What Are the Strengths and Limitations of SMOs and NGOs?

      What are the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working in SMOs and NGOs?

    Chapter Summary

    Towards Transformative Social Interventions Dennis Fox

  Organizational and Community Interventions

        Warm-up Exercise

      Re-organizing Organizations

      Politicizing Communities

    What Values Justify Organizational and Community Interventions?

    Why Are Organizational and Community Interventions so Important?

    What Are the Roles of Community Psychologists Working in Organizations?

      Promote Amelioration and Transformation within the Organization

      Promote Amelioration and Transformation in the Community Served by the Organization

      Internal and External Agents of Change

      Steps for Organizational Change

      What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Organizational Interventions?

    What Is the Role of Community Psychologists Working in Communities?

      Partnership Maker

      Change Maker

      Knowledge Maker

      What Are the Strengths and Limitations of Community Interventions?

      What Are Some of the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working in Organizations and Communities?

    What Are Small Group and Individual Interventions?

    What Are the Values Supporting the Work with Small Groups and Individuals?

    Why Are Small Group and Individual Interventions Important?

    How Do Small Group and Individual Interventions Promote Well-being and Liberation?







    What Is the Role of Community Psychologists Working in Small Groups and Individual Interventions?

      Inclusive Host


      Asset Seeker

      Listener and Sense Maker

      Unique Solution Finder



      Trend Setter

    What Are the Strengths and Limitations of Small Group and Individual Interventions?

      What Are Some of the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working with Small Groups and Individuals?

    Chapter Summary

    Restorative Practices in Small Group and

  The Foundations of Community Research

      Chapter Organization

        Warm-up Exercise: Community, Power and You

      Personal Well-being and Liberation

      Relational Well-being and Liberation

      Collective Well-being and Liberation

    Assumptions and Values Underlying Paradigms for Community Research

      Paradigms: Key Questions

      Three Paradigms for Community Psychology Research

      Using the Paradigms

    Processes of Community Research

      Representation, Roles and Responsibilities

      Decision-making Power and Conflict Resolution

      Community and Support

      Communication, Dissemination and Action

    Chapter Summary

  Community Research Methods: Post-positivist and Social Constructivist Paradigms

        Warm-up Exercise

      Analytic Research: Indicators, Epidemiology and Survey Research

      Activist/Interventionist Research: Evaluation of Programs and Interventions

    Social Constructivist Research Methods

      Analytic Research: Qualitative Approaches

      Characteristics of Qualitative Research

      Activist/Interventionist Research: Evaluation of Programs and Interventions

    Chapter Summary

    Needs and Resources Assessment Scenario

  Community Research Methods: Transformative Paradigm

        Warm-up Exercise

      Analytic and Activist/Interventionist Research: Transformative Participatory Action Approaches

    Chapter Summary

    What’s The ‘Right’ Method In

  Putting It All Together: Addressing the Issues


    Poverty and Economic Marginality

    Impaired Social Support Networks and Social Marginalization

    Ideological Aspects of Marginalization

    Resistance and Resilience

    Why Does Marginalization Matter?

    The Relevance of Community Psychology to Marginalization

    Working against Social Marginalization: Tools and Examples

    Chapter Summary

  Globalization, Poverty and Social Justice

      Critical Community Psychology

    Historical Context

      What Are the Origins of Contemporary Poverty around the World?

      Science and Modernity

      Industrialization and Imperialism



    The Political Economy of Development


    Globalization and Its Effects

    Ideology: A Key Concept

    The Promise of Global Community Psychology

      Participatory Democracy

      Linking the Global and the Local

      Protecting Basic Human Rights

    Chapter Summary

    ‘Be the Change You Want to

  Colonization and Racism


      European Ethnocentrism and Assumed Universality


    Decolonizing Australia and New Zealand

      Colonization and Change in Australia

      Colonization and Change in New Zealand

    Founding Concepts for Self-determination and Decolonization

      ‘True’ Histories for Colonized and Colonizer

      Social Justice and the Role of Power in Colonization

      Addressing Structural and Institutional Racism

    Emerging Concepts and Issues

      Continuing Colonization

      The New Assimilationists

      Endorsing the Unique Status of Indigenous People

      Individuality and Collectivity in Framing Human Rights and Responsibilities

      Addressing Cultural and Constitutional Racism

    The Role of Psychology(ists) in Decolonization

      Deconstructing and Critiquing Dominance and Injustice

      Learning to Practise ‘In the Presence of History’

      Affirming Indigenous Authority, Expertise and Self-determination

      Listening, Protesting and Advocating

    Chapter Summary

  Immigration and Settlement: Confronting the Challenges of Cultural Diversity

    Basic Definitions

    Defining Culture

    Cross-cultural Transition: Challenges of Change


      Class, Cultural Values and within Community Dynamics

      Race, Oppression and Settlement

    Responses of the Receiving Community

    Creating Settings and Support Systems

    Roles and Challenges for Community Psychologists

    Chapter Summary

    Reflections on

  Gender, Power and Community Psychology

        Warm-up Exercise

      Because We Are Women

      CP’s Founding Principles – Ecology, Community, Prevention

    Emerging concepts: Power, Subjectivity and Reflexivity, Diversity and Partnership


      Subjectivity and Reflexivity



    Visions and Values Guiding Feminist Community Work

    Chapter Summary

    Using Dialogue and Power Dynamics to Transcend

  A Journey towards Liberation: Confronting Heterosexism and the Oppression of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People

      Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender: What’s the Difference?

      Diversity and Culture

    Heterosexism and Oppression

      Is it Homophobia or Heterosexism?

      Heterosexism as a Form of Oppression

      Multiple Membership and Layers of Oppression

      Consequences of Heterosexism and Oppression for LGBT People

      Reactions to Immediate and Chronic Oppressive Actions

    Towards Liberation and Well-being

      LGBT Health Promotion and Prevention

      Building Community: LGBT People and Families Unite

      Collective Power: Gay Rights Liberation Movement and Community Partnerships

      LGBT Legal Issues and Public Policy: Towards Inclusion and Equity

      Commitment through Research: Listening to the Changing Voices of LGBT People

    Chapter Summary


    Historical Context

      Developments in Early United States

      Developments in the Mid-20th Century

    The Struggle for Self-determination

    Media Portrayal Contributing to Ableism

    Challenges for Community Psychologists



      Partnership and Collaboration

      Subjectivity and Reflexivity

      Vision and Values Guiding Community Work

    Examples of Research and Action

      Action Letter Portfolio

      Teaching Students with Disabilities How to Request Accommodations to Increase Full Participation in Higher Education

      Lessons Learned

    Reflection and Application

    International Vistas

    Chapter Summary


  Promoting Liberation, Well-being, and Recovery: Learning from Experiences of Psychiatric Consumers/ Survivors

    Definitions of Serious Mental Health Problems and Recovery

      Serious Mental Health Problems

      Subjective Experiences of Serious Mental Health Problems


    Examining Community Contexts for Responding to Serious Mental Health Problems

      Balancing Competing Values and Resulting Consequences for People with Serious Mental Health Problems

      Competing Narratives about Serious Mental Health Problems

      Competing Tensions in Helping Professions

    A Brief History of Community Responses to Serious Mental Health Problems

      Communities’ Settings for Addressing Serious Mental Health Problems

    Changing the Balance? The Emergence of Consumer/Survivors in Society’s Efforts to Address Serious Mental Health Problems

    Community Psychology’s Role in Supporting Consumers


      Prevention and Promotion




      Commitment and Depowerment

    Chapter Summary

    Forging New Partnerships between

    Reframing Our Notions of Families and Disadvantage: Towards an Agenda of Well-being

      From Individualism and Victim-blaming to a Holistic, Strengths-based Ecological Perspective

      From Psychosocial Problems to Prevention and Promotion

      From Social Isolation to Community

      From Powerlessness to Power

      From Discrimination to Inclusion

    Interventions for Children and Families: Ecological and Empowerment Approaches

      Multi-focused, Community-driven Programs

      Social Policy Interventions

    Chapter Summary

    Sustaining Daily Family Routines in the Context of Disadvantage Liesette Brunson

    Why Community Psychology Should Care about the Environment

      Concern for Well-being

      Fighting for Social Justice

      Addressing Issues of Power and Oppression

      Preventing Conflicts and Use of Violence

    How We Can Make a Difference

      Getting Involved

      Past Examples of Community Psychology in Action

      Future Directions for Community Psychology and the Natural Environment

    Chapter Summary

  Looking Towards the Future

    From Where to Where? Preparing for the Voyage

    Different Practice, New Aims, New Definitions

    The Liberating Journey of Community Psychology

    Co-presence: The Complex Character of Community Phenomena

    Understanding Power in Community Contexts

    Community and Society: Exchanges and Influences

    The Political Side of Community Work

    The Size and Speed of Community Changes

    Knowledge Is Everywhere


    Chapter Summary

    Reflections on Community


Also by Geoffrey Nelson and Isaac Prilleltensky:

Doing Psychology Critically: Making a Difference in Diverse Settings (2002)* Promoting Family Wellness and Preventing Child Maltreatment: Fundamentals for Thinking and Action (2001) (with L. Peirson)

Also by Geoffrey Nelson:

Shifting the Paradigm in Community Mental Health Towards Empowerment and Community (2001) (with J. Lord & J. Ochocka)

Partnerships for Prevention: The Story of the Highfield Community Enrichment Project (2005) (with S. Mark Pancer, K. Hayward, & R. DeV. Peters)

Also by Isaac Prilleltensky:

Critical Psychology: An Introduction (1997, 1st Ed.) (with D. Fox)

The Morals and Politics of Psychology: Psychological Discourse and the Status Quo (1994)

Promoting Well-being: Linking Personal, Organizational, and Community Change (2006) (with O. Prilleltensky)

International Community Psychology: History and Theories (2007) (with

S. Reich, M. Riemer, & M. Montero)

Critical Psychology: An Introduction (2009, 2nd Ed.) (with D. Fox & S. Austin)

Publisher Details

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission.

First published 2010 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN

Palgrave Macmillan in the UK is an imprint of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS.

Palgrave Macmillan in the US is a division of St Martin’s Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world.

ISBN: 978–0–230–21995–3

This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully managed and sustained forest sources. Logging, pulping and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10

Printed and bound in Great Britain by

CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham and Eastbourne


This book is dedicated to all our community partners and our students, graduate and undergraduate, who have taught us so much about community psychology.

About the Authors

Geoffrey Nelson is professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University and a member of the MA and PhD programs in Community Psychology. Geoff was senior editor of the Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, and he is a fellow of the Society for Community Research and Action (Division 27, Community Psychology, of the American Psychological Association). He is co-editor of Promoting Family Wellness and Preventing Child Maltreatment: Fundamentals for Thinking and Action (University of Toronto Press, 2001), senior author of Shifting the Paradigm in Community Mental Health: Towards Empowerment and Community (University of Toronto Press, 2001) and second author of Doing Psychology Critically: Making a Difference in Diverse Settings (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). Together with the Canadian Mental Health Association/ Waterloo Region Branch, he was the recipient of the McNeill Award for Innovation in Community Mental Health from the American Psychological Foundation and the Society for Research and Action of the American Psychological Association in 1999.

Isaac Prilleltensky was born in Argentina and has lived also in Israel, Canada, Australia and the United States. Prior to his current appointment as dean of the School of Education at the University of Miami he was director of the PhD program in Community Research and Action at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Before coming to the United States he was research chair in psychology at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, where he established a Wellness Promotion Unit. Isaac started his academic career in Canada, where he directed the Community Psychology Program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. Isaac is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association and of the Society for Community Research and Action. In 2002 he was a visiting fellow of the British Psychological Society. Isaac has published 7 books and over 100 articles and book chapters. He has presented keynote addresses in international conferences in five continents.

Chapter Authors

Mark Burton is head of a large public sector service for people disabled through intellectual difference. His work uses ideas from community psychology and other disciplines including management, politics and ecology. His more than 25 years of work in the same city have seen a major change in the location of, opportunities for and perceptions about severely disabled people, but nevertheless there is still

xiii much to do, particularly to facilitate real inclusion and meaningful community life. Mark is head of Manchester Learning Disability Partnership, and visiting professor at Manchester Metropolitan University. Outside paid work Mark is active in international solidarity with progressive social movements.

Dr Pat Dudgeon is from Bardi and Gija people of the Kimberley in north-western Australia. She went to Perth to study psychology and afterwards joined the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin as a lecturer in 1987. She was appointed as Head of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in 1990 and has led the organization through significant growth and change. As well as leadership in Indigenous higher education, Pat Dudgeon has also had significant involvement in psychology and Indigenous issues for many years. Dr Dudgeon was the first convenor of the Australian Psychological Society Interest Group, Aboriginal Issues, Aboriginal People and Psychology and has been instrumental in convening many conferences and discussion groups at national levels to ensure that Indigenous issues are part of the agenda in the discipline. She has many publications in this area and is considered one of the ‘founding’ people in Indigenous people and psychology. Her doctorate thesis, Mothers of Sin: Indigenous Women’s Perceptions of Their Identity and Sexuality, examined the specific effects of colonization on Aboriginal women. Dr Dudgeon is actively involved with the Aboriginal community and has a commitment to social justice for Indigenous people. Pat has participated in numerous community service activities; of significance, she was a member of the Parole Board of Western Australia for several years and was a psychologist in the defence forces. Pat has many publications in the areas of psychology, education and women’s issues. Currently she is an associate professor at the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia. She is the first Indigenous fellow within the Australian Psychological Society and is the founding chair of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association.

Adrian Fisher is an associate professor in the Community Psychology program at Victoria University in Melbourne Australia. He was born in Perth, Australia. Beside some time travelling overseas, he lived and worked in Perth for most of his young life. When he was about 24, he worked with Community Health in the remote Kimberley Region. The main client group was Australian Aborigines. Following his return to Perth to study psychology, he then became a sojourner. He travelled to the United States as a graduate student, where he remained for more than five years and earned his PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana– Champaign. Adrian returned to Australia, taking up a university post developing and teaching Community Psychology programs in Melbourne. His main interests are on psychological sense of community and its impact on social identity, particularly in relation to inclusion–exclusion processes.

Dr Marewa Glover (Nga Puhi Nui Tonu), a graduate of the University of New South Wales, holds an MSocSc first class from the University of Waikato and a PhD from the University of Auckland. Marewa’s research is in the area of Maori health. Her research interests include reducing uptake of smoking among children, especially Maori and Pacific Island children; reducing the prevalence of smoking during pregnancy; improving smoking cessation delivery and efficacy; teachers’ attitudes to being smoking cessation; increasing breastfeeding among

Maori women; and Maori attitudes toward assisted human reproduction. Marewa has received a number of awards including University of Auckland Best Doctoral Thesis in 2002. Marewa is currently director of the Auckland Tobacco Control Research Centre based within the School of Population Health of the University of Auckland. In addition to research, Marewa established and coordinates a postgraduate paper in Tobacco Control.

Heather Gridley coordinates one of Australia’s two postgraduate programs in Community Psychology, at Victoria University in Melbourne. Her interest in Community Psychology stemmed from her work in community health, where she became aware of the limitations of interventions directed solely at individuals. Heather’s teaching, research and practice are based on feminist principles, and in 1994 she received the Australian Psychological Society’s Elaine Dignan Award for significant contributions concerning women and psychology. She has held national positions in both the APS College of Community Psychologists and Women and Psychology Interest Group and now has a management role with APS in the Public Interest domain. Her career history as a humanities-based psychologist with a passionate commitment to social justice bridges the practitioner– academic divide.

Gary W. Harper is a professor in the Department of Psychology and director of the Master of Public Health Program at DePaul University in Chicago. For more than 20 years Gary has worked collaboratively with community agencies and community members to develop and evaluate a range of youth-focused prevention programs that promote the health and well-being of adolescents, with a focus on gay and bisexual Latino and African-American male adolescents. He has served as chair of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns and Committee on Psychology and AIDS. He is a fellow in the American Psychological Association; Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues; and Society for Community Research and Action. Gary was the founding chair of the LGBT interest group within the Society for Community Research and Action and was the first co-editor of a column on LGBT issues in The Community Psychologist. He has co-edited several LGBT-focused special issues of academic journals, including one on LGBT community interventions in The Community Psychologist; another on linking theory, research and action related to LGBT people and communities in the American Journal of Community Psychology; and another on empirical explorations of LGBT racial and ethnic minority individuals in Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

Dr Ingrid Huygens was born in Auckland, New Zealand, to Dutch immigrants. She has practised as a community psychologist since 1983 and as a Pakeha (white) anti-racism educator and decolonization worker since 1989. Her doctoral research at the University of Waikato theorized processes of critical conscientization for the Pakeha dominant group challenged by assertions of Maori self-determination. She currently chairs the Institute of Community Psychology Aotearoa.

Carolyn Kagan is professor of Community Social Psychology and director of the Research Institute for Health and Social Change at Manchester Metropolitan University. She established and contributes to the first UK masters course in community psychology. She has worked in the main in the north-west of England with people who are marginalized through poverty or disability. Much of her work has been in the collaborative development and evaluation of community projects and in facilitating system change in health and social care. She has developed a community psychological praxis that is critical, has social justice at its core and combines social action with community and organizational development. With Mark Burton she is active in local and international solidarity work with progressive movements.

Bret Kloos is a faculty member in the Clinical-Community Psychology program at the University of South Carolina. His work has been strongly influenced by the concepts of social ecology, dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of our mental health and social service systems, and a sense of social justice rooted in his faith tradition. Along with students and community colleagues, his work has focused on housing issues, promoting mutual help and fostering community development to create structures that sustain people’s well-being and that allow for liberation from oppressive conditions. Bret was encouraged to ‘discover’ community psychology during doctoral studies at the University of Illinois–Urbana Champaign because it has allowed him to pursue work that is consistent with his values. He has conducted research funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health, Centre for Mental Health Services and Department of Housing and Urban Development. He has also held positions as director of a supportive housing program and the Connecticut Self-help Network. In all of these activities, his community psychology training has provided the tools to make a difference in communities where he lives and in broader global contexts.

Maritza Montero is professor of social psychology and community social psychology at Universidad Central de Venezuela. Maritza has a Sociology PhD from Paris University. She has been working, researching, teaching and writing in the field of community psychology since the late 1970s, later joining her production with political psychological aspects. She has published books and papers, in Spanish, English, Portuguese and French, among which a trilogy about Community Psychology (Introduccion a la Psicologia Comunitaria – 2003 -; Teoria y Practica de la Psicologia Comunitaria – 2004 -; and Hacer para transformar. El Metodo en la Psicologia Comunitaria – 2006 -; Buenos Aires, Argentina: Paidos). Maritza works in the interface between community and political psychology. She was president of the International Society of Political Psychology (2006) and has been visiting professor in several Universities in Latin American countries and in Spain, France, England and Scotland.

Leslea Peirson graduated from Wilfrid Laurier’s MA program in Community Psychology in 1993. Putting her skills into action, Leslea went on to work in applied research settings, first as a research coordinator at the Centre for Social Welfare Studies, then as the project manager and a co-investigator for a national study of best practices for the promotion of family well-being and the prevention of child maltreatment. From 1999 to 2007 Leslea straddled the positions of full-time student, earning a PhD in public health sciences from the University of Toronto, and part-time professor, teaching a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses at Wilfrid Laurier, including community psychology theory and research approaches. In 2008 Leslea was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation. She will spend the next two years in an intensive, personalized and mentored training program developing her knowledge and skills in evidence-informed decision making and knowledge translation within public health contexts.

Dr Manuel Riemer, born and raised in Germany, is an assistant professor in the Community Psychology program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. He received his masters and PhD in psychology from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. From 2004 to 2008 he was the director of Research and System Development for a large NIMH-funded research project at the Centre for Evaluation and Program Improvement. This project was intended to test a theory of change, the contextualized feedback interventioni theory, which Dr. Riemer developed with Dr. Leonard Bickman. Dr. Riemer co-edited the book International Community Psychology: History and Theories and he is the editor of the upcoming special issue of the American Journal of Community Psychology special issue on Community Psychology and Global Climate Change. Currently Dr Riemer’s research interests include community-based change for the promotion of environmentally sustainable behaviours, networks and collaboration; change within complex social systems; evaluation research, implementation and sustainability of social programs; and mixed methods.

Tod Sloan is professor and chair in the Department of Counselling Psychology at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. After completing doctoral work in personality psychology at the University of Michigan, Tod taught psychology at the University of Tulsa (Oklahoma) from 1982–2001. He is the author of Life Choices: Understanding Dilemmas and Decisions (1996) and Damaged Life: The Crisis of the Modern Psyche (1997). He also edited Critical Psychology: Voices for Change (2000) and co-edited Poverty and Psychology (2003). Tod has been a visiting professor in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico and Brazil, and co-coordinated Psychologists for Social Responsibility from 2001–5.

Christopher Sonn is a senior lecturer in the Community Psychology program at Victoria University in Melbourne Australia. He was born in South Africa under the Apartheid regime where he was officially classified as ‘coloured’ and at the age of 18, he immigrated to Australia with his parents and younger brothers. He faced numerous settlement challenges in the first few years, including language issues, isolation, lack of familiarity with social systems and prejudice. One of the major challenges revolved around ethnic and cultural identity. In South Africa identity was tied to the Apartheid structure – it was imposed. In Australia a different set of historical and contemporary discourses inform race relations. Christopher started his studies in Melbourne soon after arriving. Ten years later, after completing his PhD, he relocated to Perth with his wife and two (now three) children to take up a position at Curtin University, before moving to Edith Cowan University. Christopher teaches and researches topics in cultural and community psychology, with a specific focus on community responses to intergroup contact and adversity, sense of community, social inclusion and exclusion, and cultural competence.

Colleen Turner manages Communities for Children, a large-scale community development in a disadvantaged area of metropolitan Melbourne. Her career journey spans more than two decades in applied research and community-based practice. Colleen is interested in bridging the divides between social policy, service provision and community development. Her work within the trade union sector, HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment, aged and disability services, migrant women’s health, and more recently in family and children’s services, indicates the breadth and grounded nature of her experience. Colleen has served on the APS Board as Director of Social Issues and in 2007 was elected to APS fellowship.

Glen W. White, PhD, has been involved in the rehabilitation and independent living field for over 30 years. He is currently director of the Research and Training Centre on Independent Living at the University of Kansas. He serves as principal investigator of the NIDRR-funded Research and Training Centre on Measurement and Interdependence on Community Living. Dr White has had numerous opportunities to work with consumers with disabilities in identifying, developing and shaping on-going disability research. For the past several years he has been developing a systematic line of research in the area of prevention of secondary conditions and health promotion. More recently, Dr White has been conducting research in the area of disaster planning and emergency response for people with disabilities and has also been conducting research and training on community leadership and development and supportive entrepreneurships for people with disabilities in Perú. He is past president of the National Association of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centres, past chair of the American Public Health Association’s Section on Disability, and serves as an advisor and consultant to many national organizations. Dr White is currently professor in the Department of Applied Behavioural Science and directs the Research Group on Rehabilitation and Independent Living at the University of Kansas, where he teaches in the areas of applied behavioural science, community psychology and disability studies.


Charity S. Akotia is a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Ghana. She received her BA (Honours) from the University of Ghana; an MA from Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; and a PhD from the University of Ghana. She is currently a faculty member at the University of Ghana, where she teaches both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in community and social psychology. Charity was chair of the Psychology Department, University of Ghana, from 2005 to 2007, and has done research with working women and the challenges they face. Her current research interest is in cross-cultural studies on suicide and suicide prevention in Norway, Ghana and Uganda.

Before his death on July 8, 2006, George W. Albee was professor emeritus at the University of Vermont and courtesy professor at the Mental Health Research Institute, University of South Florida. He was past president of the American Psychological Association. Dr Albee was chair of the Task Panel on Manpower for President Eisenhower’s Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health, chair of the Panel on Prevention for President Carter’s Commission on Mental Health and 2003 guest fellow of the British Psychological Society. He established the Vermont

Conference on the Primary Prevention of Psychopathology and co-edited (with Justin Joffe) 17 volumes on prevention.

Meg A. Bond is a professor of psychology and director of the Centre for Women and Work at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She is a community psychologist whose work focuses on the interrelationships among issues of diversity, empowerment and organizational processes. Meg has researched and written about the dynamics of gender and race in the workplace, sexual harassment, and collaboration among diverse constituencies in community settings; she is particularly interested in the articulation of a feminist community psychology. Meg is a former president of the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) and received an award for distinguished contributions to community psychology from SCR A in 2001. She has also served as chair of the APA Committee on Women and on the executive committee of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. Her book entitled Workplace Chemistry: Promoting Diversity through Organizational Change was published by University Press of New England in 2007. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her partner and has two wonderful children, Arlyn and Erik.

Liesette Brunson is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Her specialty area is community psychology, and her work focuses on community-level influences on family and child well-being. She completed her doctoral work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was also she was coordinator of the Illinois Rural Families Program. Her research and practice examines how families use local resources in their daily lives to satisfy family needs and promote child development, focusing on three main themes: (a) the distribution, accessibility and quality of resources available to families across different communities types; (b) the barriers that impede families’ access to these resources; and (c) programs and policies that create more resources for families, especially in low-income neighbourhoods. Dr. Brunson has contributed to several community-based projects for children and families in the Greater Montreal area, including 1,2,3 GO!; Québec Enfants; and Projet Béluga.

Rebecca Campbell, PhD, is a professor of community psychology and program evaluation at Michigan State University. Her current research includes studies on the community response to rape, vicarious trauma among violence against women researchers and service providers, and the evaluation of rape crisis-centre services. She is the author of Emotionally Involved: The Impact of Researching Rape (2002, Routledge), which won the 2002 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology. Dr Campbell received the 2007 Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest Award (Early Career) from the American Psychological Association.

Marci Culley is an assistant professor at Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta, Georgia. Her scholarly interests in community psychology are grounded in community organizing, power and empowerment, and public policy related to environmental issues. She is interested in the links between individual transformation and larger community and social change processes. In particular, she is interested in individual, community and institutional responses to environmental disputes (particularly around environmental health disputes) and how public participation processes are shaped by social power dynamics.

Dennis Fox is emeritus associate professor of legal studies and psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield. With Isaac Prilleltensky, he co-founded RadPsyNet (radpsynet.org) and co-edited both editions of Critical Psychology: An Introduction (1997, 2009, also with Stephanie Austin, Sage). His early focus on applying communalist, anarchist and environmentalist insights to social psychology’s individual–society underpinnings led to a critique of psychology’s role in maintaining the legal, political and socioeconomic status quo. Since leaving full-time academic work, Fox’s political commentaries and personal/political essays have been published in a variety of print and online outlets such as Radical Teacher, the Boston Globe, Education Week, Salon, and Social Anarchism. Seeking to apply a critical psychology perspective on law and justice to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in 2006 he was a Fulbright Senior Specialist in Peace and Conflict Resolution at Ben Gurion University, Israel, and a consultant in Law and Society at Birzeit University, Palestinian West Bank. His articles, essays and blog are available at http://www.dennisfox.net.

Suzanne Galloway is a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier’s MA program in Community Psychology and currently works as a health promoter in Peterborough, Ontario. She has been involved in creating positive alternatives at the community level (such as a car cooperative, a food cooperative, a community bike centre, affordable housing and a local trading network) and has also been a radical cheerleader, puppeteer and general rabble-rouser at protests against globalization. She is currently interested in despair and empowerment work.

Lesley Hoatson thinks she has one of the best jobs in the world. Based in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu she works for the Anglican Church of Melanesia. Her role is to walk alongside local development workers, helping them build their development capacity. In the past she has been active in low-income communities as a community developer and social worker, and worked in community development policy, practice and training roles in federal, state and local government and in a central Australian Pitjantjatjara community. Lesley regularly provides support, supervision and training to community development practitioners around community-building strategy, problem solving and conflict management.

Colleen Loomis is associate professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University and an invited professor at the University of Geneva in the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences. The focus of Loomis’s research is on how communities promote inclusion and participation, particularly with educational resources for multicultural groups and immigrants. For example, some of her studies have examined how communities can support the relation between an individual and places of learning such as schools, adult education programs and alternative learning communities. Her work is situated at the intersection of the disciplines of psychology and education and is based in both ecological and multicultural frameworks. She has published on psychological sense of community, service-learning and related subjects, including self-help groups, gender and power; socioeconomic class; mentoring; and bilingual education (as it relates to the United States). She is perhaps most well known for her skills in facilitating, negotiating and synthesizing understandings among multiple stakeholders. Her email address is cloomis@wlu.ca.

M. Brinton Lykes, PhD, is professor of Community-Cultural Psychology, associate director of the Centre for Human Rights and International Justice and Chair of the Department of Counselling and Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College. She works with survivors of war and gross violations of human rights, using the creative arts, indigenous beliefs and practices, and participatory action research methodologies to analyse the causes, document the effects and develop community-based programs to rethread social relations and transform social inequalities underlying structural injustices. Her activist scholarship has been published widely; she is co-author and co-editor of three books, including, most recently, Voces e imágenes: Mujeres Mayas Ixiles de Chajul/Voices and images: Maya Ixil women of Chajul (2000). Her current interdisciplinary transnational research focuses on human rights violations due to forced migration and/or detention-deportation in New England, Central America and post-Katrina New Orleans.

Elba Martell, MSc, MA, received her MA in Community Psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada in 2002. Her thesis project explored the perceptions and experiences of immigrant youth involved with the Canadian justice system. Elba’s interests are immigrant and refugee issues, the study of their interaction and integration to the host society, and how the community responds to integration and access to services by diverse communities. Elba works currently as public health planner with the Region of Waterloo Public Health, in Ontario, Canada, where she is involved with projects related to access and equity, food security and the development of healthy public policies that increase community capacity, participation and access to supports and services by diverse communities.

Eliseo Martell, a physician from El Salvador, holds a masters degree in Public Health and a master of science in Public Administration. Eliseo has been involved in different initiatives such as neighbourhood health committees in urban and rural communities and projects addressing health and refugee issues in Ontario, Canada. He is also one of the founding community members of the Kitchener-Downtown Community Health Centre. As a former president of Ontario Public Health Association and current chair of Health Nexus, Eliseo also has been involved in different provincial initiatives. Some of his areas of interest are violence prevention, urban health and access of disenfranchised communities to health services with emphasis on health promotion. He is currently manager of the Community and Elementary School Supports Unit with the Region of Waterloo Department of Public Health in Ontario, Canada.

Michael Murray is professor of Social and Health Psychology at Keele University, North Staffordshire, United Kingdom. His primary research interests are community health action, aging, narrative and social representation theory. He is the co-author (with David Marks and others) of Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice (London: Sage, 2005), co-editor (with Kerry Chamberlain) of Qualitative Health Psychology: Theories and Methods (London: Sage, 1999) and editor of Critical Health Psychology (London: Palgrave, 2004). He has also edited four special issues of the Journal of Health Psychology on Qualitative Research (1998; with Kerry Chamberlain), on Reconstructing Health Psychology (2000), on Community Health Psychology (2004; with Catherine Campbell) and on Health Psychology and the Arts (2008).

Douglas D. Perkins has taught in multidisciplinary programs in Criminal Justice, Environment and Behaviour, and Human and Organizational Development. He is founding director of both the interdisciplinary Centre for Community Studies and the graduate program in Community Research and Action at Vanderbilt University. He is a fellow of the Society for Community Research and Action and has worked to make community psychology in the United States both more interdisciplinary and internationallyfocused through his collaborations, liaising with other professional associations and co-editing special issues of the American Journal of Community Psychology. Dr Perkins’ research focuses on participation, empowerment and change in grassroots and human service organizations; the advancement and use of ecological research methods and analytical strategies; and multiple levels of analysis to improve public policymaking. Issues his projects address include neighbourhood revitalization, housing and homelessness, youth violence, social capital (sense of community, neighbouring, networks) and disorder in urban community settings in the United States, Europe and China.

Blanca Ortiz-Torres is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico. She teaches in the Graduate Social/Community Psychology Program and conducts research at the Institute for Psychological Studies. She earned a doctoral degree in Community Psychology at New York University and a juris doctor at the University of Puerto Rico. In the past 15 years she has been doing research on normative beliefs regarding gender, sexuality and the prevention of HIV/AIDS in New York, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti. She is also involved in community development and mobilization and the study of social movements.

Randolph Potts is a fellow and diplomate of the Association of Black Psychologists. The focus of his work has been on emancipatory education and the relationships between spirituality and health in communities of people of African descent. For the past few years, while on the psychology faculty at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts, he facilitated a rites of passage program within a medium-security prison and worked with an African-centred academy within a public middle school. Randolph now lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and is a health psychologist at the VA Medical Centre.

Ora Prilleltensky is a lecturer in the Department of Educational and Psychological Studies at the University of Miami. She is program coordinator of the major in Human and Social Development and also teaches in the graduate programs of Counselling and Higher Education. Ora Prilleltensky’s research interests include disability studies and the promotion of well-being. As a personal with a disability and a wheelchair user, she has a personal and a professional interest in disability issues and disability identity. She has authored a book and several articles on motherhood and disability and has co-authored a number of articles and book chapters on promoting well-being. Along with Isaac Prilleltensky, Ora Prilleltensky is the co-author of Promoting Well-being: Linking Personal, Organizational and Community Change (2006, John Wiley & Sons). Ora was born in Israel and has lived and worked in Canada and Australia before relocating to the United States in 2003. She earned a masters in School Psychology from the University of Manitoba and a doctorate (EdD) in Counselling Psychology from OISE at the University of Toronto. Prior to entering academia, Dr Prilleltensky has worked in a variety of settings as a teacher, counsellor, behaviour consultant and psychologist.

Julian Rappaport is emeritus professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois where he has been since receiving his PhD from the University of Rochester in 1968. Rappaport is a recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Division of Community Psychology Distinguished Career Award for Theory and Research in Community Psychology and Community Mental Health, and of the Seymour B. Sarason Award for ‘novel and critical rethinking of basic assumptions and approaches to human services, education and other areas of community research and action’. He is a past president of the Society for Community Research and Action and editor emeritus of the American Journal of Community Psychology. Julian was awarded the Psychology Department’s Graduate Student Organization Teaching/Advising Award three times, and he was a recipient of the department’s Hohenboken Teaching Award for contributions to teaching and curriculum. He wrote an early textbook on CP and edited the first Handbook of Community Psychology. Julian’s research has been concerned with empowerment theory and alternatives to professional services for people who are typically labelled as dependent or disordered. His current interests are in the relationship between community narratives and personal stories in the construction of identity and social change.

Janice L. Ristock is professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Manitoba. She is the author of No More Secrets: Violence in Lesbian Relationships (New York: Routledge), which received a distinguished book award from Division 44 of APA; the co-author of Community Research as Empowerment: Feminist Links, Postmodern Interruptions (Toronto: Oxford University Press); and the co-editor of Inside the Academy and Out: Lesbian, Gay, Queer Studies and Social Action (Toronto: University of Toronto Press). She works closely with many community groups on collaborative research projects that address issues of violence and experiences of homophobia and heterosexism. She is currently editing a book entitled LQBTTQ Lives and Relationship Violence to be published by Routledge. The volume includes cutting edge research from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Alipio Sánchez Vidal is professor of Community Psychology and Ethics at the University of Barcelona. He is author of several books (in Spanish): two in Community Psychology (3rd edition appeared in 2007), one on The Ethics of Social Intervention, and one on Applied Social Psychology, and he is the editor of one book on Community and Prevention Programs and co-editor of another on Community Intervention. Dr Sánchez Vidal is a member of the European Community Psychology Association and conducts empirical research on sense of community and on the ethics of social intervention.

Paul W. Speer, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Development, Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. His research interests are in community organizing, empowerment and community change. Currently he is conducting research on the evolution of social networks in organizing, housing policies and violence prevention.

Allan Strong has been employed in the social service sector for over 25 years. He has had a variety of employment experiences, particularly in mental health. Mr. Strong is currently employed as the Recovery Education Coordinator for the Self-Help Alliance, a consumer–survivor organization in the Waterloo–Wellington health-planning region of Ontario.

Mary Watkins, PhD, chair of the MA/PhD Depth Psychology Program and coordinator of Community and Ecological Fieldwork and Research at Pacifica Graduate Institute, is the co-author of Toward Psychologies of Liberation and Talking with Young Children about Adoption, and author of Waking Dreams and Invisible Guests: The Development of Imaginal Dialogues. She has worked as a clinical psychologist with adults and children and with small and large groups on issues of peace, immigration, envisioning the future, diversity and social justice.

Note to Instructors

Instructors can obtain a sample of multiple-choice, short-answer and essay questions for each of the chapters in this text by contacting the website for Palgrave Macmillan, http://www.palgrave.com/psychology. We have also prepared exercises for students that can be used in class. Some of the exercises can be used in a small-group or class-wide discussion format, while others are meant to be personal reflections that can subsequently feed a class discussion. Most of the chapters contain these exercises.

Note to Instructors and Students

Additional resources for this text can be obtained from the website for Palgrave Macmillan: http://www.palgrave.com/psychology.



Many of you reading this book are students in a course in Community Psychology (CP) for which this book is the assigned text. Welcome to CP! We hope you find not just information and wisdom from what you read, but also inspiration and maybe even personal transformation. As a colleague of ours, Don Morgenson, once remarked, it is important for students not just to learn about psychology, but also from psychology.

CP has sometimes been referred to as the social conscience of psychology. As such, we believe that CP should be on the cutting edge of social change. Throughout the book, you will be exposed to a variety of social issues and problems, equipped with analytic and research tools to help you understand and interpret those issues/problems and introduced to action tools that can be used to address them. The ways that CP frames and understands social issues and intervenes to create social change are often at odds with mainstream societal views about social problems and how they should be addressed. We hope that this book opens your eyes to different ways of thinking about social issues and motivates you to become active agents of social change.

Others of you reading the book are experienced community psychologists who are contemplating whether or not to adopt this book as a text for a course in CP. We hope this book suits your needs. As you will see, we are introducing some topics and perspectives that are a little different from other CP texts. Yet we have tried to balance these new topics and perspectives with a faithful adherence to the roots and core concepts that have guided the field. We hope you find our perspective and the topics covered to be valuable and re-invigorating.

We want to draw your attention to some of the features of the book. First, each chapter begins with an overview of the organization of the chapter and a warm-up exercise that we encourage you to use to start thinking about the issues covered in the chapter. Second, each chapter is followed by a commentary by another community psychologist or community activist. These commentaries are designed to provide different perspectives on the material that was presented. Finally, at the end of each chapter, there is a glossary of terms and a list of various resources that you may wish to consult. Additional resources can be found at the following website: http://www.palgrave.com/psychology. We hope you find these features of the book useful.

Let us tell you now about some of the goals that we had in mind in constructing this book. First, we want to emphasize the values, social ethics and politics of CP as much as the research and scientific base of the field. Since its inception, CP,


PREFACE xxvii unlike other sub-disciplines of psychology, has been motivated by a set of values (Rappaport, 1977) and scientific evidence. Yet there is a tremendous pull from mainstream psychology on CP to be scientifically respectable. As such, concerns about the trustworthiness of research evidence and the empirical grounding of scientific theories take precedence over discourses about values and social ethics in psychology, CP and all social and health sciences.

Values and scientific research are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are in a dialectical tension with one another. Just as there is no such thing as a ‘value-free’ science, values are not independent of evidence. Values are concerned with what should be, while science is concerned with what is. One cannot be derived from the other. Community psychologists pay attention to both values and evidence in their theory, research and action. In this text, we wanted to elevate conversations about values, value dilemmas and how values are implemented or constrained in the work of CP. Moreover, we want a balanced and integrated discussion of the values and science of CP.

We have also been concerned that CP has focused more on personal and relational values, such as well-being and collaboration, than on collective values, such as social justice. This is reflected in the theory, research and action base of CP. Thus, a second goal of the book is to re-invigorate the discussion of social injustice and the need for social action and social change. We want to inject critical, liberation and human rights perspectives into CP, perspectives that have recently coalesced into critical and liberation psychology (Fox, Prilleltensky & Austin, 2009; Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002; Watts & Serrano-García, 2003). More explicitly, we want to advance a CP that is critical of the status quo and that actively pursues social justice and the reduction of inequities in power and resources in its theory, research and action. Part and parcel of this social justice agenda is situating CP, the problems it studies and the interventions it pursues, in the larger context of global capitalism and the increased power of transnational corporations.

A third goal of the book is to provide a text with an international perspective, drawing upon the work of community psychologists, allied professionals and community activists, from around the world. We have experience as CP academics inside and outside the United States. We have constructed a book that can be used as a text, not just in the United States, but in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps even in other parts of the world. We have done this by including examples of work done in many different countries and by including chapter authors and commentators from countries around the world. The chapter authors, except for one, are all from English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States), but the commentators span most of the continents and include people from non-English-speaking countries. One limitation of the book is that there is limited coverage of Africa and Asia, where much of the world lives. This reflects the state of the field, as CP as a formal field of study is only in its formative stages of development in these continents. We believe that the diversity of contexts, viewpoints and experiences of community psychologists from around the world provides a rich base from which to learn.

A fourth goal of the book is to emphasize the reflexive and subjective nature of the field. There is a danger when well-respected authors write a book, that students and others will take what is written as gospel, when in fact the views of authors are shaped by their location and historical context and should be open to scrutiny, critique and alternative viewpoints. Towards this end, each chapter includes a commentary written by other people. These commentators include other community psychologists, activists and people who have experienced significant disadvantages in their lives. Our intention with these commentaries is to incorporate diverse voices and viewpoints into the book. Also, the construction of the book was designed to include many voices. We wrote the first half of the book (Chapters 1–13) to provide the reader with a common framework regarding the foundations of CP, while the second half of the book (Chapters 14–24) was written by contributing authors.

Finally, since CP is quite a broad field and draws from the knowledge and perspective of other disciplines, we have strived to bring an interdisciplinary emphasis to the book. While most of the authors of the chapters are community psychologists, all the authors draw their sources from many different disciplines. You will also hear from people who may not have an identification with an academic institution or discipline but who have been active in the community or society and who have much practice wisdom and experiential knowledge to share. We believe that the inclusion of different perspectives and experiences expands the boundaries of CP and increases its ability to understand and solve social problems.

We can think of CP as a journey and we use this metaphor throughout the book. In putting this together, we have strived not only to tell the story of where CP comes from and where it is now, but also where we believe it should be headed. Thus, we think of this book as a ‘work in progress’, rather than a definitive statement.




We are appreciative of the encouragement, enthusiasm and guidance of Frances Arnold and Andrew McAleer, our editors for the first edition, and Jamie Joseph, our editor for the second edition. Warm thanks to Ingrid Huygens, our colleague in New Zealand, who early on in the process of conceiving this book encouraged us to broaden the scope of the book and to make it more inclusive of other voices. Thanks to Daniel Nelson for constructing the indices for the book.

The publisher and authors would like to thank the organizations and people listed below for permission to reproduce material from their publications:

Sage Publications for Table 1.1, which is adapted from Prilleltensky, I., & Nelson, G. (1997). Community psychology: Reclaiming social justice. In D. Fox & I. Prilleltensky (Eds.), Critical psychology: An introduction (pp. 166-184). London: Sage.

The University of Toronto Press for Figure 4.2, which is adapted from Prilleltensky, I., Nelson, G., & Peirson, L. (Eds.). (2001). Promoting family wellness and prevent- ing child maltreatment: Fundamentals for thinking and action. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, and for Table 5.2, which is taken from Nelson, G., Lord, J., & Ochocka, J. (2001). Shifting the paradigm in community mental health: Towards empowerment and community. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

The Australian Institute for Family Studies for Figure 5.1, which is taken from Stone and Hughes (2002).

The Journal of Community Psychology for Tables 6.1 and 6.2, which are adapted from Prilleltensky, I. (2008). The role of power in wellness, oppression, and liberation: The promise of psychopolitical validity. Journal of Community Psychology, 36, 116–136.

The American Journal of Community Psychology for Table 6.3, which is adapted from Prilleltensky, I. (2001). Value-based praxis in community psychology: Moving towards social justice and social action. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 747–777.

The Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation for Table 6.4, which is adapted from Prilleltensky, I., Walsh-Bowers, R., & Rossiter, A. (1999). Clinicians’

xxix lived experience of ethics: Values and challenges in helping children. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 10, 315–342.

Palgrave MacMillan for Table 7.3 and Figure 7.1, which are from Prilleltensky, I.,

& Nelson, G. (2002). Doing psychology critically: Making a difference in diverse settings. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dr. Douglas Drozdow-St. Christian of the University of Western Ontario for the material in Box 7.4.

Dr. Michael McCubbin for Figure 9.1, which is from McCubbin, M., & Dalgard, O. S. (2002, October). Le pouvoir comme determinant de la santé pub- lique (power as determinant of population health). Presentation to Faculty of Nursing Sciences, Université Laval.

Dr. John Lord for Table 12.3, which is from Lord, J., & Hutchison, P. (1993). The process of personal empowerment. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 12(1), 55–70.

Elena Johnson of the University of Waterloo for Box 15.3, Plump Eyelashes or Proper Education, which was published in Alternatives Journal: Canadian Environmental Ideas and Action; www.alternativesjournal.ca.

The United Students Against Sweatshops for Figure 15.1, the Students Against Sweatshops logos.

Dr. Rod Watts for Table 17.2, which is taken from Watts, R. (1994a). Oppression and sociopolitical development. The Community Psychologist, 12 (2), 24–26.

Judy Horacek for the cartoons in Chapter 18.

Dr. Glen White for Box 20.1, which is used with permission from the Research and Training Center in Independent Living.

Context and Overview

In the first part of this book, we set the field of community psychology (CP) in context and provide an overview of CP. The first part of the book addresses what CP is, where it comes from, where is it now and where we think it should be going. In order to look forward to the future of CP, it is important to look back at its historical roots. There are two chapters in this part of the book, the first of which looks at the history of CP and contemporary issues, while the second provides the conceptual framework for the book.

We begin the first chapter with a discussion of the value of metaphors as a way of guiding thinking and action. We use the metaphor of a journey as way of understanding the context and history of CP. We then describe three types of journeys in CP:

a. the journey of the field of CP

b. the journeys of the two authors/editors of the book, Geoff and Isaac, and

c. the journey of the reader of this book.

We note that these journeys intersect in many different ways. The fate of CP and community psychologists is tied to that of disadvantaged people. The wellness and liberation of those of us working in the field of CP cannot be complete until those disadvantaged people with whom we work experience wellness and liberation. We invite the readers to join us in this journey.

In Chapter 2, we introduce the conceptual framework underlying the book.

The framework consists of four main components:

a. issues and problems

b. values

c. principles and conceptual tools and

d. the science of CP.

Using this framework, we discuss the ‘problems’ that have been the focus of CP. CP is an action-oriented field that strives to address problems and create change. This is why values are so important for CP. Science can tell us what is, but not what should be. We need values to guide us to what should be. We examine the values that underlie CP and discuss which values have received the most emphasis and which values require more attention.

The way that problems are framed depends on one’s values and principles. We note that the ways that CP frames problems have changed over time, and we clarify the principles and conceptual tools that are used to frame problems. These different principles and concepts reflect different values. Finally, the science of CP helps us to understand how wellness and liberation can be promoted.

Community Psychology: Journeys in the Global Context

Chapter Organization

The Journey of Community Psychology

◆ What Is Community Psychology? + The Emergence of Community Psychology in the United States; The Foreshadowing of Community Psychology; The Roots of Community Psychology in the United States; Factors Leading to the Emergence of Community Psychology in the United States + The Emergence of Community Psychology Around the World; Community Psychology in English-speaking Countries; Community Psychology in Continental Europe; Latin American Community Psychology; Community Psychology in Other Developing Nations

The Journeys of the Authors/Editors

◆ Geoff + Isaac

The Journey of the Reader

Warm-up Exercise

Please reflect on the following questions as you begin your journey in community psychology (CP):

a. What drew you to the course that you are taking in CP? Describe some of your motivations for pursuing CP.

b. What particular issues or topics would you like to learn more about in CP?

c. Where do you see yourself headed in the future in terms of work, further education and participation in the community?

In this chapter, you will learn about

■ the defining features of CP

■ the roots of CP in the United States

■ factors leading to the emergence of CP

■ how CP has developed around the world

■ a bit about the two authors of this book.

We begin this book with a brief history of the field of community psychology (CP). History is about the roots of a subject, where it comes from and why. As Rappaport and Seidman (2000) stated in the introduction to their Handbook of Community Psychology, ‘every field requires a narrative about itself – a vision of its possibilities, a story that explains why it studies what it deems to be important’ (p. 1). In the case of CP, a historical review provides an analysis of the development of the identity of the field. In order to look forward to the future of CP, we need first to look backwards to our history and the lessons that we have learnt from the past.

Throughout this book, we use metaphors as a way of understanding the field of CP, its phenomena of interest, key concepts and methods. In this chapter on the history of CP, we use the metaphor of a journey as way of understanding the context of CP. Journeys have personal, community and historical dimensions; journeys are about individuals and communities and how their stories unfold over time. Journeys are also stories or narrative accounts that describe important milestones and turning points, highlight the contributions of key players and settings, note main themes and trends and different points in the journey and provide coherence and meaning about the journey. Are you ready to travel with us? Then let us begin the journey.

The Journey of Community Psychology

The first journey that we describe is that of CP. CP is a sub-discipline of the larger discipline of psychology. While the roots of psychology were in Europe, the field of psychology expanded at a rapid rate in the United States during the 20th century. CP was a part of this growth. The specific historical context of the United States in the 1960s played an important role in shaping the field of CP. At the same time, however, CP has grown and developed in other countries around the world as well. In this section, we trace the roots of CP in the United States and in other countries. Before we consider where CP comes from, we first consider what it is.

What Is Community Psychology?

In one of the first CP textbooks, Julian Rappaport (1977) argued that CP is difficult to define precisely, because it is more of a new paradigm, perspective, or way of thinking, whose contours are constantly emerging, than being a distinct and fixed entity. In discussing what CP is, Rappaport wrote about the following themes: its ecological nature (the fit between people and their environments), the importance of cultural relativity and diversity so that people are not judged against one single standard or value (‘an attempt to support every person’s right to be different without risk of suffering material and psychological sanctions’,

p. 1) and a focus on social change (‘toward a maximally equitable distribution of psychological as well as material resources’, p. 3). Moreover, Rappaport (1977) argued that CP is concerned with human resource development, political activity and scientific inquiry, three elements that are often in conflict with one another. As the subtitle of his book Community Psychology: Values, Research and Action, suggests, CP is a balancing act between values, research and action.

Several writers have proposed definitions of CP. For example, Dalton, Elias and Wandersman (2001) provided the following definition:

Community psychology concerns the relationships of the individual to communities and society. Through collaborative research and action, community psychologists seek to understand and to enhance quality of life for individuals, communities, and society. (p. 5)

UK community psychologists Carolyn Kagan and Mark Burton have proposed the following definition:

Community psychology offers a framework for working with those marginalised by the social system that leads to self-aware social change with an emphasis on valuebased, participatory work and the forging of alliances. It is a way of working that is pragmatic and reflexive, whilst not wedding to any particular orthodoxy of method. As such, community psychology is one alternative to the dominant individualistic psychology typically taught and practised in the high income countries. It is community psychology because it emphasises a level of analysis and intervention other than the individual and their immediate interpersonal context. It is community psychology because it is nevertheless concerned with how people feel, think, experience, and act as they work together, resisting oppression and struggling to create a better world. (Burton, Boyle, Harris & Kagan, p. 219).

Because we believe that CP represents a different paradigm or world view of psychology, we find it useful to describe how it is different from the more traditional fields of applied psychology (e.g. clinical, educational, industrial/organizational, see Table 1.1). Key elements of Kagan and Burton’s definition of CP are included in Table 1.1.

Psychology has traditionally focused on the individual level of analysis. While applied psychology sometimes pays attention to micro-systems, such as the family or peer group, most of the major theories of personality and clinical psychology emphasize individualistic explanations of behaviour and individual strategies of change such as psychotherapy. This is a very Western view that puts the individual in the foreground over the collective, whereas other parts of the world do the opposite. In contrast, CP is the study of people in context. There is a more holistic, ecological analysis of the person within multiple social systems, ranging from micro-systems (e.g. the family) to macro-sociopolitical structures. There is a strong belief that people cannot be understood apart from their context. When problems are defined in terms of individualistic conceptions of human nature, this can lead to a stance of ‘blaming the victim’ (Ryan, 1971), which is common in the social sciences. Whether intentional or not, victim blaming holds individuals responsible for the causes of and solutions to their problems. However, when problems are reframed in terms of their social context and seen as arising from degrading social conditions, this tendency of blaming the victim is reduced (Caplan & Nelson, 1973). Moreover, CP tends to focus on the strengths of people living in adverse conditions as well as the strengths of communities, rather than focusing on individual or community ‘deficits’ or problems (Rappaport, 1977). Focusing on problems puts people in a subordinate position to whoever is making such a categorization or diagnosis and suggests that they

Table 1.1 Assumptions and practices of traditional applied psychology and community psychology

Assumptions and Practices

Traditional Applied Psychology

Community Psychology

Levels of analysis

Intrapersonal or micro-systems

Ecological (micro, meso, macro)

Problem definition

Based on individualist philosophies that blame the victim

Problems are reframed in terms of social context and cultural diversity

Focus of intervention



Timing of intervention

Remedial (late)

Prevention (early)

Goals of intervention

Reduction of ‘maladaptive’ behaviours

Promotion of competence and wellness

Type of intervention


Self-help/community development/ social action

Role of ‘client’

Compliance with professional treatment regimes

Active participant who exercises choice and self-direction

Role of professional

Expert (scientist-practitioner)

Resource collaborator (scholaractivist)

Type of research

Applied research based on positivistic assumptions

Participatory action research based on alternative assumptions


Emphasis on individual ethics, value neutrality and tacit acceptance of status quo

Emphasis on social ethics, emancipatory values and social change

Interdisciplinary ties

Psychiatry, clinical social work

Law, social work (community development and social policy), political science, planning and geography

Source: Adapted from Prilleltensky and Nelson (1997) need monitoring and correction, whereas focusing on strengths enables people to build upon their pre-existing resources, capacities and talents.

In terms of intervention, traditional applied psychology intervenes late after problems have already developed, whereas CP emphasizes the importance of prevention and early intervention. While traditional applied psychology interventions have a goal of reducing ‘maladaptive’ behaviours or overcoming deficits through treatment and rehabilitation, CP has a goal of promoting competence and wellbeing through self-help, community development and social and political action. From a CP perspective, behaviour is not viewed as maladaptive. People are viewed as adapting in the best ways they can to oppressive and stressful conditions. In traditional psychology, the role of the client is a passive one, with compliance and deference to the professional helper as the norm. CP emphasizes active participation, choice and self-determination of the participants in any intervention, assuming that people know best what they need and that active participation in individual and collective change is healthy and desirable. Community psychologists eschew the traditional role of the helper as the ‘expert’ who knows best and who is well versed in the science and practice of assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Instead, community psychologists typically function as resource collaborators, who bring both science and social activism to their community work.

Research in applied psychology is typically guided by a philosophy of science known as logical positivism/empiricism or what we more commonly know as the scientific method. Community psychologists believe that there is no one scientific method, but many, and that their research is often very participatory, action oriented and guided by assumptions of alternative philosophies of science. Research is not conducted just for the sake of developing new knowledge; research is conducted to create knowledge and change social conditions. Since community psychologists do not believe in the ‘expert’ approach of traditional applied psychology, community stakeholders participate in the creation of knowledge. The question of ‘whose knowledge?’ is one that concerns community psychologists. The ethics of traditional applied psychology are focused on the individual client or research participant and emphasize values such as informed consent and confidentiality. CP also abides by such individual ethics, but it goes further to consider social ethics and values that promote social change. Traditional psychology often claims to be ‘value neutral’ when it comes to social ethics, but such a position often provides tacit acceptance of unjust social conditions.

Finally, traditional applied psychology has interdisciplinary ties with other helping professions, such as psychiatry and clinical social work, while CP allies itself with critical perspectives in a range of social and health science and humanities disciplines that focus on the interface between people and social environments (Davidson et al., 2006). The question of how CP differs from social work often arises. Like psychology, social work is a broad field; unlike psychology, social work has more of a professional practice orientation and less of a research orientation. As in applied psychology, the dominant approach to social work training focuses on clinical intervention with individuals, families and groups. CP has much more in common with that part of social work which emphasizes community development and social policy. In CP, research is emphasized much more than social work and is seen as inseparable from practice. Finally, while there is diversity within CP, the field is based on a fairly coherent set of values and concepts. In contrast, social work is a broader field with more diverse strands and less of a uniform ideology.

The Emergence of Community Psychology in the United States

Having provided a brief sketch of CP, we now turn to an examination of the roots of CP. We begin with a focus on the US scene because much of the early history of CP has been centred there. We want to examine the context from which these emphases and themes emerged.

The Foreshadowing of Community Psychology

While the field of CP did not formally coalesce until the 1960s, the work of CP was foreshadowed as early as the turn of the last century. The period between 1890 and 1914 was a time of considerable social unrest in the United States, with social institutions being plagued with problems related to immigration, industrialization, urbanization and poverty. Community psychologist Murray Levine and sociologist Adeline Levine wrote an important book about this time period, entitled Helping Children: A Social History. In their book, Levine and Levine (1992) described how many social programs that are common today throughout North America had their roots during this time period, including mental health associations, the YWCA and YMCA, scout groups, juvenile courts and psychological clinics. While these activities were not typically tied to the field of psychology, in many ways they were the beginning of the journey of CP.

Returning to Levine and Levine’s (1992) historical study of children’s services, they found that the progressive era at the turn of the century was followed by a conservative era in the aftermath of World War I during the 1920s. With this shift in political climate, there was also a shift in the ideology of social services from one of social change to one emphasizing individual change and blaming the victims for not ‘adjusting’ to degrading social conditions. As an example, the field of psychology had created intelligence testing in the United Kingdom (Francis Galton) and France (Alfred Binet) and IQ tests were imported to and refined in the United States during this period. Galton and other psychologists in the area of intelligence testing were proponents of Social Darwinism (Albee, 1996a), which took Darwin’s concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest and applied them to human beings and intelligence. IQ was viewed as an innate quality of individuals, and people with low IQ scores were seen as inferior and unworthy, people who should be ‘weeded out’ of society because they weakened the genetic stock. The eugenics movement, which was prominent in the 1920s, used the philosophy of Social Darwinism to advocate for the separation of the ‘feeble-minded’ from the rest of society into institutions, sterilization of people with low IQ, and restrictions on the immigration of people deemed to be inferior (those from Eastern and

Southern Europe, Africa and Asia). Consider the following chilling quotes that Albee (1981) has gathered from advocates of the eugenics movement:

We face the possibility of racial admixture here that is infinitely worse than that favoured by any European country today, for we are incorporating the Negro into our racial stock, while all of Europe is comparatively free from this taint... the decline of American intelligence will be more rapid ... owing to the presence of the Negro. (Brigham [Princeton psychologist], 1923)

[Massive sterilization] is a practical, merciful and inevitable solution of the whole problem and can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types. (Grant [New York Zoological Society], 1919)

Grant’s quote foreshadowed the Nazi holocaust against Jewish people, gypsies, homosexuals and other supposedly ‘inferior’, non-Aryan ethnoracial groups.

Based on their historical review, Levine and Levine (1992) advanced the following thesis:

Social and economic conditions and the intellectual and political spirit of the times greatly influence the mental health problems that concern us and forms of help that flourish. ... More specifically our thesis states that there are essentially two modes of help, the situational and the intrapsychic.... We believe that the situational modes of help, which demand that we question the social environment – and change the social environment – flourish during periods of political or social reform.... Intrapsychic modes of help ... are prominent during periods of political or social conservatism. (p. 8)

This thesis provides an interesting perspective on the emergence of activities and settings at the turn of the century that bear a striking resemblance to contemporary CP in terms of the values and strategies employed by people working within this Zeitgeist. Psychology was still in its infancy during this period, and thus, the role for psychology in community action was not yet evident. However, by the 1960s much had changed.

The Roots of Community Psychology in the United States

There are three important aspects of the social context to be aware of in understanding the beginning journey of CP in the United States: (a) the growth of mental health services, (b) the rapid expansion of clinical psychology and (c) the social-political context of the 1960s.

The mental health connection. In the aftermath of World War II, the US government devoted considerable attention to mental health issues. Many veterans of the war returned home with mental health problems, variously labelled as ‘shell shock’ or ‘combat neurosis’. Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospitals were established to attend to these problems, as well as other problems of health and disability. A Joint Commission on Mental Health and Illness was formed, and this commission released its final report, Action for Mental Health, in 1961, along with several other reports. Two years later in 1963, the federal government enacted legislation establishing a nationwide program of Community Mental Health Centres (CMHCs). While proclaimed as a ‘bold, new approach’ to mental health, the CMHCs retained a strong medical model and clinical approach to mental health problems. The intrapsychic approach elaborated by Levine and Levine (1992) in the previous section continued to dominate mental health services.

The shift away from clinical psychology. Clinical psychology grew rapidly at this time. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was established at the end of World War II, and it provided funding for training in the mental health professions and for research in mental health. Clinical psychology emerged as a major sub-discipline of psychology during this time, and the Boulder ‘scientist–practitioner’ model of training in clinical psychology (named after a training conference held in Boulder, Colorado, in 1949) became the dominant approach to training in clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists were to have a PhD degree, with emphasis on both research and practice. While clinical psychology was expanding, psychiatry continued to be the most powerful player in mental health. Clinical psychology and social work clearly played secondary roles in many hospital and clinic settings, functioning as ‘handmaidens’ to psychiatry (Rappaport, 1977). Clinical psychologists were often relegated to diagnostic testing and did not play much of a role in treatment, in spite of their training in psychotherapy.

The 1960s and social reform. CP was born in the 1960s, a time of social and political change in the United States. Bob Dylan, an American folk musician who emerged during this time, sang, ‘We’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a changing.’ The 1960s was much like the turn of the century; it was an era of social reform which saw the emergence of several different social movements in the United States, including the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the peace movement in the context of the Vietnam War, and later, the disability rights movement, and gay, lesbian and bisexual movements. Clinical psychologists who began to create the field of CP were aware of how sociopolitical conditions impact the competence and well-being of individuals. Many became active in the so-called Great Society programs of the 1960s, including pre-school education programs (e.g. Head Start), community mental health centres and community action centres. The 1960s was certainly not a radical or revolutionary time period in the United States, but it was a progressive era, much like the period at the turn of the century that Levine and Levine (1992) have written about. It was a time of change, hope and acknowledgement of the important role of the state in addressing social issues.

Summary. CP in the United States grew out of this context and has roots in mental health, clinical psychology and the time of change in the 1960s. Originally, CP was quite strongly tied to the mental health field. In its developing discourse, CP and community mental health were often mentioned in the same breath. A pivotal moment in the journey of CP was the Swampscott conference, named after the Boston suburb in which it was held in 1965. The focus of this conference was on the training of psychologists in community mental health, but those present were dissatisfied with the individually centred approaches of clinical psychology that emphasized the roles of testing and psychotherapy. Conference participants were searching for conceptual and practical alternatives. They were interested in applying public health concepts of prevention and promotion to mental health, in the creation of innovative program approaches and in social action regarding broader issues of social injustice. The notion of a ‘participant– conceptualizer’ role was advanced as an alternative to the scientist–practitioner role (Bennett et al., 1966). This role is quite similar to the resource–collaborator role that we described earlier.

In 1967, following the Swampscott conference, CP became a Division 27 of the American Psychological Association (it is now called the Society for Community Research and Action or SCRA) and, in 1973, Division 27 started its own journal, the American Journal of Community Psychology. Another US-based journal, the Journal of Community Psychology, was also developed at this time to provide another outlet for the research of community psychologists. Until the 1990s, these journals published mostly quantitative research based on the traditional scientific method, with few examples of qualitative and participatory studies. Thus, in its early history, CP in the United States tended to adopt traditional research methods, such as those used in clinical research. Since 1987, the SCRA has held a popular and well-attended biennial conference. SCRA has also developed a Council of Education Programs to coordinate and support graduate education in CP. A recent survey identified more than 75 graduate programs in CP in universities across the world (Hazel & the SCRA Council of Education Programs, 2007).

Factors Leading to the Emergence of Community Psychology in the United States

In this section, we consider the question of why CP emerged in the United States during the 1960s.

The gap between the scope of mental health problems and available resources. First, there was, and there remains today, a large gap between the scope of human problems and professional psychological resources to deal with such problems. For example, studies of the prevalence of mental health problems have revealed very high rates for both adults and children. The Ontario Health Supplement conducted in 1991 found that in a representative sample of adults in Ontario (close to 10,000 respondents) the 1-year prevalence rate for any disorder was 19%, and the lifetime prevalence rate for any mental disorder was 48% (Offord et al., 1994). In the Ontario Child Health study of a representative sample of children and young people (3,000 children) in Ontario, Offord et al. (1987) found a 1-year prevalence rate of 18% for any disorder. More recently, Waddell et al. (2005) have estimated that at any given time 14% or over 800,000 Canadian children aged between 4 and 17 suffer from a mental disorder, which costs Canadians $14–15 billion annually.

What is most disturbing about these findings is that the majority of adults and children with mental disorders were not receiving any mental health intervention for their problems (Offord et al., 1987; Offord et al., 1994). Based on his report on human resources in mental health, George Albee (1959) concluded that there were not, and never could be, enough trained mental health professionals to provide treatment services to everyone with a mental health problem. Even if therapy were 100% effective, mental health problems could not be eliminated because the need for services far outstrips their supply. As Albee (1996a) has reminded us, ‘no mass disease (disorder) in human history has ever been eliminated or significantly controlled by attempts at treating the affected individual, nor by training large numbers of individual treatment personnel’ (pp. 4–5).

Dissatisfaction with the medical model of mental health. A second reason for the development of CP in the United States is a dissatisfaction with traditional modes of service delivery in mental health. As we just noted, most people who need help do not receive it. In fact, there appears to be a middle-class bias in the provision of psychotherapy. Schofield (1964) argued that psychotherapy tends to be geared to clients who are young, attractive, verbal, intelligent and successful. To this list we can add that psychotherapy clients are those who have health insurance or can afford this treatment. In their famous study of social class and mental illness, Hollingshead and Redlich (1958) found a two-tiered system of treatment, one for the affluent and one for the poor. Affluent people with less serious mental health problems tended to receive psychotherapy, while poor people with more serious mental health problems tended to be ‘treated’ in mental hospitals with drug therapy and custodial care. Furthermore, while there is a growing trend for people who experience personal problems to use the services of non-medical mental health professionals (Swindle et al., 2000), a large number of people tend to seek more informal sources of support, including family, friends, clergy, hairdressers, lawyers, job supervisors, bartenders and self-help groups (Cowen, 1982; Swindle et al., 2000). These findings call into question the way treatment services in mental health are organized (Swindle et al., 2000).

Recognition of the importance of the social environment. A third reason for the shift to CP was the recognition of the importance of social environment for the development of competence and well-being. Mental health research had shown that the prevalence of many mental health problems was inversely related to one’s social class position (Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend, 1969; Hollingshead & Redlich, 1958). Later community psychologist Barbara Dohrenwend (1978) formulated a social stress theory to demonstrate and explain the ways that poverty and low social status could cause mental health problems. Also, research from several different strands of psychology (e.g. behaviourism, group and organizational dynamics, family systems) was beginning to indicate the powerful role that social environments play in human welfare. For these reasons, CP recognized the need to consider social and community-level interventions over individually focused approaches to change.

The Emergence of Community Psychology around the World

While CP became a distinct sub-discipline of psychology in the US context, it has developed throughout the world. The stories of how CP developed in other parts of the world bear many similarities to those of CP in the United States. However, the particular contexts of other countries also uniquely shaped the form that CP has taken in those countries. Increasingly, CP has become international in scope. Recently, there have been international CP conferences (Puerto Rico, in 2006; Portugal, in 2008; and Mexico, in 2010) and two books on international perspectives on CP (Reich et al., 2007; Vázquez Rivera et al., in press).

Community Psychology in English-speaking Countries

Overall, CP as a sub-discipline of psychology has been more organized in Englishspeaking countries in the so-called developed world.

Canada. In Canada, the roots of CP can be traced back to the University of Toronto. Professor Edward A. Bott was the first chair of the Psychology Department at Toronto and served from 1926 to 1956 (Pols, 2000). Bott and his colleagues were concerned with human development and had strong ties to the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene (now the Canadian Mental Health Association). While psychology at the University of Toronto was definitely applied in nature before World War II, it was not until after the war that a CP orientation became clearly evident through the leadership of William Line. It was Line who first coined the term ‘CP’ (Babarik, 1979), and, as President of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) in 1945, Line exhorted his colleagues to resist the status quo and work for social responsibility (Pols, 2000). Line had an international influence through his involvement as President of the World Federation for Mental Health from 1951–2.

In spite of these early roots, the CP Section of the CPA was not formed until 1982. There was an influx of US-trained community psychologists during the 1970s who began to mobilize CP in Canada (Davidson, 1981; Walsh, 1988). Also, in 1982, the first issues of a bilingual (French and English) Canadian CP journal with an inter-disciplinary emphasis, the Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health (CJCMH), were published, with the second issue devoted to CP in Canada (Tefft, 1982). Both Francophone and Anglophone community psychologists have been strongly influenced by US CP. While CP is practised today in both Frenchspeaking and English-speaking Canada, there are relatively few graduate-level training programs and the sub-discipline is marginalized in the broader field of psychology in Canada (Walsh-Bowers, 1998). The programs at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Université Laval and Wilfrid Laurier University are the only free-standing training programs in Canadian CP (Nelson, Lavoie & Mitchell, 2007).

Although CP in Canada has been influenced by US-trained community psychologists and, like the United States, has deep roots in the mental health field, there are some interesting differences. First, the particular faculty members at Wilfrid Laurier University espouse a critical, value-based approach to CP with a strong emphasis on social intervention and social justice (Bennett, 1987). Second, Canadian CP has a long-standing tradition of participatory, action-oriented and qualitative approaches to research, as is evident in the research published in the CJCMH.

Australia and New Zealand. In Australia and New Zealand, CP has roots in mental health, but it has also been influenced by other applied areas of psychology (Fisher et al., 2008). As in Canada, CP formally emerged in these two countries in the early 1980s. The National Board of Community Psychologists was founded in Australia in 1983, and now the College of Community Psychologists of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) plays an important role in enhancing the profile of the profession (Gridley & Breen, 2007; Robertson & Masters-Awatere, 2007). CP has a prominent profile in Australia, particularly in Victoria and western Australia. Gridley and Breen (2007) have noted a growing interest in social justice issues in CP, particularly in three different areas: feminism, peace and indigenous issues. There is also a peer-reviewed on-line journal, the Australian Community Psychologist.

New Zealand community psychologists have played an active role in the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation and contributed to the journal Community Mental Health in New Zealand. There is a graduate training program at the University of Waikato, in which there is a major focus on feminist issues, diversity and social justice (Thomas, Neill & Robertson, 1997). New Zealand and Australian community psychologists have close ties and hold joint biennial CP conferences (the Trans-Tasman Community Psychology conferences). Within New Zealand and Australian CP, there is an emphasis on issues of social justice, with a particular focus on colonization of aboriginal people and the need for reconciliation through healing and depowerment of the dominant white majority (e.g. Huygens & Sonn, 2000).

The United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, CP has been growing for more than a decade. CP also has roots in both clinical psychology and mental health and in applied social psychology. Jim Orford of the University of Birmingham has written a CP textbook (Orford, 2008) and co-edited the Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, launched in 1991. Critical psychology is another influence on UK CP. Ian Parker and Erica Burman of Manchester Metropolitan University have developed a program in critical psychology, and a new journal, the Annual Review of Critical Psychology, and a network called ‘Psychology Politics Resistance’. Moreover, the program at Manchester Metropolitan University (Carolyn Kagan, Mark Burton, Paul Duckett, Rebecca Lawthorn) strive to integrate critical and CP. Several CP conferences have been organized in the United Kingdom beginning in the 1990s. Interest groups also hold several meetings during the year. Many of the people who identify with CP in the United Kingdom work in traditional clinical settings but have an affiliation with the field. Another emerging trend in the United Kingdom is the association between health psychologists and CP. For instance, David Marks and Carla Willig of London’s City University and Michael Murray of Keele University engage in health psychology research and action that is very much in line with the vision and values of CP. A more in-depth history of CP in the United Kingdom can be found in Burton et al. (2007).

South Africa. The legacy of colonization, oppression and segregation of black people under the system of apartheid is the backdrop against which CP has developed in South Africa (Pretorius-Heuchert & Ahmed, 2001). CP emerged as part of a critique of the individual-centred approach of mainstream psychology in South Africa, which did not challenge the status quo of racism in the state. Thus, it is not surprising that CP in South Africa has a more radical and political edge than CP in other English-speaking countries. In fact, one of the chapters in a recent South African CP text is entitled ‘Towards a Marxist CP: Radical Tools to Community Psychological Analysis and Practice’ (Seedat et al., 2001). The journal Psychology in Society has provided an outlet for the work of critical and community psychologists in South Africa. In addition to focusing on social change, South African CP has also been concerned with mental health issues and health promotion/prevention, particularly with respect to widespread HIV/AIDS (Bhana,

Petersen & Rochat, 2007; Pretorius-Heuchert & Ahmed, 2001). Training in community and critical psychology is offered at several South African universities.

Community Psychology in Continental Europe

CP has also developed in some countries on the European continent, including Italy, Germany, Greece, Norway, Poland, Portugal, and Spain (Reich et al., 2007). In Italy, the Division of CP of the Italian Psychological Association was created in 1980. As was the case in the United States, CP grew out of social protest movements and government legislation in human services and mental health (Francescato et al., 2007). There have been major reforms in the mental health system in Italy, and there has been training in CP for over 20 years. A European Network of CP, including the United Kingdom, was formed in 1996, and meetings and conferences have been held. While there are pockets of CP in continental Europe, the field is very much in its developmental stages.

Francescato and Tomai (2001) assert that European CP differs from US CP in at least three ways. First, there is less emphasis on the individual and more emphasis on the collective. Moreover, the individual and the collective are considered within the broader trends of globalization and free trade. Second, following from the first point, Western and Northern European countries have stronger social policies than those in the United States, particularly those that emphasize income redistribution.

Most European community psychologists have underlined the importance of not importing US-specific values from the United States and of preserving as a precious resource the European tradition of valuing social capital and welfare policies that mitigate economic inequalities (Francescato & Tomai, 2001, p. 374).

Third, they argue that European CP emphasizes theory (theory that strives to integrate traditional, postmodern and critical approaches) more than US CP, which tends to be more pragmatic. In noting these differences between European and US CP, Francescato and Tomai (2001) underscore the fact that some community psychologists in Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal have experienced living in a fascist dictatorship.

Latin American Community Psychology

According to Montero (1996b), the origins of Latin American CP are more diverse than those in other countries because Latin America constitutes a large area, composed of many different states. CP is practised in many different Latin American countries (Montero & Varas Diaz, 2007), some of which have training programs in community and social psychology. While there are parallels with the US field of practice, Latin American CP has had many unique influences and emphases (Montero, 2008).

In the 1950s and 1960s, the popular education approach developed by Brazilian Paulo Freire (1970) was very influential in social intervention throughout Latin America. Freire’s work with illiterate, poor people linked education with emancipation from oppression through a highly participatory and action-oriented process. He introduced the concepts of conscientization – the process whereby students develop awareness of the psychological and sociopolitical circumstances oppressing them – and praxis, which refers to critical ‘reflection and action upon the world to transform it’ (1970, p. 33). This cycle of reflection and action in social intervention has been a model for Latin American CP.

Within the Latin American academic community, CP is closely related to Latin American sociology, social psychology, critical theory and other social science disciplines (Montero, 2008; Montero & Dias, 2007). Ortiz-Torres (2008) has emphasized the transdisciplinary nature of Latin American CP. Columbian sociologist Fals Borda emphasized the need for social scientists to be engaged in social and community intervention with disadvantaged people. Community and social psychology are much more strongly linked in Latin America than in North America and have a strong social activist and community development orientation. The social and political engagement of El Salvadoran social psychologist Ignacio MartínBaró is an example of this emphasis. For Latin American community and social psychologists who live under repressive dictatorships, their political engagement is very risky. Martín-Baró, who argued for a psychology of liberation, was assassinated by death squads for his beliefs and actions in 1989. Montero (1996b) has asserted that while the development of CP was impeded in Latin American countries in which there were or are repressive dictatorships, such conditions also ‘forged a powerful and lasting link between CP and political causes related to the development of social consciousness’ (p. 593). Latin American community and social psychologists have been practising research that is participatory and action oriented for many years, and they have been influenced by critical, alternative philosophies of science (Montero, 2008).

CP in Latin America is distinctly political (Ortiz-Torres, 2008). Unlike North America, where there is more of a pull towards mainstream psychology, in Latin America the political and the professional are closely intertwined. This is why there is a close affinity between community and political psychologists in that continent. The political overtures of CP in Latin America have much to offer to the practice of the field in other areas of the world.

Community Psychology in Other Developing Nations

CP is in its incipient stages in many developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia (Reich et al., 2007). We believe that the defining characteristics of CP are compatible with the values and needs of collectivist societies, including the emphasis on extended family, community and collective well-being. Moreover, there is a clear need for prevention and health promotion interventions in Africa and Asia. Consider the widespread poverty and alarmingly high rates of malnutrition and various diseases, such as the AIDS epidemic, found in many developing countries (Prilleltensky, 2003a; UNICEF, 2001). Community approaches to the prevention of disease and death and the development of individual, family, community and economic well-being are sorely needed.

There is currently a trend to ‘internationalize’ psychology in such developing countries (see the American Psychological Association’s Office of International Affairs and their newsletter Psychology International). However, community psychologists who are interested in working with developing countries or preparing students to work in such countries need to be careful not to engage in paternalistic ‘helping’ responses. Just as trade agreements between industrial powers of the world and developing nations have led to exploitation of people in developing nations, a growing division between ‘have’ and ‘have not’ nations (the North– South divide), and ‘Third World debt’ (Korten, 1995), ‘exporting’ Western CP to developing nations might unintentionally serve to colonize psychology in developing nations.

A better stance for community psychologists might be to work with psychologists and disadvantaged people in developing nations to help them construct their own indigenous forms of CP as community social psychologists have done in Latin America (Montero, 2008). Consider the following quote from a Canadian psychologist who speaks of her experiences in preparing students to work in developing countries:

There is nothing like hands-on applications to alert one to the relevant elements of one’s knowledge and skills. I learned this humbling lesson when a former student spoke to my current class about her summer experience with a Ghanaian local NGO (non-government organization). She spent two months solving daily survival issues and learning from her Ghanaian colleagues, before even thinking to unpack her text and lecture notes on delivering health promotion messages and constructing latrines and safe water sites. (Aboud, 2001, p. 4)

The work of community psychologist Brinton Lykes (2001a, 2001b, 2001c) with Mayan women in Guatemala stands out as an example of how to work in solidarity with disadvantaged people in developing countries (for more information, see the Commentary at the end of Chapter 7 by Brinton Lykes.)

The Journeys of the Authors/Editors

In this section we discuss our journeys – those of the two authors/editors, Geoff and Isaac. We think that it is important that you know something about who we are and where we are coming from. This will help you, the reader, to understand our construction of this book and the field about which it is written. As feminist writers have argued, it is important for researchers and writers to own their location and position in their field and the larger social order. In the social sciences, it is the norm for researchers and writers to be objective and dispassionate. We do not believe it is possible to be completely objective, because all of us have values and biases. Objectivity is important, but so is subjectivity. Moreover, we think that it is sad if people are not passionate about their field of work. For us, CP theory, research and practice are passionate and engaging – a major part of our personal and professional lives – and it is often impossible to draw a boundary between the personal and professional. In fact, we have learnt that it is important for our identities to connect the personal, professional and political parts of ourselves, as feminists have argued. In what follows, we provide a brief biographical sketch of ourselves and our involvement in the field of CP.


I grew up on the south side of Chicago in the 1950s, back when the Prudential building was the tallest skyscraper in the city. My family moved ‘downstate’ to central Illinois in the 1960s. My concern with social issues came at an early age from my mother and father, and I became active in social issues when I attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate, between 1968 and 1972. This was the era of the Vietnam War and my friends and I were involved in anti-war protests. I was in the first class of students to take a new course in CP introduced by Julian Rappaport. There wasn’t even a textbook in CP then (and if someone had told me at the time that I would someday be the author of a CP text, I am sure I would have seen this as ludicrous). Sometimes people take a university course that makes a lifelong impression and serves as a turning point in their life journey. That’s what happened to me. I resonated to the readings, the lectures, and my field placement experience working in a Head Start program for disadvantaged pre-school children. This course brought together my interests in psychology, mental health and working with people and my views about politics and the need for social change.

In 1972, my wife Judy and I moved to Canada where I attended graduate school in psychology at the University of Manitoba. I pursued my interest in CP through coursework, pushing my program to offer more community-oriented courses; through employment and practicum placements, including conducting research and doing front-line work with a storefront community health clinic and crisis intervention centre; consulting with resident advisory groups to promote citizen participation in city government; helping to create community mental health programs in rural areas in southern Manitoba; and through a one-year internship at the Mendota Mental Health Institute, which was a very progressive, community-oriented setting in Madison, Wisconsin.

I moved to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, in 1979 to take a faculty position in a CP program at Wilfrid Laurier University. This position has been a very good ‘fit’ for me. I have had the good fortune to work with colleagues and graduate students in CP and community members, with whom I share many values, experiences and interests. I have been able to pursue my research and action interests in community mental health, community development and prevention – some of the main themes of CP. Over the past decade, I have become increasingly concerned about the growing power of transnational corporations and the impacts that this trend is having on global economic inequality, democracy, the environment and the diminishing role of the state in providing social policies that promote human welfare. These larger global issues are having an enormous impact on the issues, people and interventions that are the concern of CP. I believe that education about these issues, civic participation and political action must become part of the mainstream of CP.

I am well aware that I lead a very privileged life. As a White, male, well-paid full professor, I am often in a position of power in relation to other people. I enjoy a wonderful family; Judy and I have three children. The eldest, Nicole, is working on a PhD on the social, ethical and legal aspects of genetics at Cornell University. Imagine that, a scientist, who is also a feminist social activist! Then there are our twins, Laura and Dan, who are both teachers. The fact that Laura and Dan both live just a few kilometres away from us helps me to realize the importance of the local community. I also have cherished friends, colleagues and community partners, and I live in a safe, prosperous and relatively progressive community. I lead a comfortable life. I also spend much of my time working with people who have only dreamed of having all the advantages that I have. These experiences, my values about social justice and the vast gaps between what the world is like and what I believe it should be like are constant sources of discomfort which motivate me in my personal and professional life to work with disadvantaged people and like-minded individuals for social change.


I was born in Argentina and grew up during turbulent times. There was constant and consistent persecution of social and political activists and there was marked anti-Semitism. As a young Jewish boy I remember going to school and reading graffiti on walls imploring fellow Argentinians to ‘be a patriot, kill a Jew’. I joined a Zionist Socialist youth movement at a young age. We were taught how to decipher the news and the media and to become political actors in a highly charged environment. My sister was one of the people who were made to ‘disappear’ by the dictatorial government. She was one of the very few people who ended up in exile, who was not killed or thrown from an aeroplane in chains into the freezing waters of the Atlantic.

My parents died when I was young and I spent a lot of my time with friends in the youth movement, talking and discussing politics, injustice and the fate of some of our friends and relatives who ‘disappeared’. I emigrated to Israel in 1976 with a group of friends. Paradoxically, I had a couple of very quiet years while I was finishing high school there. Compared to Argentina, Israel was a calm place. I met Ora, my wife, during my MA studies and we moved together to Canada. In Winnipeg, our port of landing, I completed a PhD at the University of

Manitoba and worked for the Child Guidance Clinic of Winnipeg for six years. Upon completion of my PhD, I joined the faculty of the CP program at Wilfrid Laurier University, where I worked for nine years. I moved with my family to Melbourne, Australia, in 1999, and then to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2003. After three and a half years at Vanderbilt University’s Community Research and Action program, we moved to Miami, where I assumed the position of Dean of the School of Education in August of 2006.

My affiliation to CP is no doubt connected to my early political experiences and family circumstances. In my present family we experience a physical disability which reminds me of how little attention societies pay to the needs of people with different abilities and disabilities. Ora and I talk a lot about social and psychological issues. Matan, our son, who is also a very good conversationalist, keeps me honest in terms of my espoused values and is quick to point to incongruence between espoused and lived principles. Thanks Matan.

Throughout my adult life I’ve been involved with various child advocacy and community groups trying to promote the well-being of children and families. I struggle to contribute to community wellness in ways that are not just ameliorative but transformative as well. This is my biggest personal and professional challenge, a challenge that is only matched by my arduous attempts to live the values that I write about.

Like Geoff, I consider myself privileged. Although I grew up very poor, I belong now to a privileged class of academics. Sometimes I find myself having more privileges than I ever thought I could. Some of my efforts to contribute back to the community involve volunteer work in social change and policy efforts, especially in the field of early intervention and prevention. Currently I’m involved in a research project promoting a strength based, preventive, empowering and community-change orientation in health and human services.

The Journey of the Reader

We want to briefly consider the journey of you, the reader. We invite you to join us in the journey of this book, which is your introduction to CP. You will learn about the story of CP, its mission, its founders, key ideas and applications. This journey may be bumpy, jarring and upsetting, both emotionally and intellectually, as we consider the gaps between our own privilege and the disenfranchisement and pain of those with whom we work. In this book we challenge the field of CP to expand its boundaries and to consider new ways of thinking and acting. Many of you who read this book will be students taking your first course in CP. You may have a field placement experience as part of your course, in which you will come face to face with the issues that we discuss and the disadvantaged people with whom we work.

We encourage you to go gently into these uncharted waters, listening respectfully to disadvantaged people, suspending judgement and constantly reflecting on your thoughts, actions and experiences. Don’t take everything that we or the other authors or commentators say as ‘gospel’. The ability to think critically, challenge ideas, question assumptions and develop alternative arguments based on experiences, values and evidence is fundamental to CP. Remember that social change movements have often started with student activism. What follows in the book and in your journey may be very sobering, disturbing or eye-opening for those of you who are new to the field of CP. At the same time, however, we want to convey a message of hope and inspiration that change is possible and suggest ways that you can contribute to personal and collective change.

Chapter Summary

In this chapter, we used the metaphor of a journey to introduce the field of CP. We began by outlining the contours of CP and differentiating it from mainstream applied psychology. We then traced the origins of the journey of CP in the United States and other parts of the world to put CP in its global context. We then introduced you to ourselves, the authors/editors, and told you a bit about our journeys.

Values and Principles of Community

Psychology: Views from Ghana Charity Akotia

I grew up in several towns and villages in Ghana as both my parents were teachers and were frequently transferred from one community to another. During this period, I learnt of the many struggles that people go through to make life a little more comfortable. Everywhere my parents stayed, they played key roles in the community. They served as church leaders and ‘counsellors’ in the community as a whole. They joined the community in initiating and executing projects and also advised on healthy practices. I followed their lead and also got involved in community work. I became convinced about the need to do something to improve people’s quality of life.

On moving to the city, the contrast between life in the rural areas and the city became obvious to me. Many people, especially those in the rural areas, were struggling to make ends meet. Many of them, particularly women, were living in very challenging environments compared with residents in the cities, who were better off economically and had better access to social services.

In 1990, I started my journey to Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, as a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU). This was a turning point in my life not only because I was leaving my country for another but also because the program reinforced my desire and determination to be involved in the community, giving a hand to improve the quality of life. The practical experiences shared with my colleagues in the program, the approach to teaching and so on, all served different purposes in my life. CP actually provided a fit between my goals and how to put these into practice.

Upon completion of the program in 1992, I joined the faculty at the University of Ghana and introduced CP into the existing psychology programs. As the sole community psychologist at the university, I have taught several undergraduate students over the years. CP always serves as an eye-opener to my students. Often they wonder why this

field of psychology is late in arriving in Ghana, considering its values and their relevance in solving the multifaceted problems in the country. Currently, past students of CP are all over the country (and abroad) serving in various positions and helping to develop the various communities. I am learning a lot from teaching and working with students and other community members. In the past years, I have worked with refugees. I have also been involved in community health-related issues in some rural communities. Currently, my research focus has been on obstacles faced by professional women in Ghana. I am collaborating with some colleagues in one of the universities in Norway on this project. I also involve myself in debates and discussions on social and community issues on radio and in newspapers.

Are the concepts, ideals and values of CP applicable in the Ghanaian society? As the authors point out, although the field of CP did not formally coalesce until the 1960s, its work was foreshadowed as early as the turn of the century. In the same way, in Ghana, many people have been practising the values and principles of CP without its being officially referred to as such. The ideals, concepts and values of CP are very much applicable in Ghana. In the following paragraphs, I shall highlight some values and concepts and indicate how applicable and relevant they are in our society.

The shift from treatment to prevention is also an ideal option in Ghanaian society. Just as there were too few mental health professionals in the United States to handle the throngs of patients in the hospitals at the time of the birth of CP, so there are even fewer in Ghana in relation to the number of patients needing professional attention. In addition, social conditions in the country are very challenging. Many citizens live in poverty. Diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS abound, yet the few medical professionals we have often leave the country in search of greener pastures in the developed countries. Those who stay seem to be overconcentrated in the cities to the neglect of the rural areas. Furthermore, there are no major health insurance schemes in the country, making it difficult for the poor to attend hospital when they fall ill. This makes prevention very applicable and relevant in the country.

Understanding and enhancing community and individual life, rather than the individual, is crucial to community psychologists. Our culture is based on collectivism, rather than individualism which characterizes many Western cultures. Thus, Ghana is already a natural fit for this value. The happiness of community members depends on the happiness of each individual within the community. Consequently, the quality of life of both individuals and the community are intertwined (Prilleltensky, 1999).

Sadly, however, the communal system that has held the communities together for centuries is being lost gradually to Western individualism without the benefit of Western intervention programs and social policies. For example, there is a break in our external family system (Asenso-Okyere, 1993; Nukunya, 1992), as many families, especially those in the urban areas, now focus on the nuclear family system. Thus, the emphasis on community well-being rather than individual well-being helps bring back the original Ghanaian value.

Unlike mainstream psychology, which focuses on person-centred approaches in studying behaviour, CP advocates for the use of a wider framework in understanding behaviour. According to Orford (1992), behaviour is a function of the person, his or her environment and the interaction of the two (i.e. B = F[P, E]). Studying people out of their social context only leads to ‘blaming the victim’, as indicated by the authors in this chapter. In Ghana, for example, many people hold strong beliefs and taboos about eating certain types of food. Avoiding these foods may pose health problems. To change the beliefs of this group of people, one needs to go beyond the individual and look at the wider cultural context. In a study, Ofori Atta (2001) suggested that in dealing with problems, therapists must go beyond the person and look at the wider environment. The identified patient, according to her, may not be the one who bears the symptoms, but rather the system within which the individual operates.

Serving as ‘resource collaborators’ rather than ‘experts’ is also a laudable and feasible idea in Ghana. People generally want to feel respected and recognized by others. Indeed, it is more enjoyable working with others in this type of role than in the role of an ‘expert’.

Personal experiences with the rural folks in Ghana, who comprise most of the country’s poor, clearly show how ready these people are to share information and give out ideas if they are treated with respect. CP’s value of active participation of citizens in any planned change is therefore healthy for Ghanaian society.

I personally think the ideals of social change advocated by CP are the ultimate desire of every Ghanaian. According to the authors of this chapter, mainstream research is usually basic in nature. However, CP believes research should go beyond this and bring about change in the lives of people and their communities. Considering the poverty in which people live and the feeling of helplessness among many of them, particularly in the rural areas, one can think only of helping to plan change in their lives. Furthermore, it is not easy to get the government’s support for change in many communities. Thus, social change as a value is also very helpful and feasible in our communities.

In recent years, Ghana has seen the emergence of many non-governmental organizations that are helping in various ways to bring change in the lives of individuals. They help build community clinics, school and roads and also provide drinking water to many communities. From experience, it works better when people are involved in defining their own problems and in finding solutions to the problems. The best sustainable projects in the country are those that involve the community in identifying needs and planning and implementing change in the community. Thus, citizen participation as a value of CP, though time consuming, is also very relevant and applicable in our communities.

In conclusion, personal experiences with some people living in rural Ghana clearly show how applicable the values of CP discussed above are in Ghana. Even though the authors advocate that the field should be left to develop within the sociocultural context of each country, I believe the multifaceted problems faced by many developing countries make the values adopted by the field already a natural fit in these countries. community psychology the sub-discipline of psychology that is concerned with understanding people in the context of their communities, the prevention of problems in living, the celebration of human diversity and the pursuit of social justice through social action conscientization the process by which individuals become aware of the sociopolitical and psychological conditions that oppress disadvantaged people eugenics movement a movement guided by the philosophy of

Social Darwinism, this movement asserted that certain groups of people were of inferior genetic stock and advocated restrictive immigration policies to keep some people (e.g. African Americans) out of the United States, as well as institutionalization and sterilization to prevent people with intellectual and mental health challenges from procreating informal support social and emotional support that comes from one’s informal network (e.g. family, friends, spiritual advisors, mentors) rather than formal sources (i.e. professionals) logical positivism/empiricism the scientific method as we understand it traditionally, including a focus on describing, explaining and predicting reality through objective research and hypothesis testing, which aims to discover natural laws participatory action research collaborative research between professionals and disadvantaged community members towards the goals of knowledge creation and social change resource collaborator in contrast to the ‘expert’ role of diagnostician or therapist, this is a role taken by the community psychologist to offer resources and collaborate with community groups social stress theory a theory that emphasizes the role that social stress plays in the causation of psychological problems strengths orientation an emphasis on the strengths and capacities of individuals and communities, rather than a focus on deficits victim blaming holding individuals responsible for problems that they experience without acknowledging the role that various ecological contexts may play in contributing to such problems

The Project of Community Psychology: Issues, Values and Tools for Liberation and Well-being

Chapter Organization

Oppression, Liberation and Well-being: The ‘Big Picture’ of Community Psychology

◆ Oppression: Silence and Invisibility + Resistance and Liberation: Framing Problems, Listening to the Voices and Making the Invisible Visible + Towards Well-being

Issues and Problems

◆ Problems + The Global Context

Values of Community Psychology

Principles and Conceptual Tools

of Community Psychology

◆ Ecology + Prevention and Promotion + Community + Power

◆ Inclusion + Commitment and Depowerment

The Science of Community Psychology

Chapter Summary

COMMENTARY: Why Community Psychology? A Personal Story



Warm-up Exercise

Please reflect on the following questions as you think about yourself in relation to community psychology:

a. What are some of the values that are personally important to you and how you want to live your life? How did you come to these values?

b. Describe one social issue about which you are concerned. How did you come to be concerned about this issue? How have you been involved in dealing with this issue? How could you become more involved in this issue?

c. Community psychologists are particularly concerned with power relationships. Think of a situation in which you have been involved or which you know about where one person (or group) has less power than another person (or group)? What kinds of problems result for the party with less power, and the party with more power? Think about how CP concepts could be helpful in equalizing power between the two parties.

In this chapter, you will learn about

■ the ‘big picture’ of community psychology (CP; oppression, liberation and well-being)

■ the four main components of the conceptual framework of CP that are used in this book (issues and problems, values, principles and conceptual tools and the science of CP).

We begin by presenting the ‘big picture’ of what CP is all about. We argue that the central problem with which CP is concerned is that of oppression, and that the central goals of CP are to work in solidarity with disadvantaged people and to accompany them in their quest for liberation and well-being. While oppression, liberation, and well-being are the overarching concepts of CP, more specific principles and conceptual tools are needed to address the many different manifestations of oppression. The conceptual framework that we propose consists of four main components:

■ issues and problems

■ values

■ principles and conceptual tools, and

■ the science of CP.

In subsequent chapters, we expand on the values, principles and concepts and describe how they can be used to address the issues and problems that are of concern to CP. The issues and problems are those with which CP has been concerned; the vision and values are the ideals towards which CP strives; and the principles and conceptual tools are what are used by CP to address problems and issues in pursuit of its vision and values.

Oppression, Liberation and Well-being: The ‘Big Picture’ of Community Psychology

In this section we provide an overview of the project of CP. We believe that it is important to start with a focus on the people and communities with whom community psychologists work, the way community psychologists think about the problems those communities and people face and the goals towards which CP works.

Oppression: Silence and Invisibility

As we argued in Chapter 1, community psychologists are concerned with the issues and problems facing disadvantaged people, problems that have deep historical roots. The journeys of disadvantaged people have been ones of pain and suffering, dislocation and colonization, oppression and marginalization. Society has constructed stories about disadvantaged people, making them into something different from you and me. These stories, which Rappaport (2000) calls dominant cultural narratives, are often of the victim-blaming variety and help members of dominant groups to rationalize their role in contributing to and perpetuating the oppression of disadvantaged people. They also serve to disconnect disadvantaged people from the journey of their people and themselves. Listening to the stories of disadvantaged people is a first step in undoing the damaging stories that society has constructed about ‘those people’.

When we listen to stories, the pain and suffering of disadvantaged people become more real and apparent, and they have an impact on us. We often feel shocked, hurt, angry, guilty and/or defensive, and many of us want to do something to correct the injustices that people have suffered. Telling stories is also empowering for people and helps to create and inspire a vision of a better future. It helps individuals and collectives to reclaim their history, to understand and appreciate their strengths, resilience and resistance, to overcome their silence and shame and to build community. We see part of the mission of CP as helping disadvantaged people to tell their stories so that dominant cultural narratives that have been imposed on them can be challenged and alternative stories can be promoted. It is also important for those of us who come from privileged backgrounds to be aware of where we stand and where our predecessors have stood historically vis-àvis oppressed groups (McIntosh, 1990). Such reflexive awareness is necessary for dominant groups to embark on their own journeys of change in order to create more just and equitable relationships.

Throughout this book, we will hear stories of people who have experienced disadvantage. Disadvantaged people have often been forced to move to physically segregated environments or they have had to flee oppressive conditions. Many of the original settlers of North America came to the New World to escape religious persecution and economic deprivation. At the same time, the ‘founding fathers’ of the New World inflicted subjugation and oppression on the aboriginal people of North America, black people from Africa and women. When a society is hierarchically constructed with vast disparities in power between different groups, it is possible that a previously disenfranchised group can become the oppressors of less powerful others.

Using the ecological metaphor, the issues and problems with which CP is concerned can be conceptualized as occurring at different levels of analysis (see Table 2.1). Different social issues and problems that occur at different levels of analysis are not isolated; they are interrelated. We argue that the common thread that links together the different problems and issues that we touch upon here and throughout the book is that of oppression. Elsewhere, we have defined oppression as follows:

Oppression is described as a state of domination where the oppressed suffer the consequences of deprivation, exclusion, discrimination, exploitation, control of culture, and sometimes even violence. (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002, p. 12)

The core of oppression is power inequality. Oppression is a relational concept that implies asymmetric power relations between individuals, groups, communities or societies (Quiñones Rosado, 2007; Watts & Serrano-García, 2003). Moreover, oppression is experienced at multiple levels of analysis: personal, relational and collective (see Table 2.1). At the level of the individual, disadvantaged people often internalize the dominant cultural narratives about themselves, which is psychologically damaging. This internal psychological oppression includes self-blame and feelings of personal worthlessness (Moane, 2003). In relationships with others, disadvantaged people are often seen as inferior and are treated as such by people who have more power. These dominant–subordinate relationships are characterized by an inequality in power, and they are embedded in larger structural arrangements that are manifested in social policies and community settings.

There are many different stories of oppression (see Box 2.1). Consider how African people came to the new world. Alex Haley’s (1977) Roots tells the story of the roots

Table 2.1 A journey of personal and political change

Ecological Level

Oppression ➞

Resistance and Liberation (processes to overcome oppression and achieve well-being) ➞

Well-being (a state of personal, relational and collective well-being)


Internalized, psychological oppression

Conscientization situates personal struggles in the context of larger political and structural forces

Control, choice, selfesteem, competence, independence, political rights and a positive identity


‘Power over’, domination of or by others

‘Power with’, power sharing, egalitarian relationships, solidarity

Positive and supportive relationships, participation in social, community and political life


Oppressive social practices manifested in policies and community settings

Resistance, social action

Acquisition of valued resources such as employment, income, education and housing of an African-American man and his family. Nearly 2 million Africans were taken from their homelands and packed on slave ships bound for the New World, where those who survived the journey were bought and sold as slaves. African-Americans have had to overcome slavery, segregation, racism, the Ku Klux Klan, brutal repression and violence and economic disenfranchisement. The journeys of other marginalized groups have been characterized by social exclusion and segregation. People with disabilities (physical, developmental, mental health) have been excluded from mainstream community life and settings and sent off to special buildings, schools or institutions and had their power and civil rights stripped away. Women have experienced barriers to their participation in civic life. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people have been forced into the ‘closet’ because of the tremendous social stigma that they experience.

Resistance and Liberation: Framing Problems, Listening to the Voices and Making the Invisible Visible

While part of the stories of disadvantaged people is about injustice and oppression, there are also hopeful and inspirational parts as well. There are many examples of resistance and heroic people who have fought bravely for social change against insurmountable odds. From the underground railroad and activists such as Sojourner Truth during the time of slavery, to the more recent civil rights and black-power movements and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and ‘ordinary’ citizens like Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus in the segregated Southern United States, AfricanAmericans have resisted slavery and racism. The first wave of feminism focused on women’s right to vote, while the second wave has striven to liberate women from the home and create opportunities for them to participate in, and contribute to, work, education and politics, and to have control over their bodies and reproduction. Different oppressed groups all have their stories of resistance.

In the third column of Table 2.1, we highlight the importance of disadvantaged people reclaiming power in their struggle to liberate themselves from oppression. Social change often begins with disadvantaged people’s awareness and understanding of the unjust psychological and sociopolitical circumstances oppressing them. As we noted in Chapter 1, Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire (1970) referred to this as a process of ‘conscientization’. In a study of the process of personal empowerment, Lord and Hutchison (1993) found that ‘gaining awareness’ was often a beginning point in people’s journeys of empowerment. At the relational level, connecting with others in mutually supportive relationships in which power is shared is also important for regaining power (Moane, 2003). Solidarity with others can be found in self-help groups and social movement organizations, which can serve as vehicles for collective resistance and social action (Moane, 2003).

Along their journeys, many disadvantaged people have encountered psychologists. Sometimes the response of psychology has been to further perpetuate oppression, as the quotes from the eugenics movement in Chapter 1 illustrate. Today the more typical response of psychology is to offer ‘help’. But the help is typically in the form of some type of therapy or intervention that strives to change disadvantaged individuals so that they can better adjust to unjust social conditions. We believe that the response of CP should be one that recognizes the injustices that disadvantaged people have experienced and that involves a partnership to work in solidarity with disadvantaged people towards social change. In this regard, consider the following statement from Australian Aboriginal social worker Lilla Watson: ‘If you’ve come to help me you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together’ (cited in Stringer, 1996, p. 148). To help create social change, community psychologists must reframe problems, listen to the voices of disadvantaged people and make the invisible visible. This involves challenging commonly held assumptions and consciousness-raising about the sources of problems.

In many respects, CP appears to have suffered from the same historical blinders as the rest of psychology and the ‘helping’ professions. The problems facing people with serious mental health problems were framed in terms of deinstitutionalization and the need for community services, rather than in terms of larger social processes of social exclusion. While community psychologists played a leadership role in the development of pre-school and school-based prevention programs for AfricanAmerican children and families, the problems that they faced were not typically framed in terms of racism and economic disenfranchisement. Other issues and problems with structural roots have been ignored by CP. For example, in the early days of CP, the field was dominated by men and the issues facing women were invisible to the field (Bond & Mulvey, 2000). In spite of the commonalities between CP and feminism explicated by Anne Mulvey (1988) more than a decade ago, it is only recently that the value of feminist perspectives in CP has been recognized (Bond, Hill & Terenzio, 2000a, 2000b).

More recently there has been an increase in voices within the field of CP that have pushed for the inclusion of diverse groups and issues, with a focus on issues of power, oppression and liberation (Prilleltensky, 2008; Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2009; Watts & Serrano-García, 2003). Today, CP is broadly concerned with the issues and problems facing disadvantaged people, including minorities, women, children and adults living in poverty; people who are homeless; people with serious mental health problems; people with disabilities; gay, lesbian and bisexual people; and many more. We believe that these voices have been helping the field to reframe problems so that there is more of a structural analysis of the causes of individual problems.

Towards Well-being

Prilleltensky and Prilleltensky (2006) defined well-being as “a positive state of affairs, brought about by the synergistic satisfaction of personal, organizational, and collective needs of individuals, organizations, and communities alike” (p. 12). Accordingly, various signs or indicators of well-being exist at these multiple levels or sites. At the individual level, well-being is manifested in terms of personal control, choice, self-esteem, competence, independence, political rights and a positive identity (see Table 2.1). At the relational level, the individual is embedded in a network of positive and supportive relationships and can participate freely in social, community and political life. The person is an active member of community. At the community and societal level, the individual is able to acquire such basic resources as employment, income, education and housing. Thus, well-being is not a matter of individual health, but rather a transaction between individuals and their environments (Prilleltensky, Nelson & Peirson, 2001b). In its work with disadvantaged people, CP is not just concerned with liberation from oppression but also with the achievement of a state of personal, relational and collective wellbeing.

Having provided the ‘big picture’ of CP, we now turn to an overview of the four main components of our conceptual framework for CP: (a) issues and problems,

(b)values, (c) principles and conceptual tools and (d) the science of CP. We begin by considering some of the dimensions of the issues and problems experienced by disadvantaged people.

Issues and Problems


It is important to make a distinction between the surface manifestations of problems, such as mental health problems, school underachievement and crime and the root causes of those surface manifestations. Joffe (1996) refers to these root causes as the ‘causes of the causes’. These historical and structural problems are all characterized by oppression and power inequality between groups of people.

There are many dimensions of the issues and problems that can be traced to root causes of oppression and loss of power. First, as we noted in the previous section, society tends to engage in ‘victim-blaming’ of disadvantaged people (Ryan, 1971). The social context in which the problems facing disadvantaged people arise is ignored, and individuals are expected to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’. Framing problems in terms of individual-level difficulties leads to fragmented services for individuals, rather than efforts at collective or social change. An example of victim-blaming is blaming women who have been sexually assaulted by challenging them in terms of the clothing they were wearing when assaulted, suggesting that they did not try to fight off their assailant or refusing to believe those who have been assaulted. Widespread victim-blaming tends to lead individuals to selfblame and internalized oppression. Second, disadvantaged people experience a multitude of health issues and psychosocial problems in living. For example, there is abundant research showing that children who have been maltreated live in families that are often stress plagued and chaotic and that these children manifest a variety of health and psychosocial problems (Prilleltensky, Nelson & Peirson, 2001b).

Third, disadvantaged people are often isolated from networks of support. People with mental health problems, parents who maltreat their children, and many others tend to be socially isolated. Fourth, disadvantaged people experience powerlessness. Moreover, powerlessness is not just a personal quality (e.g. feelings of helplessness and lack of control) but rather something that is experienced in the context of asymmetric relationships with other people and systems. Fifth, powerlessness is related to the discrimination that is experienced by groups and individuals who are held to single standards (i.e. those that assert the superiority of male, white, heterosexual able-bodied people). Long-standing patterns of sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism and stigma serve to rationalize and perpetuate power inequalities at multiple levels of analysis. Moreover, disadvantaged people have been and continue to be subjected to exclusion and segregation from a range of social and community settings. Women who experience the ‘glass ceiling’ in career advancement and who are confined to low-paid ‘pink-collar’ jobs or social assistance are but one example of how existing social conditions maintain inequality and social exclusion.

However, perhaps the largest social problem today is the complacency of people who enjoy many social and economic privileges. Many people have little awareness of the problems facing disadvantaged people, ignore these issues or construct the problems in terms of ‘victim-blaming’. As a consequence, advantaged people tend go blithely along in their lives, without much concern about these issues.

But this is not just about ‘other people’; it is about all of us. Consciousnessraising, anger about social injustice and a passion for social change are antidotes to this complacency.

The Global Context

Society is becoming more global with technology, communication, travel, trade and capital. One of the consequences of globalization is the increasing gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, both within societies and between countries (e.g. Osberg, 2008). Economic exploitation and disenfranchisement of disadvantaged people are widespread in both developed and developing countries. More and more low-income people in Western countries are being forced into ‘McJobs’ (i.e. low-paying jobs in the service sector), while individuals in developing countries, particularly women and young people, are paid a pittance in wages to make the athletic shoes, clothing and other commercial products that are widely advertised and marketed in Western countries.

Corporate power and global capitalism are also bringing about sweeping changes in the natural environment (environmental degradation), working conditions (loss of power and rights of working people and unions), culture (a rapidly developing ‘monoculture’), and government policy (tax cuts and a diminished role for the state in addressing social inequalities, preserving the environment and ensuring the health of the population; Korten, 1995). With government cutbacks at national and state levels, infrastructures (schools, housing, social programs) at the community level are being diminished, and communities are increasingly being asked to ‘do more with less’.

As a contested term ‘globalization’ means different things to different people. It has economic, cultural, social and health connotations. Moreover, globalization has been marked by ‘some remarkable successes, some disturbing failures and a collection of what might be called running sores’ (Ralston Saul, 2005, p. 3). As chief economist and vice-president of the World Bank from 1997 until January 2000 and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001, Joseph Stiglitz (2002) is well positioned to document both the positive and negative effects of globalization in the economic, social, cultural and health domains. In his book Globalization and its Discontents Stiglitz (2002) documents the many benefits derived from open communications between developed and developing nations. In some poor countries irrigation projects doubled the incomes of farmers; HIV/AIDS projects prevented the spread of the disease; and literacy initiatives enhanced the education of children and women. When Jamaica opened the market to the import of US milk, local producers suffered, but many more children had access to cheaper milk. Stiglitz observes that

Opening up to international trade has helped many countries grow far more quickly than they would otherwise have done. International trade helps economic development when a country’s exports drive its economic growth. Export led growth was the centrepiece of the industrial policy that enriched much of Asia and left millions of people there far better off. Because of globalization many people in the world now live longer than before and their standard of living is far better. People in the West may regard low-paying jobs at Nike as exploitation, but for many people in the developing world, working in a factory is a far better option than staying down on the farm and growing rice. (Stiglitz, 2002, pp. 4–5)

Similarly, in his book The End of Poverty, Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs (2005) has shown that market-based changes in many poor countries have led to economic growth and reduction of poverty. Consider the case of China. In 1981, 64% of the population had incomes of less than a dollar a day, but by 2001, 17% of the population lived on less than a dollar a day. Thus, in only 20 years, poverty was dramatically reduced in China. Sachs documented similar but less extensive reductions in poverty in India during the same period that resulted from marketbased changes.

In spite of these positive impacts of globalization noted by Stiglitz and Sachs, globalization also has a dark side. For example, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have pushed for an agenda that does not take into account the needs of the people in developing nations. Governed by the mantra that market liberalization should cure all countries of their economic woes, they proceeded to impose measures that were inadequate for the realities of many countries, because of either timing, pace and culture or lack of infrastructure. The cure turned out to be worse than the disease in many cases. Stiglitz recounts the growing gap between poor and rich countries, the devastation of some local industries due to unfair competition with subsidized products in the United States and the lack of investments in unstable economies. In essence, Stiglitz contends that the interests of developed nations superseded the concern for poor nations. While poor countries were expected to open their markets in return for financial aid, the rich nations continued to subsidize products, creating an unfair advantage in their favour. The narrow focus on monetary policies superseded concerns for safety nets. The obsession with economic growth superseded concerns for human development. Imposed solutions were no solutions at all.

An even more devastating critique of global capitalism has been put forward by Naomi Klein (2007) in her recent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Klein links conservative economic policy (privatization, deregulation and cutbacks in government funding) to both natural and human-made disasters. According to Klein, leaders and dictators in developing countries have used such disasters to impose a new regime of economic policies that give unprecedented powers to multinational corporations. Trained, inspired and advised by conservative economists from the United States and backed by military power and US support, dictatorships around the world have implemented policies that advance the interests of the privileged few, while creating damaging impacts on most citizens and the developing nations as a whole. Klein sums up the negative impacts of ‘disaster capitalism’ as follows:

Its main characteristics are huge transfers of public wealth to private hands, often accompanied by exploding debt, an ever-widening chasm between the dazzling rich and the disposable poor, and an aggressive nationalism that justifies bottomless spending on security. For those inside the bubble of extreme wealth created by such an arrangement, there can be no more profitable way to organize a society. But because of the obvious drawbacks for the vast majority of the population left outside the bubble, other features of the corporatist state tend to include aggressive surveillance (once again, with government and large corporations trading favours and contracts), mass incarceration, shrinking civil liberties and often, though not always, torture. (p. 18)

For Stiglitz, Klein, and others, democracy is part of the cure. The re-emergence of social movements and democratic participation in many South American countries and their rejection of ‘disaster capitalism’, its policies and the interests it serves are signs that this approach is not sustainable:

Globalization itself is neither good nor bad. It has the power to do enormous good, and for the countries of East Asia, who have embraced globalization under their own terms, at their own pace, it has been an enormous benefit, in spite of the setback of the 1997 crisis. But in much of the world it has not brought comparable benefits. For many, it seems closer to an unmitigated disaster. (Stiglitz, 2002, p. 20)

CP, which is concerned with social context, needs to be cognizant of these larger global changes because they are having enormous impacts on the mission of the field. CP, like much of the dominant culture, has acquiesced to and been complacent with some of the damaging aspects of globalization. As the saying goes, ‘if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.’ In Chapter 15, Tod Sloan provides a more in-depth look at globalization, poverty and social justice in relation to CP.

Values of Community Psychology

Against this background of historically and structurally rooted problems, community psychologists have been concerned with creating social change. But social change towards what ends? We argue that the vision for the work of CP should be guided by a set of values. Values alone inform a vision closer to an ideal or utopian future or a good society because values are concerned with what should be, not what is. Science and conceptual tools can help us to realize the utopian future, but they cannot inform us what that future should look like. The problems tell us where we are coming from and what we are trying to change; the vision and values tell us the direction in which we should be headed. One’s values and the values of a field such as CP come from several sources. Values derive from one’s personal experiences and moral philosophy and one’s spiritual and religious beliefs.

In striving to become a science, psychology, particularly applied psychology, has ignored the moral, ethical and value dimensions of its work. Failure to attend to value issues has led to psychology upholding the societal status quo (Prilleltensky, 1994b) and to the continued oppression of marginalized people. For example, while the field of behaviour modification has led to the development of many powerful and helpful therapeutic tools, its lack of attention to value issues has been a recurring problem. Behaviour modification has used aversive ‘treatment’ (i.e. physical punishment); it has restricted the civil liberties of captive and dependent people in institutions; it has been used to try to ‘convert’ individuals’ sexual orientation from gay to straight; and its applications in educational settings have emphasized compliance and docility of children. While CP has had its blind spots, as we noted earlier, it has paid attention to value issues since the inception of the field (Rappaport, 1977).

Elsewhere, we (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2009) have offered a template of values which we argue should guide the work of CP. These values are (a) holism; (b) health;

(c) caring, compassion, and support for community structures; (d) self-determination, participation and social justice; (e) respect for diversity; and (f) accountability to oppressed groups. While we elaborate on these values in the next chapter, here we briefly define them.

The first value of holism reminds us of the importance of focusing on the whole person, including his or her strengths, in the context of the many relationships, settings and environments in which the person is embedded. Second, health can be defined as a state of physical, psychological social and material well-being. Health is more than the absence of illness; it is a positive state that includes personal, relational and collective dimensions. Third, the value of caring, compassion, and support for community structures involves empathy and concern for the welfare of others. Moreover, this value emphasizes the importance of settings and community structures that facilitate the pursuit of personal and communal goals.

Fourth, self-determination can be described as having the opportunity and power to direct one’s life as one wishes; participation entails individuals playing an active role in decisions that affect their lives and meaningfully contributing to their communities; and social justice is concerned with the fair and equitable allocations of resources and obligations in society. Fifth, the value of diversity asserts that the unique social identities of individuals need to be respected and accepted. Finally, accountability to oppressed groups refers to the responsibility of dominant groups and individuals, including community psychologists, to work with disadvantaged people towards social change.

These values have been expressed, either implicitly or explicitly, in the principles and concepts of CP, to which we now turn.

Principles and Conceptual Tools of Community Psychology

In this section, we briefly note the key principles of CP: (a) ecology, (b) prevention and promotion, (c) community, (d) power, (e) inclusion and (f) commitment and depowerment. Moreover, each of these principles can be applied to promote liberation and well-being at different levels of analysis: (a) personal, (b) relational and

(c) collective. To date, CP has focused much of its energy on the personal and relational levels of analysis. We agree with a tenet of the feminist movement that ‘the personal is political’ (e.g. Moane, 2003), which suggests to us that CP needs to push its boundaries to the collective level of analysis. We briefly identify the conceptual tools that flow from the core principles to these specific levels of analysis. We elaborate more fully on these principles and conceptual tools in Chapters 4–6.


Community psychologists James Kelly, Ed Trickett and colleagues (Kelly, 1966; Trickett, Kelly & Todd, 1972) introduced the metaphor of ecology to CP. Kelly argued that in studying the transactions between people and their environments the metaphor of an eco-system is more appropriate than the dominant mechanistic, reductionistic metaphor used in individual psychology to study basic human processes of learning, cognition, perception and brain–behaviour relations. The ecological metaphor, which flows from the value of holism, suggests that communities are open systems with many different levels and connections. The value of the ecological metaphor for CP lies in its ability to contextualize the issues and problems that face disadvantaged people over time and across multiple levels of analysis and to embrace the value of holism over reductionism. The ecological metaphor views human problems and competencies within the context of characteristics of the individual (e.g. coping skills), micro-level analysis (e.g. family, peer group), meso-level analysis, settings that mediate between smaller systems and the larger society (e.g. work settings, schools, neighbourhood organizations) and macro-level analysis (e.g. social policies, social class, social norms). The smaller systems are nested within the larger systems, and the various levels are interdependent (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Failure to think and practice ecologically reproduces the dominant culture’s emphasis on individualism and encourages the tendency to engage in ‘victim-blaming’.

Prevention and Promotion

Prevention and health promotion are also founding concepts that have guided the work of CP. The concepts of prevention and promotion reflect the value of health and are used to promote well-being and prevent psychosocial problems. Community psychologists adapted the concept of prevention from the field of public health, which has emphasized population health and the prevention of physical diseases. Gerald Caplan (1964), a community psychiatrist, applied the concept of prevention to mental health problems and introduced a threefold typology of prevention: primary (reduction of the rates of a mental health problem in the community), secondary (early detection and treatment), and tertiary (treatment and rehabilitation to reduce disability resulting from problems). Several community psychologists studied public health or were strongly influenced by public health and began the work of translating prevention concepts into workable program models to promote competence, mental health and well-being and to prevent various psychosocial problems in living.

In his review of the literature on mental health promotion and primary prevention, community psychologist Emory Cowen (1977) referred to progress as being made in ‘baby steps’. In a review 20 years later, Cowen (1996) spoke of the ‘lengthy strides’ that had been made in the field. Clearly the past three decades have seen tremendous growth in the research and practice bases of prevention and promotion. Recent reviews of the literature have demonstrated the effectiveness of prevention programs. For example, on the basis of a review of 177 evaluations of prevention programs for children and adolescents, Durlak and Wells (1997) reported that a number of different types of intervention have proved to be effective in preventing emotional and behavioural problems in children. Moreover, prevention programs have been applied in a wide variety of settings to address many different problems, including violence against women, criminal behaviour and conduct disorder, the mental health of school-aged children and child maltreatment and family well-being.

The principle of prevention and promotion can be applied at different ecological levels. Much of the early work of community psychologists in prevention was person-centred in its focus on promoting the well-being and enhancing the competence of individuals (Cowen, 1985). An example of a person-centred approach to prevention is teaching young children social problem-solving skills. Prevention can also be practised on a community-wide basis to change the social environment. Prevention programs of this sort typically target meso-level settings, such as schools, to promote relational well-being. An example of this type of prevention is changing the high school environment to ensure a better transition of students from middle school to high school. Finally, prevention and promotion can also be applied at the macro level. Macro-level prevention and promotion seek to promote collective well-being through changes in public policy (Albee, 1986).


The concept of a psychological sense of community was introduced by community psychologist Seymour Sarason (1974). Sarason astutely observed a decline in support in traditional communities and an increased alienation on the part of people in Western countries. Communities help to fill human needs for support and connection, and isolation and psychosocial problems in living are likely to follow when these needs are not met. He argued that the overarching mission of CP should be to create a psychological sense of community. Sarason’s concept of a psychological sense of community has generated a great deal of research (Chavis & Pretty, 1999; Fisher, Sonn & Bishop, 2002; McMillan & Chavis, 1986).

Various conceptions of community and psychological sense of community are related to the values of caring, compassion and support for community infrastructures. Moreover, community and sense of community can be conceptualized at multiple levels of analysis. In shifting away from clinical psychology, early community psychologists recognized that distressed individuals need more than caring and compassionate therapists; they need caring and compassionate relationships and communities. At the level of the individual, the concept of social support highlights the importance of relationships and the different types of support that stem from supportive relationships, including emotional support, guidance, tangible and financial support and socialization. Many community psychologists, like Canadian community psychologist Ben Gottlieb, have contributed greatly to the development of the concept of social support, research on social support and the development of social support interventions (Gottlieb, 1981; Cohen, Underwood & Gottlieb, 2000). As an alternative or complement to professional treatment, community psychologists have helped to conceptualize, design and evaluate individual-level support interventions, using non-professional and volunteer helpers. Meso-level interventions to promote relational well-being include professionally led support groups and self-help/mutual aid groups and organizations that are formed by and for people who share a common problem or concern (Cohen et al., 2000; Humphreys, 1997).

Community capacity and social capital are relatively new terms that have yet to receive much attention in CP but which have potential for addressing collective well-being at the macro level. Community capacity and social capital refer broadly to the qualities of communities that are related to the well-being of individuals. While capital is usually thought of in terms of economic assets, Putnam (2000) argued that communities can also have social capital, including a range of community organizations and networks, civic participation, community identity and norms of trust and mutual support. The development of community capacity and social capital through community development and social policy formulation is important for the promotion of collective well-being.


In the 1980s, community psychologist Julian Rappaport introduced the concept of empowerment (Rappaport, 1981, 1984, 1987) to the field. He challenged the dominance of the concept of prevention in CP, arguing that prevention ignored the critical issue of power. Like clinical psychologists, community psychologists with a prevention orientation could work from an ‘expert’ model in which they developed interventions for other people. Alternatively, he argued for an empowerment approach in which community psychologists work with disadvantaged people to promote their self-determination and control. The concept of empowerment has had a tremendous impact on the field and has generated a great deal of theory, research and practice within CP (Swift & Levin, 1987; Zimmerman, 2000; Zimmerman & Perkins, 1995) as well as in other disciplines.

Rappaport (1981, 1987) argued further that empowerment is ecological in nature and can be conceptualized at multiple levels of analysis. We believe that power is an overarching concept for CP. At the individual level, people who have typically experienced a lack of control in their lives not only need a change in their thinking about power but experiences of actually having authority over events in their lives (Riger, 1993). Personal empowerment is the process of reclaiming power in one’s life (Lord & Hutchison, 1993). An important component of empowerment is active participation in the life of the community (Zimmerman, 2000).

More recently, Isaac has further advanced the theoretical analysis of power in community psychology. In a recent article, he refers to three different types of power: (a) the power to strive for wellness, (b) the power to oppress and (c) and the power to resist oppression and pursue liberation (Prilleltensky, 2008). Like others, Isaac emphasizes the relational nature of power. Power occurs in relationships between individuals, groups, communities and nation states. Elsewhere, we have introduced the concept of ‘partnership’ to address the relational aspects of power.

We defined partnerships as relationships between community psychologists, oppressed groups, and other stakeholders that strive to advance the values of caring, compassion, community, health, self-determination, participation, power-sharing, human diversity, and social justice for oppressed groups. These values drive both the processes and the outcomes of partnerships that focus on services and supports, coalitions and social action, and research and evaluation. (Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001, p. 651)

For us, the concept of partnership provides community psychologists with a way of thinking about how they work with disadvantaged groups. While CP has been concerned with citizen participation for some time (Wandersman & Florin, 2000), the concept of partnership that we are promoting highlights the importance of the participation of disadvantaged groups in community research and action and suggests that community psychologists should work in solidarity with disadvantaged people towards the goals of liberation and well-being (Lykes, 2001a).

At the macro level, social change is needed to promote collective well-being. As we stated earlier, social change is not a new idea in CP. During the 1960s, a time of social change in the United States, many of the founders of CP argued for the need to change oppressive social conditions in pursuit of social justice (Albee, 1986; Goldenberg, 1978; Rappaport, 1987). Social change emphasizes the importance of a vision and values of a more just and caring society (Prilleltensky, 2001) and recognizes the fact that many social problems, including health and mental health problems, are strongly related to socioeconomic inequalities (Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend, 1969). But social change is very difficult to achieve because it threatens the power of dominant groups within society.

Community psychologists have contributed to the development of social intervention strategies and concepts that we discuss in more detail in Part III of this book (Bennett, 1987; Seidman, 1983a, 1983b). However, the field of CP has not yet fully embraced the need for social change in its research and practice. To do so, CP needs to adopt the value of social justice as a major principle, become more political, engage in solidarity with oppressed groups and social change movements and utilize alternative research methods that are suited to the study of social change.


The value of cultural relativity and diversity occupied a prominent position in Rappaport’s (1977) early textbook in CP. He argued that people, particularly disadvantaged people, should have the right to be different and not to be judged against one single standard. In spite of this early focus on diversity, the concept of diversity and equity promotion did not develop more fully until the 1990s. As Trickett (1994) stated, ‘the diversity concept has been ideologically central but relatively neglected in the field of CP over time’ (p. 584).

As Western societies have become more culturally diverse and CP has become a more diverse body of people, there has been greater attention to diversity and the promotion of inclusion in CP theory, research, practice and training. In the 1990s and early 2000s, feminist, critical and community psychologists, such as Ingrid Huygens, Irma Serrano-García, Meg Bond and Rod Watts, have shown how racism, sexism, classism, ableism and heterosexism are forms of sociopolitical oppression and have elaborated on interventions that strive to eliminate such oppression and to promote inclusion (Huygens, 1996a, 1996b; Trickett et al., 1994; Watts, 1992; Watts & Serrano-García, 2003).

To overcome discrimination and to promote inclusion, interventions need to occur at multiple levels of analysis. At the individual level, the recovery of a positive identity and the development of an awareness of sociopolitical conditions that create shame and stigma are important parts of the journey of disadvantaged people

(Watts, Williams & Jagers, 2003). For example, in the mental health field, the current emphasis on empowerment and recovery narratives (e.g. Deegan, 1988; Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001a; Rappaport, 1993) underscores the importance of mental health consumer/survivors striving to overcome the damaging impacts of stigma, labelling, powerlessness and segregation that they have experienced.

But processes of recovery do not occur in isolation; rather they occur in supportive contexts. At the relational level, settings that are run by and for people with disabilities, such as self-help/mutual aid organizations and Independent Living Centres (Deegan, 1988; Rappaport, 1993), appear to provide many of the favourable qualities that researchers and individuals who experienced serious mental illness have suggested facilitate the process of recovery. The qualities include the opportunity to share stories, the promotion of a positive alternative community narrative from which people can draw and incorporate into their personal stories, peer and natural support and opportunities to contribute to the group, organization or community. At the macro level, policies that strive to enhance the equity of disadvantaged groups are needed to promote an inclusive society. Continuing with the example of mental health consumer/survivors, such policies would address structural problems facing consumer/survivors, including lack of affordable housing, unemployment and poverty (Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001b).

Commitment and Depowerment

Partnerships with oppressed groups require accountability on the part of professionals to the oppressed group (Nelson, Prilleltensky et al., 2001). This involves both a commitment to social change and working in solidarity with members of the oppressed group and a conscious effort on behalf of professionals to ‘depower’ themselves in these relationships. Sharing power and knowledge is vital to the development of more equal working relationships (Ochocka, Janzen

& Nelson, 2002). To overcome complacency, professionals must raise their consciousness about oppression. Critical psychologists and feminist psychologists have introduced the concept of reflexivity to highlight the fact that the subjectivities of community researchers and interventionists are an important part of any research or intervention process (Wilkinson, 1988). According to conventional wisdom, the researcher or professional is assumed to be a detached, objective expert. One unfortunate consequence of this position for CP is that it treats disadvantaged people as objects to be studied or helped, rather than as whole people with strengths, who actively resist the unjust social conditions in which they live. This process of objectifying or ‘othering’ people who are different or disadvantaged maintains the power imbalance between professionals and disadvantaged citizens. Detached objectivity emphasizes surveillance, control and compliance with authority.

While there is value in objectivity, there is also value in subjectivity. Subjectivity introduces the human dimensions (personal, interpersonal and political) of the researcher and professional and draws attention to the relationship between the researcher-professional and disadvantaged people. For the community psychologist who is guided by the values that we outlined earlier in the chapter, community research and action are a passionate undertaking. But we need to be critically aware that in our desire to help and change the world, we can cause harm through our blind spots. For this reason, it is important to be self-critical and reflexive about one’s research and action. Reflexivity suggests that we acknowledge our subjectivity, share the interpretation of research findings with disadvantaged people, be aware of the political and ideological character of our research and action and reflect on the problem of representation and authority in the construction of knowledge and social change (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000).

At the relational level, there must be mechanisms set in place for mutual accountability in value-based partnerships. In their work with mental health consumer/survivors, Geoff Nelson and his colleagues (Nelson et al., 1998; Ochocka et al., 2002) found several useful mechanisms for the promotion of accountability, including having a steering committee composed of all partners and a research team with researchers from the disadvantaged group working as paid employees within the project. New Zealand community psychologist Ingrid Huygens (1997) has argued that disadvantaged groups do not want professionals or dominant social groups to empower them; rather they want these dominant groups to ‘depower’ themselves. To promote collective well-being, structural depowerment of dominant groups and institutionalized processes of accountability to disadvantaged groups are needed.

The Science of Community Psychology

While values, principles and concepts are of central concern to CP, so too is the scientific base of CP. In fact, it is the scientific base that distinguishes CP from social and political movements and community action groups (Dalton et al., 2001). Like CP, such movements and groups are value driven, but they lack a scientific base that creates new knowledge towards the goal of social change. One of the founders of CP, Seymour Sarason, makes the following point about the science of CP:

I have long believed that among the major contributions a CP can make are demonstrations that theory and research provide a basis for interventions that make a positive difference in community living and activities. Without such demonstrations, CP lacks persuasive justification. (2003, p. 209)

Without a sound scientific base, CP would lack credibility as a social and human science or as a sub-discipline of psychology.

While the necessity of a scientific basis for CP is not in dispute, the nature of what counts as ‘science’ is very much contested in CP and psychology (Kelly, 2003; Rappaport, 2005). While CP is meant to be an action science that creates social change, community psychologists experience considerable pressure from their mainstream psychology colleagues (who judge their research for tenure and promotion decisions) to conform to more conventional, quantitative, hypothesistesting research that usually has nothing to do with social change. Moreover, the relationship between citizens and community psychologists is of vital importance for collaborative participatory research (Chavis, Stucky & Wandersman, 1983), but the only model that mainstream psychology has to offer is that of ‘experimenter’ and ‘subject’. Consequently, very few of the reports of CP research published up until the mid-1980s described the types of partnerships between community psychologists and citizens that we alluded to earlier (Walsh, 1987).

Since the mid-1980s, the field of CP has held two conferences in the United States on CP research, one in 1988 (Tolan et al., 1990) and one in 2003 (Jason et al., 2004). The books on the proceedings of these two conferences and recent papers on the science of CP (Wandersman, 2003; Wandersman et al., 2005) have articulated different approaches to community science that strive to link the goals of understanding and action, as well as emphasizing the importance of participatory and collaborative processes between CP researchers and community groups and citizens. Also, these publications and others have broadened the range of research paradigms (assumptions about the nature of the world and how it can be understood) and legitimate research approaches, including qualitative methods, in which the ‘data’ are people’s stories and words rather than numbers (e.g. focus group interviews, in-depth, open-ended interviews). In fact, the nature of CP research has changed so much since the mid-1980s that there are now several competing ways of doing community research. In Part IV of the book, we explore in more detail various approaches to CP research.

Chapter Summary

In this chapter, we provided an overview of the conceptual framework for the entire book. We began with the ‘big picture’ of CP, including the central problem with which CP is concerned – oppression – and the central goals of CP – liberation and well-being. In so doing, we argued that CP is primarily concerned with disadvantaged populations, such as children and families living in poverty, people of colour, immigrants, refugees, women, people with disabilities and gay, lesbian and bisexual people. These groups have been historically subject to oppression by virtue of having considerably less power than dominant groups in a society.

We further argued that it is easy to lose sight of the people community interventions are designed to ‘help’. This is because Western science and professionalism have historically emphasized distance, objectivity and expertise when it comes to ‘helping’. The intervention and the research are typically at the forefront of professionals’ consciousness, while those they ‘serve’ are often more distant objects of their good intentions. For this reason, we believe that community psychologists need to be more self-reflexive about both themselves and the people with whom they are working. They need to start listening to the stories of disadvantaged people, rather than constructing solutions for them, and to make visible the invisible issue of power inequality that characterizes oppression.

We then provided an overview of the main dimensions of the conceptual framework underlying this book:

■ issues and problems

■ values

■ principles and conceptual tools

■ the science of CP.

We pointed out some of the different facets of the issues and problems that face disadvantaged people. The overarching concept which links the different issues and problems is that of oppression or power inequality.

Next, we argued that CP, like all of the social sciences and helping professions, is a value-laden field. While science and professionalism have been dominant in the training of applied psychologists, values and social ethics have been neglected. But it is not possible to adopt a scientific and professional position that is ‘value free’. Moreover, we argued that it is dangerous to proclaim such a position, because failing to acknowledge one’s values often leads, whether intentionally or not, to upholding the societal status quo. There are many examples of how scientific psychology has been used to rationalize racism and sexism for instance (Teo, 1999). Alternatively, we proposed a set of values that we claim can help to guide a CP that promotes liberation and well-being. Finally, we provided a brief overview of key CP principles: ecology, prevention and promotion, community, power, inclusion and commitment and depowerment. For each of these principles, we highlighted conceptual tools that can be used at the personal, relational and collective levels of analysis.

We ended by discussing briefly CP as a science. We noted that unlike the mainstream of psychology, CP is concerned not just with the creation of new knowledge but with how knowledge can create social change. We also observed that CP has had a difficult time breaking away from the traditions of mainstream psychological research, but that since the early 1990s there has been an expansion of approaches to doing CP research.

Why Community Psychology? Julian Rappaport

As a high school student growing up in Philadelphia in the late 1950s I had been too young to appreciate the importance of the US Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling that ended legally sanctioned intentional segregation in public schools. However, between 1954 and 1964 (the year I graduated from college) I learned a great deal about social justice from the collective struggles of African-American people for desegregation, jobs and voting rights. Although I was interested in these social issues I did not connect that interest to my own educational goals until I saw the connections between global social political, economic and psychological well-being. But this is a connection that took me a long time to make. Nowadays community psychologists, thanks to books like this one, help to make these connections more obvious.

When I was in high school, the mid-20th century African-American civil rights movement had already begun to build momentum, but the war in Vietnam was yet to emerge in US politics. These two forces would prove to be important in the formation of CP. By the time I entered graduate school both forces were fully entering my consciousness, competing for space with traditional psychology. Fortunately for me, while I was a graduate student (1964–8) this new field emerged as a professional identity. CP offered me a way to reconcile my personal values and my vocational interests. The excitement of this new field was as palpable as the excitement of those who worked for the election of Barack Obama.

The struggles of African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s were only grudgingly supported by many key US legislators because at that time they saw our country to be in a worldwide conflict with Communism. It was difficult to assert (to countries we were asking to join us in a struggle against Communism) that American democracy stood for freedom when African-Americans were intentionally subjected to legalized segregation and deprived of access to the very human rights we argued for elsewhere. This was my first glimpse of the fact that US foreign policy is intimately tied to domestic policy. At the present time this connection, thanks to many changes in the world’s communication systems, economic policies and balance of power, is far more obvious. It is also more obvious that psychologists have a contribution to make by collaborating with citizens who are concerned about social justice. For example, my colleagues and I have worked with local leaders and citizens concerned with making our public schools more responsive to the needs of families of colour, and people who are not economically privileged. Our work revolves around finding ways to break down the barriers between community and school, especially in neighbourhoods where there has been a history of alienation from the school (Kloos et al., 1997).

When I entered college I thought I would become a history teacher. I soon found that emotionally I wanted to study psychology in order to be able to ‘help people’. However, intellectually I was struck by two things: (a) how broad the study of psychology can be, and (b) how narrow its practitioners (scholars and researchers, as well as human service workers) want to make it. It was the first observation, its breadth, which intellectually attracted me to psychology. It has been the second observation, encountered over and over again, which has driven my career towards CP’s attempts to resist a narrowing of the field. The need for a wider, rather than a narrower vision for psychology is an underlying theme in CP. It leads us to consider both the content and the methods of social history, economics, political science and anthropology, as well as social work, community development, education, medicine and law. Work for social justice in the community uses every tool we can find. Disciplinary boundaries are of less concern than crossing boundaries. We seek to collaborate both with other scholars and with ordinary citizens.

Eventually I began to see that efforts to organize for social justice both had a positive psychological effect on the people who participated and enabled many who had been shut out from the benefits of prosperity to join in the fruits of democracy. Yet many others remained outsiders, and those outsiders generally suffered higher rates of the various problems in living that psychologists want to reduce. Although my own grandparents had immigrated from Eastern Europe early in the 20th century, and my family had many experiences as the objects of discrimination, both in Europe and in the United States, growing up I did not connect these experiences with the struggles of ‘Negroes’ (as they were then called in polite conversation) or with the ‘tramps’ (as homeless men were then referred to). I did not connect the anti-Semitism my family experienced with religious or ethnic prejudice and discrimination more generally. Nor did I wonder why, despite the high rates of white-collar crime, most prisons are filled with poor people, or why some problems are considered social issues and others are not (Humphreys & Rappaport, 1993).

Although I knew of people called seriously mentally ill who were confined in squalid and punitive mental institutions (they were often the subject of journalistic exposé) I never connected their placement with social, economic or professional decisions about their care. I assumed that their situation was just the result of an unfortunate ‘disease’. I assumed the same thing about people referred to at that time as ‘retarded’, who were also living in large state institutions.

I thought that people who were referred to as ‘homosexuals’ suffered from an illness. I did not understand the ways that professional helpers (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers) had combined a bio-medical framework with a moralistic version of character and individual responsibility so as to blame many of the victims of social practices, economic decisions, cultural biases and historical inequities for all of their own problems in living. I had no idea that lay people could form their own organizations for assisting one another or that every problem encountered did not require a highly paid professional to provide expert advice. I did not realize that personal responsibility can be expressed in opposition to, as well as in congruence with, status quo power relationships among people, or that gay people could live healthy and productive lives. I took it for granted that women stayed at home to raise children and men worked outside the home. Men ‘helped out’ with housework and child rearing, but these jobs were clearly women’s work. At that time I had only a faint understanding that the Native people, who had lived in North America before Europeans ‘discovered’ it, had complex and well-organized civilizations and that the Europeans had actually stolen their land, their children, their culture and their way of life. Nor did I realize that there were many Native people alive today, not as romanticized historical curiosities, but as citizens with both needs and rights. There was, when I entered psychology, no systematic study of domestic violence, no serious recognition of gender, ethnic and cultural differences in psychology, no understanding and no notion of prevention of problems in living outside the field of public health and no sense in which the psychology of helpers was about more than mental health or adjustment to the world as it is.

As a graduate student I learned to do psychological assessment and psychotherapy. However, I soon discovered that those who needed help the most were least likely to get it. Many people in need had no medical insurance; others were unlikely to come to mental health clinics or to benefit from talk therapies, even if they did show up. When insurance payments ran out people were often discharged or sent to long-term institutional care, where they became lost for years in a poorly run system. Social class and race were the best predictors of diagnosis and treatment. Often the job of the therapist was to help people fit into the world around them, no matter how unjust. Something was wrong. Later I realized that the mental health system, including its venues for service delivery and the style of that delivery, was a reflection of the larger society’s (lack of) regard for people of colour or for the economically poor.

I first encountered, in a direct way, the effects of oppression on mental health when I began to work with the seriously mentally ill. This happened for me in two very different settings – first, at a university-run medical centre, and later at a state hospital. The medical centre operated a large general hospital that included a psychiatric unit. Many psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and nurses staffed the unit as a teaching hospital for medical students, residents and interns, as well as psychology students and post doctoral appointees. I discovered that we spent a great deal of time diagnosing people and that the diagnosis, except for purposes of medication, had little to do with the treatment and nothing to do with the patient’s actual life circumstances. The best predictor of how long a person would be hospitalized was the number of days their medical insurance covered. Power relations between staff and patients were very clear. The model of care was an expert providing advice and medication to people in need who could afford their services. Unfortunately, for many people such help was either not available or insufficient. It seemed to me that how people were treated depended on who they were and how much money they had, not on their particular problems in living. In the state hospitals of that time I found literally thousands of patients. Such large settings are rare today, although many seriously ill mental patients continue to be treated in ways that condemn them to inadequate care. This problem is still frequently reported in the New York Times, as a search of that newspaper for stories appearing in the last decade concerning the inadequate care provided for mental patients will quickly reveal. CP is one effort to identify and support alternative care, including prevention, mobilization of citizen volunteers, mutual help organizations, advocacy and other empowering social policies.

My experiences directly observing the oppression of people identified as ‘seriously mentally ill’ led me into the field of community mental health in an effort to liberate people from the confines of mental hospitals. I conducted a variety of studies looking for alternatives, including one that led to a book describing how my colleagues (Jack Chinsky and Emory Cowen) and I brought college undergraduates into a large state hospital in order to serve as discussion group leaders with the patients (Rappaport, Chinsky & Cowen, 1971). Our work was based on studies by other investigators who had found that undergraduates and other citizen volunteers can have as much, or more, of a positive impact on people with problems in living as do professional mental health workers. We also extended this kind of work into the field of delinquency prevention (Rappaport, Seidman

& Davidson, 1979). It eventually led me to go a step further. I began to collaborate with a mutual-help organization entirely run by former mental patients, without any professional control. They ran their own groups, and even established group homes for their members. They developed their own methods of care. My job was to help document what they did. My research group, including my colleague Edward Seidman and a large number of graduate students, tried to detail, in both formal research and writing, the story of this patient-run organization, showing how they took control of their own lives (Rappaport et al., 1985). Our aim was not to tell people what to do, but to provide resources, and social and scientific support. This required us to listen to the people of concern, to hear and to help them tell their story (Rappaport, 1993, 2000). This orientation, which rejects the usual power arrangement of expert/helper relationships, guides much of CP. It directly confronts the contradiction of telling people to be responsible for their own lives without providing access to necessary resources.

In one form or another, the things I took for granted in the 1950s began to be challenged in the 1960s. In the 1970s new ideas exploded into the practice of psychology as a discipline and a profession. In the 1980s and 1990s some of these ideas challenged the received wisdom and won dominance, others have retreated, but psychology in the 21st century is very different from what it was when I started paying attention to it in the middle of the 20th century. One lesson to learn is that psychology is very much a product of its times and the values and interests of its practitioners (Rappaport, 2005). Many of the new ideas that challenged old ways of thinking in psychology had their origins in the social and political struggles of oppressed people. Awareness of this connection is an important aspect of CP. One would do well to ask, ‘Who are the oppressed people of this time and place, and what do I have to learn from them? How can I collaborate rather than dominate? How does oppression express itself in today’s world?’ Asking such questions is central to the project of CP. commitment and depowerment the conscious decision of people who are privileged to share power and work with disadvantaged people towards their goals of liberation community the interrelationships and connections of people and settings, including the concepts of sense of community, social support, community capacity and social capital community science the community psychology approach to research that links understanding and action and strives to create participatory and collaborative relationships with community members complacency lack of understanding or concern on the part of members of the dominant culture regarding their role and that of society in the oppression of disadvantaged groups dominant cultural narratives socially constructed stories about disadvantaged people, often of the victim-blaming variety that help members of dominant groups to rationalize their role in contributing to and perpetuating the oppression of disadvantaged people ecology a metaphor used in community psychology to understand the interrelationships of people with various eco-systems (from small systems to large social systems) global capitalism concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small number of individuals and corporations at the expense of the majority of citizens and nations of the world and the natural environment inclusion embracing and integrating people from diverse backgrounds into community liberation freedom from oppressive life circumstances oppression a state of domination where the oppressed suffer the consequences of deprivation, exclusion, discrimination, exploitation, control of culture and sometimes even violence; while the sources of oppression are external, oppression can also be internalized into negative beliefs about oneself power and empowerment a relational concept that emphasizes choice, control and the ability to influence prevention/promotion a concept that emphasizes the promotion of well-being and competence and the prevention of psychosocial problems resistance the struggle of disadvantaged people to resist and overcome oppression reframing a tool used by community psychologists to shift the analysis of social problems from one of dominant victimblaming narratives to alternative accounts that consider the sociopolitical context and power inequalities well-being a positive state of affairs that involves a transaction between individuals and supportive relationships and environments that results in meeting the needs of individuals

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Values, Principles and Conceptual Tools

The second part of the book focuses on why CP should promote liberation and well-being and what principles and conceptual tools should guide the work of CP. In each of the four chapters in this section, we elaborate key principles and conceptual tools and show how they can address important social problems.

In Chapter 3, we argue that CP is a value-laden field in which action and research are intertwined. We define values and offer a template of three different types of values (personal, relational and collective) that we argue should guide the work of CP. Personal values include caring, compassion, health and self-determination; relational values include participation/collaboration and diversity; while collective values are those that focus on support for community structures, social justice and accountability. We argue that these values address different human needs. Moreover, we assert that personal, relational and collective values must be enacted in a balanced way to move us nearer to an ideal society. Values ground the work of CP, be it action, research or training, by providing a guiding vision and reminder of what we are working towards. The values of CP provide a utopian vision of the ‘good society’ towards which the field can strive.

Chapter 4 describes two of the key principles on which CP was founded: ecology, and prevention and promotion. CP utilizes an ecological metaphor in its emphasis on people in the context of social systems. We outline the principles of ecology and draw attention to interdependent levels of analysis. Each smaller level is nested within a larger level. We argue that CP has tended to focus on micro and meso levels and that greater attention needs to be paid to macro-level structures and interventions. Also in this chapter, we provide a historical perspective on prevention and promotion, present a typology of prevention programs (universal, high-risk, and indicated), provide examples of each approach and review literature on the effectiveness of prevention approaches. We conclude by noting that these founding concepts tend to focus on personal and relational values, to the neglect of collective values; on ameliorative rather than transformative change; to surface manifestations of larger social problems rather than unequal power relations; and to a focus on wellness rather than liberation. As such, these founding concepts can inadvertently lend support to the existing societal status quo.

In Chapter 5, we introduce the principles of power and community. CP has been concerned with empowerment, a multi-level ecological concept that focuses on both perceptions of control and actual control over life circumstances. However, CP has tended to treat empowerment as a psychological construct that can be measured. We argue that CP needs to embrace power as an overarching sociopolitical concept that suffuses all the issues of concern to CP. The language of oppression and liberation gives the concept of power more of an ‘edge’ than is currently the case in CP. In particular, attention is paid to the current context of globalization and corporate rule and the need for political resistance and solidarity partnerships with disadvantaged people to promote social justice around the world.

In this chapter, we also discuss various concepts of community. Community psychologists have argued that a psychological sense of community is an antidote to an increasingly individualistic lifestyle, fragmented life experiences and experiences of isolation and loneliness. In addition to discussing social support and self-help/mutual aid, we also discuss recent work on the emerging concepts of community capacity and social capital.

Chapter 6 examines accountability, commitment and inclusion. In this chapter, we discuss subjectivity and reflexivity. We argue that whereas modernist schools of thought have been concerned with objectivity and truth, critical and postmodern schools have shifted the focus towards multiple voices, particularly those who are disadvantaged; a focus on subjectivity, location and agency of community activists and researchers; and the need for dialogue and reflexivity. We, as community psychologists, need to be open and aware of our privileged position and potential blind spots in our quest for understanding and change. While we strive to ‘do the right thing’, there are slippages, and it is easy for us to become complacent and to have biases that limit our ability to understand phenomena and create social change. We are urging ourselves and others to take a risk and overcome complacency and collusion with unjust social structures and processes by working in solidarity with, and being accountable to, disadvantaged people. More than anything else, the concepts of subjectivity and reflexivity remind us that we have to ‘walk the talk’ every day and that every day we face numerous challenges, big and small. In this chapter, we also discuss the concept of inclusion. The need for individuals and groups to define their unique identities without censure or denial of access to social resources is fundamental to CP. In particular, CP has been concerned with individuals and groups who are subject to discrimination based on their gender, race, culture or sexual orientation. Sexism, racism and heterosexism are all manifestations of the oppression of people who differ from the mainstream. In this chapter, we describe theory and research regarding these problems and how CP can strive to create inclusive communities.

Values for Community Psychology

Warm-up Exercise

You can do this exercise by yourself at home or in class with other students. Your instructor may assign it as homework so that you’re better prepared for class.

a. Think of the values of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity. Which one of these values is more prevalent in your society?

b. If you could change something about the way these values are played out in your community, how would you change them?

c. Try to identify a group of people with values different from yours. What are the reasons for the differences? Would these differences prevent you from living in harmony in the same community?

The goals of this chapter are for you to:

■ identify the sources of values for community psychology (CP)

■ consider ways of promoting a balance of values for personal, relational and collective well-being

■ explore ways of implementing CP values in practice

■ take into account threats to value-based practice.


Think again of the values of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity. Although these values should exist in inseparable form, in fact most societies prefer one over others. In our society, the supremacy of liberty over equality and solidarity is costing us dearly. Not because liberty is an unworthy value, but because liberty in the absence of equality and solidarity degenerates into selfishness and greed.

All over the world, values are out of balance, out of context and out of control. Values are out of balance because self-interest takes primacy over all other values. Values are out of context because many people want more solidarity and sense of community, but popular culture continues to produce images of personal success as the ultimate goal in life. Finally, values are out of control because individualism is rampant and nearly uncontrollable, with greed and competition at an all-time high in many countries. In many societies, collective values such as social justice and solidarity are given minimal attention. Even in countries with customs of mutual support, globalization is eroding the sense of community and the health of the poor (Kim et al., 2000).

Box 3.1

Change and stability in people’s values

Two studies reveal interesting trends in people’s values in the United States. Baker (2008) compared dozens of countries along two value dimensions: traditional/secular and survival/self-expression. Sweden, for example, gets very high scores on both self-expression and secular values. Morocco, on the other hand, is on the opposite end of both continua. It is primarily concerned with survival values and it is highly traditional and religious. Using data from the World Values Survey, Baker notes that ‘America’s value system has exhibited both stability and change over time. Since the first wave of the World Values Survey (1981), the traditional values of Americans have shown remarkable durability’ (2008, p. 18). Baker observes that ‘America is the most traditional nation among all the historically Protestant nations, and the most traditional of all the English speaking nations except Ireland’ (2008, p. 18). The fourth wave of data, collected in 2000, demonstrates that the United States remained highly traditional almost 20 years later. But Baker goes on to claim that ‘in contrast to the stability of America’s traditional values, the nation exhibits continuous movement along the survival/self-expression dimension. Since 1981, Americans have become increasingly self-expression oriented’ (2008, p. 19).

In a second study with also four waves of data collection, Adams (2005) tracked changes in values in the United States from 1992 to 2004. Similar to the dimensions used to analyze the World Values Survey, Adams presented his findings along two continua: survival/fulfilment and individuality/authority. He analyzed the findings according to political affiliation and found that politically disengaged citizens are quite different from politically engaged voters, regardless of political affiliation. In other words, those who do not vote and do not participate in the political process show values that are quite different from those of Democrats or Republicans. According to Adams (2005), ‘the values that are showing the strongest growth in America – especially among youth – are the values of the politically disengaged’ (p. 9). This particular group exhibited considerable growth in three types of values: risk-taking and thrill seeking, Darwinism and exclusion, and consumption and status-seeking. In general, these values reflect a turn towards a culture of instant gratification. As Adams observed, ‘this world view tends to be preoccupied with immediacy: immediate gratification, self-interest as defined here and now, pleasure as an unexamined, visceral experience, and status signified by ostentatious display of material symbols of success’ (2005, p. 29).

The trends noted by both Baker and Adams are likely to undermine the pursuit of community psychology values in society. Whereas the traditionalist position does not support a culture of diversity and empowerment, the values of the politically disengaged run against participation and the fight for social justice. How do you read these findings? Do they surprise you? For interesting comparisons of values across countries and cultures, you may wish to consult the volumes by Pettersson and Esmer (2008) and by Halman et al. (2008).

To fulfil our needs and obligations we require three sets of linked values. We require personal, relational and collective values. Personal and collective values go hand in hand. But in order to avoid potential conflict between private and social interests we need a third set of values: relational values. Values such as collaboration and participation are essential for respectful relationships. In the absence of relational values, you can’t really promote personal or collective well-being.

The urgent and constant need to attend to the three types of values at the same time is noted by the overall value of holism. By holism we mean the complementary attention to personal, relational and collective values. Unless we espouse holism, we are bound to abdicate responsibility for one or more of the three domains of well-being. Holism is complemented by the value of accountability, according to which we commit ourselves to answer to oppressed groups. Research and action about the poor and the disempowered must take place with the poor and the disempowered. In the previous chapter we linked the value of accountability to the issue of complacency and to the principle of commitment and depowerment. For us, this is a new dimension in the values of CP. It impels us to evaluate our work in the light of its potential contribution to people who suffer oppression and marginality.

The values of holism and accountability are conceptually distinct from the values of health, caring, compassion, support for community structures, empowerment, social justice and respect for diversity. Holism and accountability are meta-values that apply to the implementation of all the other values. Holism is precisely about the inclusion of personal, relational and collective values in our work, whereas accountability is about the beneficial effects of all these values for the oppressed.

In this chapter we present a framework for choosing and implementing different values in CP. We discuss the sources of values as well as the criteria we need to select them. We then offer a set of values for CP and discuss its application in practice, programs and policies. We include a critique of the field and suggestions for improvement.

Our approach to values integrates considerations that are usually fragmented. When thinking about values, community psychologists typically pay attention to needs, philosophers to moral theory, sociologists to norms and activists to social change. The chapter offers a way of integrating complementary deliberations of values. In CP we have often invoked one set of considerations at a time and have rarely seen how the various parameters come together. The framework we suggest incorporates multiple voices, combines research and action, draws on various disciplines, pays attention to power and context and can be applied to CP practice.

Sources of Values

We shouldn’t take any set of values for granted, nor should we believe in any of them just because they are endorsed by authority figures. We should question where values come from, what the rationale is for choosing them and what contradictions are present within any set of values. Take the French Revolution again as an example. Although the values of liberty, equality and fraternity have been espoused since at least 1789, women were not allowed to vote or hold public office in France until 1944. Because of contradictions everywhere, we recommend scepticism before adopting or believing in any set of values. In order to make sound decisions regarding values we recommend taking into account a variety of sources (Flyvbjerg, 2001). Table 3.1 shows diverse and complementary sources of values. We will consider each one of these sources, but first, let’s define what we mean by values.

Kekes (1993) defines values as ‘humanly caused benefits that human beings provide to others. ... By way of illustration, we may say that love and justice are moral goods’ (p. 44). Values guide the process of working towards a desired state of affairs. These are principles that inform our personal, professional and political behaviour. But values are not only beneficial in that they guide behaviour towards a future outcome, for they also have intrinsic merit. We espouse values such as empowerment and caring, not just because they lead towards a good or better society but also because they have merit on their own (Kane, 1994; Kekes, 1993). Indeed, according to Mayton, Ball-Rokeach and Loges (1994), ‘values may be defined as enduring prescriptive or proscriptive beliefs that a specific mode of conduct (instrumental value) or end state of existence (terminal value) is preferred to another mode of conduct or end state’ (p. 3). Schwartz (1994) points out that values ‘serve as guiding principles in the life of a person or other social entity’ (p. 21). Values, then, are principles to guide action. We invoke them when we have a conflict with a friend or when we take a stand on a political issue. Are you in favour of insurance benefits for same-sex partners? What is your position regarding the US embargo on Cuba? Would you boycott a movie theatre because there is no access there for your physically disabled friends? Each time you take a stand you’re invoking a value. Now the question is, how do we choose values? We suggest basing our values on vision, context, needs and action.

Table 3.1 Sources of values for holistic and accountable practice in community psychology


Key Question

Situation Explored

Tools for Developing Values

Contribution to Community Psychology


What should be?

Ideal vision

Moral, spiritual and political thinking

Vision of well-being and liberation


What is?

Actual state

Social science studies of individuals and communities

Understanding of social conditions


What is missing?

Desirable state

Experiences of community members

Identification of human needs


What can be done?

Feasible change

Theories of change

Strategies for change

From: Prilleltensky (2001)


Moral and political philosophers debate visions of the best possible society. They use the terms ‘good life’ and ‘good society’ to refer to visions of the best possible situation. They explain the merits and shortcomings of different values, the conditions under which one value may supersede another and potential contradictions between competing orientations. These considerations answer the question: what should be? Philosophers contribute to the discussion on values by portraying an ideal vision of what we should strive for. They can provide a blueprint of a better society in which values of autonomy and community will be mutually enhanced (Etzioni, 1996).

Liberal philosophers, for example, emphasize autonomy, self-determination and the rights of the individual. They are reluctant to promote too much state intervention because they are afraid that governments will end up dictating to private citizens how to run their lives (Brighouse, 2004). They may point to countries like the former Soviet Union where citizens did not have much personal freedom. Communitarian thinkers, on the other hand, claim that we have gone too far in meeting the needs of individuals and that we have sacrificed our social obligations in the pursuit of private satisfaction (Etzioni, 1996; Lerner, 1996). They may point to countries like the United States where there is no national health care system and where people live in gated communities to protect themselves.

Each position poses risks as well as benefits (Mulhall & Swift, 1996). Liberals deserve recognition for promoting liberation from oppressive social norms and regulations (citizens of the former Soviet Union did not appreciate the KGB compiling files on them, nor did citizens of the Victorian era appreciate the repressive sexual norms of the time). But these worthy ideals notwithstanding, liberal philosophy is not without problems. In excess, the pursuit of private goals can lead to unmitigated individualism, selfishness and materialism (Etzioni, 1996). ‘When people pursue private goals, the risk is that they may never acquire an ennobling sense of a purpose beyond the self’ (Damon, 1995, p. 66). This risk is very apparent in market societies where state intervention is minimal and the powerful are free to seek pleasure at the expense of others (Sen, 1999a, 1999b). Indeed, we hear that to climb the corporate ladder you may need to trample on a few people. Not everyone in society has the same amount of power and those with less power have fewer opportunities to advocate for themselves.

Communitarian thinking, on the other hand, is based on the assumption that without cooperation individuals cannot achieve their personal goals. Like liberals, they endorse the fulfilment of personal goals and liberation from oppressive social forces; but unlike liberals, they think that we should strengthen social and communal institutions because personal happiness is not possible without them (Etzioni, 1996). Liberals freed us from coercive institutions, but along the way they also weakened those institutions we need to promote not only the good of the collective but also the good of the individual. We know that strong communities provide a better environment for well-being than weak communities (Putnam, 2000). Essential public programs, sufficiently funded and effectively managed can have long-lasting and beneficial effects on all children and the economy (Belfield & Levin, 2007; Kirp, 2007; Lynch, 2007).

But communitarian thinking is not without risks either. Collectivist societies are known for expecting great sacrifices from their members for the benefit of the public good. Citizens feel coerced to do things they don’t like and they experience state intervention as oppressive (Brighouse, 2004; Weiner, 2008). In addition to political philosophies, visions are also informed by webs of meaning, religion and spirituality. As Maton and colleagues recently observed, ‘one major way in which religion has the potential to influence the common good is by providing meaning to individuals, groups, and societies, thereby influencing values, attitudes, affect, and behavior’ (Maton et al., 2003, pp. 3–4). In some cases spirituality and meaning are equated with religious affiliations, but in other cases they represent beliefs in transcendental beings or in transcendental roles. Some religions, like the Baha’i faith, are very explicit about the role of spirituality in reaching transcendence. According to Mustakova-Possardt (2003),

Baha’i understanding helps demystify the notion of spiritual potential and links it in clearer terms with overall psychological functioning and moral motivation ... every living thing on the material plane reflects some of the qualities of infinite divine potentiality, and that represents its particular beauty, dignity, and purpose. Human beings are endowed with a unique potentiality, which it is the purpose of their lives to manifest more fully – the human spirit. ... Baha’i psychology recognizes at the heart of human motivation the desire for transcendence, an attraction to and a desire to know truth, beauty, and goodness. (pp. 16–17)

Often, although not necessarily, these reflections derive from religious affiliations. People’s spiritualities and pursuit of meaning are as varied as the range of religious and political persuasions. People can exercise their spiritual potential with or without a formal religious affiliation. In either case, historians have persuasively argued that spiritual beliefs inform vision, values and devotion to causes. Convincing philosophical and religious positions notwithstanding, they are insufficient to mount social policies that meet the needs of minorities, women, families, children and the disadvantaged. An ever-present danger in philosophical discourse is its detachment from the social conditions in which people live. To counteract this risk we need to explore the contextual circumstances that complement philosophical considerations.


This set of considerations explores the actual state of affairs in which people live. Community psychologists and social scientists strive to understand the social, economic, cultural and political conditions of a specific community. This line of inquiry helps us to determine social norms and cultural trends influencing people’s choices and behaviour (Trickett, 1996).

A contextual assessment is necessary to understand the subjective experience of the residents of a particular community. Individualist and collectivist societies differ with respect to socialization, customs and visions. Poor and rich communities ascribe different values to basic necessities. Eric Wiener, a journalist with National Public Radio in the United States, decided to explore the meaning of happiness in ten different countries. He travelled to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan,

Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India and the United States. Not surprisingly, his travels convinced him that context is essential for understanding the vast array of conceptions of well-being and happiness people hold. In Moldova, the basic necessities become all consuming. In Iceland, self-expression reigns. Weiner claims that ‘happiness is not inside of us but out there. Or, to be more precise, the line between out there and in here is not as sharply defined as we think.... In other words, where we are is vital to who we are. By “where,” I’m speaking not only of our physical environment but also of our cultural environment’ (Weiner, 2008, p. 3). The meaning of self-determination in an individualist society is vastly different from its meaning in a collectivist environment. In a totally collectivist society, citizens yearn for more autonomy and resent state and communal intrusion. Examples include ‘curtailing individual rights in the name of community needs; suppressing creativity in the name of conformity; and even suppressing a sense of self, losing individuality in a mesh of familial or communal relations’ (Etzioni, 1996, p. 26). In an individualist environment, on the other hand, citizens want more sense of community and less selfishness. Unless we know the context, we cannot really know what values to promote (D’Andrade, 2008).


It is not enough for philosophers to ponder what the rest of us need or for social scientists to recommend what will make our communities better places. Visions of the good society have to be validated with the lived experience and the needs of community members (Hultman & Gellerman, 2002; Kraut, 2007).

Needs are an important source for considering values. Needs address key questions: What is missing? What is a desirable state of affairs? This source of values pays explicit attention to the voice of the people with whom we partner to improve community well-being. CP is uniquely placed to elicit the needs of people in positions of disadvantage.

Qualitative studies of people’s struggles, aspirations, conflicts, frustrations and joys provide a picture of what people regard worthwhile in life. Parents disclose their doubts about how to raise children, children share their fears and pleasures and minorities relate experiences of discrimination. These accounts reveal their needs and aspirations.

By asking people what they want, need and consider meaningful in life, we learn about the ingredients of an appealing vision (Fals Borda, 2001). This does not mean that whatever people say should be acceptable. For it is quite conceivable that the majority of people in a society may be wrong or malicious. History shows that majorities can endorse vicious attitudes. Just as philosophical arguments have to be checked against human needs, human wishes have to be subjected to ethical scrutiny. This ensures that the needs and desires expressed by people are not immoral or unethical.


Whereas the previous sources examined actual, ideal and desirable states of affairs in society, action concerns feasible change. Unlike previous deliberations, which asked what is, what is missing, or what should be, the main question answered by this set of considerations is, what could be done? This question is meant to bridge the gap between the actual and the ideal states of affairs. Feasible change draws our attention to what social improvements can be realistically achieved – a distinct political goal (Fals Borda, 2001).

Agents of change translate values and community input into action. These are the professionals, para-professionals, politicians, volunteers and activists who combine values with human experience to improve the welfare of a particular population. Agents of change strive to promote well-being by combining values with knowledge of what people want, need and regard important in life. Agents of change bridge between the abstract notions of philosophers and the lived experience of community members. They try to adapt ideals of the good society to specific contexts (Szakos & Szakos, 2007). In that sense, all of us who work in communities are agents of change.

The complementary nature of the four sources of values now becomes apparent. Without a philosophical analysis we lack a vision, without a contextual analysis we lack an understanding of social forces, without a needs assessment we lack an idea of what people want and, finally, without a strategy we lack action. The interdependence of these sources makes it clear that we cannot rely on single sources of values (Hultman & Gellerman, 2002).

Criteria for Choosing Values

Now that we know what sources should contribute to our menu of values, we need criteria to choose from the menu. From all the potential values suggested by philosophers, community members, psychologists and social activists, how do we know which ones are congruent with the mission of CP? We recommend four criteria that try to balance complementary considerations.

Balance between Theoretical and Grounded Input

A balance between theoretical and grounded input is needed to complement analytical with experiential approaches to knowledge. Philosophical analyses of what values can lead to a good life and a good society are useful but limited. What is the use of a philosophical framework that does not reflect the living realities of people? The corollary of this question is that moral philosophy is not enough. On the other hand, we can ask, what is the point of knowing people’s needs and aspirations if that knowledge is not translated into action? The corollary of this question is that grounded input is not enough (Kane, 1994). Theories of values have to be validated with lived experience and lived experience has to be interpreted meaningfully and converted into action.

Balance between Understanding and Action

A balance between understanding and action is needed to ensure that knowledge does not end up on a shelf. The ultimate purpose of values is to enjoy a fuller life. To make an impact in the world, our theoretical sophistication has to be followed by action, a principle inscribed in the very name of the Division of CP (Division 27) of the American Psychological Association: The Society for Community Research and Action.

Imagine what an incredible waste of resources it would be to generate a lot of knowledge about a social issue and not implement any of it in action. Pairing research and action ensures that knowledge generation is tied to program or policy implementation.

But the urge to act should not come at the expense of reflection. We need to reflect on the risks and benefits of pursuing one course of action over another. Whereas one set of values may be appropriate to one social context, it may be inappropriate in another. Thus, while we promote more autonomy and control for disadvantaged people in oppressively controlling environments, we don’t want to push for more self-determination of violent people. Blind adherence to any value, from personal empowerment to sense of community, is risky.

Balance between Processes and Outcomes

A balance between processes and outcomes is needed to ensure that dialogue is not an end in itself. By the same token, we need to assert that ends do not automatically justify any means. If the object of an intervention is to uphold the rights of a minority group, do we justify any means, including terrorism? On the other hand, can we justify endless talk when the lives of vulnerable children and families in conflict zones are at risk? These tensions between valid processes and just outcomes should be reflected in any framework of values.

When Isaac was director of the CP program in Wilfrid Laurier University, staff and students embarked on a curriculum revision. People were so focused on reaching consensus and having a good process that we nearly forgot the main reason for the whole exercise. Students and staff became disenchanted with the process because nothing much was being accomplished. Once we realized as a group that process is not an end in itself we made progress on the curriculum revision. Too much process at the expense of outcomes is not a good process.

Balance between Differing and Unequal Voices

A balance between differing and unequal voices is the fourth criterion for choosing values. Social policies and programs are typically formulated by powerful politicians, educated government officials and privileged academics. Efforts by community psychologists to work in partnership with disadvantaged members of society are not typical of social policy formation (Nelson, Prilleltensky & Peters, 2001). On the contrary, most social policies are conceived in the absence of meaningful input from those most affected by them (Lord & Hutchison, 2007). Hence, a framework of values should be attentive to differing voices and in particular to those who are often rendered invisible by the political process. Unequal power and unequal representation must be considered in proposing values. Values that are based on the voice of the powerful will usually perpetuate the status quo, whereas values that are based on the voice of the powerless have a better chance of promoting change (Lord & Hutchison, 2007).

Assume for a moment that you want to establish a prevention program and you want to work with a community on a vision of physical and mental health. You invite to the table professionals, hospital administrators, city officials and some community members. If the vision and values of the program do not reflect the voice of the community members themselves, it is likely that the new initiatives will represent the voice of the powerful professionals and not of the community. These two groups have unequal power in articulating their views. Values and vision need to reflect the various perspectives and interests involved in the matter. Otherwise, chances are the powerful will impose their views, however wellintentioned they might be.

Values for Community Psychology

Based on the sources and criteria presented above, we are now in a position to suggest some core values for CP. We classify core values into three groups:

■ values for personal well-being

■ values for relational well-being

■ values for collective well-being.

Well-being is a positive state of affairs, brought about by the satisfaction of personal, relational and collective needs (Prilleltensky, Nelson & Peirson, 2001a). Our definition is consistent with Tyler’s definition of a prosocial community. According to him, ‘a prosocial community is one in which everyone is committed to working together for their own well-being, each other’s well-being, and that of the community, the society, and ultimately the world’ (2007, p. 6). As a vision, wellbeing is an ideal state of affairs for individuals and communities. To achieve it, we have to know the context, the needs of people and groups and the best available strategies. Well-being consists of individual components (personal, relational and collective needs) and of the synergy created by all of them together. In the absence of any one component, well-being cannot really be achieved. To make this dictum an integral part of our values, we invoke the meta-value of holism. As Cowen (1996) observed, ‘optimal development of well-being... requires integrated sets of operations involving individuals, families, settings, community contexts and macro-level societal structures and policies’ (p. 246). Table 3.2 shows the diverse needs and values required to achieve well-being at different levels. We examine next each category of values on its own. Later we consider the holistic synergy created by combining them.

Values for Personal Well-being

These are values that serve the needs of the person. Self-determination, caring and compassion and personal health advance the well-being of individual community members. Self-determination or autonomy refers to the ability of the individual to pursue chosen goals in life without excessive frustration. This is akin to the concept of empowerment, according to which individuals and groups strive to gain control over their lives (Zimmerman, 2000). Personal health, in turn, is a state of

Table 3.2 Selected values for personal, relational and collective well-being


Well-being is achieved by holistic practice that attends to the following domains:

Personal Well-being

Relational Well-being

Collective Well-being



Caring and compassion


Respect for diversity

Participation and collaboration

Support for community structures

Social justice and accountability


Creation of opportunities in self and others to pursue chosen goals in life without excessive frustration

Expression of care and concern for the physical and emotional well-being of self and others

Protection of physical and emotional health of self and others

Promotion of respect and appreciation for diverse social identities and for people’s ability to define themselves

Promotion of fair processes whereby children and adults can have meaningful input into decisions affecting their lives

Promotion of vital community structures that facilitate the pursuit of personal and communal goals

Promotion of fair and equitable allocation of bargaining powers, obligations and resources for the oppressed

Needs Addressed

Mastery, control, self-efficacy, voice, choice, skills, growth and autonomy

Love, attention, empathy, attachment, acceptance, positive regard

Emotional and physical well-being

Identity, dignity, selfrespect, self-esteem, acceptance

Participation, involvement and mutual responsibility

Sense of community, cohesion, formal support

Economic security, shelter, clothing, nutrition, access to vital health and social services

From: Prilleltensky and Nelson (2002) physical and emotional well-being that is intrinsically beneficial and extrinsically instrumental in pursuing self-determination. The values of caring and compassion meet the need for empathy, understanding and solidarity. When people are the beneficiaries of these values their personal well-being is enhanced. But for them to enjoy these values, they have to engage in relationships that support them and they have to live in communities that care about these values (Ornish, 1997). Caring and compassion are based on sensitive relationships and self-determination is based on resources and opportunities. Without caring relationships there is no mutual understanding and without public resources there is little chance of fulfilling personal goals, especially for the poor and disadvantaged (Narayan, Patel et al., 2000).

Values for Relational Well-being

Philosophers (Kraut, 2007), social scientists (Lord & Hutchison, 2007) and journalists alike (Weiner, 2008) know that well-being is not a solitary but rather a relational experience. Following his ten-country journey in the pursuit of happiness, Weiner reflects: ‘Of all the places I visited, of all the people I met, one keeps coming back to me again and again: Karma Ura, the Bhutanese scholar and cancer survivor. “There is no such thing as personal happiness,” he told me. “Happiness is one hundred percent relational” ’ (Weiner, 2008, p. 324). Weiner agrees: ‘Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbours and the woman you hardly notice who cleans your office. Happiness is not a noun or verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue’ (p. 324). This relationality can induce pleasure but also pain.

When conflicts between individuals or groups arise, it is crucial to have collaborative processes to resolve them. Otherwise, it is just a matter of the powerful imposing their will on others. Relational values remind us that self-determination must have limits. My wishes and desires have to take into account your wishes and desires. If they conflict, we have to have a process to resolve our differences. We have to be able to appreciate diversity and to respect it, and we should not romanticize communities and expect everyone to show caring and compassion for others.

Respect for a person’s identity is, according to Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (1992), ‘not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need’ (p. 26). When we affirm people’s identities, we help them affirm themselves. When we respect their defining human qualities, we help them respect themselves. Conversely, ‘a person or group of people can suffer real damage,’ Taylor says, ‘if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression’ (p. 25).

From a mental health perspective, studies have shown the beneficial effects of granting children and adults an opportunity to define their own personal identity, without fearing oppression or discrimination. On the other hand, when people’s identities are disparaged or diminished, there are negative effects on their selfesteem and overall mental health (for reviews of research see Dudgeon, Garvey & Pickett, 2000; Marmot, 2004). Appreciation for diverse social identities serves as a protective factor, whereas lack of respect constitutes a definite risk factor. In Canada and Australia, aboriginal peoples have been subjected to demeaning and racist treatment that has led to serious emotional and community problems (Dudgeon et al., 2000).

Values for Collective Well-being

Collective values complement individual aims, for the attainment of personal objectives requires the presence of social resources. Distributive justice, or the fair and equitable allocation of bargaining powers, resources and obligations in society, is a prime example of a collective value. Support for societal structures and for the environment is another key value. Both of these values enable the achievement of personal and communal well-being.

Community psychologists have long recognized that people need resources to enjoy good health, to reach their potential and to nurture their identity (Dalton et al., 2001). This is why the pursuit of social justice is so decisive. Without it, the prospects of personal and relational well-being remain elusive. To place social justice at the forefront of our priorities, we link it to the meta-value of accountability. Together, social justice and accountability to the oppressed mark the top priority for CP.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) recognizes the need for strong community structures in the development of children around the world (United Nations, 1991). ‘States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development’ (UNCRC, Article 27.1, emphasis added). The same article insists that countries ‘shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programs, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing’ (Article 29.3).

How could we pursue well-being in the absence of institutions such as public health, schools or transportation systems? Can you think of healthy development in a toxic environment? What about poor children and single parents without government supports? Societal structures that look after people and the environment are essential for the promotion of health and well-being. Research on social determinants of health provides convincing evidence that environmental factors, broadly defined, influence our level of well-being in multiple ways. Physical, cultural, political, economic and psychological factors combine to promote or decrease personal and collective health. There is a great deal of research showing that inequality and lack of control are conducive to poor outcomes not only for the poor but also for middle-class people (Keating & Hertzman, 1999a; Wilkinson, 1996). This is why we need to uphold the values of social justice and support for public institutions.

Publicly funded institutions perform a critical role in preventing disempowering chain reactions for people at risk. But their virtue goes beyond supporting the needy, for these organizations enhance the health and welfare of the population at large. Strong community structures afford us clean water, sewage systems, childcare (in countries where it is publicly funded), recreational opportunities, libraries, unemployment insurance, pension plans, free primary and secondary education, access to health care and many other social goods (Prilleltensky et al., 2001).

The Synergy of Values

Well-being comes about in the combination of personal, relational and collective values. The net effect of all the values combined is called synergy. This is reflected in our meta-value of holism. What is unique about CP is that it seeks to integrate the three sets of values. As we can see in Figure 3.1, well-being is at the intersection of the three domains. Traditional approaches to psychology have concentrated on the personal and relational domains, to the exclusion of the collective. As a result, psychologists neglected to consider the powerful impact of the psychosocial environment; not only on physical, but also on emotional health.

Consider for example the impact of inequality. Societies with higher levels of inequality have poorer outcomes for the entire population, not just for the poor and disadvantaged:

Differences in equity of income distribution is one of the principal determinants of differing health status among wealthy societies. Countries with highly unequal income distributions have poorer health status than those with more equitable income distributions. ... This pattern suggests that health status (as a measure of human well-being) may be embedded in collective factors in society, not just in individual factors. ... These findings led us to the conclusion that the underlying factors that determine health and well-being must be deeply embedded in social circumstances. (Keating & Hertzman, 1999b, pp. 6–7)

Given this evidence, we cannot accept definitions of well-being that are based exclusively on individual factors. The problem is that these definitions are psychocentric – they concentrate on the cognitive and emotional sources and consequences of suffering and well-being, to the exclusion of the political roots of power and well-being. While beliefs and perceptions are important, they cannot be treated in isolation from the cultural, political and economic environment (Eckersley, 2000, 2001).

Figure 3.1 Values for holistic well-being

We require ‘well-enough’ social and political conditions, free of economic exploitation and human rights abuses, to experience quality of life (Eckersley, Dixon & Douglas, 2001). Similarly, we need nurturing and respectful relationships to experience well-being. Eckersley (2000) has shown that subjective experiences of well-being are heavily dictated by cultural trends such as individualism and consumerism, whereas Narayan and colleagues have claimed that the psychological experience of poverty is directly related to political structures of oppression (Narayan, Patel, et al., 2000).

Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate economist, describes well-being in terms of capabilities and entitlements (1999a, 1999b). Without the latter the former cannot thrive. Entitlements such as preventive health care and educational opportunities are not only means to human development but are also ends in their own right. Well-being at the collective level is not measured only by the health and educational outcomes of a group of individuals but also by the presence of enabling institutions and societal infrastructures. Hence, we define well-being in broad terms that encompass social progress and human development. We cannot talk about psychological well-being in the absence of interpersonal and collective wellbeing. The three kinds are mutually reinforcing and interdependent.

Sen (1999a, 1999b) articulates the complementarity or holism of diverse social structures in fostering what we call ‘well-being’ and what he calls ‘human development’. Sen invokes the interaction of five types of freedoms in the pursuit of human development: (a) political freedoms, (b) economic facilities, (c) social opportunities, (d) transparency and honesty and (e) protective security:

Each of these distinct types of rights and opportunities helps to advance the general capability of a person. They may also serve to complement each other.... Freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its principal means. In addition to acknowledging, foundationally, the evaluative importance of freedom, we also have to understand the remarkable empirical connection that links freedoms of different kinds with one another. Political freedoms (in the form of free speeches and elections) help to promote economic security. Social opportunities (in the form of education and health facilities) facilitate economic participation. Economic facilities (in the form of opportunities for participation in trade and production) can help to generate personal abundance as well as public resources for social facilities. Freedoms of different kinds can strengthen one another. (Sen, 1999b, pp. 10–11)

The presence or absence of health-promoting factors at all levels can have positive or negative synergistic effects. When collective factors such as social justice and access to valued resources combine with a sense of community and personal empowerment, chances are that psychological and political well-being will ensue. When, on the other hand, injustice and exploitation reign, the result is suffering and oppression (Schwalbe, 2008).

Principles for Action

We have reviewed so far the sources and criteria for choosing values. Based on that, we then selected a set of values (see Table 3.2). The challenge now is to actualize them, to put them into practice. The meta-value that reminds us to put values into action is the value of accountability. In an earlier publication (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 1997) we suggested a few principles to guide the implementation of CP’s values. The following is an updated and expanded list of key principles:

Principle 1

Advancing the well-being of disadvantaged communities requires actualizing all values in a balanced and holistic way.

Table 3.3 shows our assessment of the current prominence of CP values. As can be seen, not all values are equally prominent. Some are given more attention than others. According to our assessment, collective values are somewhat neglected, if not in theory, certainly in practice (Ahmed & Pretorius-Heuchert, 2001; Prilleltensky & Nelson, 1997).

As each value by itself is insufficient, problems arise when we adhere too closely to one principle but neglect another equally important one. A typical case is the extolment of autonomy and self-determination at the expense of distributive justice or sense of community (Riger, 1993). There cannot be justice in the absence of care, and there cannot be care without justice.

Principle 2

Within a given social ecology, some values appear at the foreground of our conscious- ness while others remain in the background. We must move the neglected values to the foreground to attain the necessary balance.

The social ecology influences the particular configuration of values at a certain time and place. As a result, some values are more prominent than others. In Western societies, for example, the values of social justice, support for community structures and environmental protection are currently in the background. In contrast,

Table 3.3 Prominence and potential for social change of community psychology values


Current Level of Prominence Background------------Foreground

Potential for Social Change Ameliorative----------Transformative

Caring and compassion









Participation and collaboration



Respect for diversity



Support for community structures



Social justice


---------------------------------X ---



-----------------------------------X ---



-----------------------------------X --caring, compassion and health are in the forefront. In this type of context it is necessary to accentuate the background values.

Principle 3

Within the present social context, the value of social justice remains in the back- ground. By neglecting this value, we reinforce the same unjust state of affairs that disadvantaged many communities in the first place.

Neglecting social justice reinforces an unjust state of affairs (Schwalbe, 2008). But our historical analysis suggests that most of our work as community psychologists tries to ameliorate – not transform – living conditions within the existing distribution of resources. Herein lies the main barrier for the fulfilment of our mission (see Table 3.3). For as long as we try to address only the consequences of uneven allocation of resources, without looking at the problem’s root cause, we confront only the surface of the issues. Most of the issues we deal with in our preventive and community interventions are symptoms of profound social injustice (Levy & Sidel, 2006).

Principle 4

We must distinguish between ameliorating living conditions within the present social structure and transforming the conditions that create disadvantage.

We need to ask ourselves whether our persistent efforts to organize communities are directed at amelioration or transformation. Amelioration means change within a system, or what has been termed ‘first-order change’, while transformation means changing the basic premises of a system or ‘second-order change’ (Rappaport, 1977). To be sure, ameliorative work is important and needed. However, without larger transformative efforts these gains may be undermined in the long term.

The irony is that social justice, one of the neglected values in the practice of CP, holds the most promise to deliver long and lasting social change (see Table 3.3). Once structures of inequality are changed, it is likely that many of the current social ills will be alleviated (Marmot, 2004; Wilkinson, 1996).

Principle 5

We must expand the implementation of values from micro and meso contexts to macro social ecologies. This is part of our accountability.

Applied psychologists usually implement values at the micro level (e.g. family and interpersonal relationships) or, at best, at the meso or middle level (e.g. workplace, schools). Many psychologists try to enhance the self-determination of clients or small groups. Furthermore, they show empathy and concern for people suffering from life stressors. But these micro and meso interventions are embedded within a larger social context of inequality, oppression and discrimination. Hence, efforts to promote collaboration and respect for diversity at the micro level are undermined at the macro level by social structures of inequality (Schwalbe, 2008).

Principle 6

Vested interests and social power interfere with the promotion of values. We need to monitor how subjective, interpersonal and political processes facilitate or inhibit the enactment of values for well-being.

The promotion of values is threatened by personal interests. Values exist in a context of wishes, desires, insecurities, domination and power dynamics (Prilleltensky, 2000, 2001, 2008). As such, we have to take into account how these factors may jeopardize our ability to foster value-based practice. These threatening dynamics operate within ourselves and within the people and groups we work with. There is no point in pronouncing all kinds of wonderful values if private interests and power inequalities are really against justice or fairness. Unless we pay attention to the objective and subjective dynamics of power, our chances of enacting valuebased practice are greatly diminished.

Principle 7

We should strive to create a state of affairs in which personal power and self-interest do not undermine the well-being or interest of others.

We should develop an awareness of how personal power and vested interests suffuse all aspects of organizational and community work. This is an awareness that should be spread throughout the organization, project or community. Workers and leaders need to reflect how their personal lives and subjective experiences influence what they deem ethical or valuable for themselves, the organization, the project and the community (Hultman & Gellerman, 2002). Awareness, however, is only the first step in keeping vested interests in check. The satisfaction of personal needs is another important requisite. Citizens are more likely to abide by collective values and norms when they feel that their personal needs are met.

The process of balancing interests with values, however, can be subverted in various ways (see Box entitled ‘Ten Threats to Value-based Practice’ on website). One possible subversion is the development of a discourse on values that legitimizes self-interests. For example, the notion of a ‘self-made person’, which is quite prevalent in North America, can justify privilege on the basis of merit. The value of personal merit can be distorted into a pretext for not sharing power or resources. Another potential subversion is the creation of a safe space for discussion of values that doesn’t challenge participants to change but, rather, appeases their conscience. A final subversion is sharing token power to prevent sharing of actual power. There are many ways to protect power structures, and, ironically, sharing power is one of them. Giving a little power can prevent the demand for a lot of power (Bradshaw,


Principle 8

We should strive to enhance value congruence within ourselves and between groups and communities.

First, we should try to establish concordance among our own personal values, interests and power. Then, we should try to spread this process throughout organizations and communities. The next step is to enhance the zone of congruence among citizens, workers and leaders. Community psychologists should try to create partnerships among the different stakeholder groups to achieve concordance of values and objectives. The primary task in the creation of partnerships is the establishment of trust. This is achieved by meaningful and collaborative participation of workers and communities in decision-making processes. There are many examples and guidelines for the successful and meaningful engagement of communities in organizations (Nelson, Prilleltensky et al., 2001). Token consultative processes subvert the intent of true partnerships. When consumers realize that their voice is only minimally respected but maximally exploited for public relations purposes, a great deal of damage can ensue. Worst of all, we allow the value of accountability to be violated.

Principle 9

There is a need to confront people and groups subverting values, abusing power or allowing self-interest to undermine the well-being of others in the organization or in the community.

Efforts to promote value-based practice notwithstanding, chances are that some people will behave in ways that contradict the vision and values of a project or organization. This is when we need to engage in conflict resolution with the person or group undermining organizational values. This is part of the value of accountability. A culture of openness and critique facilitates the resolution of conflict. In a climate of respectful debate the opposing parties can come to an agreement that is in line with the vision of the organization. But there are times when such a healthy climate cannot prevent serious conflict. If the conflict is about ideas and differing interpretations of values, it is likely that a resolution may be easily reached. But if the conflict is about personal interests or power, chances are that differences may be irreconcilable.

While confrontation may be used for the good of the organization and the public, it may also be used to suppress legitimate voices of discontent. In the latter case, leaders can exercise their power to silence opposing views. This is an example of how conflict resolution can be subverted in the interest of enhancing the power of leaders. But confrontations can also be used by workers and community members to undermine legitimate leadership.

Principle 10

Community psychologists and community leaders need to be accountable to the stake- holder groups.

Community workers need to be accountable to stakeholder groups about their efforts to promote value congruence and to confront people abusing power. In an effort to avoid conflict, some people sweep the unacceptable behaviour of colleagues under the carpet. In an effort to find conflict, others seek fault in their peers. Community psychologists need to be wary of these hyperor hypoconfrontational styles. Whereas the former may be just an expression of anger and aggression, the latter may be a manifestation of fear.

Chapter Summary

Values are guidelines for promoting a better state of affairs for ourselves and others (Kekes, 1993). Table 3.4 provides a checklist to ensure that we strive to achieve all values in our practice, programs and policies. This table can be used as a template in devising value-based interventions in multiple settings (e.g. schools, workplace, hospitals, communities) and with a variety of foci (e.g. health promotion, drug-abuse prevention, teenage pregnancy, formal and informal support, minority rights, child abuse).

Community psychologists are interested in values that promote the well-being of disadvantaged people. However, given that people’s needs vary according to their particular circumstances, it is nearly impossible to formulate a universal list of values (Giddens, 1994; Kane, 1994; Kekes, 1993). Hence, we must remember that any proposed set of values contains contextual limitations. We should also recognize that some groups may require certain values more than others. Keeping in mind that context determines the best set of values is an antidote against dogmatism – the rigid application of beliefs regardless of context. Asking

Table 3.4 Questions for assessing the values of programs, practices and policies in community psychology




Do they promote the ability of children, adults and communities to pursue their chosen goals without excessive frustration and in consideration of other people’s needs?

Caring and compassion

Do they promote the expression of care, empathy and concern for the physical and emotional well-being of children, adults, families and disadvantaged communities?


Do they promote the health of individuals and communities?

Respect for diversity

Do they promote respect and appreciation for diverse social identities?

Participation and collaboration

Do they promote peaceful, respectful and equitable processes whereby children and adults can have meaningful input into decisions affecting their lives?

Support for community structures

Do they promote vital community structures that facilitate the pursuit of personal and communal goals?

Social justice

Do they promote the fair and equitable allocation of bargaining powers, obligations and resources in society?


Do they promote holistic reasoning and interventions at the micro, meso and macro levels of analysis?


Do they promote accountability to oppressed groups and depowerment of the privileged? people themselves what they need goes a long way to ensure that we do not impose inappropriate values on them.

We emphasized the need to distinguish between ameliorating living conditions and transforming the conditions that create and perpetuate oppression. Alleviating suffering is commendable, but there comes a point where amelioration by itself works against the eradication of oppressive conditions. This is because amelioration allows the system to keep working smoothly (Lord & Hutchison, 2007).

The challenge of harmonizing personal and collective interests is not trivial. How do we promote the unique identity and rights of a certain group without sacrificing solidarity with other oppressed groups? At which point do we turn our attention to other groups suffering from discrimination? How do we balance attention to processes of dialogue with outcomes of social justice? At which point do we say that we have discussed our differences long enough and that it is now time for action? All these questions involve values and cannot be answered in the abstract, for each unique constellation of factors requires a unique solution. The framework presented in this chapter is a place to start because it identifies three complementary sets of values. Giddens promotes these values because they imply a ‘recognition of the sanctity of human life and the universal right to happiness and self-actualization – coupled to the obligation to promote cosmopolitan solidarity and an attitude of respect’ (1994, p. 253).

Socioethical Ecology of Community Psychology:

Communitarian Values in an Individualistic Era Alipio Sánchez Vidal

Although CP is a value-laden field, it has always exhibited a rather ambiguous attitude towards values and ethics. While values are recognized as a central ingredient – Rappaport (1977) subtitled his book ‘Values, Research, and Action’ – they remain largely hidden or implicit in theory and action. Though the field takes pride on its ethical position (‘we are the good guys’), it has been reluctant to openly confront issues and conflicts generated in actual practice (Davidson, 1989). Nelson and Prilleltensky’s exploration of CP values is then a welcome task. In this chapter they propose a framework for selecting values. Furthermore, they put forward a set of values and action principles to translate them into reality in current social contexts. And they do so in a critical, balanced and positive way. I find especially valuable the orderly structure and clarity of the proposal, the authors’ willingness to support countercurrent social values (such as social justice) and the emphasis put on the often forgotten category of relational values, so important in any psychosocial endeavour.

In this comment I will briefly elaborate on some points regarding CP and values. I will try to place CP values into the larger social picture on the one hand, and into the ethical process of social action, on the other.

Social dynamics of values: the large picture. Agreeing with the authors that values are ‘out of balance, out of context and out of control’ and recognizing CP’s value-activist role, I believe the level of analysis has to be elevated and widened even further if we are to understand and counteract the powerful forces moulding social values. It is not enough for community psychologists to promote collective, solidarity-fostering values such as social justice, community and empowerment of the poor and disadvantaged. We must realize that we are also confronting certain values – self-interest, individualism, competition – which are the very cultural grounds of capitalism and other modern institutions, their ‘implicit program’, so to speak. And what is the inexorable result of capitalism’s implicit program? The systematic destruction of the very social and moral fabric (bonds, relations, trust, otherness) that CP is supposed to promote. For as long as rich societies are willing to maintain their current living standards and support the socioeconomic logic grounding it, confronting ‘market values’ would mean challenging the economic basis upon which the affluent world is set. While we keep wanting more and more material artefacts and services and build our well-being on consuming things, advancing adversarial values such as social justice or community appears rather difficult, but not impossible, as the emergence of ecological values has shown.

Global solutions to global problems. We also have to be aware that individualistic, ‘market values’ are very powerful and difficult to counter in western countries for at least three reasons:

a. They are ‘executive’, functionally effective values that govern a large portion of social life. Vital tasks such as looking for a job, progressing socially or getting good grades in school, are ruled by the values of autonomy, competition and self-interest, not by those of community, social justice or empowerment.

b. Those values are sustained by an impressive machinery of media and advertising which is very effective in creating artificial needs in rich countries and in supporting a wasteful, economically unequal order within and across countries (North–South dimension).

c. They are presented as the ‘only’ effective way to a good life and a good society (‘unique way of thinking’) since ‘there are no alternatives’ to dominant neoliberalism, individualism and utilitarian calculus. Social conformity to such values – and to its derived way of living – is to be expected as a basic component of current, unilateral globalization. To manage this situation CP should, first, fight on all those fronts: social conformity and homogenization of thinking, setting forth humanizing values and alternatives and spreading them socially, unmasking media and manipulation and cooperating with allies in showing that there are alternative values and ways of organizing society. Since changing values is a first step to change social priorities, which certainly implies – I agree with Nelson and Prilleltensky – bringing forgotten values into the foreground.

We must, second, be aware that global problems require global solutions, not only community ones. That positions CP in a quandary typical of all psychological attempts at social action. Confronting global, multi-sectorial problems with psychosocial instruments we run the risk of staying within psychological limits at the cost of ‘psychologizing’ problems and leaving deep roots of social problems and aspirations untouched.

Solutions? Multidisciplinary approaches and partnerships with community and social groups are necessary. What else? I think that community psychologists need to be humbler about the changes that we can bring about (without being too humble). We must also recognize the need for convergent approaches to social change, either from the top (redefining institutions and governments so they are responsive to people’s needs rather than to some elites managing the multinationals’ interests) or from the bottom. Social movements that reject the view of the world as a big market, seek actual changes and advocate for more collective and humane values. This is parallel to advocating for ‘transformative’ rather than ‘ameliorative’ changes (a distinction so appealing in theory as it is blurred and hard to maintain in daily practice!).

Third, we must remember that, contrary to neoliberal myths, the interests of the majority are best represented by public institutions, while deregulation, flexibility and pure competition generally work to the benefit of the few powerful, at the expense of the (silent) majorities and, worst of all, against the needs of the weaker and unorganized sectors. Fourth, CP must sustain its ‘natural’ values – community, empowerment, solidarity and social justice – although they challenge established values such as individual autonomy.

Introducing an ethical perspective. Adding this to the analysis of values will help, I believe, render a more practical orientation. How? In several ways:

a. Ethics would introduce a process axis connecting the more abstract level (vision and core values) to the more concrete level (actual action and behaviour) in two directions: bottom-up (behaviour and consequences to values) and top-down (values to behaviour).

b. Acknowledging the importance of holism, we need to recognize the interrelated nature of values (so that advancing value A – say, efficacy – we would reduce value B – say, equality) and the inevitability of priorities (something implied in the background– foreground distinction) as difficult but necessary steps for making decisions in practice, especially in situations of value conflict. The conflict of community and individual autonomy is a case in point. CP cannot be built on the bases of individual autonomy and self-reliance since, as argued, those values result from the dissolution of bonds and relationships that weave the very community tissue (Bellah et al., 1985; Kirpatrick, 1986; Montero, 1991; Sawaia, 1995; Serrano-García & Vargas, 1992).

c. Although I agree with Nelson and Prilleltensky’s call for collaborative values, I find it necessary to add conflict models (e.g. Laue & Cormick, 1978) to deal with divergent interests in cases where collaborative models will not work. Since conflict models are frequently based on power and self-interest, we need to balance them with shared conceptions of the good acceptable by all community parties (Williams, 1978). Introducing relational values as a bridge between personal and social values – a relevant contribution of the chapter – is a step in the same direction. The value of trust can be proposed as a core collaborative value so that we conceive the relationship with the community as a trust-building process.

Power. I would suggest considering power both as a value and as a resource, whose equitable distribution among persons and communities is conducive to human development. Being, however, a political commodity as well, its use has to be ethically monitored. How? In the case of community interventions that can be done by defining a legitimate self-benefit that sets and limits the rewards – usually linked to power – that the practitioner may legitimately seek for him or herself: self-esteem, security, social recognition for his or her work and so on. Besides, if power is a resource contributing to well-being and welfare, community psychologists should help to ‘create’ power in others (empowering them). How? At least in two ways. At the micro level sharing power with others (keeping egalitarian relationships, and ‘giving away’ useful psychology). At the macro level, fostering social participation and struggling for a more equitable distribution of power and resources among social groups (helping the powerless to organize, unmasking oppressive situations and so on).

And beyond. CP requires good evaluation and intervention techniques derived from sound psychological and social science to ‘produce’ desired results. We need a strategy that takes into account the resources of the intervener and the external means necessary to translate designs into actions (time, energy, social motivation and solidarity, internal and external power and so on).

Managing uncertainty and complexity. Ethical and value problems grow in conditions of social complexity and uncertainty (Kelman & Warwick, 1978; O’Neill, 1989) so common in CP. In such conditions the community psychologist should be ready to clarify the values of different groups and offer values adequate to the specific situational demands (Sánchez Vidal, 1999). I have proposed a framework to analyse ethical or value questions in complex (conflicting or uncertain) social situations (Sánchez Vidal, 2002). It consists of four steps:

a. identify relevant social actors (persons, groups, institutions and so on)

b. ascertain the main values (declared or implicit) of each actor

c. detect available options of action

d. anticipate consequences of each choice for the different actors.

An examination of the first two steps enables the identification of conflicts and convergences, while scrutiny of the last two helps to predict social actors’ reactions to proposed actions.

Table 3.5 Template for holistic value-based actions to address social issues






Caring and compassion


Respect for diversity

Collaboration and democracy


Social justice and accountability

Support for community structures

Ecology, Prevention and Promotion

Chapter Organization

The Ecological Metaphor

◆ What Is the Ecological Metaphor? Interdependence; Cycling of Resources; Adaptation; Succession + Why Is the Ecological Metaphor Important? Perceived Environments; Objective Characteristics of Environments; Transactional Approaches + What Is the Value-base of the Ecological Metaphor? + How Can the Ecological Metaphor Be Implemented?

◆ What Are the Limitations of the Ecological Metaphor?

Prevention and Promotion

◆ What Are Prevention and Promotion? Prevention; Health Promotion

◆ Why Are Prevention and Promotion Important? + What Is the

Value-base of Prevention and Promotion? + How Can Prevention and

Promotion Be Implemented? Risk Factors, Protective Factors and High-risk

Approaches to Prevention; Universal Approaches to the Promotion of Health and Well-being; Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Implementation of Prevention and Promotion; Dissemination of Prevention and Promotion + What Are the Limitations of Prevention and Promotion?

Chapter Summary

COMMENTARY: Social Class, Power, Ecology and Prevention

Class Exercise



Warm-up Exercise

a. Reflecting on your childhood, think of some risk factors or stressful situations that threatened your sense of well-being.

b. What were some of the resources or protective factors (personal qualities, relationships, situations) that helped you deal with those stressful situations?

In this chapter, you will learn the definition, rationale, value-base, action implications and limitations of two of the key principles on which community psychology (CP) has been built:

■ The ecological metaphor

■ Prevention and promotion.

We elaborate on each of these concepts that we briefly introduced in Chapter 2.


The Ecological Metaphor

What Is the Ecological Metaphor?

The ecological metaphor can be defined as the relationship between individuals and the multiple social systems in which they are embedded. Community psychologist Jim Kelly introduced four principles of the ecological perspective: interdependence, cycling of resources, adaptation and succession (Kelly, 1966; Trickett, Kelly & Todd, 1972). To illustrate the usefulness of these principles, we consider the example of the deinstitutionalization of people with serious mental health problems (a problem that Bret Kloos treats in more depth in Chapter 21). From the 1850s to the 1950s, people with serious mental health problems in Western nations were institutionalized in large mental hospitals. Beginning in the 1950s, governments began a policy of deinstitutionalization. The inpatient populations of mental hospitals shrank dramatically, with hospitals in some locales being closed, and people with mental health problems were discharged into the community (Rochefort, 1993). How do the principles of the ecological metaphor help us to understand this change and its impacts on people and communities?


The principle of interdependence asserts that the different parts of an eco-system are interconnected and that changes in any one part of the system will have ripple effects that impact on other parts of the system. As we noted in Chapter 2, the ecological metaphor draws attention to three interdependent levels of analysis: micro (e.g. family, friends, neighbourhood), meso (e.g. the relationships between different micro systems) and macro (e.g. community, society, culture; Bronfenbrenner, 1977). All of these levels are interconnected with each smaller level nested within the larger levels (see Figure 4.1). Bronfenbrenner also noted two other important systems: the exosystem (settings in which the individual does not participate, but which may have an indirect influence) and the chronosystem (a person’s development over time and life transitions). Deinstitutionalization provides a clear example of this interdependence. The closing or downsizing of mental hospitals led to former patients being discharged to poor living conditions in the community, including substandard housing (and, increasingly, homelessness for many) and inadequate support services. The ripple effects of deinstitutionalization also included uninformed and unprepared communities, with community members often displaying prejudice and rejection rather than welcoming acceptance of people with mental health problems. Attending to the unintentional side effects of a systems change is an important implication of the principle of interdependence.

Cycling of Resources

This principle focuses on the identification, development and allocation of resources within systems. One clear finding from the experience of deinstitutionalization is

Figure 4.1 Nested ecological levels of analysis that, with a few notable exceptions, resources were not reallocated from mental hospitals into community support and housing programs, as was needed (Kiesler, 1992). Without adequate support following discharge, people with mental health problems experience a ‘revolving door’ of readmission to, and discharge from, these institutions. The cycling of resources principle also draws attention to potential untapped resources in a system. Traditionally, society has regarded the formal mental health service system as the resource. However, with deinstitutionalization, non-traditional sources of support, including a person’s social network, volunteers, informal helpers and self-help organizations have become key providers of mental health services and supports. The cycling of resources principle suggests that the community can be a valuable resource to people with serious mental illness.


The principle of adaptation suggests that individuals and systems must cope with and adapt to changing conditions in an eco-system. In the wake of deinstitutionalization, communities have had to adapt to the integration into their ranks of people with ongoing mental health problems; community support workers and programs have had to cope with inadequate funding and waiting lists for limited community services; families have often had to become primary care providers; and people with mental health problems have had to contend with stigma, poor housing, poverty and inadequate support services (Capponi, 2003). When housing, community support and self-help are available to help support individuals, the potential for recovery, community integration and quality of life is enhanced (Aubry & Myner, 1996; Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001a).


Succession involves a long-term perspective and draws attention to the historical context of a problem and the need for planning for a preferred future. There are many explanations for why deinstitutionalization occurred. It is often argued that the advent of psychotropic medications helped to reduce psychiatric symptoms in this population and hastened their release from hospital. But this is only a partial explanation. Scull (1977) found that hospital downsizing began before these drugs were developed and he argued that the rising costs of institutional care and the development of public welfare systems were the major reasons for deinstitutionalization. It was becoming less expensive for governments to maintain people with mental health problems in the community than in institutions. In looking at deinstitutionalization in hindsight, most observers and critics agree that there was very little planning or anticipation of problems. As a result, some 60 years later, communities continue to struggle with the question of how they can adequately house and support people with serious mental health problems so that they can enjoy a desirable quality of life.

Why Is the Ecological Metaphor Important?

Community psychologists use an ecological metaphor in their emphasis on people in the context of social systems, because they believe that mainstream psychology has focused too much on individual psychological processes and neglected the important role that social systems play in human development. Community psychologists need to understand the pathogenic or oppressive qualities of human environments—those that block personal growth and create problems in living—and the positive qualities of environments that promote health, well-being and competence (Cowen, 1994). We need to know the characteristics of competent communities, communities that promote liberation and well-being.

It is also important to recognize that environments sometimes affect different individuals in distinct ways. This has been called person–environment fit. A certain quality of the environment provides a good fit (or has a positive impact) for only some individuals. An example of this is provided by Canadian community psychologist Pat O’Neill (1976) in a study of fourth-grade girls in conventional and open-space classrooms. Open-space classrooms are organized into large open areas with few partitions and teachers are flexible in their teaching approach. He found that students who were high in divergent thinking (creativity) had higher self-esteem in open classrooms than in conventional classrooms. Thus, open-space classrooms had a positive impact on self-esteem, but only for those children high in divergent thinking. O’Neill (2000) introduced the idea of cognitive CP as a way of highlighting the importance of both individual and environmental qualities and the interrelationship between the person and the environment. Think of what type of environment is a good fit for you. If you are a private person, a noisy university residence with several roommates is not likely to be a setting in which you would be comfortable.

The study of social environments is in its infant stages of development. Community and environmental psychologists have been instrumental in developing ways of conceptualizing and assessing human environments (Linney, 2000; Moos, 2003; Shinn & Toohey, 2003). Community psychologist Jean Ann Linney (2000) has reviewed three ways of thinking about and assessing environments: (1) participants’ perceptions of the environment, (2) setting characteristics that are independent of the behaviour of participants and (3) transactional analyses of the dynamic relationship between behaviour and context. We briefly consider each of these three approaches, which can be applied to both neighbourhoods/communities and settings (e.g. schools, community organizations, workplaces).

Perceived Environments

Rudolf Moos (1994) and colleagues have emphasized the importance of the social climate or atmosphere of a setting. The key notion with this conceptualization of environments is the emphasis on people’s perceptions of the environment. Most people can think of settings that they have experienced as oppressive and settings that were experienced as empowering. Moos has argued that there are three broad dimensions of different social environments: relationships, personal development and systems maintenance and change. We can apply each dimension to a familiar setting—a school. The relationship dimension is concerned with how supportive or cohesive the setting appears to be. Are the teachers caring and compassionate? The personal development dimension addresses the individual’s need for self-determination. Does the school provide opportunities for autonomy, independence and personal growth? The systems maintenance and change dimension is concerned with the balance between predictability and flexibility. Does the school provide clear expectations, yet at the same time demonstrate openness to change and innovation? Too much predictability in a school can produce boredom and resentment because it may reflect rigid authoritarianism and resistance to change. Too much flexibility, on the other hand, can produce confusion due to continuous uncertainty and flux. Moos and colleagues have developed self-report questionnaires tapping these three broad dimensions and specific sub-dimensions to assess classrooms, families, community programs, groups and work settings (Moos, 1994).

Objective Characteristics of Environments

A second approach to the assessment of environments is to examine characteristics of settings that are more objective and independent of the behaviour of individuals who participate in those settings. Different types of measures (e.g. observational methods, demographic and social indicator data) are used to assess qualities of environments, such as the physical and architectural dimensions, policies and procedures and environmental resources. One example of an observational method cited by Linney (2000) is the PASSING approach designed by Wolfensberger

(1972) to assess the extent to which facilities for people with disabilities reflect the construct of normalization. Wolfensberger (1972) defined normalization as the ‘utilization of means which are as culturally normative as possible in order to establish and/or maintain behaviours and characteristics which are as culturally normative as possible’ (p. 28). External observers spend several days observing these settings to come up with ratings on a number of different dimensions, including physical integration of the setting with the community, the promotion of resident autonomy, social integration within the neighbourhood and many more (Flynn & Lemay, 1999). An example of how one can use an objective approach to the assessment of environments is provided in Box 4.1.

Transactional Approaches

Linney (2000) describes transactional approaches as those that include both the behaviour of individuals and characteristics of the environment. One transactional approach is the concept of ‘behaviour settings’ developed by Barker (1968). The two main components of a behaviour setting are a standing or routine pattern of behaviour and the physical and temporal aspects of the environment. There are implicit guidelines on how to behave in behaviour settings. For example, a classroom science lesson and a gym period are different behaviour settings, and the behaviour of people in these settings can be better predicted on the basis of the setting than on the characteristics of the people in the setting.

One interesting extension of the behaviour settings concept is Barker and Gump’s (1964) theory of understaffing. They asserted that as the size of an organization increases the number of people available to staff the different behaviour settings also increases. Furthermore, they hypothesized that, in small organizations, individuals would experience more invitations and pressure to take responsibility for staffing the different settings than they would in large organizations. In a study of high schools, they found support for this theory of understaffing. Students in smaller schools, including students with academic and social difficulties, were involved in a wider range of activities than students in larger schools. This approach to the understanding of environments has important implications for the CP value of participation and collaboration. Small, more intimate environments are apt to pull for more participation than larger, more impersonal environments. One downside to small settings, such as high schools, is that the number of activities in which students can participate is often restricted.

What Is the Value Base of the Ecological Metaphor?

The ecological perspective addresses the value of holism. Western science and ways of thinking about the world have emphasized linear, reductionistic and fragmented ways of understanding. In psychology, people are broken down into component parts (learning, perception, cognition) and are examined as isolated entities. Moreover, the researcher is a detached, objective scientist who is viewed as independent of the people he or she is studying, and the professional is an ‘expert’ helper. The ecological perspective revives the emphasis on holistic thinking, feeling and acting, which was evident in Gestalt psychology.

The holistic emphasis of the ecological perspective is also quite similar to the world view of aboriginal people. Connors and Maidman (2001) assert that the roots of tribal culture lie in holistic thought, which involves ‘interdependence between the environment, people and the spirit’ (p. 350). In the traditional world view of aboriginal people, there is a strong emphasis on the interconnection of people with their spiritual roots and the natural environments and on balance and harmony. Aboriginal holistic thinking also incorporates values (e.g. bravery, respect, cooperation) in the form of teachings which guide community members, unlike Western science which claims to be value neutral. The medicine wheel is a symbol of holism:

This form of thought is often symbolized by the sacred circle or medicine wheel, which contains the teaching about the interconnection among all of Creation. The circle is a symbol that represents the knowledge offered by holistic world-views shared by aboriginal people. From this perspective, elements that affect change in a person are simultaneously seen as impacting on the person’s family, community, nation and surrounding environment. (Connors & Maidman, 2001, p. 350)

How Can the Ecological Metaphor Be Implemented?

Jim Kelly and Ed Trickett have expanded on the four principles of the ecological perspective and have outlined their implications for preventive intervention (Kelly, 1986) and the conduct of research (Trickett, Kelly & Vincent, 1985). The major implication of the ecological metaphor for research is that research needs to be conducted in a much more collaborative, participatory manner than mainstream psychological research (Trickett, 1984; Trickett et al., 1985; Ryerson Espino & Trickett, 2008). Since CP research is carried out in the community with community partners, it stands in contrast to the mechanistic approach of experimental psychology and other basic sciences that are conducted in laboratories in which the variables under study are tightly controlled. Community members and settings are stakeholders in the research, who want to ensure that their needs are met. In community research, people are active participants in the research process, not passive subjects.

Moreover, community researchers are not exclusively detached, objective scientists. They are human beings with interests, agendas, values and feelings. Community psychologists are passionately concerned about disadvantaged people and social issues; they want to change the world, to make communities more caring and just. We believe that it is important for community psychologists to write more about their experiences and describe their standpoints in their research reports and writings. In Part IV, we elaborate more on the implications of the ecological perspective for community research.

Trickett (1986) has identified several implications of the ecological metaphor for intervention. First and foremost, the spirit of the ecological approach to intervention is distinctive. Not only are problems framed in terms of a systemic analysis, but the process of the intervention is one that is participatory and collaborative. Trickett (1986) captures this spirit in the following passage:

The spirit of ecologically-based consultation is to contribute to the resourcefulness of the host environment by building on locally identified concerns to create processes which aid in empowering the environment to solve its own problems and plan its own development. This spirit is concretized in the kinds of activities engaged in by the consultants, which further highlight the distinctiveness of the ecological metaphor. (p. 190)

In ecological intervention, community psychologists work with rather than on people.

A second implication for community intervention is that attempts to change one part of the system will have side effects on other systems and that these side effects will often not be anticipated. The ecological metaphor suggests that social change is not linear. Attempts to solve a problem may lead to new problems in another context (Sarason, 1978). The case of deinstitutionalization of people with serious mental health problems cited earlier is an example of this. A third implication of the ecological perspective is that the intervention should not focus exclusively on the attainment of outcome goals for participants in a specific program. While it is important to see how individuals benefit from programs, the ecological perspective draws attention to goals at multiple levels of analysis. A successful ecological intervention builds the capacity of the setting to mobilize for future action and create other programs. The extent to which setting members participate in and take ownership for the intervention is also important.

Fourth, there are implications of the ecological metaphor for the role and qualities of the interventionist. Since ecological intervention is flexible and improvisational in nature, consultants must be able to form constructive working relationships with different partners from the host setting. They must problemsolve, think on their feet, be patient and take time to get to know the setting and the people within it. They must not jump into offering solutions, but rather need to tolerate the ambiguities and frustrations that inevitably occur in any intervention and help the setting to mobilize resources from within or to identify external resources. They must also be creative and attend to issues of entry and exit from the setting (Kelly, 1971).

A fifth implication of the ecological metaphor for community intervention is that the dimension of time is highlighted. The changing nature of eco-systems and human adaptation requires a long-term perspective. Contemporary social problems have both historical roots and future consequences. When community psychologists examine social issues and problems from an ecological perspective, they consider these issues and problems at multiple levels of analysis and over a long-term perspective.

Finally, it is important to consider both individual and setting characteristics in community intervention. For example, research by O’Neill (2000) and colleagues has shown that social change tends to occur when there are recent improvements in social conditions (an environmental characteristic) and when people have a sense of injustice and a belief in their personal power to effect change (individual characteristics).

What Are the Limitations of the Ecological Metaphor?

The ecological metaphor has value in providing a systemic and holistic perspective for the understanding of human experience and behaviour and has led to the development of different ways of understanding and assessing human environments. To date, however, CP has tended to focus on micro and meso levels, to the neglect of macro-level structures and interventions. Cahill (1983) pointed out how different dimensions of the macroeconomy have an impact on mental health. Moreover, the macroeconomic trends that Cahill described have worsened since the publication of her article (e.g. larger gaps in income between the rich and poor, greater capital mobility). Inattention to the macro level of analysis is not a limitation of the ecological perspective, but rather a gap in the extent to which community psychologists have focused on larger social structures.

One limitation of ecological and systems perspectives is that in their emphasis on circular causality (the idea that everything is causally related to everything else), they do not take into account or highlight power differences within ecosystems. For example, the phenomena of child maltreatment and violence against women can be understood in terms of an ecological perspective, with multiple layers of influence. But it is also important to recognize that some players have more power than others in any eco-system and that those individuals who abuse power must be accountable for their actions. Abused women and children are not architects of their abuse. This is why the ecological metaphor needs to complemented with the concept of power (Trickett, 1994), which we consider in the next chapter.

Prevention and Promotion

What Are Prevention and Promotion?


Prevention is a concept that has been around for some time. In the 18th century people believed that disease resulted from noxious odours, ‘miasmas’, which emanated from swamps or polluted soil. Improving sanitation resulted in a decline in the rates of many diseases (e.g. typhoid fever, yellow fever). George Albee (1991) has recounted one of the important stories in the history of prevention, that of John Snow and the Broad Street pump. In the year 1854 in London, John Snow determined that an outbreak of illness was traceable to one source of drinking water. People who drank from the well at Broad Street, but not other wells, were the ones who became sick. Removing the handle on the Broad Street pump and providing an alternative water source prevented the disease of cholera. An important lesson from this story is that prevention is possible even without knowledge of the causes of a problem. No one knew exactly what caused cholera, but this did not stop Snow and others from engaging in community action that led to successful prevention outcomes.

Prevention has its roots in the field of public health. The thrust of the public health approach to prevention is to reduce environmental stressors and to enhance host resistances to those stressors. In the case of smoking, public policy could attempt to restrict advertising and sales to young people (an environmental change) and programs could teach ways of resisting peer pressure and commercial exploitation (enhancing host resistances). The public health approach to prevention has been very successful in reducing the incidence (the number of new cases in a time period) of many diseases, yet this approach is effective only with diseases that have a single identified cause, be it a vitamin deficiency or a germ. The problem with this approach when applied to mental health and psychosocial problems in living is that very few of these problems have a single cause (Albee, 1982). Consistent with the ecological perspective, most psychosocial problems are multiply determined, with micro, meso and macro factors all playing a role in causation.

As we noted in Chapter 2, primary prevention strives to reduce the incidence or onset of a disorder in a population, whereas secondary prevention is not really prevention, but rather early detection and intervention. There are three defining features of prevention (Nelson, Prilleltensky & Hasford, 2009). First, with successful prevention, new cases of a problem do not occur. Second, prevention is not aimed at individuals but at populations; the goal is a decline in incidence (the rates of disorder). Third, preventive interventions intentionally focus on preventing mental health problems (Cowen, 1980):

A typology of prevention has been promoted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM, 1994). Universal preventive interventions are targeted to the general public or a whole population group that has not been identified on the basis of individual risk. An example of a universal preventive intervention for physical health is childhood immunization. Selective preventive interventions are targeted to individuals or subgroups of the population whose risk of developing problems is significantly higher than average. Head Start or other early childhood programs for all children living in a socioeconomically depressed neighbourhood is an example of a selective prevention intervention. Indicated preventive interventions are targeted to high-risk individuals who are identified as already having minimal, but detectable signs or symptoms or biological markers, indicating predisposition for the mental disorder, but who do not meet diagnostic criteria. An intervention to prevent depression in children with one or both clinically depressed parents is an example of an indicated preventive intervention. (NIMH Committee on Prevention Research, 1995, pp. 6–7; original emphasis)

Universal, selective and indicated approaches to prevention differ in two ways (see Figure 4.2). First, they differ with respect to the timing of an intervention. Universal and selective approaches take place before a problem has occurred, but indicated approaches are used during the early stages of the problem. Second, they differ with respect to the population served. Everyone is served in a universal intervention; only those who are ‘at risk’ are served in a selective intervention; and only those who are already showing signs of a problem are served in an indicated intervention. In this book, we use the term prevention to mean primary prevention, which includes both universal and selective (or high-risk) approaches.

Figure 4.2 illustrates how these different types of prevention can be applied to the prevention of child maltreatment. The line that bisects the oval represents the timing of the intervention. The right-hand side of the line is the reactive end of the continuum (working with families in which a child has already been abused), while the left-hand side of the line represents the proactive end of the continuum (working with families in which child abuse has not occurred). The ovals represent the populations served by the prevention approach. The large oval indicates that the universal approach serves everyone; the next largest oval (with broken lines) represents a sub-set of the population (families that are at risk of abuse); and the smallest oval (again with broken lines) represents an even smaller sub-set of the population (families in which a child has already been abused). Whereas clinical

Figure 4.2 The promotion–prevention–early intervention continuum

Source: Prilleltensky, Nelson and Peirson (2001a) intervention focuses on a small sub-set of the population after problems have developed (reactive approach), prevention works with larger segments of the population before problems have developed (proactive approach).

Health Promotion

Complementary to prevention is the concept of health promotion. Where prevention, by definition, focuses on reducing problems, promotion can be defined as the enhancement of health and well-being in populations. In practice, health promotion and prevention are closely related. For example, universal interventions that promote healthy eating, physical activity and fitness and abstinence from smoking have also been shown to prevent cardiovascular disease. Cowen (1996) identified four key characteristics of mental health promotion or well-being: (1) it is proactive, seeking to promote mental health; (2) it focuses on populations, not individuals; (3) it is multidimensional, focusing on ‘integrated sets of operations involving individuals, families, settings, community contexts and macro level societal structures and policies’ (p. 246); and (4) it is ongoing, not a one-shot, time-limited intervention. See Box 4.2 for some of the ways that wellness can be promoted.

Box 4.2

Routes to psychological health and well-being

Cowen (1994) argues that there are several key pathways towards mental health promotion:

a. Attachment. Infants and preschool children who form secure attachments to their parents and caregivers early in life fare well in later life. Home visitation programs that work with parents and their infants are one example of a strategy to promote attachments.

b. Competencies. The development of ageappropriate and culturally relevant competencies is another health promotion strategy. School-based social competence (e.g. social problem-solving skills, assertiveness, interpersonal skills) enhancement programs are one promising approach.

c. Social environments. Another pathway to the enhancement of health and well-being is to identify the characteristics of environments that are associated with health and then direct social environments towards those characteristics that have been shown to be important for well-being. Changing family, school, community and larger social environments can be used to promote health.

d. Empowerment. Empowerment refers to perceived and actual control over one’s life and empowering interventions are those that enhance participants’ control over their lives. An empowerment approach stresses the importance of providing opportunities for people to exercise their self-determination and strengths, so that they are in control of the intervention.

e. Resilience and resources to cope with stress. The ability to cope effectively with stressful life events and conditions is another key pathway to health and well-being. Life stressors are often seen as presenting an opportunity for growth, if the person has the resources to manage the stressors.

Why Are Prevention and Promotion Important?

‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’ These proverbs get to the heart of why prevention is important. Once problems occur, they are very difficult to treat. Often one problem cascades into another.

Treatment methods can be helpful, but many people experience relapse or reoccurrence of problems. Moreover, even if treatments were 100% effective, there are not nearly enough trained mental health professionals to treat all those afflicted with mental health and psychosocial problems in living. As we noted in Chapter 1, the prevalence rates of psychosocial and mental health problems far outstrip available human resources. Albee (1990) has stated that ‘the history of public methods (that emphasize social change) has clearly established, no mass disease or disorder afflicting humankind has ever been eliminated by attempts at treating affected individuals’ (p. 370).

Another argument for primary prevention and health promotion is that they can save money in the long run. Both institutional and community treatment services provided by professionals for health, mental health and social problems are very costly. The costs of hospitalizing a person for one day is several hundred US dollars in most Western countries and it is not uncommon for therapists to charge more than $100 for an hour of therapy. Some research has documented the cost-effectiveness of prevention programs. For example, a longitudinal evaluation of the High/Scope Perry Preschool, a preschool educational program for economically disadvantaged children living in a community in Michigan in the United States, found the following when the participants had reached 40 years of age:

In constant 2000 dollars discounted at 3%, the economic return to society of the Perry Preschool program was $24,812 per participant on an investment of $15,166 per participant—$16.14 per dollar invested. (Schweinhart, 2005, p. 6)

There is now good evidence that preschool prevention programs provide a solid economic and social return on the original financial investment in such programs (Nelson, Prilleltensky & Hasford, 2009).

What Is the Value Base of Prevention and Promotion?

Prevention and health promotion focus on the values of health and well-being. Many people think of health or mental health in negative terms, for example, as the absence of disorder. But a broader view of health can be framed in positive terms, as the presence of optimal social, emotional and cognitive functioning within a health promoting and sustaining context. According to the Epp (1988) report ‘Mental Health for Canadians: Striking a Balance’:

Mental health is the capacity of the individual, the group and the environment to interact with one another in ways that promote subjective well-being, the optimal development and use of mental abilities (cognitive, affective and relational), the achievement of individual and collective goals consistent with justice and the attainment and preservation of conditions of fundamental equality. (p. 7)

According to this definition, mental health is defined ecologically in terms of transactions between the individual and his or her environment, not just in terms of qualities of the individual. The value of health, which underlies the concepts of prevention and promotion, holds that health is a basic human right. Article 24 of the

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1991), for instance, asserts ‘the right of the child to the enjoyment of highest attainable standard of health’, while Article 19 of the convention asserts that children should be protected from harmful influences on their health: ‘State parties shall take appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.’

How Can Prevention and Promotion Be Implemented?

As we noted earlier, there are two interrelated approaches to prevention and promotion: one focuses on risk reduction for mental health problems and the other on community-wide approaches to health promotion (Cowen, 1996, 2000).

Risk Factors, Protective Factors and High-Risk Approaches to Prevention

Since the early 1970s, a substantial amount of research has confirmed that most psychosocial problems are associated with many different risk factors. A risk factor is any factor that is related to the occurrence of a problem (Luthar, Sawyer & Brown, 2006). Moreover, the effects of risk factors may be exponential. That is, most people can withstand one risk factor without being adversely affected, but when there is a ‘pile-up’ of risk factors, the impacts may be particularly devastating. For example, Rutter (1979) found a 4-fold increase in subsequent rates of psychiatric problems when 2 risk factors were present in childhood and a 24-fold increase when 4 risk factors were present in childhood.

Some individuals, however, demonstrate resilience in that they are able to withstand exposure to many risk factors (Cowen, 2000; Luthar et al., 2006). Resilient individuals survive and even thrive in the face of adversity because they have protective factors, which are resources (e.g. coping skills, self-esteem, support systems) that help to offset or buffer risk factors. Albee (1982) views the incidence of mental health problems as an equation:

Incidence = R isk factors = Organic causes + Stress + Exploitation Protective factors = Coping skills + Self-esteem + Support systems

This formulation is ecological and transactional in nature (Felner, Felner & Silverman, 2000). Risk and protective factors can occur at multiple levels of analysis (Luthar et al., 2006). For example, risk factors can occur at the individual (low selfesteem), family (marital discord or separation) and community (living in a violent community) levels of analysis. Similarly, protective factors can be individual (good coping skills), family (a warm and loving relationship with one parent) or community (opportunities for socialization, recreation or skill development) in nature. It is important to understand the mechanisms of risk, protection and resilience so that one can determine how prevention programs might work. Rutter (1987) has proposed four mechanisms of how people can overcome adversity: reducing risk impact, interrupting negative chain reactions stemming from stressful life events, enhancing self-esteem and self-efficacy and creating opportunities for personal growth.

An example of a selective intervention program is the Prenatal/Early Infancy Project described in Box 4.3.

Box 4.3

The prenatal/early infancy project

This project was developed by David Olds and colleagues in 1977 in Elmira, a semi-rural community in upstate New York. This community was extremely economically depressed and had the highest rates of child maltreatment in the state. Nurse home visitors worked with first-time mothers during the prenatal period, continuing until the children reached 2 years of age. This was a selective or ‘high-risk’ approach to prevention of child maltreatment because the women who were selected were of low-income, unmarried or teenage categories. The mothers were randomly assigned to the home-visit program or to a control group that received transportation for health care and screening for health problems but no visits. The home visits focused on promoting parent education, enhancing informal support and linkage with formal services. The nurses completed an average of 32 visits from the prenatal period through to the second year of the child’s life. The results of the evaluation showed that during the first 2 years after delivery, 14% of the poor, unmarried teenage mothers in the control group abused or neglected their children, as compared with 4% of the poor, unmarried teens visited by a nurse (Olds et al., 1986). Many other positive outcomes were found for the mothers and their children in the short term, including the fact that the program resulted in a cost saving. However, it is the long-term findings that are the most striking. In their analysis of the poor, unmarried women, Olds et al. (1997) found that nurse-visited women had higher rates of employment than the women in the control group, as well as lower rates of impairments due to alcohol or substance abuse (41% vs 73%), verified child abuse or neglect (29% vs 54%), arrests (16% vs 90% according to state records), convictions, days in jail, use of welfare and subsequent pregnancies by the time the children were 15 years of age. Also, compared with those whose mothers were in the control group, the children whose mothers participated in the home visitation program had significantly fewer incidents of running away (24% vs 60%), arrests (20% vs 45%) and convictions and violations of probation (9% vs 47%) at age 15 (Olds et al., 1998).

The risk and protective factor formulation is based on the broader approach of social stress theory. As we noted in Chapter 1, community psychologist Barbara Dohrenwend (1978) introduced social stress theory to CP as a framework for understanding both how social environments can have negative impacts on individuals and how social interventions can be designed to prevent social stressors or reduce the negative consequences of social stressors. A central thesis of social stress theory is that stressful life events and changes, particularly negative life events, create stress reactions in individuals and that the longterm consequences of these stress reactions can be negative, neutral or positive; that is, stress presents an opportunity for growth, as well as the potential for negative outcomes. Moreover, Dohrenwend (1978) asserted that there are a variety of psychological and situational factors that can moderate the impacts of stressful life events. For example, a person with a good social support network or good coping skills may adjust well to a stressful life event such as marital separation, whereas a person without such resources may fare worse. Such moderating factors are also referred to as ‘protective factors’ or ‘stressmeeting resources’.

Since Dohrenwend’s (1978) initial formulation, there has been a great deal of research and further theorizing about social stress in CP (Sandler, 2001). One of the advances of this research is that there is now a greater understanding of the role of particular life events, such as job loss (Dooley & Catalano, 2003) and divorce (Sandler, 2001), in contributing to psychosocial problems. In particular, research has helped to clarify the ways in which stressful life events can have negative impacts on individuals. Sometimes stressful life events set in motion a variety of additional problems or ongoing life strains to which people must adapt. For example, unemployment leads to ongoing financial strains that impact on one’s marital, family and social network relations. Thus, it is not just the stressful life event that is the problem, but all that ensues in the aftermath of that event. Irwin Sandler (2001) has found that the adversity of divorce can negatively impact children’s academic competence, self-worth and coping skills, which in turn can have a negative impact on children’s behaviour. Thus, research has clarified the role of mediating factors (e.g. academic competence, self-worth, coping skills) that link stressful life events with negative outcomes for individuals. Community psychologists have used knowledge gained about mediating and moderating factors to design preventive interventions to reduce the negative impacts of stressful life events such as job loss (Price, Van Kyn & Vinokur, 1992) and parental divorce (Sandler, 2001). For example, mentoring programs have been successfully used to enhance the support and offset stressors faced by children or young people who are lacking social support (DuBois et al., 2002; Dubois & Rhodes, 2006).

Universal Approaches to the Promotion of Health and Well-being

Over the past few years, there has been an increasing focus on the promotion of health and well-being (Cicchetti et al., 2000; Cowen, 1994, 2000; Prilleltensky et al., 2001a). Health promotion approaches are often provided on a universal basis to all individuals in a particular geographical area (e.g. neighbourhood, city, province) or particular setting (e.g. school, workplace, public housing complex). Moreover, health promotion is more likely to focus on multiple ecological levels than on risk reduction, which is more often aimed at individuals.

While many of the original prevention programs in mental health used the risk reduction or selective approach, focusing on at-risk individuals, more recently there has been a greater emphasis on setting-wide and community-wide approaches to prevention. These more environmental approaches to prevention focus not only on specific prevention programs but more broadly on building the capacities of organizations and communities. A major focus of these interventions is developing partnerships or coalitions of various community stakeholders to plan, implement and evaluate the intervention (Foster-Fishman, Berkowitz et al., 2001). Comprehensive community-wide initiatives have been used to address a variety of issues, including substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, immunization, teenage pregnancy and child development (Roussos & Fawcett, 2000).

Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Implementation of Prevention and Promotion

Effectiveness. By the early 1990s, Durlak and Wells (1997) had located 177 controlled studies of prevention programs for children and young people and found that overall these programs were quite successful in preventing problems and promoting well-being. Moreover, prevention has been applied to a variety of different populations and issues. For preschool children, preschool education programs (e.g. Head Start in the United States, Zigler & Valentine, 1997), family support programs (e.g. home visitation for parents, Olds et al., 1986), multi-component programs (e.g. the Perry Preschool, Schweinhart, 2005) and programs with a skill-building emphasis (e.g. the interpersonal cognitive problem-solving [ICPS], program, Shure, 1997) have been found to improve cognitive and/or social-emotional outcomes in children and to prevent child maltreatment and other negative outcomes for children, both in the short term and through adolescence and early adulthood (Blok, Fukkink, Gebhardt & Leseman, 2005; Karoly, Kilburn & Cannon, 2005; MacLeod & Nelson, 2000; Nelson, Westhues & MacLeod, 2003; Weissberg & Greenberg, 1998). School-based prevention programs have been found to be successful in promoting school-aged children’s social-emotional learning and preventing both externalizing (i.e. conduct) and internalizing (i.e. shyness, anxiety) problems (Durlak, 1995; Greenberg et al., 2001; Waddell, Hua, Garland, Peters & McEwan, 2005; Weissberg & Greenberg, 1998). School-based and family support programs have also been successful in preventing a variety of negative outcomes for adolescents, including smoking, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviour, school failure/dropout, delinquency, crime, violence and violence against women in dating relationships (Dodge, 2008; Farrington, MacKenzie, Sherman & Welsh, 2006; Lavoie et al., 1995; Nation, Crusto et al., 2003). While much of the research in prevention focuses on children and young people, there have been successful applications with adults, including serious and widespread problems, such as depression (Price et al., 1992) and HIV/AIDS (Peterson, 1998). See Box 4.4 for a list of principles of effective prevention programs.

Box 4.4

What are the principles of effective prevention programs?

What are the ingredients of effective prevention programs? Based on a review of prevention research reviews, community psychologist Maury Nation and colleagues (Nation et al., 2003) uncovered nine key principles:

a. Comprehensiveness: Multi-component programs that strive to address several different ecological levels and contexts are more important than single-focus programs.

b. Varied teaching methods: Programs need to teach skills through interaction, ‘hands on’ methods as well as increasing knowledge and awareness.

c. Sufficient ‘dosage’: Programs need to be sufficiently long and intensive to have positive preventive impacts (Nelson, Westhues & MacLeod, 2003).

d. Theory driven: Programs need to be based on a sound theoretical framework that is supported by research, such as the risk and protective factors formulation.

e. Positive relationships: Programs for children need to promote positive relationships with parents, teachers, peers, mentors and others.

f. Appropriately timed: Programs need to be well-timed to address specific developmental issues for children, young people and adults.

g. Sociocultural relevance: Programs must be tailored to the norms of the population served and include them in planning and implementation.

h. Outcome evaluation: Programs should have clearly specified outcome goals that make them amenable to research on the effectiveness of the program.

i. Well-trained staff: Programs must provide training for staff to properly implement the program.

Implementation. The principles of effective prevention, noted above, draw attention to the importance of how well prevention programs are implemented. Implementation has been defined as “what a program consists of when it is delivered in a particular setting” (Durlak & DuPre, 2008). There are many different aspects of implementation, including the extent to which the program was implemented as intended (‘fidelity’, ‘adherence’ and ‘integrity’ are some of the terms used to describe this), dosage (the length or intensity of the intervention), quality (whether the intervention is delivered clearly and accurately) and so on. Domitrovich and Greenberg (2000) suggested that there are several reasons for evaluating program implementation: (a) knowing what actually occurs in the program,

(b) finding out if implementation is related to outcomes, (c) understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the program, (d) providing a source of feedback to improve program quality and (e) advancing knowledge on how ‘best practices’ can be implemented in real-world settings. In a review of 59 evaluations of prevention programs, Durlak and DuPre (2008) found that the vast majority of studies found that the quality of implementation was positively associated with at least half of the program outcomes that were studied. Thus, implementation matters a great deal.

The Dissemination of Prevention and Promotion

When prevention programs are found to be effective, there is a need to disseminate them widely, or bring them ‘to scale’ so that they become institutionalized and many people can benefit from them. The IOM (1994) has elaborated a prevention research cycle that includes the following stages: (a) identify the scope of the problem; (b) identify risk and factor factors that are related to the problem; (c) design, implement and evaluate a pilot prevention program on the basis of (a) and (b) to establish program efficacy; (d) conduct large-scale field trials to determine program effectiveness in real-world contexts; and (e) disseminate the program on a wide scale. However, effective programs are often not widely adopted in spite of research evidence (Miller & Shinn, 2005). Recognizing this problem, Wandersman et al. (2008) have advanced an alternative framework for dissemination that draws attention to three systems: (a) the prevention synthesis and translation system (information on ‘best practices’ from demonstration projects), (b) the prevention delivery system (the capacity of the local system to adopt the model program) and (c) the prevention support system (technical assistance to help the local community implement the prevention model). Durlak and DuPre (2008) found that several specific components of this framework were related to effective implementation (e.g. shared decision making at the local level, opportunities for training).

One issue in the dissemination literature that is currently debated is that of fidelity (the extent to which a program should be implemented according to the original program model) versus adaptation (the extent to which a program should the program be adapted to local conditions). While fidelity and adaptation are often seen as opposite ends of a continuum, Durlak and DuPre (2008) found evidence in their review that indicators of both fidelity and adaptation were positively related to outcomes. They suggested that it is important to

find the right mix of fidelity and adaptation. Hawe, Shiell and Riley (2004) have made a distinction between the ‘form’ and ‘function’ of an intervention that might help with this debate. They believe that a program may have fidelity in terms of ‘function’, adherence to set of intervention principles, but be adaptable in terms of ‘form’ (the particular ways that the program functions are delivered). For example, if a program has the principle of involving key stakeholders in the development of a program, this may be done in different ways, thus demonstrating fidelity to the function but adaptability in terms of the form.

Rather than promoting ‘top-down’ approaches to dissemination, Miller and Shinn (2005) have argued that prevention researchers should ‘learn from communities’. They suggest that the field would be better served by partnering with communities and learning about effective models and ideas that grow out of community experience. Consistent with the overarching approach of this book, Sandler (2007) takes the ‘bottom-up’ approach one step further in arguing that community psychologists should identify issues of structural injustice in the dissemination of prevention programs. ‘Valorizing an increase in the power of communities versus the power of intervention scientists is not in itself a step toward social justice; doing so does not address the fundamental problem of the existing structural injustices manifest within communities’ (Sandler, 2007, p. 276). For Sandler, the dissemination of effective prevention programs must address both structural injustices (sources of oppression) and well-being.

What Are the Limitations of Prevention and Promotion?

While in the past prevention in mental health has been ignored or dismissed by psychiatry (e.g. Lamb & Zusman, 1979), more recently the medical profession has become more enamoured of prevention. Recently, psychiatry has broadened the definition of prevention to include ‘comorbidity prevention’ (preventing the development of a second disorder when a person already has one disorder) and ‘relapse prevention’ (preventing a person who has been successfully treated from having a relapse; NIMH Committee on Prevention Research, 1995). Stretching the definition of prevention in this way takes the field back towards ‘tertiary prevention’ and away from true prevention and promotion as we have defined them. Moreover, the Institute of Medicine’s (1994) emphasis on ‘prevention science’, focuses rather narrowly on the prevention of psychiatric disorders, as defined in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, through risk reduction approaches. As Albee (1996a, 1998) and Cowen (2000) have noted, this focus diverts attention from non-medical model approaches, such as health promotion, competence enhancement, empowerment and social change approaches to prevention and promotion.

The ‘prevention science’ approach tends to ‘medicalize’ and ‘depoliticize’ prevention. We are critical of this approach, not because we are against science, but because the particular form of science being promoted by the medical profession is very narrow in emphasis. Selective approaches to prevention, which predominate, are often carried out with low-income people because poverty, low social class and unemployment are one set of major risk factors for many different mental health problems (Perry, 1996). Moreover, selective approaches typically address the bottom half of Albee’s (1982) equation (i.e. promoting protective factors), rather than the top half of the equation (i.e. reducing stress or exploitation). Also, programs which promote protective factors tend to be person centred or family centred, ignoring the larger social environment (Febbraro, 1994). One final criticism of prevention as it is currently practised is that prevention is something that is done by professional ‘experts’ to ‘at-risk’ people. Professionally driven approaches may not address what these so-called at-risk people need or want, they may be disempowering and create dependencies on service systems and they tend to focus on deficits rather than the strengths of community members.

More recently, some prevention programs have become more community driven, with residents in low-income communities actively participating in the planning and implementation of prevention programs in their communities. These programs are not only driven by community members but they are designed to change or create meso-level settings in the community to foster the well-being of families and children. Moreover, Nelson, Amio et al. (2000) have proposed concrete steps for value-based partnerships in prevention programs, which include processes for inclusion, participation and control by disadvantaged people in the design of prevention programs.

There are some promising examples of partnerships for prevention between schools, parents and communities. One is the Yale–New Haven School Development Program (Comer, 1985), which began in two schools in a low-income African-American community in Connecticut and has now been implemented in more than 550 schools in the United States (Weissberg & Greenberg, 1998). This program is based on ‘(a) a representative governance and management group, (b) a parent participation program and group, (c) a mental health program and team, and (d) an academic (curriculum and staff development) program’ (Comer, 1985, p. 155). There is a strong emphasis on parent participation in school programs and school governance in this program. A three-year longitudinal evaluation of this project found significant improvement on measures of school achievement and social competence for children participating in the intervention compared with children in similar schools (Cauce et al., 1987). A more radical approach to school-based prevention has been implemented in another Connecticut community, using emancipatory and African-centred education as the core philosophy (Potts, 2003). At the Benjamin E. Mays Institute, which serves 100 African-American male students in middle school, the focus is on the development of African identity and students as agents of social change. According to community psychologist Randolph Potts (2003),

African history and wisdom teachings provide more than just additional content for primary prevention programs. The Akan symbol sankofa represents the African teaching that reclaiming and understanding history are essential for understanding present circumstances and moving forward into the future. For children of African descent, understanding both the African cultural legacy of intellectual achievement and the contemporary structures of domination are essential in preparing them to confront conditions that are destroying their communities. (p. 178)

An evaluation of this program has shown that students in the Benjamin E. Mays Institute score significantly higher on grade point average in tests of maths and writing skills and on a measure of African identity, than do children from other middle schools in the same community.

While the direction towards more community-driven approaches is a positive one, prevention needs to move even further towards macro-level analyses and interventions. Albee (1986, 1996a, 1998) has argued that prevention should be linked to social justice rather than the medical model. A social justice approach to prevention strives to address the causes of the causes through social change efforts. Thus, prevention should not just be focused on changing individuals, families or communities, but on larger social structures in which people and settings are embedded. To translate this rhetoric into action, we believe that prevention should encompass not just programs but also social policies. Since economic inequality is a major structural cause of psychosocial problems (Cahill, 1983; Hertzman, 1999; Wilkinson, 1996), policies that strive to reduce this, such as those practised in Western and northern European countries, show the forms prevention can take at the macro level (Peters et al., 2001). Not only have countries like Sweden been successful in reducing the level of economic inequality in their society but also the literacy and numeracy skills of children in the bottom economic quintile in Sweden are vastly better than those of children in the bottom economic quintiles in the United States and Canada (Hertzman, 1999). These findings suggest that there needs to be more emphasis on advocating for change in social and economic policies to promote social justice and well-being.

Chapter Summary

We conclude this chapter by noting that the principles of ecology and prevention tend to focus on personal and relational values, to the neglect of collective values; on ameliorative rather than transformative change, to surface manifestations of larger social problems rather than unequal power relations; and on well-being rather than liberation. Ecology and prevention help to define and differentiate CP from clinical psychology, but they can inadvertently lend support to the existing societal status quo. Nevertheless, ecology and prevention are useful and important principles for CP, and community psychologists can push the boundaries of these concepts more towards the macro level of analysis. Examination of structural causes of human suffering and macro-level policy change to reduce economic inequality are ways that these principles can move towards a more transformative agenda.

Domestic Violence: An All Too Familiar Story

A young couple emigrated from Portugal to Canada. In Portugal the man was an auto mechanic and the woman worked at home doing sewing and embroidery. They came to Canada seeking a better life. The man found it difficult to find a job equal to his training and eventually accepted a job cleaning offices. He initially forbade his wife to work, but as their family grew (3 children), she eventually took a job in a garment factory. A retired Portuguese woman helped by providing child care. In spite of both partners working, the two combined were able to bring in only a very low income. The man started to blame the woman for encouraging him to move to Canada, for having three children and for the problems that they were experiencing. Communication between the two became quite strained and the man began to withdraw from his family and spend more time with male friends. The woman assumed responsibility for running the household and for all child care and child rearing. The man became physically abusive to the woman when she started to work outside the home. The woman did not know there was a shelter for abused women in the community. The man left for a week and when he returned he was unapologetic and remained verbally abusive. The couple began to sleep in separate beds and communicated very little. The woman was too ashamed to tell any family members about the violence.

a. Use the principles of ecology to help you understand what is happening with this couple and their family in the context of the larger community and society.

b. How could the principles of prevention and promotion be applied to prevent domestic violence and promote family well-being?

Social Class, Power, Ecology and Prevention George W. Albee1

The ecological metaphor clearly has much to offer in our efforts to understand that an action has effects in many areas, some unforeseen. As is pointed out in this chapter, CP has tended to focus on micro and meso levels, to the neglect of macro-level structures and interventions. The example chosen—deinstitutionalization of mental cases in the United States—also needs to be considered at macro levels. I would include social class and political power among important macro forces.

From 1850 to 1925 there were a vast number of immigrants from Europe who landed in America. The Irish, Scandinavians, Eastern European Slavs and Jews, Southern Italians—mostly peasant and impoverished people—arrived in the hope of a better life for themselves and their families. Living in overcrowded cities, they worked hard, were exploited and their children were educated. But because of the excessive stresses, their rate of mental disorders quickly overwhelmed the small retreats and mental wards. Mental disorders were declared to be brain diseases common to people who were seen by the ruling class as biologically inferior. Huge mental hospitals (asylums) were built and (inadequately) funded by the state governments to house the insane. Theses places quickly became the overcrowded hell-holes described as The Shame of the States (Deutsch, 1948). The chronic mental cases were/are mostly from the lowest social classes where few family resources were/are available for their care. Chronic mental cases require longterm care and there is no alternative to tax-supported programs.

In the 1950s a Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health was appointed by Eisenhower and the US Congress to find an alternative to the huge state hospitals. The Commission’s final Report, Action for Mental Health (1961), recommended establishing 4000 Comprehensive Community Mental Health Centres where, through a single door, all persons with mental disorders could find help. Day care, in-patient beds, community support programs, individual treatment, consultation education and research would be available in these centres. This promising program was brought to a halt by the powerful opposition of US medicine. It was socialized health care! Psychiatrists and other staff were to be paid federal salaries and this violated the conservative political opposition to using federal tax dollars to solve social problems and to provide health care.

But the states, delighted at the prospect of saving the enormous costs of running the state hospitals, went on closing them down as planned. The hapless inmates were mostly dumped into the streets. (They could apply for welfare only if they had a permanent address—but without welfare they could not pay for a permanent address.) So hundreds of thousands were doomed to live under bridges and in bus stations and packing crates.

What is the macro message?

1. One’s social class determines the availability of medical care and social support. Today, the group with the highest rate of mental disorders, drug use, mental retardation, alcoholism, sickness and early death is the migrant farm workers.

2. The ruling ideas of a society are those that support the ruling class. Serious poverty affects millions. It is hardest on children and women, on the elderly, on the physically and mentally handicapped. Proposals to raise the minimum wage, to provide health care for the uninsured, to build low-cost housing, all contradict the view of the ruling class that we must rely on hard work, prayer, individual initiative and volunteers to correct social injustice. Spending federal tax money to support the poor and passing federal regulations to protect the handicapped is socialism and must be opposed.

An understanding of the importance of primary prevention is essential for CP. There is a mistaken focus on one-to-one treatment in present-day clinical psychology. Few realize (or will admit) the truth of the public health dictum: No disease or disorder has ever been treated out of existence. No matter how successful our individual treatments, curing one person at a time does not reduce the incidence (new cases) of a disease or disorder. Only successful primary prevention reduces incidence. Some examples:

a. Reducing lead in the environment reduces the number of cases of brain damage (strategy: eliminate lead paint, lead toys, lead in gasoline).

b. Reducing the stresses of poverty (low wages, overcrowded and unsanitary housing) reduces the rate of child abuse and neglect associated with childhood emotional and learning problems (strategy: raise the minimum wage).

c. Provide support groups. Isolated persons are at high risk. A wide range of support groups—Scouts, clubs, home visitors and so on, have been shown to reduce psychopathology.

Primary prevention and promotion are aimed at developing interventions that affect groups. The members of these groups may be at risk, but they are not yet affected. For example, there are many effective programs for ensuring that infants are born full term and of normal birth weight. Such infants are at lower risk later for many negative conditions. Low birth-weight infants are at high risk. The goal of primary prevention is to increase the number at low risk and decrease the number at high risk. Working with premature infants is admirable, but it is not primary prevention.

In recent years the National Institute of Mental Health has stretched the concept of prevention to include interventions at early stages of the development of a mental condition in individuals. While this may be good medicine, it is not primary prevention. It is a strategy to allow allocation of tax dollars to treatment that can count as efforts at prevention. Treatment is profitable. Primary prevention is often costly (of tax dollars) and is opposed by political conservatives.

One of the ruling-class ideas of the conservative society argues that each mental disorder is a separate disease with a separate cause and, therefore, requires a separate strategy for prevention. This so-called scientific prevention opposes the position that many different mental disorders may have the same cause—the stresses of poverty, for example. The ‘scientific prevention’ model argues that there is a specific biochemical cause for most mental disorders and that research funds must go into the search for each specific biological cause of each specific disorder listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s (1988) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). This manual is unreliable and invalid (Kutchins & Kirk, 1997) but this is not a concern as ‘scientific prevention’ is far less costly (of tax dollars) than alternative models that require efforts at social changes to achieve social justice.

Social class is a major variable for CP (Perry, 1996). It is a macro variable to which more attention should be paid. Poverty causes pathology (Mirowsky & Ross, 1989). If mental disorders are learned in a pathological social environment, like poverty, (with homelessness, exploitation, family disruption, child neglect and so on), then there is hope for primary prevention. Truly meaningful prevention means building a just society. It means reducing poverty, the stresses of injustice, the loneliness in a society based on consumerism. Of dozens of examples, space will permit only one.

Recent research has come to the clear conclusion that the wider the income differences between rich and poor in a country, the worse the health, the lower the life expectancy, the higher the rate of violent crime, the more people in prisons and the worse the mental health of the population. In those societies where the income gap between rich and poor is small there is more social cohesiveness—people are more sensitive to the needs of others, violent crime is far less common, there is less emotional distress and fewer people die young as a result of stresses and selfish preoccupations. This set of observations has been confirmed repeatedly and is generally accepted in social medicine and public health.

The United States is far down the ranking on all these pathologies—not because of the structure of our health care, the number and training of our physicians, the quality of our hospitals, the brilliance of research by our pharmaceutical firms—but because of the wide (and growing) gap between rich and poor. Dozens of studies demonstrating the crucial importance of social cohesion for mental health and its relation to the income gap are summarized in Wilkinson (1996) Unhealthy Societies: The Afflictions of Inequality. He cites a wide range of research studies showing that when the income gap widens in a community, a region (state) or a country there is an increase in crime, child abuse, depression and death rates.

The variables are clear and measurable: data on income by social class are gathered routinely for other purposes; rates of death are objectively countable, as are rates of objective diseases and crime rates. The relations are clear. Inevitably the question arises: if the research evidence contradicts the ruling ideas of a society what should be the position of the community psychologist? It is an important question for each of us.

1 George Albee passed away on 8 July 2006. Because of the timelessness and wisdom of his original commentary on this chapter, we have decided to include it in this second edition of the book.

Community and Power

Chapter Organization

Community and Power

◆ What Are Community and Power? Community; Power + Why Are Community and Power So Important? Community; Power + What Is the Value-base of Community and Power? + How can Community and Power Be Promoted Simultaneously? Individual and Group Interventions; Community and Societal Interventions + What Are some of the Risks and Limitations of Community and Power? Community; Power

Chapter Summary

COMMENTARY: Parents Involved in Schools: A Story of Community and Power


Warm-up Exercise: Community, Power and You

We would like you to think about the four following situations:

a. A situation in which you experienced a sense of community through bonding, close relationships and attachment

b. A time when you felt excluded and isolated

c. A situation in which you felt empowered to do something or achieve something

d. An occasion in which you felt powerless and without a sense of control. Write down how you felt in each one of these situations.

In this chapter you will learn about community and power. The specific aims of the chapter are to:

■ define and critique the concepts

■ study their value-base

■ identify their implications for the promotion of well-being and liberation and for the perpetuation of oppression.

Have you done the warm up exercise? How did you feel when you experienced a sense of community? Did you feel supported, appreciated? Did you feel constrained? What about power? Did you feel good when you were in control of a situation? Did power ever get to your head? Most people experience both sides of community and power: positive aspects and negative aspects.

Positive aspects of community include social support, cohesion and working together to achieve common aims. Negative aspects of community include rigid norms, conformity, exclusion, segregation and disrespect for diversity. Positive aspects of power include the ability to achieve goals in life, a sense of mastery and a feeling of control. Negative aspects of power include the capacity to inflict damage or to perpetuate inequality. Our challenge as community psychologists is to promote the growth-enhancing aspects of community and power and to diminish their negative potential. We want to use community and power to promote social justice and not to stifle creativity or perpetuate the status quo.

Our work is difficult because it is highly contextual. It’s hard to make rules that apply to all contexts. On one hand, we know intuitively that sharing happy and sad moments with friends and others is beneficial for personal well-being. On the other hand, groups can exert powerful norms of conformity that suppress the creativity and individuality of their members. Similarly, we know that disempowered people could use more political power to advance their legitimate aims, but that doesn’t mean that more power is always a good thing, neither for disempowered nor for over-empowered people. Being disempowered does not make a person into a righteous individual. These potential scenarios teach us that the outcomes of community and power are highly contextual. We need to know the specific circumstances and dynamics of community and power before we endorse either of them. Who will benefit from a set of community norms? Who will gain and who will lose from giving a certain group of people more power? What is the impact of community and power for well-being and liberation? These are the key questions that we want to address in this chapter.

Community and Power

Community psychology (CP) has traditionally emphasized the role of community over power in promoting well-being. The sense of community metaphor discussed in Chapter 2 dominated the field’s narrative for its first decade or so. In a corrective move, Rappaport (1981, 1987) introduced the concept of empowerment to indicate that power and control over community resources would be just as important as a feeling of communion. As we will see in this chapter, the concept of empowerment has limitations of its own, but at the time it was introduced it served an important function: it drew attention to power dynamics affecting well-being. Feminist critics of empowerment like Stephanie Riger (1993) pointed out some risks inherent in the concept. First, she reminded us of the danger of swinging the pendulum too much towards individual power and forgetting the need for sense of community. Second, she recognized that empowerment may become another psychological variable that would lead to individual changes instead of social changes. Riger’s critique is reminiscent of Bakan’s (1966) distinction between agency and communion. Agency is the power to assert ourselves, whereas communion is the need to belong to something larger than ourselves. The conflict between these two complementary tendencies is played out in the field of CP through the tension between empowerment and community.

In this book, we wish to avoid dichotomies such as community or power. We wish to push the CP agenda further and claim that psychological empowerment and empowering processes are not enough without social justice and a redistribution of resources (Sandler, 2007). At the same time, achieving power without a sense of community, within and across groups, may lead to untoward effects

(Alsop, Bertelsen & Holland, 2006). Without empowerment we risk maintaining the status quo, and, without community, we risk treating people as objects. Let’s explore this thesis and the ways in which these two concepts complement each other.

What Are Community and Power?


At its most basic level, the word community implies a group or groups of citizens who have something in common. We can think of a geographical community such as your neighbourhood or country or we can think of a relational community such as a group of friends or your religious congregation (Bess et al., 2002). Members of a relational group may share a culture or a common interest. There are countless forces and dynamics that bring people together. Some of us feel quite close to the community of community psychologists, while others feel close to the fans of a sports team or to members of a religious group. Some of us can feel close to these three groups at the same time. We can belong to multiple communities concurrently. Of the multiple meanings of the word community we have chosen to concentrate on two that are important to the work of community psychologists: sense of community and social capital.

Sense of community. Seymour Sarason (1974), one of the founders of the field of CP, identified sense of community as central to the endeavour of the field. In his view, sense of community captured something very basic about being human: our need for affiliation in times of sorrow, our need for sharing in times of joy, and our need to be with people at all other times. He defined sense of community as the sense that one belongs in and is meaningfully a part of a larger collectivity; the sense that although there may be conflict between the needs of the individual and the collectivity, or among different groups in the collectivity, these conflicts must be resolved in a way that does not destroy the psychological sense of community; the sense that there is a network of and structure of relationships that strengthens rather than dilutes feelings of loneliness. (Sarason, 1988, p. 41)

Since Sarason’s (1974) coinage of the term, others have tried to operationalize and distil the meaning of sense of community, all in an effort to understand the positive or negative effects of this phenomenon. McMillan and Chavis (1986) are credited with formulating an enduring conceptualization of sense of community. According to them, the concept consists of four domains: (a) membership,

(b) influence, (c) integration and fulfilment of needs and (d) shared emotional connection. These four domains of sense of community sparked a great deal of interest and research in the field of CP. A special issue of the Journal of Community Psychology in 1996 (volume 4) and a book on the subject summarize very well progress in the area (Fisher, Sonn & Bishop, 2002). More recently, Wilkinson (2007) conceptualized psychological sense of community, attraction and neighbouring, as parts of social cohesion. Based on a study of 20 rural communities in Canada, he found that their levels of social cohesion vary depending on linguistic, geographic, historic and cultural variables.

The interest in communities is justified in a world where groups intersect and experience conflict over resources. We live in a world where communities of various identities share space, time, work, past, present and future. Each community has to value its own diversity as well as the diversity present in other groups. But communities differ not only among themselves but also within themselves. What, on the surface, may look similar may hide vast differences. Not all aboriginal people share the same culture (Dudgeon et al., 2002), and not all immigrants experience the same challenges (see Chapter 17). We can talk about a community of women, within which there are obviously multiple communities of Chicanas, aboriginal, African-American, privileged, poor, disabled and able-bodied women. Every time we invoke a group of people, there are going to be multiple identities within it (Serrano-García & Bond, 1994). Communities may define themselves in exclusive terms reminiscent of apartheid or in inclusive terms reminiscent of solidarity (Putnam, 2002).

Social capital. While sense of community attracted a lot of attention within CP, allied terms such as ‘community cohesion’ and ‘social capital’ gained currency in other disciplines such as sociology, community development and political science. We find much in common between these two concepts and CP (Perkins, Hughey & Speer, 2002). In essence, they speak about the potential of communities to improve the well-being of their members through the synergy of associations, mutual trust, sense of community and collective action (Hooghe, 2003; McKenzie & Harpham, 2006). In short, they deal with the intersection of people, well-being and community. The main difference between sense of community and social capital lies in the level of analysis. Whereas sense of community is typically measured and discussed at the group or neighbourhood level, social capital research has looked at the results of cohesion at state and national levels. Community psychologists Douglas Perkins and Adam Long (2002) maintain that sense of community is only a part of social capital. They suggest that social capital consists of four dimensions: (a) sense of community, (b) neighbouring, (c) collective efficacy and (d) citizen participation.

In his widely popular book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam (2000) distinguished between physical, human and social capital:

Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. (p. 19)

In our view, social capital refers to collective resources consisting of civic participation, networks, norms of reciprocity and organizations that foster (a) trust among citizens, and (b) actions to improve the common good. Figure 5.1 shows the various dimensions of social capital identified by Stone and Hughes (2002) in their study of social capital in Australian families. As may be seen, social capital entails networks of trust and reciprocity that lead to positive outcomes at multiple levels of analysis, including individual, family, community, civic, political and economic well-being. Figure 5.1 summarizes the types and characteristics of networks. Density, size and diversity are key factors in the quality of community connections. Another important feature of this figure is that the hypothesized outcomes influence the very determinants of social capital. Some of the outcomes, such as civic participation, may generate more social capital. Accordingly, we should see determinants and outcomes of social capital as exerting reciprocal and not unidirectional influence on each other.

Social capital, in the form of connections of trust and participation in public affairs, enhances community capacity to create structures of cohesion and support that benefit the population and produce positive health, welfare, educational and social outcomes (Schneider, 2006). Vast research indicates that cohesive communities and civic participation in public affairs enhance the well-being of the population. Communities with higher participation in volunteer organizations, political

Social Capital

Illustrations of hypothesized determinants of social capital

Personal characteristics:

· age

· sex

· health

Family characteristics:

· relationship status

· marital status

· presence of children


· education

· employment

· home ownership

Attitudes and values:

· tolerance of diversity

· shared goals

Characteristics of area:

· rural/urban

· level of socioeconomic advantage

· proportion of networks in local area

· knowledge of local area

· safety of local area

Networks in which trust and reciprocity operate

Informal ties:

· kinship ties

· family in-law

· friends

· neighbours

· workmates

¨characterized by familiar/ personal forms of negotiated trust and reciprocity

Generalized relationships:

· local people

· people in general

· people in civic groups

¨characterized by generalized trust and reciprocity

Institutional relationships:

· relations with institutional systems

· ties to power

¨characterized by trust in institutions

Network characteristics (across network types)

Size and extensiveness,for example:

· number of informal ties

· how many neighbours known personally

· number of work contacts

Density and closure, for example:

· family members know each other’s close friends

· friends know one another

· local people know one another

Diversity, for example:

· ethnic diversity of friends

· educational diversity of groups a person is a member of

· cultural mix of a local area

Illustrations of hypothesized outcomes of social capital

Individual/family well-being:

· capacity to get by (for example meet child-care needs)

· capacity to get ahead (for example gain opportunities for change)

Public well-being:

· public health

Vibrant civic life:

· volunteerism

· community cooperation

Neighbourhood/ area well-being:

· tolerance of diversity

· reduced crime

Political well-being:

· participatory democracy

· quality governance

Economic well-being:

· prosperity reduced inequality

Figure 5.1 Summary of core measures of social capital and illustrative examples of its determinants and outcomes

Source: Stone & Hughes (2002). Reproduced with permission from the Australian Institute of Family Studies parties, local and professional associations fare much better in terms of health, education, crime and well-being than communities with low rates of participation. This finding has been replicated at different times across various states, provinces and countries (De Piccoli, 2005; McKenzie & Harpham, 2006; Putnam, 2000, 2002; Stone & Hughes, 2002).

Box 5.1

Measuring social capital

The following are partial sample items taken from the Social Capital Community Benchmark Study sponsored by the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University. The complete tool is available at http://www.cfsv.org/ communitysurvey/docs/survey_instrument.pdf.

5. This study is about community, so we’d like to start by asking what gives you a sense of community or a sense of belonging. I’m going to read a list. For each one say ‘yes’ if it gives you a sense of community or a sense of belonging and ‘no’ if it does not.

Your old or new friends

The people in your neighbourhood Your place of worship

The people you work with or go to school with

6. Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?

16. Overall, how much impact do you think people like you can have in making your community a better place to live?

26. Which of the following things have you done in the past twelve months:

Signed a petition?

Attended a political meeting or rally? Worked on a community project?

Participated in any demonstrations, protests, boycotts or marches?

Donated blood?

33. I’m going to read a list. Just answer ‘yes’ if you have been involved in the past 12 months with this kind of group:

An adult sports club or league, or an outdoor activity club?

A youth organization like a youth sports league, the scouts, 4-H clubs, and boys and girls clubs?

A parents’ association, like the PTA or PTO, or other school support or service clubs?

A neighborhood association, like a block association? A labor union?

A support group or self-help program?

34. Did any of the groups that you are involved with take any local action for social or political reform in the past 12 months?


Since the 1980s, community psychologists have discussed empowerment more often than power per se (Zimmerman, 2000). For that reason, we begin with a brief review of the former.

Empowerment. Empowerment refers to both processes and outcomes occurring at various levels of analyses ( Zimmerman, 2000). Empowerment is about obtaining, producing or enabling power. This can happen at the individual, group or community and social levels. Rappaport claimed that empowerment is ‘a process: the mechanism by which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over their lives’ (1981, p. 3); whereas Maton recently defined it as ‘a group-based, participatory, developmental process through which marginalized or oppressed individuals and groups gain greater control over their lives and environment, acquire valued resources and basic rights, and achieve important life goals and reduced societal marginalization’ (2008, p. 5). The latter definition starts talking about the process but ends with an emphasis on outcomes: control over resources. Based on the work of Zimmerman (2000) and Speer and colleagues (Speer & Hughey, 1995;

Speer et al., 1995), we represent in Table 5.1 the various domains and dynamics of empowerment at four levels of analysis. Similar to Figure 5.1 on social capital, some of the outcomes are reinforcing of the processes. Better empowerment outcomes should generate more empowerment processes and vice versa.

The concept of empowerment stimulated much discussion in CP, with two special issues of the American Journal of Community Psychology dedicated to it in 1994 (Serrano-García & Bond, 1994) and 1995 (Perkins & Zimmerman, 1995). Empowerment is not a stable or global state of affairs. Some people feel empowered in some settings but not in others, whereas some people work to empower one group while oppressing others along the way. A more refined concept of power is emerging in community psychology (see special issue of Journal of Community Psychology dealing with power; Speer, Newbrough & Lorion, 2008).

From empowerment to power. Power is everywhere; it’s in interpersonal relationships, families, organizations, corporations, neighbourhoods, sports and countries. Power can be used for ethical or unethical purposes. It can promote well-being but it can also perpetuate suffering (Hook, 2007).

A more dynamic conceptualization of power is needed, one that takes into account the multifaceted nature of identities and the changing nature of social settings. Moreover, we need a definition of power that takes into account subjective and objective forces influencing our actions as community psychologists.

Table 5.1 Empowerment processes and outcomes at multiple levels of analysis

Levels of Analysis




Training in critical thinking Participation in action groups Mentoring experiences

Connecting with people in similar situations Training in value-based practice

Consciousness-raising Participation in social action Assertiveness

Expanded options in life Sense of control Mentoring others


Shared leadership

Training in group facilitation Participation in decision making Sense of common purpose

Increased resources Enhanced connections Solidarity with other groups Influences public opinion


Access to government Participation in civic organizations Political education

Target local issues

Improved quality of life Enhanced health and well-being Democratic institutions Improved access to services Coalitions for well-being Tolerance of diversity


Struggles for democracy Struggles for liberation Solidarity across social groups Resisting globalization Political and economic literacy

Redistributive policies

Support for disadvantaged people Government accountability Control of resources by poor Progressive social policies Resists economic neoliberalism

Source: Expanded from Lord and Hutchison (1993), Speer and Hughey (1995) and Zimmerman (2000).

In the light of the need for a comprehensive conceptualization of power, we offer a few parameters for clarification of the concept. Based on previous work, we present them as a series of ten complementary postulates (Prilleltensky, 2008):

a. Power refers to the capacity and opportunity to fulfil or obstruct personal, relational or collective needs.

b. Power has psychological and political sources, manifestations and consequences.

c. We can distinguish between power to strive for well-being, power to oppress and power to resist oppression and strive for liberation.

d. Power can be overt or covert, subtle or blatant, hidden or exposed.

e. The exercise of power can apply to self, others and collectives.

f. Power affords people multiple identities as individuals seeking well-being, engaging in oppression or resisting domination.

g. Whereas people may be oppressed in one context, at a particular time and place, they may act as oppressors at another time and place.

h. Because of structural factors such as social class, gender, ability and race, people may enjoy differential levels of power.

i. Degrees of power are also affected by personal and social constructs such as beauty, intelligence and assertiveness, constructs that enjoy variable status within different cultures.

j. The exercise of power can reflect varying degrees of awareness with respect to the impact of one’s actions.

We expand here on the first and main postulate of our conceptualization of power. We claim that power is a combination of ability and opportunity to influence a course of events. This definition merges elements of agency or self-determination on the one hand, with structure or external determinants on the other. Agency refers to ability, whereas structure refers to opportunity. The exercise of power is based on the juxtaposition of wishing to change something and having the opportunity, afforded by social and historical circumstances, to do so. Ultimately, the outcome of power is based on the constant interaction and reciprocal determinism of agency and contextual dynamics (Alsop, Bertelsen & Holland, 2006).

People who are born into privilege may be afforded educational and employment opportunities that people on the other side of town could never dream of. Privilege can lead to a good education, to better job prospects and to life satisfaction. These, in turn, can increase self-confidence and personal empowerment. Lack of structural opportunities, such as the absence of good schools or economic resources, undermines children’s capacities for the development of talents, control and personal empowerment (Lee & Burkam, 2002).

Another defining feature of power is its evasive nature. You can’t always tell it’s there. And you can’t tell how it’s operating. Power is not tantamount to coercion, for it can operate in very subtle and concealed ways (Foucault, 1979a; Hook, 2007). According to social critics such as Foucault and Rose, people come to regulate themselves through the internalization of cultural prescriptions. Hence, what may seem on the surface to be freedom may be questioned as a form of acquiescence whereby citizens restrict their life choices to coincide with a narrow range of socially sanctioned options. In his book Powers of Freedom, Rose (1999) claimed that

Disciplinary techniques and moralizing injunctions as to health, hygiene and civility are no longer required; the project of responsible citizenship has been fused with individuals’ projects for themselves. What began as a social norm here ends as a personal desire. Individuals act upon themselves and their families in terms of the languages, values and techniques made available to them by professions, disseminated through the apparatuses of the mass media or sought out by the troubled through the market. Thus, in a very significant sense, it has become possible to govern without governing society – to govern through the ‘responsibilized’ and ‘educated’ anxieties and aspirations of individuals and their families. (p. 88, original emphasis)

The point is that if governments or rulers want to exert power over their dominion, they don’t have to police people because people police themselves through the internalization of norms and regulations (Schwalbe, 2008). The problem with this is that many groups absorb rules and regulations that are not necessarily in their best interests, as can be seen in Box 5.2.

Box 5.2

The power to delude ourselves?

In April 2002, I, Isaac, travelled to California to teach a course at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria. I took a shuttle from the Los Angeles Airport to Carpinteria. The driver, a congenial young man, started talking with passengers about the economy, the cost of living in California, housing and traffic. He shared with us that he had a BA in chemistry) and that he worked full time in a laboratory. In order to afford the cost of living in California, he also drove a shuttle bus from the Los Angeles Airport several times a week, on weekends and after work. He had two demanding jobs. While talking about the economy he said that he is in favour of a flat tax, because ‘the rich should not be punished for being rich.’ I thought to myself, here is this guy who is working probably 80 or more hours a week and cannot afford the cost of living in California, and he is favouring a most regressive tax system that benefits the rich and disadvantages people like him because there are fewer public resources, little public housing and poor social services. I then arrived at the hotel and went to the gym. As I was cycling on the exercise bike I turned on the TV which was tuned in to the Suzie Orman show. Suzie gives financial advice over the phone. One of her stock phrases was that your net worth was a reflection of your self-worth. She told people that if they did not achieve financial wealth it was because they did not think they deserved it! Here I was, a community psychologist trained in thinking that people’s problems have to do with contexts and circumstances and opportunities in life, and in less than 30 minutes I encountered two cultural discourses completely undermining my message. Is culture so powerful that it can delude people into thinking that if they have problems it’s their own fault? Was the driver deluding himself? What type of social power was at play in the case of the driver and in the case of Suzie Orman?

Power, then, emanates from the confluence of personal motives and cultural injunctions. But, as we have seen, personal motives are embedded in the very cultural injunctions with which they interact. Hence, it is not just a matter of people acting on the environment, but of individuals coming into contact with external forces that, to some extent, they have already internalized. The implication is that we cannot just take at face value that individual actions evolve from innate desires. Desires are embedded in norms and regulations. This is not to adopt a socially deterministic position, however, for even though a person’s experience is greatly shaped by the prescriptions of the day, agency and personal power are not completely erased (Alsop, Bertelsen & Holland, 2006; Andersen & Siim, 2004; Maton, 2008).

Think, for example, about eating disorders. It is pretty clear that this psychological problem cannot be dissociated from a culture that exalts thinness. Whereas many women may wish to lose weight for health reasons, many others pursue thinness because it is culturally and socially prescribed. We cannot simply say that women have the power to lose weight or be healthy if they want to. We cannot claim that they have the power to decide what is good for them, for that would be a simplification. When many of us internalize norms that may be counterproductive to our own well-being, this process restricts our choices. Seemingly, we can do whatever we want. We can exercise or we can binge and vomit, but our choices are highly circumscribed by norms of conformity we have made our own, not necessarily because they are good for us but because we are subjected to social influences all the time. Instead of rebelling against societal practices that feed us junk food and junk images, we censor ourselves. No need for physical chains, as many of us wear psychological chains.

Why Are Community and Power So Important?


Sense of community, social support and social capital can produce beneficial results at the individual, communal and societal levels. Different kinds of social support may be given and received. Instrumental support refers to the provision of resources, such as lending money, helping a neighbour with babysitting or sharing notes with a student who couldn’t make a class. These are concrete actions that people take to help each other. Emotional support, in turn, refers to the act of listening and showing empathy towards others. When a friend shares a problem with you, you show emotional support by being there, listening non-judgementally and making yourself available. Bonding, sharing and building relationships through common experiences can activate either type of support.

Social support can increase or restore health and well-being in two ways (Cohen & Wills, 1985). First, social support can enhance well-being through bonding, affirming experiences, sharing of special moments, attachment and contributions to one’s self-esteem. The more support I have the better I feel and the more likely I am to develop well-being and resilience in the face of adversity (Prilleltensky, Laurendeau et al., 2001; Ryff & Singer, 2001). There is an accumulated positive effect of having had good interpersonal experiences. According to our model of well-being, relational well-being leads to personal well-being. The second mechanism through which social support enhances well-being is by providing emotional and instrumental support in times of crises. As we noted in the previous chapter, the stressful reactions associated with divorce, moves, transitions or death may be buffered by the protective influences of helpful, supportive relatives and friends.

Cohen and Wills (1985) posited the buffering hypothesis to indicate that social support may serve to enhance coping and to mitigate the negative effects of stress. In their view, social support may prevent the perception of events as stressful because people have sufficient instrumental and/or emotional resources to cope with untoward situations. A person with sufficient supports may not experience a situation as stressful, whereas others, without supports, may perceive the situation as very threatening. A father who suddenly becomes unemployed but who has a partner with a stable job and parents with economic resources may not experience the loss of a job as does a father with no parents, no back-ups and several kids to feed. The very phenomenon of unemployment is experienced differently by the two men.

But social support can buffer the effects of stress even when situations are perceived as stressful. In the case of the man with supports, he will not worry as much about his children because others will come through. In the second case, the father has good grounds to worry about feeding his family. In effect, Cohen and Wills (1985) postulate that supports can help in reducing the very perception of a threat and in increasing the act of coping with the threat.

Various channels lead to the positive effects of social support (Barrera, 2000; Gitterman & Shulman, 2005). We can think of agents and recipients of support, where the former is the one providing the help and the latter is the one benefiting from it. Relational well-being is characterized by relationships in which people assume the dual roles of agents and recipients. Support may be given and received from a single agent to a single recipient (friends talking to each other), from a single agent to multiple recipients (grandmother helping her daughter and grandchildren with shopping and cooking), from multiple agents to a single recipient (a self-help group where various participants encourage and support a person going through a hard time) and from multiple agents to multiple recipients (a group of women raising funds and lobbying the government to help refugee women). In some cases, the recipients are single individuals, whereas in others they are small or large groups. Let’s explore the significance of social support for the various recipients.

At the individual level, compared with people with lower supports, those who enjoy more support from relatives or friends live longer, recover faster from illnesses, report better health and well-being and cope better with adversities (Cohen et al., 2000; Hale, Hannum & Espelage, 2005; Ornish, 1997; Uchino, 2004; Westaway et al., 2005). At the group level, studies have shown that women with metastatic breast cancer have better chances of survival if they participate in support groups. After a follow up of 48 months, Spiegel and colleagues (1989) found that all the women in the control group had died, whereas a third of those who received group support were still alive. The average survival for the women in the support group was 36 months, compared to 19 months in the control group. Richardson and colleagues made similar claims of a sample of patients with haematologic malignancies. They claimed that ‘the use of special educational and supportive programs designed to improve patient compliance are associated with significant prolongation of patient survival’ (Richardson et al., 1990, p. 356). Finally, Fawzy and colleagues (Fawzy et al., 1993) found that patients with malignant melanoma were more likely to die or experience recurrence of the disease if they did not receive the group intervention that the experimental group received. Out of 34 patients in each group, of those who received group support, only 7 had experienced recurrence and 3 had died at the 5-year follow-up, compared with 13 and 10, respectively, in the control group. Altogether, these three teams of researchers found that social support can enhance health and longevity in the face of deadly diseases. It is worth noting, however, that more recent attempts to promote longevity in cancer patients through social support or psycho-educational interventions have failed. According to Uchino (2004) and Spiegel and Kimerling (2001) this may be the result of the more open approach that characterizes cancer treatment today. In other words, currently most cancer patients receive supports that were previously available only to those in special therapeutic groups. Consequently, studies do not detect differences between experimental groups receiving extra supports and control groups.

In the psychological realm, self-help groups provide support for people experiencing addictions, psychiatric conditions, weight problems and bereavement. In addition, support groups are also available for relatives and friends caring for others with physical or emotional problems. Estimates of participation in self-help groups in the United States range from 7.5 million in 1992 to 10 million in 1999 (Levy, 2000). Moreover, self-help/mutual aid groups can be found in many countries throughout the world (Lavoie, Borkman & Gidron, 1994a, 1994b). A survey conducted in 2002 in the United States identified 3,315 mental health mutual support groups, 3,019 self-help organizations managed by mental health consumers and family members, and 1,133 consumer-operated services. Together, these organizations exceed by far the 4,546 mental health organizations identified in the study. Together, the mutual aid organizations served close to 1,600,000 people in one year (Goldstrom, Campbell, et al., 2006).

Keith Humphreys is one of the leading researchers in the field of self-help groups. In a study of people with substance abuse problems, Humphreys and colleagues found positive results for African-American participants attending Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. The sample of 253 participants showed significant improvements in employment, alcohol and drug use, legal complications and psychological and family well-being (Humphreys, Mavis & Stoffelmayr, 1994). In another study Humphreys and Moos (1996) compared the outcomes of self-help groups versus professional help on people who abused alcohol. The outcomes were positive for both groups, but the cost of the self-help option was considerably lower. As in these two examples, there is a vast amount of research documenting the positive effects of self-help groups. The research provides evidence that lay people can be very helpful to each other, even in the absence of professionals leading the groups.

The helper–therapy principle, according to which the provider of help benefits from assisting others, has been documented in a variety of groups and settings. Roberts, Salem et al. (1999) showed that providing help to others predicted improvements in psychosocial adjustment of people with serious mental illness. Kingree and Thompson (2000), in turn, demonstrated that mutual help groups helped adult children of alcoholics to reduce depression and substance abuse. Kingree (2000) also found a positive correlation between levels of participation in the group and increases in self-esteem. But the benefits of participating in mutual help groups extend beyond the participants themselves. Caregivers who attend these groups are better able to assist family members and others in need of help. Positive effects were reflected on children and elderly family members who require the attention of the middle generation (Gottlieb, 2000; O’Connor, 2002; Tebes & Irish, 2000). Children whose parents participated in mutual help groups, for example, exhibited fewer depressive symptoms and better social functioning than children whose parents did not attend such groups. The results were sustained at the six-month follow up (Tebes & Irish, 2000).

At the community level, the research demonstrates that communities with high levels of social cohesion experience better health, safety, well-being, education and welfare than societies with low levels of cohesion. Based on US research, Figure 5.2 shows the positive effects of social capital on a number of well-being indicators. Putnam created a measure of social capital based on the degree to which a given state is either high or low in the number of meetings citizens go to, the level of social trust its citizens have, the degree to which they spend time visiting one another at home, the frequency with which they vote, the frequency with which they do volunteering and so on. (Putnam, 2001, p. 48)

He then compared how states with different levels of social capital fare on a number of indicators. Putnam compared states on measures of educational performance, child welfare, TV watching, violent crime, health, tax evasion, tolerance for low med high crime tolerance education welfare health

Figure 5.2 The effects of social capital in different states of the United States equality, civic equality and economic equality. The trends in Figure 5.2 are representative of the results overall. States with high levels of social capital and social cohesion enjoy better rates of health, safety, welfare, education and tolerance. As can be seen in the graph, there is a clear gradient: the higher the level of social capital, the better the outcomes.

Of particular interest to us is whether social capital and social cohesion can increase health and well-being. There is evidence to support this claim. In a survey of 167,259 people in 39 US states, Kawachi and Kennedy (1999) lent strong support to Putnam’s claim that social capital reinforces the health of the population. Convincing evidence making the link between social cohesion and health is also presented by Berkman (1995), Hooghe (2003), McKenzie and Harpham (2006) and Wilkinson (1996). Whereas the previous sets of studies investigated the effects of social support on individuals, researchers like Putnam, Berkman and Wilkinson assessed the aggregated effect of social cohesion on entire populations, demonstrating that a sense of community and cohesion can lead to population health.

In the past decade, research in economics demonstrates that fluctuations in gross domestic product (GDP), inflation, unemployment and unemployment benefit levels influence the overall well-being of entire countries. Using data from hundreds of thousands of Europeans from 12 different countries, researchers found that when unemployment and inflation go up, well-being goes down, and when unemployment benefits and GDP go up, so does well-being (DiTella, MacCulloch & Oswald, 2001). In Switzerland, Frey and Stutzer (2002) found that levels of well-being are not affected only by economic measures but also by democratic participation in referenda. Cantons with higher degrees of referenda and citizen participation report higher degrees of happiness than those with lesser citizen involvement. Taken together, the European research shows that circumstances do matter. Indeed, the average level of subjective well-being is affected by economic and political conditions and not only for those in extreme conditions, for the studies showed effects for the population as a whole.

Shinn and Toohey (2003) catalogued the effects of community characteristics on their members. Neighbourhoods with high socioeconomic status (SES) are predictive of academic achievement, whereas communities low in SES and high in residential instability are predictive of negative behavioural and emotional outcomes such as conduct disorders and substance abuse. In these poor neighbourhoods, residents also tend to have poor health outcomes, as measured by cardiovascular disease, poor birth weight and premature births. Not surprisingly, exposure to violence tends to be associated with poorer mental-health outcomes, depression, stress and externalizing disorders.

In addition to these correlational studies, Shinn and Toohey report the outcomes of a longitudinal experimental study called ‘Moving to Opportunity’. In this study, families living in poor communities in Chicago were given the opportunity to move to other parts of the city or to more affluent suburbs. Children who moved to the suburbs did much better than those who moved within the city, on a number of outcomes. Compared with children who moved within the city, children who moved to the suburbs were much more likely to graduate from high school (86% vs 33%), attend college (54% vs 21%), attend 4-year university/college (27% vs 4%), be employed if not in school (75% vs 41%) and receive higher salaries and benefits. In a similar project in Boston, children who moved to more affluent parts of the city experienced dramatic decreases in the prevalence of injury and asthma (74% and 65%, respectively) compared with controls. In New York, behaviour problems for boys who moved to low-poverty areas were reduced by 30% to 43% relative to controls.

It is interesting to note that people adapt to contextual conditions in order to enhance the resiliency of their children. In low-risk neighbourhoods, low level of parental restrictive control was associated with high academic achievements, whereas in high-risk conditions, high level of parental control predicted academic success. High-risk situations require high levels of parental intervention for optimal outcomes (Shinn & Toohey, 2003). This finding shows that individuals are not mere victims of adverse conditions, but many of them adjust and adapt their behaviour to the context of their lives.


People can use power to promote social cohesion or social fragmentation. But power does not inhabit humans alone. Power is vested in institutions such as the church, business corporations, schools and governments (Alsop, Bertelsen & Holland, 2006; Andersen & Siim, 2004; Hook, 2007). Power is important because it is central to the promotion or prevention of the goals of CP: well-being and liberation. Without it, the disempowered cannot demand their human rights. With too much of it, the over-empowered are not going to relinquish privilege. With just about enough of it, it is possible that people may satisfy their own needs and share power with others in a synergic form (Craig & Craig, 1979).

Power to promote well-being. Well-being is achieved by the simultaneous, balanced and contextually sensitive satisfaction of personal, relational and collective needs. In the absence of capacity and opportunity – central features of power – individuals cannot strive to meet their own needs and the needs of others.

Personal and collective needs represent two faces of well-being. The third side of well-being concerns relational needs. Individual and group agendas are often in conflict. Power and conflict are intrinsic parts of relationships. To achieve well-being, then, we have to attend to relationality. Two sets of needs are primordial in pursuing healthy relationships between individuals and groups: respect for diversity and collaboration and democratic participation. Respect for diversity ensures that people’s unique identities are affirmed by others, while democratic participation enables community members to have a say in decisions affecting their lives (Fox, Prilleltensky & Austin, 2009). Without power to exercise democratic rights, the chances of promoting the three dimensions of well-being are diminished.

Power to oppress. Power can be used for ethical or unethical purposes. This is not just a risk of power, but part of its very essence. Oppression can be regarded as a state or process (Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996). With respect to the former, oppression is described as a state of domination where the oppressed suffer the consequences of deprivation, exclusion, discrimination, exploitation, control of culture and sometimes even violence (e.g. Bartky, 1990; Moane, 1999; Mullaly, 2002). A useful definition of oppression as process is given by Mar’i (1988): ‘Oppression involves institutionalized, collective and individual modes of behavior through which one group attempts to dominate and control another in order to secure political, economic and/or social-psychological advantage’ (p. 6).

Another important distinction in the definition of oppression concerns its political and psychological dimensions. We cannot speak of one without the other (Fox, Prilleltensky & Austin, 2009; Prilleltensky, 2008; Moane, 1999). Psychological and political oppressions co-exist and are mutually determined. Following Prilleltensky and Gonick (1996), we integrate here the elements of state and process, with the psychological and political dimensions of oppression. Oppression entails a state of asymmetric power relations characterized by domination, subordination and resistance, where the dominating persons or groups exercise their power by the process of restricting access to material resources and imparting in the subordinated persons or groups self-deprecating views about themselves. It is only when the latter can attain a certain degree of conscientization that resistance can begin (Bartky, 1990; Dalrymple & Burke, 2006; Fanon, 1963; Freire, 1972).

The dynamics of oppression are internal as well as external. External or political forces deprive individuals or groups of the benefit of personal (e.g. selfdetermination), collective (e.g. distributive justice) and relational (e.g. democratic participation) well-being. Often, these restrictions are internalized and operate at a psychological level as well, where the person acts as his or her personal censor (Moane, 1999; Mullaly, 2002; Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996). Some political mechanisms of oppression and repression include actual or potential use of force, restricted life opportunities, degradation of indigenous culture, economic sanctions and inability to challenge authority. Psychological dynamics of oppression entail surplus powerlessness, belief in a just world, learned helplessness, conformity, obedience to authority, fear, verbal and emotional abuse (for reviews see Moane, 1999; Mullaly, 2002; Prilleltensky, 2003b; Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996).

What Is the Value Base of Community and Power?

We have already established the complementarity of values for personal, relational and collective well-being in Chapter 3. In a similar vein, Newbrough (1992a, 1995) has argued that CP should try to reach an equilibrium among the principal values of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity. In our view, however, the desired equilibrium has not been reached because the field has paid more attention to fraternity than to the other two values. Unlike the value of solidarity, which has been enacted through the concept of community, the values of liberty and equality have not found similar expression in concepts such as power and justice (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2009). To achieve personal liberty and collective equality, which are closely intertwined, we sometimes need to resort to conflict. If collaborative means failure to produce a more equal distribution of resources, then conflict may be necessary. The absence of conflict rewards those who benefit from the current state of affairs, for the status quo is to their advantage (Schwalbe, 2008). Hence, for as long as they produce the desired results, we would prefer conflict-free and fraternal means of promoting well-being. But if they don’t, we have to consider more assertive means (Culley & Hughey, 2008). We could try to persuade companies to provide better conditions for their workers or we could create support groups for workers experiencing stress. Furthermore, we could negotiate with factory owners to put in place better working conditions such as ventilation, proper lighting and more breaks. But if the owners deny all requests, workers may consider a strike or more confrontational means of action.

The erosion of social cohesion since the 1960s, at least in the United States, has been amply documented by Putnam (2000). This is a reminder that it is not enough to reflect on the virtues of community structures; somebody has to support them! In the age of economic neoliberalism and globalization, governments are under great pressure to reduce community and social services either to cope with lower taxes or to reduce them. This has been the trend since the 1980s. As a result, we see less investment in communities and more tax cuts that benefit the rich (Gershman & Irwin, 2000; Sen, 1999b). In the light of these developments, now more than ever we need social movements to fight for the restoration of community services and for social investments (Kim et al., 2000).

How Can Community and Power Be Promoted Simultaneously?

With some exceptions (Lord & Hutchison, 2007; Maton, 2008), the literature is quite abundant in examples that promote either a sense of community (e.g. Fisher, Sonn & Bishop, 2002) or empowerment (e.g. Perkins & Zimmerman, 1995; Serrano-García & Bond, 1994), but not so vast in cases that promote both simultaneously. Based on their research with community mental health groups, Nelson, Lord and Ochocka (2001b) proposed the empowerment–community integration paradigm. With input from various stakeholder groups they identified values, elements and ideal indicators for the promotion of the new paradigm. The key values for this paradigm are psychiatric consumer/survivor empowerment, community integration and holistic health care and access to resources. The principles, which correspond respectively to liberty, fraternity and equality, seek an integration of empowerment and community interventions (see book’s website).

As found by Nelson and colleagues, the three values are needed for the wellbeing of psychiatric consumer/survivors. In our view, this integration is really imperative for the promotion of individual, group, community and societal wellbeing (see also Table 5.1). Social support by itself promotes a sense of community, but it does not rectify power imbalances, whereas combative social action addresses power inequalities but doesn’t necessarily promote cohesion.

Power and community may be invoked to promote well-being, engage in oppression or, finally, strive for liberation. Liberation refers to the process of resisting oppressive forces. As a state, liberation is a condition in which oppressive forces no longer exert their dominion over a person or a group. Liberation may be from psychological and/or political influences. Building on Fromm’s dual conception of ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’ (1965), liberation is the process of overcoming internal and external sources of oppression (freedom from) and pursuing wellbeing (freedom to). Liberation from social oppression entails, for example, emancipation from class exploitation, gender domination and ethnic discrimination (Fox, Prilleltensky & Austin, 2009). Freedom from internal and psychological sources includes overcoming fears, obsessions or other psychological phenomena that interfere with a person’s subjective experience of well-being (Oliver, 2004). Liberation to pursue well-being, in turn, refers to the process of meeting personal, relational and collective needs.

The process of liberation is analogous to Freire’s concept of conscientization, according to which marginalized populations begin to gain awareness of oppressive forces in their lives and of their own ability to overcome domination (Freire, 1972). This awareness is likely to develop in stages (Watts, Griffith & Abdul-Adil, 1999). Through various processes, people begin to realize that they are the subject of oppressive regulations. The first realization may happen as a result of therapy, participation in a social movement or readings. Next, people may connect with others experiencing similar circumstances and gain an appreciation for the external forces pressing down on them. Some individuals will go on to liberate themselves from oppressive relationships or psychological dynamics such as fears and phobias, whereas others will join social movements to fight for political justice. While a fuller exploration of interventions will be given in Chapters 8, 9 and 10, we offer below some parameters for intervention at different levels of analysis.

Individual and Group Interventions

Research on the process of empowerment shows that individuals rarely engage in emancipatory actions until they have gained considerable awareness of their own oppression and have enjoyed support from other community members (Kieffer, 1984; Lord & Hutchinson, 2008). Consequently, the task of overcoming oppression should start with a process of interpersonal support, mentoring and psychopolitical education (Prilleltensky & Fox, 2007). It is through this kind of support and education that people experience consciousness-raising (Watts et al., 1999).

The preferred way to contribute to the liberation of oppressed people is through partnerships and solidarity. This means that we approach others in an attempt to work with them and learn from them at the same time as we contribute to their cause (Nelson et al., 1998; Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001). The three community mental health organizations studied by Nelson et al. (2001b) dedicated themselves to empowering people with psychiatric problems. At their best, these organizations provided support and empowerment to their members, affording them voice and choice in the selection of treatment, caring and compassion, and access to valued services and resources. Similarly, action groups studied by Speer and colleagues offered citizens better resources such as services and housing, but connectedness at the same time (Speer & Hughey, 1995; Speer et al., 1995). In both sets of studies, the groups acted as communities of support and communities of power.

Community and Societal Interventions

Joining strategic social movements is perhaps the most powerful step that citizens can take to transform unacceptable social conditions. In some cases these will be global movements, in others they may be regional or community-based coalitions. In North America community-building efforts have proved useful in bringing people together to fight poverty. Snow (1995) claims that ‘community-building can enable the underprivileged to create power through collective action’ (p. 185), while McNeely (1999) reports that ‘community building strategies can make a significant difference. There is now evidence of many cases where the residents of poor communities have dramatically changed their circumstances by organizing to assume responsibility for their own destiny’ (p. 742). McNeely lists community participation, strategic planning and focused and local interventions as being central to success. Similar initiatives have taken place in Europe to address the multifaceted problems faced by residents in large public housing estates. Community organizing helped many poor neighbourhoods throughout the United Kingdom to demand and receive improved social services such as health, policing and welfare (Power, 1996).

In their research of block booster projects in New York, Perkins and Long (2002) found that sense of community and communitarianism predicted collective efficacy, which is encouraging because collective efficacy may be a precursor of social action. A similar and encouraging result was reported by Saegert and Winkel (1996) who found that social capital increased empowerment and voting behaviour at the group level. Based on a review of dozens of community organizing efforts, Smock (2004) concluded that ‘with the right strategies, even the most disenfranchised residents can become active participants in the public decisions that shape their lives’ (p. 261). Orr (2007), in turn, summarizes multiple social change efforts in stating that ‘effective community organizing can improve urban residents’ quality of life’ (p. 253).

These interventions work at the personal, relational and collective levels at the same time. By participating in social action groups, citizens feel empowered while they develop bonds of solidarity. The feelings of empowerment and connection contribute to personal and relational well-being, whereas the tangible outcomes in the form of enhanced services and quality of life contribute to collective wellbeing. In comparing two social action groups, Speer and colleagues found that members of the organization that invested more in interpersonal connections reported their group to be ‘more intimate and less controlling. They also reported more frequent overall interpersonal contact and more frequent interaction outside organizing events. Members of the community based organization also reported greater levels of psychological empowerment’ (Speer et al., 1995, p. 70). Their research illustrates how an organization can promote empowerment and community at the same time.

What Are Some of the Risks and Limitations of Community and Power?


Social capital may be used to increase bonding or bridging. Whereas the former refers to exclusive ties within a group, the latter refers to connections across groups. Country clubs, ethnic associations, farmers’ associations and men’s groups increase bonding. Coalitions, interfaith organizations and service groups enhance bridging. There is a risk of bonding overshadowing the need for bridging (Schneider, 2006). If every group in society was interested only in what is good for its own members, there would be little or no cooperation across groups. Bridging is a necessity of every society. It is a basic requirement of a respectful and inclusive society. However, there are examples of groups investing in bonding to prevent bridging. Classic examples include the Ku Klux Klan and movements that support ethnic cleansing.

If bonding leads to preoccupation with one’s own well-being and the neglect of others’, we see a problem. The problem is even greater if social capital is used to promote unjust policies or discrimination. ‘Networks and the associated norms of reciprocity are generally good for those inside the network, but the external effects of social capital are by no means always positive’ (Putnam, 2000, p. 21). Proponents of mindsets such as NIMBY (not in my backyard) and coalitions of elite businesses exploit their power and connections to achieve goals that are in direct opposition to the values of CP:

Social capital, in short, can be directed toward malevolent, antisocial purposes, just like any other form of social capital. ... Therefore it is important to ask how the positive consequences of social capital – mutual support, cooperation, trust, institutional effectiveness – can be maximized and the negative manifestations – sectarianism, ethnocentrism, corruption – minimized. (Putnam, 2000, p. 22)

Another serious risk of the current discourse on social capital is its potential deflection of systemic sources of oppression, inequality and domination. There is a distinct possibility that social capital may become the preferred tool of governments to work on social problems because it puts the burden of responsibility back onto the community (Blakeley, 2002; Perkins, Hughey & Speer, 2002). We believe that communities should become involved in solving their own problems. But that is part of the solution, not the whole solution. No amount of talk about social support can negate the fact that inequality exists and that it is a major source of suffering for vulnerable populations. Social support can buffer some of the effects of inequality, but it would be ironic if it was used to support the same system that creates so much social fragmentation and isolation. Hence, we caution against social capital becoming the new slogan of governments. Furthermore, we call on people to create bonds of solidarity to enhance, not diminish, political action against injustice. We concur with Perkins et al. who claim that ‘excessive concern for social cohesion undermines the ability to confront or engage in necessary conflict and thus disempowers.’ (2002, p. 33).


Too much power in the wrong hands and too little power in the right hands are two problems associated with power. Of course, we don’t always know which are the ‘wrong hands’ and which are the ‘right hands’. But, in principle, we know that certain groups are clearly over-empowered. In 2002, newspapers and magazines worldwide were decrying the unrestrained power of corporate executives. The collapse of corporations such as Enron and Worldcom, due in part to the unrestrained power of chief executive officers and their ability to doctor the books, left thousands of people with no pension plans and thousands of others with no life savings (e.g. Gibbs, 2002). We don’t want to give more power to corrupted corporate leaders, and, for that matter, to racist demagogues or unreformed sexists.

Far too often, not enough power gets into the hands of the marginalized. A number of barriers stand in the way of the disempowered (Gaventa & Cornwall, 2001; Serrano-García & López Sánchez, 1994; Speer & Hughey, 1995; Speer et al., 1995). Superior bargaining resources are the first instrument of power in the hands of the powerful. Those with resources to pay lawyers and send their children to elite schools have more access to power than those with fewer resources. In the case of a dispute, those with the lawyers, the money and the connections can outweigh the position of the disadvantaged.

By setting agendas and defining issues in a particular way, power is also exercised by excluding issues such as inequality, privilege, oppression, corruption and power differentials from discussions and public debate. The third barrier to power and participation is defining issues in such a way that people do not realize that power is being taken away from them. Callers to the Suzie Orman show (see Box 5.2) are being robbed of power when they believe that their ‘net-worth is a reflection of their self-worth’. They are buying into myths and cultural messages that prevent them from fighting injustice. Instead, they are told to go to therapy to improve their self-esteem. This is a forceful way to deny people the power of political and economic literacy (Prilleltensky & Fox, 2007).

Finally, we caution against covering the whole human experience with a blanket of power. Power is vitally important in fostering well-being and liberation. Moreover, it is ever present in relationships, organizations and communities. But we want to think that there are spaces in human relations where power differentials are minimized, where people feel solidarity with others, where empathy outweighs personal interests and where love and communion are more important than narcissism (Craig & Craig, 1979; Dokecki, Newbrough & O’Gorman, 2001; hooks, 2000; Pargament, 2008). The complementary risk is that we fail to see power where power is present, for masking power is perhaps one of the gravest risks in the pursuit of well-being and liberation.

Chapter Summary

In this chapter we explored the concepts of community and power. These two concepts are the root of sense of community and empowerment, both of which have been hailed as defining metaphors for CP. We considered geographical and relational communities and explored sense of community and social capital. The research demonstrates that cohesive communities achieve better rates of health, education, tolerance and safety than fragmented ones.

The benefits of social support extend beyond the individual. Social networks improve outcomes for children, adults and for the community as a whole. While the positive outcomes of cohesion and social capital are many, it’s important to remember that group unity can be used to exclude ‘others’. It is equally important to keep in mind that social capital and the call for community may be used to excuse governments from investing in public resources (Blakeley, 2002). In other words, community and social capital may be used to deflect responsibility from governments.

Whereas bridging and bonding are desirable qualities of healthy communities, they can restrict opportunities for challenging power structures and for engaging in productive conflict. Although social capital can contribute to health and welfare, it can also depoliticize issues of well-being and oppression (Perkins et al., 2002).

The ability of communities to promote well-being and liberation is linked to the power of the group to demand rights, services and resources. We explored the concept of power and noted its multifaceted nature and applications. For us, power is a combination of ability and opportunity. In other words, power is not just a psychological state of mind but a reflection of the opportunities presented to individuals by the psychosocial and material environment in which they live. Of particular interest to us is the potential of power to promote well-being, to cause or perpetuate oppression and to pursue liberation. Personal empowerment has to be complemented by collective actions (Alsop, Bertelsen & Holland, 2006; Anderson & Siim, 2004). We identified three main barriers to power, based on the ability of the powerful to (a) use resources to reward and punish behaviour in line with their interests, (b) set agendas and (c) create cultural myths and ideologies that perpetuate the status quo (Culley & Hughey, 2008). We noted that our work is challenged by the fact that it is not always clear who needs more power and who needs to be disempowered. Knowledge of the values, the context and the various interests at play is the best antidote to dogmatism. We can see too much power in certain places and not enough of it in others. Both are serious risks, for we don’t want to be oblivious to power, nor do we want to project it where it doesn’t belong.

Parents Involved in Schools:

A Story of Community and Power Paul W. Speer

Several years ago my wife Bettie became an active participant in the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) of our kids’ school. One of the tasks she undertook was to develop a school handbook that provided important information for school families: school rules and procedures, parking at the school, procedures for snow days, where to go with questions and so on. In preparing the handbook, Bettie drafted a mission or role statement of the PTO vis-a-vis the school. The statement asserted that the role of the PTO was to support and enhance the educational opportunities in the school, to facilitate exchange of information between parents and teachers and to serve as a parents’ liaison with the school administration when parents raised concerns. At a meeting of PTO officers and the school principal, the group balked at the point in the mission statement asserting that the organization could serve as a mechanism for addressing parent concerns about the school. The principal felt this was not the role of the PTO, some officers voiced that the PTO’s role was exclusively as a ‘support’ organization and other officers complained that a statement regarding ‘parent concerns’ was ‘too controversial’. Bettie urged that the PTO serve as a mechanism by which parents could raise concerns, particularly to the administration, as no such mechanism existed for the school. She was corrected by other parents who, with the nodding approval of the principal, revealed that if a parent had a concern about school policies or procedures, he or she should bring it up with the principal.

Power is Pervasive

Bettie’s experience reveals many of the power dynamics discussed in this chapter. For me, some of the most important are how unconscious forces and ideologies operate to reinforce the status quo – to the detriment of our values for justice and equality. When the idea that there should be a mechanism for redressing concerns gets defined by parents – not the principal – as controversial, it not only contradicts the very nature of a democratic process but reveals a form of self-imposed regulation that represents the hallmark of power.

A common myth in this regard is that individuals susceptible to power, persuasion and manipulation are generally less educated. Interestingly, the parents involved in the PTO were generally very educated – I believe all had college degrees and several had post graduate degrees. But as this chapter points out, one of the most important aspects of power is the ability to distort knowledge – to shape what people know or how they view the world. This mechanism is not bound by education, race, class or gender. How do we come to ‘know’ that PTO’s are for fundraising and not for participating in school governance? How did this understanding come about for the well-educated group of parents in this organization? An important contribution of this chapter is the explicit attention it provides to the unconscious mechanisms through which power is exercised. These mechanisms are under-appreciated and largely ignored by psychologists but nevertheless pervasive in community contexts.

Blending Power and Community

Perhaps the most important insight of this chapter is the blending of the concepts of power and community. In my experience with community organizing, the development of social power comes only through gathering the strength of many individuals into a unified collective. To build a unified collective requires tremendous effort and time, but more fundamentally, it requires (in a non-economic context) building a sense of community that can operate within and across groups in what the field of social capital calls both ‘bridging’ and ‘bonding’ forms of social capital. The conscious development of a collective with a strong sense of community will not always be successful – it depends on the context of that community and the experiences, interests and values of the individuals composing that community. Organizing is about learning and understanding the experiences and interests of a group of individuals. To develop such knowledge and understanding requires building relationships with numerous individuals. In community organizing, one of the key organizing principles is: power flows through relationships (Speer & Hughey, 1995).

This process does not seem too difficult, but putting this principle into practice requires skill, commitment, time and a passion for justice. I’ve witnessed many failed attempts to organize communities and the reasons for this failure are many. Often, organizing efforts identify the issue to be organized a priori – organizers attempt to form groups working on substance abuse or housing or education. Organizing in such a way undermines the process of listening, thus limiting an understanding of the interests and values of individuals in a community. When outsiders, be they organizers, experts or funders, define in advance the issues for a community, the result is a weakened organization and an organizing process that resembles an exercise in manipulation. Most importantly, the activity produced in ‘issue-defined’ organizing efforts generally has little sustainability – when the issue is resolved, the organizing effort tends to go dormant. It is important for organizing groups to remain active as an inactive group has little power.

Another common shortcoming to community work when issues of community and power are not viewed together is that participation is encouraged as an end in itself. In many contexts, we view citizen participation as essential for democracy and a key method of building community and developing empowerment. But what of Bettie’s experience in the PTO? Did participation there build power or cultivate community? These questions are not easily answered – they are very complex. An important aspect of this chapter is that it communicates some of the complexity and nuance to community work and issues of power. Too often community psychologists oversimplify these issues. Citizen participation, for example, is generally held to be a ‘good thing’. I am not disputing this, but I would suggest that powerful interests have shaped many of the settings and niches in which we can participate and, as a result, our participation has been defined in very narrow, limited ways (see Christens & Speer, 2006, for critiques of participation). At the PTO, Bettie participated in fundraisers to bring educational opportunities to the school (dancers, rappers, puppeteers etc.), but the educated, involved and resourced parents kept participation focused on fundraising and away from deeper issues of equity and justice in that school (tensions in our school existed around ‘well-connected’ parents selecting their children’s teacher thus producing ‘designer classrooms’ and segregated seating in the school lunch room due to seating assignments based on whether kids were part of the free or reduced lunch program). In that school setting, parent participation served to keep the ‘system’ intact, not to address issues of fairness.

Power and Conflict

The irony is that community and power, which are so often considered as separate or even dichotomous constructs, are so intimately linked. I’ve witnessed many efforts to develop one without the other, but successful organizing efforts usually attend to both relationship and cohesion within the organization as well as a strategic use of power beyond the group. However, there is one final observation about this chapter that makes its contribution noteworthy. The issue of conflict is presented as important to consider in the development of power. This perspective is not often shared, but it is critical to the development of power. While conflict is never desirable, efforts to make change in the status quo will eventually confront those with interests served by the status quo. In my kids’ school, PTO officers had the ability to influence what they wanted in the school so they felt no need to provide a mechanism for others. Those benefiting from existing relationships will not acquiesce based on reason, morality or justice. If these conditions are to change, conflict is inevitable. How that conflict is played out, however, has numerous options. Unfortunately, many believe that conflict is to be avoided – suppressed even – regardless of the conditions around which such conflict arises. Such a perspective serves to maintain the status quo. There are many types of conflict, for example, conflict between fathers over a call in little league sports is all too common and a form of conflict that I would argue should be avoided. In contrast, there is rarely conflict about capital outlays within city budgets, but for neighbourhoods with no public investment (which exacerbates private disinvestment) strategies to pressure for change are needed.

In my experience, and in the presentation of this chapter, conflict is a fact of life in community work. When working to make change, conflict is inevitable. Attention to the role of conflict, knowledge of the unconscious mechanisms of power and development of the relationships between power and community are critically important for community psychologists.

Commitment, Accountability and Inclusion

Chapter Organization

Commitment and Accountability

◆ Commitment to What? Accountability to Whom? To Values; To Self; To Others; To Community; To Profession + Why Are Commitment and Accountability So Important? + What Is the Value-base of Commitment and Accountability? + How Can Commitment and Accountability Be Promoted? + What Are the Limitations of Commitment and Accountability?


◆ What Is Inclusion? + Why Is Inclusion Important? + What Is the Value Base of Inclusion? + How Can Inclusion Be Implemented?

◆ What Are the Limitations of Inclusion?

Chapter Summary

COMMENTARY: Living Up to Community Psychology Goals and Values


Warm-up Exercise

a. There must have been occasions in your life when you recognized injustice and suffering. It is quite likely that at the time you thought to yourself: ‘Something must be done about this; this is not right.’ Now for the hard part.

b. How often have you pursued your conscience and what have you done about it?

c. If you have followed your conscience with actions, what factors helped you to follow your conscience? Please include in the list psychological, sociological, cultural and political reasons for acting on your moral impulse. You can think of different levels of analysis (micro, meso and macro) and how they influence your decisions.

d. If you have not followed your conscience, what factors inhibited you from doing so?

e. Compare your actions and reasons with other students and friends.

f. What were the predominant reasons for acting or not acting on your moral impulses?

g. How satisfied are you with the way you responded to the injustice you observed?

Following and questioning your conscience are difficult tasks. In this chapter you will learn to:

■ reflect on your commitment and accountability to issues of injustice and suffering

■ recognize sources of action and inaction on moral issues

■ overcome forces of inaction through the concept of psychopolitical validity

■ enact commitment and accountability through the value of inclusion.

Easier said than done.

Walk the talk.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Fight the good fight. Walk a mile in my shoes.

What do these proverbs have in common? They talk about commitment and accountability and human imperfections. Moreover, they talk about the risk of hypocrisy and the certainty of contradictions. In Spanish, the word consecuente is more common than the English ‘consequent’, which refers to being consistent with one’s ideals. In liberation psychology, which has its origins in South American liberation theology, people talk about being consequent with one’s ideals (Fals Borda, 2001; Martín-Baró, 1994; Montero, 2000a). In community psychology, as in liberation and feminist psychology, we aspire to be consequent with our values. This can make for an interesting but complicated life. Interesting because community psychologists are explicit about living their values and melding their professional and personal lives (O’Neill, 1989; Prilleltensky, 2001). Complicated because there is no rest from scrutiny. Once we declare our values we are exposed to criticism for not living up to them. It is far easier to hide our values than to commit to them in public. As human beings, we embody personal contradictions (Jaggar, 1994).

In this chapter we discuss ways of being consistent with our values. We do so by addressing commitment, accountability and inclusion. We will analyse these concepts and examine ways of being in harmony with our belief system. This is not to imply that all community psychologists believe in exactly the same credo, for differences abound, but there is enough in common to unite them through the values presented in earlier chapters. In essence, this chapter is about ensuring that all the previous principles outlined in the book are put into effect. Because of their function in upholding all the other values, we call commitment, accountability and inclusion, meta-values. That is, superordinate values that make sure the rest of the values are in place (see Chapter 3). We can pronounce all kinds of ideal values, but if we lack commitment and accountability, they remain in a theoretical sphere without application at community level. Complacency lurks everywhere. How can we fight it?

Commitment and Accountability

Commitment to What? Accountability to Whom?

Commitment to a cause such as social justice requires emotional and material investments (hooks, 2002). It requires time, dedication, thought and perhaps even sacrifice. What do we commit to? In our view, we commit and are accountable to five principal entities: values, self, others, community and profession.

To Values

As noted in Chapters 2 and 3, values are guiding principles that help us behave in ethical and defensible ways. They are a set of action-oriented beliefs. In their absence, we wouldn’t know what to propose to improve society or how to assess the current state of affairs or progress in our communities.

But values are only as good as the people who practise them and the societal structures that enable their implementation. Values don’t have an independent existence other than as ideas. While it is imperative to refine our values and get the ‘right ideas’, values, as cognitive entities, don’t expect accountability of us. It is people, ourselves included of course, who expect accountability. We should be careful to avoid the philosophical fallacy, according to which good ideas should necessarily lead to good outcomes. ‘Rationality is important, but it is never enough. The worst possible mistake on the part of philosophers, all too common, is to think that good ethics comes down to good arguments’ (Callahan, 2003,

p. 288). We need vehicles for action, and, more importantly, we need to internalize and embody our values and be accountable to ourselves and others. We are the first to admit that this is a high calling, and we, the authors, often fall short. It is a struggle. We don’t want a life of guilt, but we don’t want an unexamined life either. How do you resolve this conflict between aspirations for high moral standards and human failings?

To Self

This book pursues the dual and complementary goals of liberation and well-being. In line with personal interests, most people aspire to achieve these goals for themselves (Kraut, 2007), and while attention to self, as opposed to others, varies across cultures (D’Andrade, 2008), a commitment to one’s personal development and well-being is ubiquitous.

We earlier identified values for personal, relational and collective well-being. As you will remember, for reasons reviewed in Chapter 3, committing to any particular set of values in isolation creates a dangerous imbalance. Making a commitment to advance my personal well-being, through values such as self-determination and personal control, can undermine relational well-being. For looking after only my own well-being diminishes the chance that I’ll care equally for others. Too much power in my hands translates into too little power in others’ hands. The same logic applies to collective values. Total commitment to collectivist values leads to conformity and squashes personal freedoms. Our call is to improve personal wellbeing through relational and collective well-being and to enhance collective wellbeing through relational and personal well-being. There is a tripartite relationship between the values.

But being committed to one’s well-being is quite different from being accountable to oneself. How do I monitor whether I’m being true to my values? How do I account to myself that my actions are congruent with my beliefs? This is no simple process. In what follows, we explore below enabling factors as well as traps. We are forever at risk of manipulating our thoughts and actions in order to bring them in line with our declared values. Human beings want to avoid cognitive dissonance at all cost. Extensive research in the psychology of legitimacy demonstrates that people distort evidence to suit their private interest and belief system (Jost & Major, 2001). Our position, as noted later in this chapter, is that without help and monitoring from others, it’s very difficult to maintain a close alliance between our deeds and our values. Subjective forces and psychological dynamics imperil the commitment to ethical principles (Flyvbjerg, 2001), not because we are necessarily immoral beings, but because we are not moral machines operating on ethics software.

Countless intrusions interfere with the smooth operation of our values: a culture of self-indulgence, vested interests, economic considerations, ignorance, vanity, need for control and others (Adams, 2005; Jost & Major, 2001). In short – our humanity. How to reconcile the part of our humanity that wants to be value driven and the part that wants to be interest driven is an open question. This process is further complicated by restraining environments. As a young professional wishing to promote alternative values, you may not have a smooth ride. In response to a call by postgraduate students from the United Kingdom, Dennis Fox wrote the piece reproduced in Box 6.1. Have a look and see how you feel about it. You can discuss it with friends and your instructor.

Box 6.1

The suitability of political debate in psychology

In response to a request by PsyPAGS Quarterly, a UK postgraduate student journal (www.psypag.co.uk), Dennis Fox wrote this piece about commitment and politics in psychology. Reprinted with permission of the author and the journal.

The Suitability of Political Debate in Psychology, August 17, 2002

Dennis Fox

My dictionary defines ‘suitable’ thus: ‘of the right type or quality for a particular purpose or occasion’. The question posed – ‘Is the discipline of Psychology a suitable site for Political debate?’ – requires considering that debate’s ‘purpose or occasion’.

If your goal is to build a traditional career, the answer is usually ‘No’. Students will discover an unpleasant truth: most future bosses and colleagues won’t consider your insistence on psychology’s relevance to oppression or capitalism appropriate for a new hire who might corrupt impressionable undergraduates. They’ll dismiss you as either immature or dangerous.

If you do find a job, the gatekeepers who define ‘suitability’ won’t disappear. To them, a science committed to objective inquiry might address the psychology of politics, if your research generates impressive statistics. But making psychology itself an arena of political debate violates the myth that science is objective rather than passionate. As for the politics of the discipline of psychology – well, that’s best left to sociologists.

On the other hand, raising political issues is essential if your ‘purpose or occasion’ is to examine how psychology’s assumptions and practices affect, and are affected by, societal forces. To investigate how an unjust status quo is maintained – and how to change it – you cannot help but notice human psychology’s relevance. Pointing that out, and proposing values you think psychologists should embrace, may piss off the wrong people, but it’s the honest thing to do.

There are ways to straddle a middle ground, at least until tenure provides somewhat more protection:

a. Address political issues as a small part of your work, spending the bulk of your time doing empirical research on traditional topics. Once you succeed on the mainstream’s own terms, you have some leeway to raise political questions on the side – you’ve demonstrated that your political critique isn’t based simply on an inability to follow the rules. Of course, it’s pretty time-consuming to produce impressive empirical research and also do serious critical work. You may give up, especially if you find the traditional work boring or useless. But who said being critical was going to be easy?

b. Do conventional empirical research on politically tinged topics. The acceptability of qualitative research has increased, but a nice, neat experimental manipulation demonstrating some dynamic of oppression impresses mainstreamers, especially if published in a prestigious journal. The same is sometimes true for review articles or essays. In both cases, you have to tone down the language to get past reviewers, but if you write a book, you’re allowed to admit in the preface that your research was motivated by deep political concerns rather than simple scientific curiosity.

c. Find a niche that tolerates political motives and alternative methods. This is more easily done in specializations like community or feminist psychology, which began as attacks on societal institutions.

To Others

By ‘others’ we mean people who are close to us in our work and in our personal lives. Caring is not an abstract ideal performed only in heroic acts of self-sacrifice; it is also very much an act of mundane relevance. Caring and compassion for our children, partners, co-workers and friends are all expressions of love and commitment (hooks, 2002; Mustakova-Possardt, 2003). This notion is intuitively and easily understood. What is not so easy to apprehend and operationalize is how to be accountable to all those people. Where do we learn how to give and receive feedback? Who taught us to put in place structures of mutual accountability? How does a patriarchal society convince its male members that dialogue is more virtuous than psychological and physical dominance?

Ingrid Huygens has been developing, practising and studying structures of accountability in a bicultural environment for many years (see Chapter 16; Huygens, 2006; Mulvey et al., 2000). Her approach is based on two principal tenets. First, on the recognition of injustice and suffering inflicted by one party on another, in this case by Pakeha, or white-European New Zealanders, to the Maori people of Aoteroa/New Zealand. And second, on the establishment of processes and structures to make sure that relationships between Pakeha and Maori people are based on fairness, mutual respect and responsibility for past and present injustices. Huygens puts this into practice by subjecting the nature of collaborations among Pakeha and Maori people to the scrutiny of the latter. This is to ensure that past injustices are addressed and not perpetuated. Confronting previous and current wrongdoings is the trademark of this approach. Though labour intensive, Huygens (2006) reports that the rewards of this work are uniquely satisfying.

To Community

Caring is proximal and distal at the same time. Whereas proximal caring refers to the compassion and support we display towards those close to us, distal caring reflects our concern for those who are not physically or emotionally close to us, yet worthy of our respect and obligations. We may not come into contact with poor or hungry children on a daily basis, but they are deserving of our concern nonetheless.

Likewise, we may not witness first hand the plight of textile workers in Southeast Asia or the discrimination sustained by women in totalitarian and patriarchal regimes. Yet, if we are persuaded by the notion of proximal and distal caring, we will concern ourselves with justice and fairness, not only in our immediate environment but wherever injustice and unfairness occur. Thus, we worry about immediate as well as distal geographical and relational communities (Nussbaum, 2006).

Although convenience, logistics and opportunities can make it easier to do our community work close to home, it should not stop us from contributing to other communities. There are many ways to show caring for those who are physically removed. How much effort to expend on local versus global issues is an open question, one that requires personal deliberation and considered attention.

It is hard enough to commit people to transparency and accountability in close relationships, let alone in communities that can be amorphous entities. Who exactly am I accountable to in my community? What structures exist to monitor the accountability of citizens towards their community? And who is going to sit in judgement of me to tell me whether I behaved or misbehaved towards my neighbours? A Pandora’s box of rights and responsibilities is opened by our suggestion that we should be accountable to somebody or something in our community (Nussbaum, 2006). Compared to the reigning silence, we wouldn’t mind some lively debate on these issues.

Emergent and imperfect as they might be, there are some exemplars of accountability to communities. Huygens (2006) is documenting the work of treaty educators in Aoteroa/New Zealand. Treaty educators collaborate with organizations to facilitate accountability to the Maori people and to the Treaty of Waitangi, which outlines the rights and obligations of Pakeha and Maori cultures towards each other. The treaty had been dormant for decades, and it is only in the past 15 years that intensive work to revive it has taken place. Treaty educators strive to raise awareness of white domination, privilege and oppression of Maori people. Partnering organizations create committees and structures to advance the process of reconciliation.

The accountability we propose is to people who suffer from exploitation and marginality, not to those who use and abuse their power for personal, governmental or corporate interests. Furthermore, our accountability extends to those who are committed to bringing about a more just society.

To Profession

We choose to devote part of our energies to the development of community psychology (CP). This profession has much to offer for the promotion of liberation and well-being. There are many ways for psychologists to make a difference in the world (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002). Strengthening CP research and action is an important one for us and, we hope, for you too.

Multiple approaches, methodologies and interventions co-exist in CP. Although we welcome its pluralism, we sometimes wonder about priorities in CP. In this book, we make a case for prioritizing well-being and liberation, which are our two main priorities at this time. To guide our commitment to these two priorities we propose the concept of psychopolitical validity (Prilleltensky, 2003b, 2008).

This type of validity is built on two complementary sets of factors: psychological and political. Hence, the term ‘psychopolitical’. This combination refers to the psychological and political influences that interact to promote well-being, perpetuate oppression or generate resistance and liberation. Psychopolitical factors help explain suffering and well-being. At the same time, this combination of terms denotes the need to attend to both sets of factors in our efforts to change individuals, groups and societies. As a result, we propose two types of psychopolitical validity: (a) epistemic and (b) transformational. Whereas the former refers to using psychology and politics in understanding social phenomena, the latter calls on both sets of factors to make lasting social changes.

We pay equal attention to psychological and political factors. Psychological factors refer to the subjective life of the person, informed by power dynamics operating at the personal, interpersonal, family, group and cultural levels. Political factors, in turn, refer to the collective experience of individuals and groups, informed by power dynamics and conflicts of interest at the interpersonal, family, group, community and societal levels. In both sets of factors we emphasize the role of power in the subjective or collective experience of people and groups.

Psychopolitical validity, then, derives from the concurrent consideration and interaction of power dynamics in psychological and political domains at various levels of analyses. Hence, we can talk about psychopolitical validity when these conditions are met. When this type of analysis is applied to research, we talk about epistemic psychopolitical validity. When it is applied to social interventions, we talk about transformational psychopolitical validity. To illustrate these concepts, we refer you to Tables 6.1 and 6.2, respectively.

Table 6.1 Guidelines for epistemic psychopolitical validity in community psychology research







Accounts the role of political and economic power in economic prosperity and in creation of social justice institutions

Studies the role of power in creasing and sustaining egalitarian and democratic participations in communities, groups and families

Studies the role of psychological and political power in personal growth, meaning and spirituality


Explores role of globalization, colonization and exploitation in suffering of nations and communities

Examines the role of political and psychological power in exclusion and discrimination based on class, gender, age, race, education and ability.

Studies conditions leading to lack of support, horizontal violence and fragmentation within oppressed groups

Studies the role of powerlessness in learned helplessness, oppression, shame, mental health problems and addictions


Deconstructs ideological norms that lead to acquiescence and studies effective psychopolitical factors in resistance

Studies acts of solidarity and compassion with others who suffer from oppression

Examines sources of strength, resilience, solidarity and development of activism and leadership

Source: Adapted from Prilleltensky (2008).

Table 6.2 Guidelines for transformational psychopolitical validity in community psychology action







Contributes to institutions that support emancipation, human development, peace, protection of environment and social justice

Contributes to power equalization in relationships and communities

Enriches awareness of subjective and psychological forces preventing solidarity. Builds trust, connection and participation in groups that support social cohesion and social justice

Supports personal empowerment, sociopolitical development, leadership training and solidarity. Contributes to personal and social responsibility and awareness of subjective depowerment when in position of privilege


Opposes economic colonialism and denial of cultural rights.

Decries and resists role of own reference group or nation in oppression of others

Contributes to struggle against in-group and out-group domination. and discrimination, sexism and norms of violence. Builds awareness of own prejudice and participation in horizontal violence

Helps to prevent acting out of own oppression on others.

Builds awareness of internalized oppression and role of dominant ideology in victim-blaming.

Contributes to personal depowerment of people in position of privilege


Supports networks of resistance and social change movements. Contributes to structural depowerment of privileged people

Supports resistance against objectification of others.

Develops processes of mutual accountability

Helps to resist complacency and collusion with system. Contributes to struggle to recover personal and political identity

Source: Adapted from Prilleltensky (2008).

To understand issues of well-being, oppression and liberation at the personal, relational and collective domains, we turn our attention to Table 6.1. Each cell in the table refers to issues of power and their manifestation in political and psychological spheres. Needless to say, this table is not exhaustive or inclusive of all the fields of CP. Rather, it concentrates on the priorities of well-being and liberation, two issues we regard as crucial.

Table 6.1 may be used to guide our commitment to CP research. Furthermore, it may be used as an accountability device. We can monitor the extent to which we study the priority areas described in the table. In a sense, these guidelines serve the function of a vision, a vision of what type of research we need to pursue in CP.

The same can be said about the guidelines for transformational validity. Table 6.2 integrates levels of intervention with key concerns for CP: well-being, oppression and liberation. This is a vision of preferred interventions. We would show high degrees of commitment and accountability if we pursued all these interventions. As a monitoring system, Table 6.2 helps to keep track of our interventions. Are we intervening primarily at the personal level? Do we focus too much on oppression to the neglect of liberation and well-being? Have we neglected the collective domain? The templates presented in Tables 6.1 and 6.2 can be used by research and action teams and by investigators wishing to assess progress in the field as a whole. Box 6.2 describes an attempt to measure psychopolitical validity in an intervention with youth. Insightful critiques and elaborations of this concept are presented in a special issue of the Journal of Community Psychology edited by Speer, Newbrough and Lorion (2007, volume 36, number 2).

Box 6.2

Evaluating psychopolitical validity

In a modest attempt to assess the epistemic and transformational psychopolitical validity of a social action project with youth, Morsillo and Prilleltensky (2007) developed an eleven item tool. To gauge epistemic psychopolitical validity (EPPV), using a fivepoint scale ranging from minimal to great, authors pondered to what extent was the role of power considered in psychological dynamics affecting target group political dynamics affecting target group personal dynamics of oppression personal dynamics of liberation personal dynamics of wellness group dynamics of oppression group dynamics of liberation group dynamics of wellness collective dynamics of oppression collective dynamics of liberation collective dynamics of wellness.

To assess transformational psychopolitical validity (TPPV), the authors asked to what extent there were positive changes on the 11 domains noted above. The researchers noted that ‘the levels of EPPV are generally higher than the levels of TPPV. This may be just a reflection of the fact that thinking is easier than doing. Learning about conflictive situations is easier than changing them. ... The next observation is that within TPPV, stronger changes were observed in the psychological domain rather than in the political domain. ... It is easier to change some perceptions, and even some feelings, than to change political structures. Psychologically speaking, our participants gained sense of control, a measure of assertiveness, acceptance and self expression. ... Still within TPPV, more promising gains were observed at the personal and group levels than at the collective level. We think the youth, individually and as a group, probably gained something from participating in the community project interventions, but we are not sure that the communities will have changed meaningfully in some sense. (Morsillo & Prilleltensky, 2007, p. 737)

Researchers may wish to use the tool described here to assess the EPPV and/or TPPV of their own projects. As Morsillo and Prilleltensky noted, ‘when both are evaluated, interesting comparisons can be made across domains and levels of analysis. The use of EPPV and TPPV can identify blind spots and lead us to sounder findings and more effective interventions’ (2007, p. 738).

Why Are Commitment and Accountability so Important?

You are probably the best person to answer this question. We can only talk about why commitment and accountability are important to us. For us, commitment and accountability provide meaning to our actions. In their absence, the entire building of values collapses. What good is it to have values if there is no commitment to them? We value commitment for the same reason we value other principles; they provide a compass in our pursuit of meaning. Some people call it spirituality; others call it purpose in life. This is the part of our humanity that is driven by values, virtues and transcendence (Fowers, 2005).

What is your passion? Do you want to make a difference in the world? Is there a topic that excites you or upsets you? Do we want to go through life without reflecting on our actions? We think it’s better to pause and reflect and commit ourselves to a set of values. Accountability makes life hard because it means producing some sort of a report card on our behaviour. This is, we think, a reasonable expectation in our pursuit of spirituality and a value-driven life.

In psychology and other disciplines there has been an emerging trend towards the pursuit of meaning in our work. Today, various strands within psychology converge in their desire for meaningful engagement with subjective forces, with community members and with social struggles. Critical, feminist, liberation and community psychologists have invested in creating meaning in their various roles. There is a need among many psychologists across the world to engage in meaning-seeking activities. We believe that many psychologists strive to integrate their professional lives with their civic lives through meaningful engagement. By meaningful engagement we mean involvement in activities that integrate the epistemological, moral, political and social commitments of psychologists with their professional endeavours.

What Is the Value Base of Commitment and Accountability?

We make a distinction between common and meta-values. Social justice, caring and compassion and respect for diversity are examples of the former, whereas commitment and accountability are examples of the latter. In simple terms, metavalues refer to the values that look after all other values. In order to promote any of the values presented in Chapters 2 and 3 we need to commit ourselves to the basic principle of action. Commitment and accountability are superordinate principles that we invoke in order to pursue all other principles. Before we take steps to address injustice or discrimination, we commit ourselves to do something about important things in life.

But after we commit ourselves to doing something, how do we know what we’re doing is the right thing? For this, we need accountability, to ourselves and others. We need to spell out how to achieve accountability; otherwise it can remain an enticing but unfulfilled promise.

How Can Commitment and Accountability Be Promoted?

As with many other phenomena in psychology, patterns of moral behaviour begin in childhood, through educational and socialization processes. Community psychologists bring to the profession a reservoir of experiences dealing with values, ethics, morality, commitment and accountability (O’Neill, 1989). In this regard they are no different from other people.

Unlike the 1960s, which saw an effervescence of political consciousness, the 1980s, the 1990s and the first few years of the new millennium seem to promote political apathy (Ralston Saul, 2001). Stating and standing up for one’s values is like swimming against the tide. With the exception of some new social movements (e.g. Freeman & Johnson, 1999), everything else about Western culture goes in the opposite direction: self-indulgence, consumerism and political cynicism (Adams, 2005).

Some community psychologists (Pancer et al., 2007) and social scientists (Mustakova-Possardt, 2003) are investigating the sources of activism and volunteerism. Role models, opportunities to contribute in society through school and religious congregations, social consciousness and family influences, all shape the future of a prospective activist and volunteer. Furthermore, some community psychologists are trying to intervene to increase social and political awareness. Some strategies include educational activities in schools, social action with special interest groups and others (Evans, 2007; Morsillo & Prilleltensky, 2007; Watts et al., 1999).

To translate the vague idea of accountability into action, we recommend a series of steps. Table 6.3 describes roles, tasks, facilitating factors, potential subversions and mechanisms of accountability for community psychologists. We are not content to point out jobs without thinking about potential distortions of good intentions. The first two columns of the table may be seen as cognitive and behavioural tasks: imagining vision and values, talking to people, cooperating with stakeholders. This is very prescriptive. In other words, this is what we suggest people do to increase their commitment and accountability. But, as community psychologists, we know that this is not good enough. We also need to think about the context in which such actions take place. This is why we pay attention to facilitating factors and structures that may encourage, support and enable the person to engage in commitment and accountability.

What Are the Limitations of Commitment and Accountability?

Even after all the prescriptions and precautions put forth in Table 6.3, there is a chance that individuals will miss the mark. Good processes may be subverted and altered to suit personal interests. Let’s have a look at the first row of Table 6.3. Under potential subversions we see that people may confuse personal preferences with well-justified values. This is very common in the organizational development literature (Hultman & Gellerman, 2002) where employers and employees put forth visions that satisfy their personal and corporate interests, but not necessarily those of the community they serve. When dealing with vision and values there is always the danger of engaging in platitudes that sound nice but lack substance or justification.

Substituting the need for personal change with personal forgiveness is a potential subversion we have witnessed. Instead of owning up to personal wrongdoings men and women choose to ‘forgive themselves’. Forgiveness is good if it comes with a commitment to change, not if it serves to exculpate abusive husbands or exploitive bosses.

Tokenism is another distortion of commitment and accountability. Popular participation in decision-making processes is not an easy outcome to achieve. Easier and more expedient is choosing a few selected members of a community to represent others’ interests. While convenient, this can easily turn into tokenism, claiming to have had a collaborative process, when in fact only a fraction of the population was represented.

The last two potential subversions presented in Table 6.3 deal with power. Commitment and accountability cannot take place without using one’s power. Too much power leads to its abuse, whereas too little power may lead to its abuse by others. It is possible to use one’s power to silence other people. But it is also possible for others to take advantage of our lack of assertion to advance agendas that are damaging to the community. With power, and we all have a measure of

Table 6.3 Seeking commitment and accountability in community psychology

Role of Community Psychologist


Facilitating Factors

Potential Subversions

Measures of Accountability

1. Clarify personal and organizational position with respect to values for personal, relational and collective well-being

Engage stakeholders in dialogue about ways to balance personal, relational and collective well-being

Knowledge with respect to balance between values and processes of consultation and collaboration

Confuse personal preferences with values and remain at level of abstraction without translating values into action

Consult with others about limitations and contradictions in values selected

2. Promote state of affairs in which personal power and self-interests do not undermine well-being or interests of others

Develop critical selfawareness of how personal interests and social power suffuse professional role and may undermine collective well-being

Creation of safe space for dialogue about value and ethical dilemmas

Replace need for personal change with self-acceptance and/or distort values to coincide with narrow personal interests

Subject personal and organizational process of consciousness-raising to scrutiny by stakeholders affected by the work

3. Enhance solidarity and common interests among citizens, volunteers, service providers and psychologists

Create partnerships among public volunteers, workers, and community psychologists

Prolonged engagement in the organization and community and establishment of mutual trust

Engage in token consultative processes that do not afford public meaningful input

Create leaderships structures with meaningful input and representation from various stakeholder groups

4. Confront people and groups subverting values, abusing power or allowing self-interests to undermine the well-being of others in the organization or in the community

Engage in constructive conflict resolution with individuals or groups undermining vision and values

Clear procedures for conflict resolution, and a culture of openness and critique

Use power and legitimacy to confront people in order to suppress opposing views, or use conflict resolution to avoid excluding people from organization

Subject to scrutiny of partners psychologists’ efforts to confront people and groups subverting vision and values

Source: Adapted from Prilleltensky (2001) it, comes responsibility; the responsibility to confront those who exploit privilege and the duty to include others who have a stake in our work and values. One of the main commitments and the best measure of accountability we may have is inclusion.


What Is Inclusion?

The term ‘inclusion’ has its roots in the field of disabilities (Oliver & Barnes, 1998). In particular, parents and advocates of individuals with developmental disabilities have promoted the idea and practice of inclusion and community because of widespread practices of segregation and exclusion of adults and children with developmental disabilities (O’Brien & O’Brien, 1996; Schwartz, 1997). Historically people with developmental disabilities have been labelled by professionals (with psychologists playing a lead role in this) with such pejorative terms as ‘mental defectives’, ‘feeble-minded’, ‘idiots’ and ‘morons’. The eugenics movement, which we noted in Chapter 1, advocated that this ‘tainted’ group should be segregated and sterilized so that they would not mix with mainstream society. The stigma and shame that families with a child with a developmental disability experience and that which those children experience themselves, have persisted. Today, many people with developmental disabilities are surrounded by a ‘sea of services’, in institutions, special schools, special classes within schools and special living facilities (McKnight, 1995). Parents and advocates have contested this approach and reclaimed language with terms like ‘inclusion’, ‘mainstreaming’ and ‘community integration’. The language of inclusion suggests that the community, not people with disabilities, needs to change; communities and community members need to become more welcoming and hospitable to people with disabilities (O’Brien & O’Brien, 1996; Schwartz, 1997).

The principle of inclusion goes beyond people with disabilities; it applies to a variety of groups that have been subjected to social exclusion. Inclusion is becoming an organizing principle that applies more broadly to people who have been discriminated against and oppressed by virtue of their gender, sexual orientation, ethnoracial background, abilities, age or some other characteristic. Sexism, heterosexism, racism, ableism and ageism are all forms of social exclusion. Inclusion is an antidote to exclusion and can be conceptualized at different ecological levels of analysis. At the individual level, inclusion entails the recovery of a positive personal and political identity – the development of a personal story of empowerment. At the relational level, inclusion means welcoming communities and supportive relationships. At the societal level, inclusion is concerned with the promotion of equity and access to valued social resources that have historically been denied to oppressed people.

Our approach to inclusion is consistent with Tom Shakespeare’s (2006) ecological understanding of disability. An academic and activist with a disability, he defines disability as ‘the outcome of the interaction between individual and contextual factors – which includes impairment, personality, individual attitudes, environment, policy, and culture’ (2006, p. 58). He goes on to say that it is always the combination of a certain set of physical or mental attributes, in a particular physical environment, within specified social relationship, played out within a broader cultural and political context, which combines to create the experience of disability for any individual or group of individuals. (Shakespeare, 2006, p. 58)

Community psychologist Meg Bond (1999) has argued that inclusion entails both a culture of connection and the legitimization of varied perspectives. The notion of connection, which has been emphasized by feminist writers as important for women’s growth and empowerment (Jordan et al., 1991), focuses on interdependence, team work, relationships and sense of community. Connection stands as an alternative to the emphasis on individualism that is widespread in the Western world. The idea of varied perspectives suggests that, in any setting, there are multiple perspectives that reflect people’s unique circumstances and experiences. It has been observed that disadvantaged people understand the idea of multiple perspectives very well because they learn the norms and perspectives of their own group and they also have to learn the norms and perspectives of the dominant group in order to cope with and survive that reality (Bond, 1999). In other words, disadvantaged people live in two different worlds and have to bridge those two worlds every day of their lives.

On the other hand, advantaged people have more trouble understanding multiple perspectives. Advantaged people are often oblivious to the life experiences and circumstances of disadvantaged groups because they do not have to cope with those realities or be accountable to disadvantaged people (Jost & Major, 2001). Moreover, legitimization of these varied perspectives counters the belief that there is one true, external reality and one single standard against which everyone should be judged.

Bond and Mulvey (2000) have made a distinction between representation and perspective that is important for the principle of inclusion. Representation refers to the participation and inclusion of disadvantaged groups (e.g. the representation of women in CP), while perspective refers to the unique and varied perspectives of disadvantaged groups (e.g. the inclusion of feminist perspectives that challenge male domination). Representation is a necessary but insufficient condition for inclusion; the incorporation of perspectives that are critical of the status quo is needed as well. Together, representation and perspective enhance the voices of disadvantaged people, providing them with opportunities to name their experiences rather than being silenced and suffering in that silence (Reinharz, 1994).

The principle of inclusion is closely tied to that of accountability and commitment. Bond (1999) has argued that forces supporting exclusion are lack of accountability and differential privilege. When dominant groups are not accountable for their impact on subordinate groups, exclusion and oppression of the subordinate group occur. In contrast, inclusion is promoted when dominant groups become aware of their relative power and privilege and are accountable for their impact on the subordinate group. But inclusion has been difficult to promote because dominant groups have historically held on to their power and privilege, as US black activists Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton wrote during the 1960s:

Whenever a number of persons within a society have enjoyed for a considerable period of time certain opportunities for getting wealth, for exercising power and authority, and for successfully claiming prestige and social deference, there is a strong tendency for these people to feel that these benefits are theirs ‘by right’. The advantages come to be thought of as normal, proper, customary, as sanctioned by time, precedent and social consensus. Proposals to change the existing situation arouse reactions of ‘moral indignation’. Elaborate doctrines are developed to show the inevitability and rightness of the existing scheme of things. (Carmichael & Hamilton, 1967, p. 8)

Often, disadvantaged people do things for advantaged people so that they do not have to do such work themselves. For example, feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith (1990) has observed that ‘Women do the clerical work, the word processing, the interviewing for the survey; they take messages, handle the mail, make appointments, care for patients’ (pp. 18–19). Smith observed that when women do this, men don’t have to take responsibility for any of this work and are, therefore, unlikely to be conscious of what this work involves. Advantaged groups can rationalize power differences by constructing and adopting dominant social narratives about disadvantaged people that are of the victim-blaming variety. Moreover, these dominant social narratives, while highly irrational, are clung to tenaciously by privileged groups (Jost & Major, 2001).

Why Is Inclusion Important?

Failure to promote inclusion leaves the door open for oppression to occur. Sexism, heterosexism, racism and ableism are all forms of exclusion that have psychological and political dimensions (Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996; Shakespeare, 2006; Watts & Serrano-García, 2003). Moreover, these different forms of exclusion sometimes intersect, such that some disadvantaged people experience double or triple jeopardy. For example, black feminists have written about how black women have to overcome both white and male supremacy and, in some cases, heterosexual supremacy (Hill Collins, 1991; hooks, 2002). While invited contributors go into much more depth and specificity about the problems facing women, minorities, people who have experienced unemployment, poor people, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and people with physical and mental health disabilities discussed in Part V of this book, here we provide a broad overview of the problems that are created for these populations when the principle of inclusion is ignored.

Psychological oppression is the internalized view of self as negative, as unworthy of social and community resources (Bartky, 1990; Prilleltensky, 2003). AfricanAmerican psychologist Kenneth Clark described the depth of psychological oppression in African-Americans in his book Dark Ghetto:

Human beings who are forced to live under ghetto conditions and whose daily experience tells them that almost nowhere in society are they respected and granted the ordinary dignity and courtesy according to others will, as a matter of course, begin to doubt their own worth. Since every human being depends upon his [sic] cumulative experiences with others for clues as to how he should view and value himself, children who are consistently rejected understandably begin to question and doubt whether they, their family, and their group really deserve no more respect from the larger society than they receive. These doubts become the seeds of a pernicious selfand group-hatred, the Negro’s complex and debilitating prejudice against himself. The preoccupation of many Negroes with hair straightening, skin bleachers, and the like illustrates this tragic aspect of American racial prejudice – Negroes have come to believe in their own inferiority. (Clark, 1965, pp. 63–4)

Psychological dynamics of oppression entail surplus powerlessness, low self-esteem, belief in a just world, learned helplessness, conformity/compliance and obedience to authority (Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996). It is little wonder that people who are subject to exclusion and discrimination come to devalue themselves when one considers the countless ways in which other people and society as a whole send messages of devaluation. Often dominant narratives about disadvantaged people take the form of self-fulfilling prophecies, in which individuals conform to the low expectations that others hold of them. As Clark (1965) stated, ‘A key component of the deprivation which afflicts ghetto children is that generally their teachers do not expect them to learn’ (p. 132).

This psychological oppression arises out of a political context that can be conceptualized at different levels of analysis. Oppression is experienced both in the context of interpersonal relationships in the community and in the broader social context. A distinction has often been made between overt acts of discrimination at the relational level and more covert acts that are indicative of systemic or institutional discrimination. For example, Carmichael and Hamilton make this distinction in their discussion of racism and white power:

Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism. The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury, or the violent destruction of property. This type can be recorded by television cameras; it can frequently be observed in the process of commission. The second type is less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. But it is no less destructive of human life. The second type originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation. (Carmichael & Hamilton, 1967, p. 4)

For example, consider how women are excluded and oppressed. At the interpersonal level, there is abundant research demonstrating that violence, sexual harassment and sexual abuse and assault of girls and women are widespread (Bond, 1999). Furthermore, violence and assault are nearly always accompanied by verbal and emotional abuse, with women being subjected to degrading and damaging language that assaults their character and integrity. Violence is but one mechanism that is used by men to silence women (Reinharz, 1994); it is part of a larger pattern of systemic oppression of women that is rooted in social, economic, political, religious and ideological systems (Clarke & Braun, 2009). The dynamics of sexism and patriarchal structures are elaborated on in Chapter 18.

What Is the Value Base of Inclusion?

The principle of inclusion is based on the values of relativity and respect for diversity. Vive la difference! These values challenge the traditional paradigms in psychology that ‘adopt an implicit faith that the single standard of white, middle-class society is, on an absolute basis, superior to all others’ (Rappaport, 1977, p. 22). Dominant groups have constructed differences among people along some dimension, such as skin colour, equated those differences as deficits of the supposedly inferior group, explained those deficits in terms of biological or cultural factors and used this narrative to legitimize mechanisms of exclusion of the subordinate group (Teo, 1999). The values of relativity and respect for diversity, espoused by CP, challenge this view:

Community psychology ... is an attempt to support every person’s right to be different without risk of suffering material and psychological sanctions. ... Rather than trying to fit everyone into a single way of life, the community psychologist must become an agent of the local community. This will often require the community psychologist to work toward providing socially marginal people with the resources, the power, and the control over their own lives, which is necessary for a society of diversity rather than of conformity. (Rappaport, 1977, pp. 1 and 23)

The recognition that there is diversity within diversity is another important insight of this perspective.

How Can Inclusion Be Implemented?

There are two broad viewpoints regarding the best way to promote inclusion. These two viewpoints differ with respect to the construction of similarity/difference. One approach minimizes the differences between groups, the beta bias approach, while the other maximizes the differences between groups, the alpha bias approach (Hare-Mustin & Maracek, 1988). Hare-Mustin and Maracek (1988) suggest that research on gender that is driven by the beta bias approach emphasizes the similarities of women and men. Another example of beta bias is the construct of androgyny, which integrates supposedly typical female and male qualities. According to this viewpoint, individuals, regardless of differences, are seen as people first; the focus is on the person, while characteristics such as gender, race or ability are relegated to the background. This ‘gender-blind’ or ‘colourblind’ approach is guided by humanistic valuing of the person. Programs for children from different ethnoracial groups that emphasize similarities are an example of how this viewpoint can be put into action. Such programs have been shown to reduce prejudicial attitudes and ignorance of groups that are typically the target of prejudice (Williams & Berry, 1991). Emphasizing similarity rather than difference is one way of building community and inclusion.

In contrast, the alpha approach focuses on differences. There are at least two different ways in which differences can be constructed. Mukherjee (1992) and Watts

(1992) have made a distinction between multicultural (cultural pluralistic) and antiracist approaches to diversity. These two broad approaches can be applied to many facets of diversity, not just race and culture. The former approach is one that is culture specific or population specific and promotes an affirmative diversity (Trickett, Watts & Birman, 1993). Affirmative diversity means that the uniqueness, special qualities, strengths and positive characteristics of the group are emphasized. For example, feminist psychologists have argued that women place special emphasis on relationships, caring and connection (Jordan et al., 1991). The psychology of women, gay and lesbian psychology, the psychology of disability and ethnoracial psychologies were all developed by psychologists from these backgrounds as an alternative to mainstream approaches which constructed the differences of these groups from dominant social groups as defects (Trickett et al., 1993). Moreover, these population-specific psychologies are a reflection of the larger pride movements (e.g. black pride, gay pride) within society, which strive to broaden social standards about what is not just acceptable, but desirable (Fox, Prilleltensky & Austin, 2009).

This approach has been implemented particularly in the context of multiculturalism. Overall this approach focuses primarily on culture and towards the goal of educating people about minority groups, celebrating cultural differences and strengths and developing multicultural organizations and policies that reflect and support diversity. Heritage language programs and culturally sensitive interventions are examples of this approach at the individual and small group levels of analysis (James & Prilleltensky, 2002; Mukherjee, 1992). The development and control of alternative systems and services by a particular ethnoracial group, such as aboriginal people (Connors & Maidman, 2001), reflects how this approach can be implemented at organizational and community levels. At a broader societal level, Canada’s policy of multiculturalism stands as policy initiative that strives to promote cultural pride and ethnoracial identity in contrast to ‘melting-pot’ policies and ideologies (Naidoo & Edwards, 1991). In this regard, it has been found that the well-being of immigrants and refugees is related to their mode of acculturation. The pattern of acculturation that results in the least stress is that in which individuals retain a strong identity with their indigenous culture and strive to integrate into the host culture (maintaining a balance between the old and the new) (Williams & Berry, 1991). Thus, policies of multiculturalism are important for inclusion (see Chapter 17 for an elaboration of these issues).

The second beta bias approach to promoting inclusion, anti-racism (anti-sexism and so on), focuses more on differences in power (Mukherjee, 1992; Watts, 1992). The goals of the anti-racist approach are the empowerment of disenfranchised groups and overcoming systemic barriers to participation and access to valued resources. This approach strives to broaden the opportunities for excluded groups. Whereas the multicultural approach is more liberal-reformist, the antiracist approach with its emphasis on power is more transformative. As Mukherjee (1992) stated,

Quite simply, the purpose of anti-racist change is to move our educational institutions from ‘exclusive clubs’ to ‘inclusive organizations’ in which: (a) there will be equity of results in academic achievement, curriculum, assessment and placement, staffing and community/school relations for all races and cultures; (b) there will be shifts in individual behaviours and attitudes; and (c) there will be willingness and ability on the part of everyone to recognize and challenge racism wherever it arises. In short, anti-racist education is not about equality of opportunity, sensitivity and dealing with individual acts of racism alone. More fundamentally, it is about voice, representation and participation in all aspects of the educational system for people who have been traditionally excluded from the curriculum and the institution; it is about challenging those dominant ideas, beliefs and assumptions that support such exclusion; and it’s about actively confronting those individual behaviours and attitudes which perpetuate those dominant ideas, beliefs and assumptions. (p. 145)

Like the multicultural approach, the anti-racist approach can be implemented at different levels. At the individual and small group levels, consciousness-raising groups and programs for disadvantaged people can be implemented to develop critical thinking, a positive identity and social action. An example of this is a program for young African-American men, which links consciousness-raising and sociopolitical development with African-American spirituality (Watts et al., 1999). Consciousness-raising groups for women are another example.

At the community and societal levels, inclusion can be promoted through participation in social movement organizations (Lord & Hutchison, 2007; Shakespeare, 2006). The guiding vision of social movement organizations is a society free of racism, sexism, heterosexism, poverty, violence and environmental degradation, a society that celebrates diversity, shares the wealth and practises equality, peace, sustainability and preservation of the natural environment. Often the goal of social movement organizations is to change social policies. To promote inclusion at the societal level, policies that strive to create equity (e.g. pay equity for women, affirmative action) are the end results towards which the activities of social movement organizations are directed.

Community psychologists can work in solidarity with social movement organizations through value-based partnerships to promote inclusion (Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001). Such partnerships are challenging for professionals and relatively privileged groups. In genuine or authentic partnerships, those who are disadvantaged have voice and can name their experiences, while those who are advantaged listen, learn and validate the stories and experiences of those who are disadvantaged. People who are privileged take responsibility for the negative impacts of their actions on disadvantaged people, whether they are intentional or not (Bond, 1999). There is also a reduction of the power imbalance in the relationship between advantaged and disadvantaged groups with disadvantaged groups exerting more power and advantaged groups having reduced power.

Value-based partnerships between advantaged and disadvantaged people are not linear or rational; rather they are often emotion laden, touch people’s blind spots and can be conflictual and messy (Bond, 1999; Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001). Church (1995) speaks of ‘working together across differences’; Lord and Church (1998) talk about ‘partnership shock’; and Bond (1999) uses the term ‘connected disruption’ to describe these partnership processes.

What Are the Limitations of Inclusion?

The central issue with which the principle of inclusion is concerned is that of diversity. As we have seen, one can approach the issue of diversity in one of two ways, maximizing differences among people (alpha bias) or minimizing differences among people (beta bias). Each approach has its limitations.

As we noted in the previous section, there are two approaches that reflect an alpha bias approach. One emphasizes the unique strengths and special qualities of diverse groups, while the other emphasizes differences in power among groups. There are limitations to both of these approaches. While the former approach is valuable in its emphasis on pride and the recovery of positive identities, a limitation of this approach is that it tends to ignore differences in power. On the other hand, the latter approach is valuable in highlighting inequities in power, but limited in its dismissal of the importance of the special qualities of diverse groups. In many ways, the tension of these two approaches mirrors the tension between the principles of power and community, which we discussed in the previous chapter.

There is also a danger in minimizing differences (the beta bias approach). As Hare-Mustin and Maracek (1988) point out, the beta bias approach overlooks social context and obscures existing power differences. Treating everyone as if they are the same, when they are not, can lead to approaches that strive to adjust the subordinate group to that of the dominant group (‘she’s as good as any man’) and/or fail to address the lack of power and resources of the subordinate group. If we are all the same, then no one needs any special supports or consideration.

In their discussion of alpha bias and beta bias, Hare-Mustin and Maracek (1988) argued that the ‘true’ nature of different constructions of gender (whether men and women are similar or different) cannot be known. Rather, they argue that what is important are the meaning and consequences of those different constructions. Similarly, Rappaport (1981) has asserted that most social problems are paradoxical in nature, meaning that there are often two equally compelling perspectives that can be used to understand the problem. Moreover, Rappaport suggested that community psychologists should be wary of pursuing one-sided solutions to social problems because one approach, by itself, is incomplete. Alternatively, he recommended dialectical thinking, considering multiple solutions to complex social problems. Consistent with Rappaport’s argument, we have noted that both alpha bias and beta bias approaches to inclusion have strengths and limitations. The challenge for community psychologists working in partnership with diverse and disadvantaged groups is to find some balance between the different approaches towards the goal of inclusion.

Chapter Summary

In this chapter, we introduced the concepts of commitment, accountability and inclusion. We argued that commitment and accountability are meta-values necessary for the promotion of the values that underlie CP. Inclusion is a closely related concept which suggests that the many forms of diversity existing in communities around the world should be embraced, rather than labelled as defective. Commitment, accountability and inclusion are tools for bringing people together to develop relationships and ways of living that are more respectful, just and compassionate.

Living up to Community Psychology

Goals and Values B. Ortiz-Torres

Many times in my career teaching community psychology I have heard this question from my students: ‘And how do you do that?’ They refer to my constant reminder of the need to live up to our discipline’s values and goals. Many times they have told me that my answer sounds like a declaration of faith but that they need more specifics. This chapter constitutes a concrete demonstration of what it means to be guided by the values of the discipline. But, be careful – this is not a cook book; this is a sophisticated analysis, well grounded in theory, as well as in a profound reflection of our goals and values.

Nelson and Prilleltensky take an in-depth look into the art of being a community psychologist rather than at the ‘science’ of CP. Ingrained in this art is the imperative to assume the political responsibility of our profession.

The authors make us face what seems to be logical but is only implicit in our professional culture: if we, as community psychologists, are not accountable, then there is no need to stress the role of values in the discipline. Although it has always seemed apparent, the relationship between commitment and accountability has not been discussed enough within our discipline. Nelson and Prilleltensky have done a great job specifying and showing how accountability is a necessary consequence of professing a specific set of values, since these do not have the inherent quality of ‘accountability’. Not only is this relationship made explicit but concrete answers are provided to the question: ‘to whom are we accountable?’ In this work there is no room for confusion about who our ‘clients’ are, or for whom we work – it is clearly spelt out to whom we should be committed.

Accountability is a crucial issue when we are faced with the forces of isolation and individualism so dominant in our contexts. I feel that, fortunately, in academic settings we are continuously under the scrutiny of our students who constantly check whether we are living up to our discourse and rhetoric.

The present analysis of values, accountability and inclusion has an underlying appreciation for divergence and balance that should help in understanding complex issues. This is particularly true in the discussion of power and collective values. In adopting this approach, the authors are just doing what they preach: promoting divergent and complex analyses (Rappaport, 1981).

We are faced here with exercises and questions that are not typically presented in text books. The authors invite students to engage in some soul-searching, and what I find most interesting is that this is not proposed as an isolated process, but there is a call to make it relational (see Warm-up Exercise: ‘Compare Your Actions and Reasons with Other Students and Friends’). The subjective language used by the authors should facilitate the reflection with which students may want to engage. There is a constant questioning, an appeal to the student to confront typical dilemmas faced by community psychologists. The authors have been able to put themselves in the readers’ shoes and walk them through this process of analysis, reflection and introspection. Nothing is left loose in this discussion, we find very specific ways to implement inclusion; we always see a practical component.

There is one potential risk in engaging in this reflection: students may end up thinking that only extraordinary or exceptional individuals can become community psychologists. The challenge is not to get discouraged but to be clear about the need for students to explore their values and aspirations and make sure they are compatible with those of the discipline.

This chapter covers research and action with a great variety of exemplars of both. However, the emphasis is on action and the authors are constantly alluding to tools and vehicles that facilitate an action orientation. The templates included in the tables are excellent; they have the potential for structuring and organizing material not only for students but for professionals as well. A valuable quality of these templates is the integration of diverse levels of analysis.

According to my reading of this chapter, the link between commitment and accountability on the one hand and inclusion on the other is not readily apparent. From my perspective, inclusion is the main vehicle for action. Inclusion is the vehicle that helps us translate values into action and good intentions into accountability. Therefore, I disagree with Nelson and Prilleltensky when they claim that values and accountability are the main vehicles for action. Values and accountability are guiding principles that may or may not be enacted in specific professional practices and behaviours. They do not, however, have an inherent action component. Inclusion, in my mind, does have this quality.

I did not find the term ‘validity’ particularly appealing in the context of this chapter, probably because it reminds me of measurement and psychometrics – two domains from which I have distanced myself in my practice as a community psychologist. ‘Validity’ suggests recognition by those who prefer social systems to stay unaltered or unchanged, and I am sure this is not what the authors value and strive for. I do not believe CP should prove to be valid, but to be purposeful, useful and necessary in the psychopolitical domain.

I am concerned that the reader might be left with the impression that subjectivity is only possible at the individual level – a likely interpretation of the distinction Nelson and Prilleltensky make between psychological and political factors. The collective can also be subjective. In fact, this is the realm in which the relational nature of subjectivity is more evident. Furthermore, CP has been developing methods and strategies to be able to capture subjective expressions of extra-individual interactions (van Uchelen, 2000).

While painful, the process of reflection and insight found in this chapter is crucial for our discipline. The more we do this kind of work, the closer we get to a shared vision of what CP should be. accountability an obligation or willingness to follow through on commitments and values, to be responsible for one’s actions and to let others examine one’s actions alpha bias approach a mode of dealing with diversity in a way that maximizes differences among groups anti-racism an approach to opposing discrimination based on the realization that power differentials among groups must be addressed in order to reach tolerance and progress for minorities beta bias approach a mode of approaching differences between groups that minimizes differences commitment an agreement or pledge to take some action consistent with values and principles epistemic having to do with explanation or knowledge associated with a particular phenomenon inclusion policies and practices that support diversity and give voice and choice to individuals, groups and communities which have been traditionally marginalized individual racism discriminatory acts or gestures by individuals institutionalized racism policies, practices and norms embedded in cultural patterns and social structures that perpetuate racial discrimination meta-values a special category of values that makes sure other values are enacted and respected multiculturalism an approach to dealing with diversity that affirms the unique value of different groups psychopolitical validity the degree to which research and action take into account power dynamics operating in psychological and political domains and in the interaction between them representation inclusion and participation of groups with varying degrees of power in decision-making processes affecting their personal and collective lives social exclusion experience of living at the margins of society, often due to discriminatory policies and practices of groups or governments against people who are different from the mainstream transformational related to structural and social change

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Tools for Action

In Part III of the book, we explore what community psychologists can do to promote liberation and well-being through social, community, organizational, small group and individual interventions. To suggest useful and meaningful action, we have to know the level of analysis and the target of intervention. We begin with the big picture and work our way down to the smallest unit of analysis – the individual. The four chapters emphasize that we have to target multiple levels of intervention in our efforts to promote liberation and well-being. Even if we are limited in our ability to act on multiple domains, we have to insure that our actions promote synergy across domains.

Chapter 7 provides an overview of the philosophy, roles and skills of community psychologists as change agents. Unlike professional schools that propose rigid distinctions among the personal, the professional and the political, we argue that such distinctions are untenable and even incongruent with the values of CP. In order to exert a positive influence, community psychologists can act as insiders or outsiders. Insiders work in organizations and push for beneficial changes there. Outsiders put pressure on organizations from the periphery. There is plenty to change in society and its institutions to justify effective roles as either insiders or outsiders, but whatever role is chosen, it’s important to distinguish between ameliorative and transformative work. Amelioration refers to changes that do not challenge fundamental structures of injustice and inequality, whereas transformation refers to structural changes that go to the root of the problem. We may not always be able to engage in transformative work, but it’s important not to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are making fundamental changes when we are not.

To promote liberation and well-being, either as an insider or an outsider, a community psychologist requires a set of skills. Chapter 7 introduces individual skills (e.g. effective communication, leadership), group skills (e.g. facilitation, conflict resolution) and community skills (e.g. advocacy, partnership building). These skills can be applied in a variety of settings. To put the skills in context, we introduce a cycle of praxis consisting of vision, needs, cultural context and action.

Chapter 8 is about social interventions. We question the values and assumptions of social interventions, and we critique their limitations. But, shortcomings notwithstanding, there is little doubt that social interventions have the power to influence millions of people through the actions of governments and social movements. The chapter is divided into two main sections: what community psychologists can do in government and what they can do in social movements (SMOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs). Within government, community psychologists can, for example, promote legislation, policies and programs that invest in human development. In the second part of Chapter 8 we identify roles for community psychologists within SMOs and NGOs (e.g. coalition builders, activists). These roles help in recruitment, public education campaigns, protests, strategic planning and political efficacy overall. The chapter offers a wide-ranging menu of options for community psychologists to act as agents of change in society at large.

Chapter 9 deals with interventions at the community and organizational levels. We connect the two because most community work happens in, and through, organizational settings. We apply the lenses of amelioration and transformation to examine the effects of community and organizational interventions. At the organizational level we ask what community psychologists can do to promote both amelioration and transformation within the organization and within the community served by the institution. Our assumption is that stagnant organizations cannot promote change in the community. Furthermore, organizations that do not promote the well-being of workers cannot be effective in promoting the well-being of citizens. We review the characteristics of empowered and empowering organizations and identify roles for community psychologists that will enable them to bring about the desired qualities. At the community level, we concentrate on the role of community psychologists as partnership makers, change makers and knowledge makers. These three roles capture, we believe, the main tasks and interests of our profession.

The final chapter of this section, Chapter 10, addresses the dynamics involved in small group and individual interventions. In keeping with the theme of accountability introduced earlier, we ask how we can change ourselves, others and society when we are very much part of the system that resists change. We also struggle with the tension between ameliorative and transformative work. Is it fair to expect people who suffer exploitation and oppression to become activists when they are hurting? Is it fair not to expect them to do this and treat them only as victims? We offer some paths towards resolution of these dilemmas. In doing so, we articulate the skills that a community psychologist would want to rely on in individual and small group work. Our framework for this chapter combines the qualities introduced in Chapter 9 with stages of change. We believe that people don’t jump towards personal or social change. People require a warm-up period prior to committing to any kind of lasting change. Therefore, we strongly suggest being in tune with people’s readiness for change. Once a change has been accomplished, we must endeavour to make it sustainable and to disseminate it to other communities of interest.

An Overview of Community Psychology Interventions

Chapter Organization

The Community Psychologist as an Agent of Social Change: Connecting the Personal, Political and Professional

◆ The Making of a Community Psychologist + Can I Make a Living Disrupting the Status Quo?: Community Psychologists as Insiders and Outsiders + The Community Psychologist as a Professional + Summary

The Focus of Community Psychology Interventions: Amelioration versus Transformation

◆ Framing the Issues + Values + Levels of Analysis

◆ Prevention Focus + Desired Outcomes + Intervention Process

◆ Roles for Community Psychologists + Summary

Settings for Interventions

◆ Community Psychology Begins at Home + Human Services

◆ Alternative Settings + Settings for Social Change + Summary

Warm-up Exercise

In the field of education, much has been written about school improvement, school change and educational reform. Based on your extensive experience in schools, make a short list of a few ways that schools and education could be improved.

After you have made this list, try to cast aside all your assumptions about schools and education and think again, a little harder this time, about how schools and education could be radically restructured. Make a short list of some more fundamental changes in education.

Compare the two lists. How do they differ? How hard was it to make the second list? Why?

The goals of this chapter are for you to learn about

■ the community psychologist as an agent of social change

■ the differences between ameliorative and transformative interventions

■ different settings for community psychology (CP) interventions.

The core concepts and framework that we introduce in this chapter serve as a foundation for the remaining chapters in this section, in which we go into more depth about interventions at the social (Chapter 8), organizational, community (Chapter 9), small group and individual (Chapter 10) levels of analysis.

The Community Psychologist as an Agent of Social Change: Connecting the Personal, Political and Professional

In this section, we discuss the role of the community psychologist as an agent of social change. However clear we are as community psychologists about our values, the world of action is one that is complicated and rife with conflicts, contradictions and ethical dilemmas. When we try to change the status quo, we inevitably run up against many obstacles and much resistance, including our own blind spots and weaknesses. Creating social change is a struggle. Our values are constantly challenged in the intervention work that we do. Sometimes we experience value conflicts and have to decide which values are most important in a particular context. At other times, we have to choose between many different ways of implementing our values.

The Making of a Community Psychologist

We believe that being a community psychologist is a question of identity, a definition of who we are and who we want to be. Each community psychologist is a whole person. As whole people, our personal, political and professional selves are intertwined. One cannot be a community psychologist in one’s public life at work and then go home to one’s private life and ‘turn off’ the values that inform one’s work as a community psychologist. Rather the personal and political, the private and public and the professional and citizen parts of the community psychologist come together through a journey of ‘conscientization’ (the process of gaining awareness of the conditions that oppress people) and ‘praxis’ (critical ‘reflection and action upon the world to transform it’; Freire, 1970).

Moreover, each community psychologist has a unique personal journey that brought her or him to the field. As Ira Goldenberg (1978) observed some time ago,

Social interventionists are not born, they are made.... The making of a social interventionist can best be understood in terms of a process through which certain classes of events become the experiential ground for subsequent social actions which, if not defined as ‘deviant’, are acknowledged to fall outside the mainstream of expected or anticipated behavior. The process itself, which is rarely smooth or predictable, is punctuated by specific circumstances which are no less socially salient than they are personally significant. (pp. 29 and 34)

Like Goldenberg (1978) and others (e.g. Sloan, 2000a), we believe that community psychologists need to be reflexively aware of their values, experiences and power, and to relate their personal biographies. Our values and social analysis are not fixed entities, but rather constantly emerging perspectives on both where we are currently and where we want to be. Reflexivity is an important antidote to arrogance, dogma and believing that we have the right answer. The point is that personal, political and professional growth is an ongoing process, not an end state.

Reflexivity and accountability are necessary to unpack personal privilege (see Chapter 22, Box 22.1). An example that illustrates this point is male privilege. The two of us, Geoff and Isaac, grew up in sexist, patriarchal societies, in which many privileges were and are bestowed upon us, simply by virtue of our gender. While we believe that we have come a long way, 30 years ago the two of us were undoubtedly blind to many of the issues faced by women in society and in our own field of CP (Bond & Mulvey, 2000). Finally, we want to make clear that connecting the personal and political comes through our relationships with others. It is important to build a support network and sense of community and to have places where we can be nurtured, sustained and challenged in our growth as community psychologists. Community psychologists need a peer group of like-minded people from CP, other academic disciplines and the community, committed to social justice and social change. Moreover, we need to be genuinely supportive of one another and appreciative of our strengths. There is a danger that conscientization can be stifled if the group climate is one of competition and evaluation, focusing on who is the most ‘pure’ or righteous in the enactment of their values.

Can I Make a Living Disrupting the Status Quo? Community Psychologists as Insiders and Outsiders

If CP is more of a social movement than a profession (Rappaport, 1981), we must ask how community psychologists are going to make a living. Who is going to hire and pay them to disrupt the status quo? Not surprisingly, community psychologists find employment based on their professional credentials rather than their values or political beliefs. Most often doctoral-level community psychologists are hired to work in university, research or government policy settings and masters-level and doctoral-level community psychologists work in a variety of human service settings, including health, education, mental health, child welfare and children’s mental health, counselling and so on. Because of their broad training in research and action, graduates of community psychology have little problem finding job opportunities that require the skill-set that they have acquired through their graduate training (O’Donnell & Ferrari, 2000).

While community settings may hire community psychologists, they will nevertheless resist efforts by community psychologists and others to change the status quo. In a previous publication, we identified some ways in which community psychologists working as insiders in a variety of these settings can challenge the status quo and strive to shift the paradigm of practice (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002). Program managers, teachers/professors and researchers can work within their organizations to promote social change. There are always dangers and concerns about ‘rocking the boat’, but many settings provide at least some latitude for change.

Community psychologists can also work outside the system for social change. Those who work independently, or for one setting, can be hired to work as external evaluators, consultants or researchers for another setting. They can often have considerable influence in working for social change in these outsider roles. There are also situations in which community psychologists are not invited by a setting but work as unsolicited interventionists. In other words, the community psychologist approaches a setting or community to partner on some project or intervention. Finally, community psychologists can work in their private lives as change agents. As citizens, they can join and participate in a variety of social change organizations and activities.

The Community Psychologist as a Professional

While community psychologists work collaboratively with community groups and de-emphasize the ‘expert’ role, they are trained professionals who have a set of core competencies and skills (Nelson et al., 2004). Through formal training, community psychologists learn not just to integrate values and experience, but action, research and theory as well. In this section, we focus on intervention or praxis skills, realizing that these are interrelated with research skills. Thomas, Neill and Robertson (1997) made a distinction between core or foundational knowledge and skills and competencies and skills for professional praxis. In Table 7.1, we identify some of the competencies and skills associated with these two broad domains of intervention.

The core knowledge and foundations of community intervention refer to the basic assumptions, values, concepts and theories of CP that we presented in Chapters 1 and 2, while the competencies and skills of professional praxis, identified by Thomas et al. (1997) include (a) personal-effectiveness skills (e.g. communication and interpersonal skills), (b) collaboration skills (e.g. consultation, networking, partnering) and (c) technical skills (e.g. skills in grant writing, research, evaluation). This latter set of competencies and skills cannot be learned in the classroom. Supervised community service learning and practicum placements in community settings are necessary to provide trainees with real-life experiences in community intervention (Bennett & Hallman, 1987). Evans, Nelson and Loomis (in press) articulated four pedagogical principles for CP training that can promote competencies and skills in both the core/foundational and professional praxis domains: (a) creating the same empowering conditions in the classroom that we strive for in the community, (b) promoting student engagement in the classroom and the community,

(c) integrating theory and practice and (d) connecting the global and the local. Providing interdisciplinary perspectives on the issues is another important principle for teaching and learning CP (Maton et al., 2006).


In this section, we have discussed a number of issues relating to the community psychologist as an agent of social change. Becoming a community psychologist involves more than acquiring professional credentials. It is a process of identity

Table 7.1 Domains, competencies, and skills for community psychology intervention






Understand the central role of power in the social world; frame problems in terms of power inequities; challenge victim-blaming assumption; focus on strengths


Clarify the vision and values on which interventions are based; advocate for values that promote liberation from oppression and personal, relational, and collective well-being

Principles and theories

Understand and apply CP concepts and theories (e.g., prevention, empowerment, sense of community); use ecological and systems approaches to intervention focusing on group, organizational, community, and social change, rather than individualistic approaches

Professional praxis

Personal effectiveness

Personal reflection and conscientization; communication skills (basic attending and influencing, assertiveness, leadership, setting boundaries)

Partnership and collaboration

Consultation; group process facilitation; organization development; community development; partnering with diverse stakeholders, including disadvantaged people; team-building

Technical competencies

Project management; grant-writing; oral and written communication skills development in which the community psychologist develops a self-critical awareness in the context of his or her life experiences in the larger social and political milieu. This identity development involves connecting the personal, political and professional parts of oneself. We noted different ways in which community psychologists can function as insiders and outsiders, disrupting the status quo and creating social change. While few settings will employ people as social change agents, we discussed some possibilities that permit community psychologists to make a living and bring about change. Finally, we provided an overview of some of the core competencies and skills that characterize community psychologists as professionals.

The Focus of Community Psychology Interventions: Amelioration versus Transformation

In this section we examine the focus of CP interventions, making a distinction between ameliorative and transformative interventions (Prilleltensky & Nelson,

1997). Ameliorative interventions are those that aim to promote well-being. Transformative interventions, while also concerned with the promotion of well-being, focus on changing power relationships and striving to eliminate oppression. Community psychologists have also used the systems theory concepts of first-order and second-order change to capture this distinction (Bennett, 1987; Rappaport, 1977; Seidman & Rappaport, 1986). First-order change, amelioration, creates change within a system, while second-order change, transformation, strives to change the system and its assumptions. Ameliorative and transformative interventions can be contrasted along several dimensions, as is shown in Table 7.2.

Framing the Issues

How social issues are framed often dictates what interventions will be used to address those issues (Seidman & Rappaport, 1986). Ameliorative interventions tend to frame issues as problems and as technical matters that can be resolved through rational empirical problem-solving (Sarason, 1978). Power dynamics are ignored or minimized in this formulation. For example, one might examine the issue of teenage pregnancy by studying its prevalence and the negative life outcomes that follow (e.g. failure to complete education or gain employment, mental health, drug and alcohol problems and so on) and the risk and protective factors that help to explain the prevalence of this problem. Poverty may be constructed as a risk factor, but there is no class analysis or analysis of power dynamics that challenges existing social structures. Programs to help prevent teenage pregnancy through increased knowledge of birth control or support groups or educational programs are developed to address this problem and promote the well-being of the mothers and their babies.

Transformative interventions, on the other hand, frame issues in terms of oppression and inequities in power and emphasize the strengths of people rather than their deficiencies. While research and problem-solving are used to address the issue, the overall focus is on liberation from oppression and changing the social systems that give rise to teenage pregnancy. Gender, race and class are examined as intersections of oppression, and vulnerable young women are engaged in a process of consciousness-raising about themselves and their political reality. The larger macro context of global capitalism is seen as overarching specific risk and protective factors at the micro and meso levels of analysis. The increasing numbers of women living in poverty with few real opportunities for economic advancement and the correspondingly increased wealth of a small segment of the population (both corporations and individuals) are examined in relation to the problem of teenage pregnancy to understand the ‘causes of the causes’.


Since issues and problems are framed in technical terms in ameliorative interventions, the value emphasis of the intervention is often ignored or in the background of the conceptual framework. However, the values of holism, health and caring and compassion are implicitly given the most emphasis in ameliorative interventions. Programs to promote health and prevent problems in living most often

Table 7.2 Distinguishing characteristics of ameliorative vs transformative interventions




Framing of issues and problems

Issues and problems are framed as technical matters that can be resolved through rational–empirical problem-solving; power dynamics are ignored. Scientific problem-solving is in the foreground; power is in the background.

Issues and problems are framed in terms of oppression and inequities in power that require liberating solutions, as well as research and problem-solving. Power, oppression and liberation share the foreground with scientific problem-solving.


Since issues and problems are framed in technical terms, the value emphasis of the intervention is often ignored.

However, the values of holism, health, and caring and compassion are implicitly given the most emphasis. Values are in the background.

Values play a central role in the conceptualization of the intervention. While the values of holism, health, and caring and compassion may be present, greater emphasis is placed on the values of selfdetermination, participation, social justice, respect for diversity and accountability to oppressed groups. Values are in the foreground.

Levels of analysis

Issues and problems are examined in terms of an ecological perspective that is attuned to multiple levels of analysis. However, interventions are often targeted at improving personal and relational well-being. Intervention at the personal and relational levels is in the foreground.

Issues and problems are examined in terms of power dynamics that are conceptualized as occurring at multiple levels of analysis. Intervention occurs at all levels of analysis, but there is concerted effort to improve collective well-being. The collective level of analysis is in the foreground, even for interventions at the personal and relational levels.

Prevention focus

Prevention is aimed primarily at the enhancement of protective factors, including skills, self-esteem and support systems.

Prevention is aimed primarily at the reduction of systemic risk factors, including, racism, sexism and poverty.

Desired outcomes

The primary desired outcome is enhanced well-being, which is conceptualized apolitically and narrowly at the individual level of analysis.

Specific outcomes include: the promotion of individual well-being, which includes self-esteem, independence and competence; the prevention of psychosocial problems in living; and the enhancement of social support.

Outcomes at the individual level of analysis are in the foreground.

The primary desired outcome is enhanced well-being, which is conceptualized in terms of power at multiple levels of analysis. Specific outcomes include: increased control, choice, self-esteem, competence, independence, political awareness, political rights and a positive identity; enhanced socially supportive relationships and participation in social, community, and political life; the acquisition of valued resources, such as employment, income, education and housing; and freedom from abuse, violence and exploitation. Outcomes at multiple levels of analysis that emphasize power-sharing and equity are in the foreground.


Table 7.2 Continued




Intervention process

The intervention process may be ‘expert-driven’, but usually involves collaboration with multiple stakeholders from the community.

The intervention process involves a partnership in which community psychologists work in solidarity with oppressed groups and possibly other stakeholders from the community. Conscientization, powersharing, mutual learning, resistance, participation, supportive and egalitarian relationships, and resource mobilization are in the foreground of the intervention process.

Roles for community psychologists

Since issues and problems are framed as technical matters that can be resolved through rational–empirical problem-solving, the role of community psychologists is to lend their professional expertise to the community to solve problems. Program development and evaluation are emphasized. The professional expertise of the community psychologist is in the foreground, while the political role of the community psychologist is in the background.

Since issues and problems are framed in terms of oppression and inequities in power that require resistance and liberating solutions, the role of community psychologists is to work in solidarity with oppressed groups to challenge the status quo and create social change. Social and political action is emphasized, along with program development and evaluation. The political role of the community psychologist shares the foreground with the professional role. focus on skill-building and the development of social support networks, as mentioned in the previous section.

In contrast, values are in the foreground and play a central role in the conceptualization of transformative interventions. While the values of holism, health and caring and compassion are present, greater emphasis is placed on the values of self-determination, participation, social justice, respect for diversity and accountability to oppressed groups. These latter values are consistent with the thrust of transformative interventions that strive to reduce power inequities (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 1997).

Levels of Analysis

Ameliorative interventions may examine issues and problems in terms of an ecological perspective that is attuned to multiple levels of analysis. However, more often than not, ameliorative interventions are targeted at the personal and relational levels. Prevention programs that strive to enhance competence and build social support are examples. When the macro level is addressed, power dynamics are ignored. For example, macro-level health promotion interventions may aim to change social norms and practices regarding eating, drinking, smoking and exercise to prevent heart disease or other health problems. Issues of power and exploitation, such as the role of tobacco companies in promoting nicotine addiction, or the fast food industry (McDonald’s, Coca Cola) in promoting poor diet and obesity, are seldom addressed.

In transformative interventions, issues and problems are examined in terms of power dynamics that are conceptualized as occurring at multiple levels of analysis. In transformative intervention, a systems approach to social change is taken (Christens, Hanlin, & Speer, 2007; Foster-Fishman, Nowell & Yang, 2007). Intervention occurs at all levels of analysis, but there is concerted effort to change power relationships and to alter the fundamental nature of the system. The collective level of analysis is in the foreground, even for interventions at the personal and relational levels. An example of this is a smoking prevention program that Isaac developed with the Latin American community in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada, in which children and parents engaged in social action against cigarette companies (Prilleltensky, Nelson & Sanchez Valdes, 2000).

Prevention Focus

Albee’s (1982) equation, presented in Chapter 4, asserts that prevalence is equal to risk factors divided by protective factors. Prevention programs then should strive to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors. Ameliorative prevention programs primarily address the bottom half of the equation, the protective factors, including coping skills, self-esteem and support systems. The risk factors include both biological (organic) factors and environmental systemic (stress and exploitation) factors. Transformative preventive interventions strive to address systemic factors, including racism, sexism and poverty (Albee, 1982). Most CP prevention programs are ameliorative in nature and do not address these macro systemic risk factors. One exception, briefly noted in Chapter 4, is the program of Africancentred, critical pedagogy used in the Benjamin E. Mays Institute (Potts, 2003).

Desired Outcomes

The primary desired outcome of ameliorative interventions is enhanced well-being, which is conceptualized apolitically and narrowly at the individual level of analysis. Specific outcomes include the promotion of individual well-being, which includes self-esteem, independence and competence; the prevention of psychosocial problems in living; and the enhancement of social support. Outcomes at the individual level of analysis are in the foreground.

The primary desired outcome of transformative interventions is enhanced well-being, which is conceptualized in terms of power at multiple levels of analysis. Specific outcomes include personal changes (e.g. increased control, choice, self-esteem, competence, independence, political awareness, political rights and a positive identity), relational changes (e.g. enhanced socially supportive relationships, freedom from abuse and violence, and participation in social, community and political life), and the acquisition of valued resources (e.g. employment, income, education, housing, freedom from exploitation; Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001a, 2001b; Prilleltensky, Nelson & Peirson, 2001b). Outcomes at multiple levels of analysis that emphasize power-sharing and equity are in the foreground.

Intervention Process

Ameliorative interventions are often ‘expert-driven’ (Nelson, Amio et al., 2000). The community psychologist uses her or his knowledge of risk and protective factors and program models to design the intervention. While the community psychologist may play the lead role in designing ameliorative interventions, there is also collaboration with multiple stakeholders from the community.

In contrast, the intervention process in transformative interventions involves a partnership in which community psychologists work in solidarity with oppressed groups and possibly other stakeholders from the community (Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001). Conscientization and praxis are key aspects of the intervention process.

Roles for Community Psychologists

Since ameliorative interventions frame issues and problems as technical matters that can be resolved through rational and empirical problem-solving, the role of the community psychologist is to lend her or his professional expertise to the community to solve problems. The roles of program developer and program evaluator are emphasized. The professional expertise of the community psychologist is in the foreground, while the political role of the community psychologist is in the background. Goldenberg (1978) argues that the roles of social technician and social reformer characterize the ameliorative approach. Social technicians and reformers work with those who hold power; they identify with and accept the goals of existing settings; they emphasize adaptation to social conditions; and they do not believe that basic change is needed.

Since transformative interventions frame issues and problems in terms of oppression and inequities in power that require resistance and liberating solutions, the role of community psychologists is to work in solidarity with oppressed groups to challenge the status quo and create social change. Social and political action is emphasized, along with program development and evaluation. The political role of the community psychologist shares the foreground with the professional role. In contrast to the previously mentioned roles of social technician and social reformer, Goldenberg (1978) argues that social interventionists work with oppressed groups; they do not identify with or accept the goals of existing settings; they emphasize conscientization; and they believe that fundamental social change is needed. An example of this is Ed Bennett’s (2003) work with Old Order Amish people to assist them in preserving their traditional lifestyles and community by challenging bureaucratic and legal obstacles to their way of life.


As we have shown, ameliorative and transformative interventions differ in many ways. Currently, most CP interventions are ameliorative in nature. Prevention programs, support programs and community development initiatives are typically designed to promote well-being at the individual and relational levels. Transformative interventions that strive to change the status quo through an alteration of structural conditions and power relations are less well-developed than ameliorative interventions. Our point here is not to suggest that ameliorative interventions are not worthwhile; they are useful and important. Rather what we are suggesting is that greater emphasis needs to be placed on transformative interventions. Unless we challenge unjust social conditions and power inequities, we will forever be engaged in ameliorative interventions. While we have strived to contrast ameliorative and transformative approaches in this chapter, in practice it is possible to blend the two. In a case study of organizational change with an agency serving youth and their families, Evans, Hanlin and Prilleltensky (2007) reported both ameliorative and transformative changes as outcomes of their intervention.

The need for a shift in emphasis from amelioration to transformation is much like CP’s initial shift in emphasis from treatment to prevention and from individual to community interventions. Treatment and individual interventions are needed, but they can never prevent or eliminate problems in living. We believe that it is time for a new shift in emphasis in CP interventions that promote social justice.

Settings for Interventions

Across the world, community psychologists work in a variety of settings. In our view, there are three main settings in which we can practise the trade of CP:

(a) human services, (b) alternative settings and (c) settings for social change. But there is one more setting where our professional skills and our lives intertwine – home.

Community Psychology Begins at Home

By ‘home’ we mean the place where we live, study, train, work and play. In other words, it is not just what we do from 9 to 5, or what we do when we wear the official hat of community psychologist. It is what we do all the time. Since values and social ethics inform all aspects of our human experience, not just our professional work, community psychologists try to promote these values in all spheres of life. The values we presented in Chapters 2 and 3 apply to relationships with our family, peers, co-workers, fellow students and community members. It would be inconsistent with the value of accountability to witness injustice at home and remain silent, just as it would be absurd to behave compassionately towards community members but despotically towards family members.

This does not mean that we have to behave like formal professionals all the time and that we have to treat our friends and relatives as if they were in need of help. Not at all – it simply means that we try to incorporate our values at home as much as at work. We do this naturally because it is part of who we want to become, not because we are supposed to wear a badge of community psychologist all the time.

This natural integration of values into our lives makes our profession exciting. It affords us an opportunity to become more integrated human beings, trying to do what is beneficial for us, our partners, relatives, friends and our communities at the same time. Box 7.1 offers some examples of what community psychologists working in universities can do to integrate their values in their workplace.

Human Services

‘Human services’ is a generic term for organizations providing health, mental health, disability, housing, community and child and family services, among others. These organizations can be part of government, funded by government, funded by charities or private agencies. Some human-service agencies receive funding from a combination of sources – government, charities and foundations. In Table 7.3 we see some examples of the various settings, along with possible roles for community psychologists.

Examples of human services include community mental health centres, children’s mental health services, counselling agencies, alcoholism and substance abuse treatment facilities, child welfare agencies, community-based correctional services and services for people with disabilities. These services are typically staffed by psychologists, social workers and a variety of other health and social service professionals and afford community psychologists an opportunity to redefine ways of helping.

Community psychologists can promote change as insiders or outsiders (see Chapter 9). In either case, chances are that some resistance will be encountered from management and workers alike. Sometimes the resistance derives from diverse strategies; sometimes it derives from divergent values. If the former is the case, a partnership for change is possible. If the latter is the case, we may have to reconsider our ability to work with organizations that do not share our vision and values. To guard against unpleasant surprises, Cherniss (1993) pointed out that before considering an intervention in a human service organization, it is important to consider such questions as follows:

■ Whose interests will be served?

■ Is there value congruence between the change agent and those with whom she or he will be consulting?

Table 7.3 Settings, examples and roles for community interventions




Human services

Community mental health agencies Independent living centres Department of community services Department of public health School board

Child and family services

Program developer Program manager Program evaluator

Human resources manager Health promoter

Unit manager

Alternative settings

Women’s shelters

Community economic development corporation Resource centre for people with HIV/AIDS

Self-help group run by community members Immigrant and refugee advocacy centre

Social advocate Team leader Community developer Group facilitator Board member

Social change settings

Public interest research group Social policy institute

Trade and labour unions Political parties

Researcher Public speaker Policy developer Writer

■ What form will the intervention take (e.g. action research, consultation, skills training)?

■ What previous interventions have been tried and with what success?

Along with our colleagues Leslea Peirson and Judy Gould, the two of us consulted with a children’s mental health agency in a review of its mandate. A value-based approach was used as the foundation for organizational change (Peirson et al., 1997; Prilleltensky et al., 1997). As consultants, we negotiated with the agency to have an advisory committee with representation from management, staff, board members, parent consumers, service providers from other agencies and members of the community at large. The primary guiding values of the mandate review were self-determination (what stakeholders want), collaboration (participation of stakeholders) and distributive justice (how stakeholders believe the agency should allocate scarce resources). Focus groups and survey questionnaires were used to gather data regarding the agency’s values and vision, needs, resources and mission from a wide range of stakeholders, including young people involved with the agency, nonreferred young people, parent consumers, non-referred parents, agency workers and board members, school personnel and other service-providers. This approach was designed to be highly inclusive in gaining input on stakeholders’ views about what the mandate of the agency should be.

When we were first interviewed for the job of the mandate review, we explicitly acknowledged our bias in favour of prevention, and staff were concerned that we would impose our agenda on them. We indicated that while we were biased towards prevention, decisions about prevention versus treatment would be made by them, not us. In the end, the staff also wanted more prevention! We had an initial disagreement on strategies for children’s mental health, but not on values.

We asked agency staff and other service providers how they would allocate the budget of the agency to different service areas. Respondents indicated that 39% of the budget should be devoted to prevention and consultation programs. While the agency did provide some prevention programs at the time of the review, these findings suggested that it should increase its commitment to prevention. In our follow-up with the agency, we found that several of the final recommendations and directions were being implemented by the agency. Another interesting finding emerged from this change process. When young people were asked what mattered to them, they stressed the importance of employment opportunities; making sure parents, teachers and service providers listen to and understand them; youth support groups for different problems; and prevention programs. In other words, the young people wanted community change and communityoriented intervention approaches, not traditional clinical services. For us, these findings underscored the value of involving the young people themselves in the process of change.

Geoff and his colleagues witnessed the transformational work of psychologists and other service providers in the field of community mental health. Mental health services began to shift from institutional settings to community programs beginning in the 1960s. It was assumed that this process of deinstitutionalization would lead to more humane and effective practices, but there has been increasing recognition that many community mental health programs have retained the values and character of the institutional settings that they were designed to replace. While there have been changes in language (e.g. ‘patients’ are now ‘clients’) and emphasis (i.e. more emphasis on rehabilitation and psychosocial deficits rather than medical treatment and psychiatric diagnoses), the underlying values of community treatment and rehabilitation are similar to those of institutional treatment (Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001a, 2001b).

Along with his colleagues John Lord and Joanna Ochocka, Geoff documented the process and outcomes of the transformation of mainstream community mental health services in their community (Nelson et al., 2001b). They found that organizational renewal processes which were based on the emerging paradigm of empowerment and community participation led to changes in organizational practices and programs, which, in turn, led to positive impacts on the people served by the organizations. The organizations that were studied engaged in a conscious reversal of power in which mental health consumers were encouraged to come forward and play a major role in organizational decision-making and the provision of services and supports. They found that the change occurring in mainstream organizations, and the creation of a consumer-controlled, self-help organization, extended beyond the organizations to the community level.

Alternative Settings

Alternative settings are voluntary associations that are created and controlled by people who share a problem or an oppressive condition. Within alternative settings there is a strong emphasis on creating a supportive community, non-hierarchical structures, holistic approaches to health, consensual decision-making, horizontal organizational structures that promote participation and power-sharing, building on the strengths of diverse people who do not ‘fit’ into existing programs and advocacy for social change. Such settings are formed as an alternative to mainstream organizations that are not based on these same values and which often blame the victims for not adjusting to existing social conditions (Reinharz, 1984). Community psychologists can assist in the creation of such settings, as well as with ongoing consultation.

Self-help/mutual aid organizations, which we described in Chapter 5, are an example of an alternative setting (Humphreys & Rappaport, 1994). Self-help/ mutual aid groups have several characteristics. They are small groups in which people who share a common problem, experience or concern come together to both provide and receive support. Members are equals, and the groups are voluntary and not for profit. There is a wide variety of such groups and organizations including the following: loss-transition groups (e.g. bereavement groups, separation/divorce support groups); groups for people who do not have a problem themselves but who have a family member with a problem (e.g. parent support groups, Al Anon and Alateen); stress, coping and support groups (e.g. AA, psychiatric survivor groups); and consciousness-raising and advocacy groups (e.g. Mothers against Drunk Driving, women’s groups). There is a large range of different types of self-help groups available to people, and it has been estimated that in the United States, more than 10 million people participate in a self-help group every year (Kessler et al., 1997).

How should professionals relate to self-help groups? When self-help group members are asked this question, they basically state that they want professionals to be ‘on tap but not on top’ (Constantino & Nelson, 1995). In other words, self-helpers want professionals to practise good partnership, emphasizing respect, collaboration, equality and appreciation for the knowledge and experience of self-helpers. One vehicle through which professional and self-help collaboration has occurred is through self-help clearinghouses and resource centres (Madara, 1990). Self-help resource centres are organizations that promote the self-help concept through information and referral, education, networking, consultation and research. Community psychologists can assist self-helpers through research and evaluation, consultation and advocacy. However, it is crucial that community psychologists act in an empowering manner rather than in a way that promotes professional dominance and consumer dependency.

Settings for Social Change

Of all the settings where community psychologists can practise their trade, this is perhaps the most neglected and, at the same time, the most important area. On the continuum of transformation, this is the end where most profound change may be accomplished.

Community psychologists have an opportunity to participate in social movements as organizers, consultants, researchers and as citizens exercising their democratic rights to have a voice (Maton, 2000). There are social change and social movement organizations, described in Chapter 8, which have great potential to go beyond amelioration and towards transformation.

There are a number of social movement organizations (SMOs) with which community psychologists could ally themselves. These include anti-poverty movements (see Chapter 15), feminist movement organizations (see Chapter 18), peace organizations and environmental organizations (see Chapter 23), among many others. These organizations are often coalitions of groups and individuals who view themselves as a part of broader movements for social change. The guiding vision is one of a society free of racism, sexism, heterosexism, poverty, violence and environmental degradation, a society which celebrates diversity, shares the wealth and practises equality, peace, sustainability and preservation of the natural environment.

Some social movements begin with efforts by alternative settings. Some of the social issues identified in Chapter 2, such as discrimination, racism, powerlessness, stigma and others, have been picked up by groups that have grown into social movements. Some psychiatric survivor self-help organizations have been vocal in protesting against psychiatry and for the civil and social rights of people who have experienced mental health problems (see Chapter 21). Rape crisis centres have been a focal point for feminists organizing for social change (Campbell, Baker & Mazurek, 1998). Examples of feminist social action include organizing public demonstrations to raise awareness about violence against women (e.g. Take Back the Night marches in the United States and Canada), lobbying different levels of government to influence legislation regarding violence against women and the development of programs to prevent violence against women (Campbell et al., 1998). Similarly, self-help organizations for people with disabilities have actively lobbied for resources and for the rights of citizens with disabilities (see Chapter 20). The Independent Living Centres (ILCs) movement in the United States and Canada is a good example of advocacy by people with disabilities. ILCs are cross-disability, consumer-driven and community-based self-help organizations that have a sociopolitical analysis of disability. ILC advocates have pushed for a new paradigm approach to disability policy and practice, emphasizing consumer control, housing, employment, mutual support and civil rights (Lord & Hutchison, 2007).

In order to guide the process of change in social justice organizations, we have to be clear about values, social and cultural context and people’s needs and strategic action. Table 7.4 describes a cycle of praxis whereby we address these four different points. As noted in Figure 7.1, this is a constant cycle of reflection and

Table 7.4 Cycle of praxis


State of Affairs

Subject of Study


Vision and values

What should be the ideal vision?

What values should guide our vision?

Social organizations that promote a balance among values for personal, relational and collective well-being

Vision of justice, well-being and empowerment for oppressed communities

Cultural and social context

What is the actual state of affairs?

Psychology of individual and collective as well as economy, history, society and culture

Identification of prevailing norms and social conditions oppressing minorities


How is the state of affairs perceived and experienced?

Grounded theory and lived experience

Identification of needs of oppressed groups


What can be done to change undesirable state of affairs?

Theories of personal and social change

Personal and social change strategies

From Prilleltensky and Nelson (2002)

Figure 7.1 The cycle of praxis

Source: From Prilleltensky and Nelson (2002) action. Each one of the four elements of praxis addresses a specific set of questions and has a concrete outcome. When the outcomes of the four components come together, they create a powerful synergy. This is what we are after when we participate in settings for social change. The cycle of praxis can be applied not only to social change but also to processes of organizational and community renewal as well.

While social change organizations can be effective in seeking transformation, sometimes they can perpetuate injustice within them, as we will see in Chapter 8. Group members can have different views, styles and backgrounds. This can create strain, tension and sometimes internecine conflict. In our experience, it is not important that coalition members agree on everything. What is important is that members strive to find common ground to advocate on those issues on which there is agreement. To guard against our personal tendencies to monopolize agendas or neglect others’ contributions, we recommend looking at the tools for social change in Box 7.3.

Box 7.3

Tools for working for social change

a. Practise noticing who’s in the room at meetings – how many men, how many women, how many white people, how many people of colour. Is the majority heterosexual, what are people’s class backgrounds? Don’t assume you know people. Work at being more aware.

b. Count how many times you speak and keep track of how long you speak. Count how many times other people speak and keep track of how long they speak.

c. Be conscious of how often you are actively listening to what other people are saying as opposed to just waiting your turn and/or thinking about what you’ll say next.

d. Practise supporting people by asking them to expand on ideas and get more in-depth information before you decide to support the idea or not.

e. Think about whose work and contribution to the group gets recognized. Practise recognizing people for the work they do and try to do it more often.

f. Work against creating an internal organizing culture that is alienating for some people. Developing respect and solidarity across race, class, gender and sexuality is complex and difficult, but absolutely critical.

g. Be aware of how often you ask people to do something as opposed to asking other people what needs to be done.

h. Remember that social change is a process and that our individual transformation and liberation is intimately connected with social transformation and liberation. Life is profoundly complex and there are many contradictions.

Courtesy of Professor Douglass St. Christian, Department of Anthropology, University of Western Ontario, Canada


In this section we reviewed settings for interventions. Unlike other professions that advocate a separation between personal and professional life, in CP we are pleased to combine our professional values with our personal lives. Hence, the practise of CP begins at home. Home means the places where we live, work, study, socialize and play. We can wear the official hat of community psychologists in diverse settings, including human services, alternative settings and social change organizations. Our roles in social change organizations may be guided by the cycle of praxis, which includes four interacting components: vision and values, cultural and social context, needs and action.

Chapter Summary

The aim of this chapter was to provide an overview of CP interventions. The next three chapters expand on social, community, organizational, small group and individual interventions. As community psychologists we blend the personal, the political and the professional. This amalgam of roles enables us to be as influential as we can in our personal, civic and occupational lives. To be as useful as we can, we need to develop technical skills, aptitudes for collaboration and personal effectiveness skills. These skills may be used for amelioration or transformation. Whereas amelioration refers to interventions designed to promote well-being, transformation refers to interventions aimed at changing power relations in society that underpin many of the barriers to well-being in the first place. We drew a clear distinction between these two types of interventions based on values, problem definition, levels of analysis, prevention focus, desired outcomes and intervention processes. The last section of the chapter dealt with four settings for interventions: home, human services, alternative settings and social change.

Virtues and Vocation: Community

Psychology and Social Change M. Brinton Lykes

As a community psychologist I have chosen (or been chosen) to combine university teaching and collaborative work in communities with ongoing conflict or war, in postconflict situations of transitional justice and with survivors of unnatural disasters and of repressive anti-immigrant policies (Guatemala, the north of Ireland and South Africa and the United States of America). Geoff and Isaac’s invitation to comment on their excellent overview of CP interventions was an opportunity to reflect upon those experiences within the framework of a lucid and challenging characterization of the community psychologist as social change agent. Below I offer several experiences and my reflections in the hope of concretizing and complementing the challenges they have extended to community psychology/ists.

Virtues and Vocation: Reflexivity in the Borderlands

As a young, white, woman from the Southern United States I made a ‘preferential option for the poor’ in response to the Latin American bishops in Medellin, Colombia, who urged those of us in the Global North to engage with those directly affected by economic and political injustice and oppression in the majority world. Years of anti-racism activism and solidarity work were later tempered by a growing awareness of gender oppression and my own marginalization within church-based and Marxist social movements. Increasingly I realized that fundamental social change was not, at least in most contexts, an end state achieved through short-term armed struggles but rather a lifelong process of internal and external transformation in a dynamic context of participatory action and reflection, or praxis.

As Geoff and Isaac argue, there are many sites in which community psychologists can engage in social change work – and those of us who have experienced a call to or vocation as community psychologists have only begun to creatively explore our options. These sites are not neutral but deeply influence how others view our work – and how we experience ourselves in it. For example, although an activist with years of volunteer social justice and social change work, I earn my living as a US professor with tenure. As such, my private university salary is greater than that earned by 90% of the world’s population, which privileges me in multiple ways in a world characterized by increasing inequality. My decision to engage my activism and my intellectual/academic skills and interests through activist or passionate scholarship (DuBois, 1983) and to work among rural peasants, and with undocumented women and children on the “move,” situates me in communities where a yearly wage is often less than my daily pay. As significantly, in order to maintain that salary I conform to certain workplace expectations (e.g. ‘publish or perish’) that are sometimes at odds with the immediate needs and desires of my community collaborators. To actively engage those conflicts, I selected participatory action research (PAR) as a resource for social change work. In one project I proposed a joint publication to reflect my commitment to both participation and collaboration.

Although I had been invited by the rural Maya women with whom I worked to come to Chajul, they sometimes viewed me with suspicion. On more than one occasion during our 15 years together I have found myself with ‘mud on my face’. For example, for the sake of transparency in our photovoice project (see below) I explained to the local project coordinators why 30% of the grant was paid to my university. I was embarrassed – even ashamed – that, in order to secure release time and sabbatical leave so I could collaborate full time in community-based activism, we had to ‘buy my time’ at a rate that made no sense in this local context.

Previously I had sought to bypass university policy by working in Guatemala during my university vacations or without pay, seeking funds only for my travel and contributing any funds above that to local projects. Increased pressure from the university to secure ‘funded research’ as well as the real costs of PAR projects required additional funds and all were delighted when we secured them. The grant ensured that I was meeting the university’s demands and that the work in Chajul could proceed. But it also repositioned me vis-à-vis my Mayan partners. I had been living a gap between my values and commitments and my everyday practice, ‘working the hyphen’ (Fine, 1992) between a US university economy and the poverty of war and rural life. The grant exposed me as a concrete beneficiary of privilege in the midst of their poverty, raising questions about commitments to equality and change. My solidarity and our collaboration were called into question, and I slowly absorbed the complexity of embodying power and privilege despite my ‘preferential option for the poor’.

Once back on ‘my own turf’ I have self-critically re-examined these experiences and come to see them as opportunities to cultivate humility, a virtue not frequently associated with either US citizens or professionals. ‘Humility’, ‘human’, ‘humiliate’ and, some have argued, ‘humour’ (Gilbert, 1996) all share a common Indo-European root, dhghem, a word most frequently translated by the English word ‘humus’ (American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 2000). The decayed vegetable matter (or mud) that nurtures plants is highly valued in traditional, agrarian societies. I have had multiple opportunities to cultivate humility and have found that this virtue has nurtured my relations – and my work – in these borderlands and beyond.

Amelioration or Transformation in the War Zones

My work in Chajul, accompanying local communities in the development of psychosocial, community-based programs to respond to the social suffering consequent to war and state violence (see, for example, Lykes, 1994, 1997), sits at the intersection of Western psychological theory and practice and Mayan traditional beliefs and traditions. It seeks to foster psychological well-being, social consciousness and active resistance in culturally specific ways. The scars of war are deeply seated in the individual, the society, the culture and across generations. Thus, I have sought to work with women and children’s local organizations to strengthen the community’s capacity to collectively heal these wounds and to move forward through the development of innovative grassroots community-based projects that promote progressive social change and community mental health (see also Lykes & Liem, 1990 and www.martinbarofund.org for other examples of similar work).

In one of these actions I collaborated with 20 Maya women from diverse religions, political commitments, ages and educational backgrounds in a PAR project using photovoice (Wang, 1999; Wang & Burris, 1994) as a resource (Women of PhotoVoice/ADMI & Lykes, 2000; Lykes, 2001b). The work occurred in the transitional spaces created in a post-war context as internationally brokered (CEH, 1999) and Catholic-church-sponsored (ODHAG, 1998) truth commissions were releasing their reports of the government’s responsibility for the majority of the atrocities committed during Guatemala’s nearly 36-year genocidal war. In contrast to official commissions that by definition focused on documenting the past, the women of Chajul sought a process whereby their stories of past atrocities could serve to reconstruct the present and contribute to a better life in the future. Prior to our PAR project I had facilitated workshops wherein they had developed skills and organized several economic development projects, a bilingual after-school program for children and ongoing reflection/action groups for women. The photovoice experience created spaces for restorying their lives in the wake of war’s terror, further developing their capacities as women, ‘negotiating’ conflicting community stories about key events in Chajul during the war, extending their work with women to neighbouring villages (many of which were rebuilding after massacres and/or being burned to the ground during the early 1980s) and strengthening their organization as a site for the defence of Mayan women’s rights.

Although time does not permit a full discussion of this ongoing collaboration (see Lykes, 1999) the framework provided by Geoff and Isaac enables me to situate this work within a wider discourse of CP. The work in Chajul is situated in an alternative setting, an NGO. But it is with women who are protagonists in several social movements seeking Mayan rights and gender equality. As an NGO it renders important economic and psychosocial services to women and their families both within Chajul and in neighbouring villages. It has created multiple culturally embedded yet transformatory spaces wherein women can ‘heal themselves’ and rethread local community. As significantly, through critically reflecting on their experiences – through storytelling, dramatizations, photography and interviews – women have come to tolerate difference and conflict and to more fully understand and critique the powerful ties between poverty and war, racism and gender oppression.

I have served as consultant, workshop designer and facilitator, co-investigator, editor, grant writer, liaison to funders, babysitter and member of the family over 15 years. I have drawn on my understanding of our relationships and our work to interrogate dominant metaphors that shape psychological knowledge about the individual (Lykes & Qin, 2001) and about war and its effects (Lindorfer, 2007; Lykes, 2001b). As significantly, our collaboration at the intersection of amelioration and transformation promotes individual and community well-being and collective action towards creating a more just world in one small corner of it.

In working this hyphen I am challenged to rethink not only Western psychological theory and practice and my privileges as a university professor but also the practices of participation and empowerment that characterize PAR and CP. Triantafillou and Nielsen (2001) argue that the ‘capable and empowered subject’ who emerges through participatory practices such as those described here is not someone to whom power has been transferred but a ‘modern citizen in the western liberal sense’ (p. 63). As an autonomous subject she is committed to the realm of the social through concrete norms, ‘games of truth’ and power relations where she must engage herself as subject and object. Those of us working as social change agents, particularly those who situate ourselves at the interstices of Western and traditional cultures and societies, need to be reflexively self-critical, not only of ourselves and of psychological theory and practice but of the ideology and praxis of participation and empowerment and of its particular interface with gender and power in local communities (see Lykes & Coquillon, 2007). The borders that I have crossed to collaborate with the women of Chajul pale in comparison to the selves and the worlds they now straddle in some small part as a result of our collaborative and my social change praxis.



Social Interventions

Warm-up Exercise

Psychologist Martin Seligman published a book in 2002 called Authentic Happiness. In reviewing factors that lead to happiness, he makes the claim that ‘objective good health is related to happiness’ (p. 58). With respect to education, climate, race and gender, he also makes the claim that, ‘surprisingly, none of them much matters for happiness’ (p. 58). In discussing social conditions, Seligman laments that, ‘changing these circumstances is usually impractical and expensive’ (p. 50). Finally, he noted that, ‘most Americans [he means citizens of the United States], regardless of objective circumstances, say they are happy’ (p. 51).

In a small group, discuss the following questions:

a. Do you agree that health, education, climate, race and gender do not matter much for happiness?

b. What are the implications of his statement that changing social conditions is impractical?

c. Why is it that most citizens of the United States, regardless of objective circumstances, say they are happy?

After reading this chapter you will be able to answer the following questions:

■ What are social interventions?

■ Why are they important?

■ What is the value base of social interventions?

■ How do social interventions promote well-being and liberation?

■ What are the strengths and limitations of social interventions?


Meet Richard Wilkinson, world-renowned health scientist based in the United Kingdom. Through the publication of Unhealthy Societies: The Afflictions of Inequality (1996), Wilkinson changed the way many people think about health and well-being. He reported in the book the results of comparative studies on health, inequality and longevity. Main conclusion: unless we change the social environment in which people live, our chances of improving health and well-being are minimal (see also Gray, 2001). Based on his studies, Wilkinson (1996) regrets the current state of affairs in the helping professions.

Sometimes it is a matter of providing screening and early treatment, other times of trying to change some aspect of lifestyle, but always it is a matter of providing some service or intervention. This applies not just to health, but also to studies of a wide range of social, psychological, developmental and educational problems. What happens is that the original source of the problem in society is left unchanged (and probably unknown) while expensive new services are proposed to cater for the individuals most affected. Each new problem leads to a demand for additional resources for services to try to put right the damage which continues to be done. Because the underlying flaw in the system is not put right, it gives rise to a continuous flow, both of people who have suffered as a result, and of demands for special services to meet their needs. (p. 21)

The US Institute of Medicine concurs. In a study by this institute at the beginning of the century, the research committee recommends the endorsement of a ‘social environmental approach to health and health intervention’ (Smedley & Syme, 2000, p. 3). The co-chairs of the committee reported that ‘societal-level phenomena are critical determinants of health.... Stress, insufficient financial and social supports, poor diet, environmental exposures, community factors and characteristics, and many other health risks may be addressed by one-to-one intervention efforts, but such efforts do little to address the broader social and economic forces that influence these risks’ (Smedley & Syme, 2000, p. 3). Their point is that ‘fixing individuals’ without ‘fixing societies’ is obviously not enough. Make no mistake; this situation applies not only to health but also to psychosocial problems, discrimination, exclusion and marginality. We cannot eliminate racism by eliminating one racist at a time when the cultural norms uphold discrimination.

It is not enough to change ‘downstream’ individual-level factors such as lifestyle factors and biochemical pathways to disease. We also have to change ‘upstream’ societal-level factors such as public policies. As House et al. (2008) observe, “a growing body of evidence suggests that upstream social and economic determinants of health are of major health importance, and hence that social and economic policy and practice may be the major route to improving population health” (p. 22). The authors note the beneficial health effects of certain educational, incomesupport, civil rights, employment, welfare and housing policies. In the education arena, for example, they commend early childhood interventions and policies to promote advanced education. The longer people stay in school, the healthier they become. In the civil rights arena, they remind us that immediately following the implementation of the policy in the sixties, there was a remarkable improvement in the cardiovascular health of African American women.

While we applaud the change in focus from the personal to the collective, we question whether the new focus will lead to transformational or merely ameliorative changes in society. Are more social services the answer to oppression and discrimination? Will more Band-Aid solutions reduce the effects of economic insecurity? We think not. Though necessary, it is insufficient to shift focus from the personal to the social level. Once we work at the social level, we have to make sure that we will try to transform systems of oppression and inequality. We do not want to perfect systems that ultimately contribute to oppression and ill-health.

Meet Linda Stout, Founder of the Piedmont Peace Project in North Carolina, seasoned activist and author of Bridging the Class Divide and Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing (1996). Stout shares our concern for making social change, not just social aid:

Many people and organizations confuse social service with social change. Too often, people try to deal with whatever problem is at hand with ‘bandaids’, by treating the symptoms of social problems rather than the causes. It’s very tempting for activists to do this... to respond to whatever emergency is happening at the moment – to fix it quickly with whatever is within reach – rather than stop and look at the bigger picture. As Kip Tiernan of Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter in Boston, tells it, women are so busy trying to pull the babies that are drowning out of the river that they never stop to go to the head of the river to see who’s throwing them in. (Stout, 1996, pp. 105–6; original emphasis)

Linda Stout knows. She has been involved for many years in social action and social change. She knows the difference between Band-Aids and structural change. Stout worked with poor people in the Carolinas and beyond on literacy, voter registration, disarmament, gays and lesbians rights and other causes that made her a true believer in systemic change. She is not content with cosmetic changes or more services.

People often think social service – giving poor people things to help them out – is all that is needed to fix things. This kind of service is important, but it falls short of changing the systemic oppression that is the root of the problem. Social service is not the same as organizing people for social change. Providing services does not result in social change. (Stout, 1996, p. 106)

Our challenge is to move from social services to social change and from amelioration to transformation. Whereas amelioration is about treating the victims of the system, transformation is about changing the system itself. Systemic change is called second-order change, whereas minor reform within existing structures is called first-order change (Chetkovich & Kunreuther, 2006; Foster-Fishman &

Behrens, 2007; Foster-Fishamn, Nowell, & Yang, 2007; Watzlawick, Weakland & Fisch, 1974).

In this chapter we explore social interventions (SIs) and discuss their implications for second-order change and for transformation. In the next chapter, we discuss community and organizational interventions. Here we concentrate on large-scale interventions driven by either governments or social movement organizations (SMOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

What Are Social Interventions?

Social interventions are intentional processes designed to affect the well-being of the population through changes in values, policies, programs, distribution of resources, power differentials and cultural norms (Bennett, 1987; Maton, 2000). By intentional processes we mean interventions that are methodically planned and carefully executed. To achieve well-being at the personal, relational and collective domains, we have to attend to the various components provided in the definition above. To alter values without altering policies and programs is ineffectual. Re-writing policies without allocating more resources to the poor is merely window-dressing.

Our definition, we agree, sets a very high standard for what constitutes a valid SI. We expect this to change values, programs, policies and power relations. This is, indeed, a tall order. But, we argue, if we want to achieve transformation, as expressed in Chapter 7, then we must make an effort to go beyond the current state of affairs. We approach this task with conviction but also with great humility. We acknowledge that others before us have tried and understood the enormity of the task. This is not a deterrent, but rather a call to humility.

In general terms, SIs can be driven by government or by NGOs. Within government, community psychologists can work as ‘insiders’, trying to implement policies and programs that liberate people from oppressive forces (including government itself). Outside government, community psychologists can act as ‘outsiders’ in SMOs (e.g. the women’s movement; the disability rights movement) and NGOs (e.g. block associations in the United States, community safety groups; Greenpeace, Amnesty International, The Children’s Defense Fund); (Hall, 1995).

In the Belly of the Beast

To the average citizen, governments look like huge and amorphous structures that have a life of their own. Yet they consist of real people sitting in offices, making decisions that affect the lives of thousands and sometimes millions of people. Change in government policies is never quick, but community psychologists have an opportunity to influence policy directions by being inside the ‘belly of the beast’ (Kelly, 2007; Phillips, 2000; Shonkhoff & Phillips, 2000). Through the collection of taxes, governments have enormous resources at their disposal. How to use the money is a question of intense debate within government and across the political divide.

From the outside, government may seem ugly, ‘political’ and contentious. In fact, it often is. But if we don’t become involved, who will? If we resign ourselves to the exclusive role of outsiders, we will never have direct access to decisionmaking power or influence. This is a definite risk. Many people are put off by the idea of politics. The media have managed to equate politics with corruption and waste. But the fact is that politics is the vehicle for the transformation or preservation of just or unjust policies. It is possible that well-intentioned people may wish to pursue other avenues for social change, but it is essential to realize the strengths and limitations of each approach.

Governments are not monolithic entities. That is, not all parts of governments follow the same policy, and not all members of a particular ministry agree on policies and priorities. The challenge for community psychologists is to insert themselves in places where change can be promoted and to find sufficient supports within and outside government for their work. True, the work is hard, but the rewards can be enormous. Changing policies that will improve the well-being of millions of people can be very satisfying. Imagine if you were instrumental in implementing a more progressive taxation system, redistributing wealth from the top 10% of the population to the bottom 30% (George, 2002). Or if you were able to secure unemployment insurance for people made redundant due to plant transfers to developing countries. Or what if you participated in legislation to extend medical insurance to the entire population? (According to the US Census, in 2007 there were 45.7 million people without any kind of health insurance). Those would be pretty major achievements.

Challenging the Status Quo

Often, governments are at fault for failing to provide adequate resources for disadvantaged communities. When policies and practices discriminate, or fail to protect those with less power, it is time to challenge the status quo. In this chapter we will review SIs that vary in the degree to which they challenge the structures of power. Some social movements, such as the Civil Rights movement in the United States and the Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa challenged power structures and sought to change the distribution of rights among black and white people (Freeman & Johnson, 1999; Seedat et al., 2001). Other SIs target local government and are satisfied with less ambitious aims, such as better services or public transport (Orr, 2007; Smock, 2004; Speer & Hughey, 1995). Yet other organizations, such as health coalitions, seek to prevent HIV/AIDS or to improve services (Emshoff et al., 2007; Foster-Fishman, Berkowitz, et al., 2001; Foster-Fishman, Salem, Allen & Fahrbach, 2001).

Either from the inside, from the belly of the beast, or from the outside, challenging the status quo, the principle to remember is that we are there to link the immediate concerns of citizens with larger structures of inequality. We should not deny the immediate needs of abused children or rape victims. They must be carefully looked after. But if we want to prevent future instances of rape and child abuse, we have to look upstream. We should keep one eye on the river and one eye on the bridge.

What Is the Value-base of Social Interventions?

We have to distinguish between the overall values we wish to promote and the particular values we need to advance in a concrete situation. The values expressed in Chapters 2 and 3 call for the promotion of personal, relational and collective well-being. Our aim is to balance values of self-determination, caring and compassion, and respect for diversity with principles of social justice and sense of community. As John Ralston Saul (2001) observed, the merit of values is judged by their relative contribution to an overall state of well-being, achieved through tension and balance among complementary principles.

For a first step, this seems enough. We keep in mind the complementary set of values – not a single value, but a set of values – discussed in Chapter 3. But this is only the first step. Next, we have to ascertain what values are neglected in a particular social context and devise strategies to bring them from the background to the foreground. We agree that sense of community is a desirable aim for human societies, but if it turns into pressure to conform, the overall well-being of the individual is bound to suffer. We also agree that social justice must be fought for when it is absent; its pursuit, however, should not detract from caring about the partners with whom we collaborate.

In Box 8.1 we are reminded of our proclivity to privilege some values at the expense of others. When that happens, there are dire consequences for the cause of social justice and for its promoters. Linda’s story reminds us that we all face contradictions in our values. While seemingly everyone was working for poor people’s rights, some activists were discriminating against their own colleagues. Lesson? Values should not drive only the outcomes of SIs but also their very processes.

Box 8.1

Fighting for justice, oppressing your partners

Linda Stout, whom we met earlier in the chapter, is a community organizer and social activist. She founded the Piedmont Peace Project in North Carolina and worked on many political campaigns, including voter registration, literacy projects, nuclear disarmament, worker’s rights, welfare issues and others. Linda grew up poor and could not get the education she always wanted. Among activists, she was different. She didn’t speak like them; she didn’t have the middle-class manners other activists had. She was a lesbian in a mostly straight culture. Linda did excellent organizing work and always believed in fighting for the poor and the oppressed. She knew that fighting oppression would not be easy. She encountered opposition from local government, police and angry citizens who didn’t agree with her views. What she didn’t know, or was prepared for, was the discrimination that she would face within progressive social movements. This is what Linda had to say about her plight:

Because we are all products of the world we live in, it is understandable that oppression is also a problem within progressive movements. Most people involved in progressive organizations see themselves as fighting oppression that is ‘outside’, in the larger society. We all agree that our goal is to end oppression in the world. However, what we have found is that very often it is oppression on the inside that keeps us from achieving our goals. Progressive people from the oppressor group carry into their organizations all the things they’ve been taught about the group they serve and oppressive ways of behaving toward the ‘other’. Usually without intending it or seeing it, middle-class progressive people behave in ways that disempower low-income and working-class folks; whites do the same to people of color, men to women and heterosexuals to gay, lesbian and bisexual folks. (Stout, 1996, p. 89)

Value-driven processes are goals in themselves. Because of that, we have to concern ourselves with the value of accountability. How can we make changes in societies and how can we be held accountable for our actions? As noted in Chapter 3, without accountability, all the other values remain theoretical. Goethe put it well: ‘knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.’

Why Are Social Interventions So Important?

There are several answers to this question. The first and obvious one is that without SIs we can forget about the promotion of well-being and liberation. If we were living in an ideal society, devoid of conflict and blessed with plenty, we may not need to worry about liberation and struggles. But that is not the case. In formulating a new global agenda for health equity, the Commission on Social Determinants of Health of the World Health Organization adopts ‘a holistic view of social determinants of health’ (Commission on Social determinants of Health, 2008,

p. 1). In the view of commissioners,

The poor health of the poor, the social gradient in health within countries, and the marked health inequities between countries are caused by the unequal distribution of power, income, goods, and services, globally and nationally, the consequent unfairness in the immediate, visible circumstances of peoples lives – their access to health care, schools, and education, their conditions of work and leisure, their homes, communities, towns, or cities – and their chances of leading a flourishing life. This unequal distribution of health-damaging experiences is not in any sense a ‘natural’ phenomenon but is the result of a toxic combination of poor social policies and programmes, unfair economic arrangements, and bad politics. ... The global community can put this right but it will take urgent and sustained action, globally, nationally, and locally[AQ: Please check the sentence and advise.]. Deep inequities in the distribution of power and economic arrangements, globally, are of key relevance to health equity. This is no way implies ignoring other levels of action. There is a great deal that national and local governments can do. (Commission on Social Determinants of Health, 2008, p. 1)

The second answer to our leading question is that we need SIs because individual and organizational approaches are not adequate to address the range of problems that we collectively face (Maton, 2000). ‘Action on the social determinants of health must involve the whole of government, civil society and the local communities, business, global fora, and international agencies’ (Commission on Social Determinants of Health, 2008, p. 1). As noted elsewhere in the book, individual interventions are prone to blame victims, to be ineffectual, to stigmatize and to deflect attention from structural predicaments (see in particular Chapters 2 and 13). Social interventions are also important because they address power differences and their impact on health and well-being. Finally, SIs are our main vehicle for the promotion of transformational or second-order change. We present in Table 8.1 a summary of SIs that work on either amelioration or transformation.

In this review we mention briefly ameliorative interventions but concentrate primarily on SIs that are, or have the potential to become, transformative. We

Table 8.1 Ameliorative vs transformative social interventions





Contribute to population health Prevent epidemics

Social supports Public education

Provide basic necessities

Support full employment Equity legislation Progressive taxation system Eliminate poverty

Universal health insurance Universal family support

SMOs and NGOs/Outsider

Demand more services Pressure to improve community

Increased participation in local politics Funds for charity, research and demonstration projects

Oppose economic colonialism Resist globalization

Fight exploitation

Support networks of resistance Depowerment of powerful Create links of solidarity Sustainable communities Promote culture of equality Teach psychopolitical awareness review the actions of governments, NGOs and SMOs and the roles of community psychologists within these settings. In the next chapter we consider the case of citizen participation in community development, organizations, partnerships and coalitions.

What is the Role of Community Psychologists Working in Government?

For radicals and activists, this title doesn’t make sense. After all, isn’t government the main culprit of many of our social ills? This is only partly true. Although it is fashionable to blame governments for most of our problems, we have to remember that they are the custodians of public resources. Of course, some do a better job than others at safeguarding our natural resources and protecting public institutions, but that doesn’t make government antithetical to the idea of well-being; it only makes some of its policies antithetical to it (Chomsky, 2002).

Let’s consider first some of the ameliorative actions of governments (see Table 8.1). In some countries, Departments of Health make sure the water is potable and that every child is vaccinated. They also promote healthy eating and exercise (Marmot & Wilkinson, 1999; Smedley & Syme, 2000). Departments of Education provide free education and literacy training. Ministries of Transport make sure that cars do not emit illegal levels of pollutants and that most regions have access to adequate public transport. These are some of the bread-and-butter activities of governments and they rarely challenge the societal status quo; they don’t question the power structures. Although in wealthy countries we take these activities for granted, poor governments struggle to provide any kinds of water and transportation at all (Collier, 2007).

Some governments, however, engage in more than amelioration. Rich and poor countries alike can create profound changes in the well-being of the population. Some can even contribute to the liberation of oppressed groups within them. But national governments, especially in the Southern hemisphere, are subject to regulations imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and by the World Bank that interfere with their ability to improve quality of life. In countries of the Northern hemisphere, corporations put pressure on governments to cut taxes and reduce public spending. The common name for the influence of corporations and the IMF on governments is globalization (Gamble, 2001; Klein, 2007; Pilger, 2002; see also Chapter 15). Fighting globalization has become an important role for governments bent on protecting the sovereignty of their countries. We explore several roles for government at the national and international levels (Chomsky, 2002; Korten, 1995; Sen, 1999a).

Investing in Human Development

Sen (1999a, 1999b; 2001) challenges the dominant doctrine that economic growth inflicts short-term pain for long-term gain. Sen claims that investments in education, health and social services in fact contribute to economic strength. He challenges the received wisdom that ‘human development is a kind of luxury that a country can afford only when it grows rich’ (Sen, 1999a, p. 10). Based on evidence from East Asia, including Japan, Sen demonstrates that policies in favour of comprehensive human development do not retard, but rather enhance economic prosperity:

These economies went comparatively early for massive expansion of education and other ways of broadening the entitlements that allow the bulk of the people to participate in economic transactions and social change. This happened well before breaking the restraints of general poverty; indeed, that broad approach greatly contributed to breaking the restraints of poverty. (Sen, 1999a, pp. 10–11)

Investments in education, health and social facilities enabled East Asian economies to work on economic deprivation quite successfully. Their major shortcoming, however, was not to plan for the possibility of sudden destitution that comes with economic cycles and recessions. As a result, during the 1997 economic crisis millions of working people suddenly became poor or even destitute in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea. ‘Even though a fall of 5 to 10 percent of total national income (or of GNP) is comparatively moderate, it can decimate lives and create misery for millions’ (Sen, 1999a, p. 40).

According to Sen, protective security is as important as economic progress. Many of the tiger economies of Asia neglected to install safety nets to catch the victims of economic downturns. This is when the lack of democracy can be most severely felt. For recessions hit most harshly the poor, who, without unions or protective institutions, fall rapidly into destitution:

The victims in Indonesia may not have taken very great interest in democracy when things went up and up. But when things came tumbling down for some parts of the populations, the lack of democratic institutions kept their voices muffled and ineffective. (Sen, 1999a, p. 40)

In Latin America, economic crises have had the similar effect of increasing poverty and exacerbating inequality. Based on data from 48 growth and recession periods for 12 Latin American countries, Janvry and Sadoulet (2001) argue that recessions are systematically devastating for the poor. They also note that the gains lost during recessions are not recovered in future spells of growth.

A 1% decline in GDPpc in a recession episode eliminates the gains in urban poverty reduction achieved by 3.7% growth in GDPpc under early growth, the gains in rural poverty reduction achieved by 2% growth under early growth and the gains in inequality reduction achieved by 9% growth under late growth. Recession has a particularly strong ratchet effect on inequality since subsequent growth is unable to compensate for the higher level of inequality achieved. (Janvry & Sadoulet, 2001, p. 37)

At the national level, economists and community developers debate the merit of rapid economic growth as a means of overcoming poverty. Sen (1999b) makes the point that ‘the impact of economic growth depends much on how the fruits of economic growth are used’ (p. 44, emphasis in original). He further observes that the positive connection between life expectancy and Gross National Product (GNP) per head works primarily through investments in health care and poverty removal. In other words, growth per se does not necessarily translate into human development, unless it is properly invested in health, education, social security, social services and employment programs. The Commission on Social Determinants of Health, of which Sen was a member, noted that economic growth is without question important, particularly for poor countries, as it gives the opportunity to provide resources to invest in improvement of the lives of their population. But growth by itself, without appropriate social policies to ensure reasonable fairness in the way its benefits are distributed, brings little benefit to health equity. (2008, p. 1)

Indeed, during the 1997 crisis, the failure of some Asian countries to invest the gains of economic growth in human development resulted in devastation for millions of people (Sen, 1999a). But there is another route to human development and poverty alleviation that is not linked to rapid or elevated economic growth. ‘In contrast with the growth-mediated mechanism, the support-led process does not operate through fast economic growth, but works through a program of skillful social support of health care, education and other relevant social arrangements’ (Sen, 1999b, p. 46). This is exactly where community psychologists can make a difference.

The success of this approach is seen in countries such as Costa Rica, Sri Lanka and the State of Kerala in India (see Box 8.2). These places achieved rapid reductions in mortality rates and marked improvement in living conditions without much economic growth.

In poor or rich countries, community psychologists can play several roles in the promotion of human development. They can work in any one of the following state, provincial or federal ministries: human services, community services, child and family services, health, urban planning, multiculturalism, care of the elderly, disabilities and others.

Key roles for community psychologists working in any of these government departments are program developer and program evaluators. Governments develop multiple projects in the fields of health, education, community development, mental health, recreation, multiculturalism, urban planning and others. Program developers work with various levels of government to implement new initiatives. In Ontario, Canada, for instance, a government officer worked with several communities to implement the Better Beginnings Better Futures Program, an early intervention and prevention project. She collaborated with various communities and teams of researchers in implementing the initiative. Started in the early 1990s, the government officer wanted community members to be well represented in the planning and execution of the program. In order to ensure resident participation in the various stages of the program, she instituted a procedure whereby all committees should consist of at least 51% of local residents. This enabled a great deal of resident participation throughout the many sites of the project in Ontario. Although seemingly a simple intervention, the psychologist opened the door for community members to gain meaningful participation (Pancer & Cameron, 1994). Consistent with the values of community psychology expressed in Chapter 3, this government psychologist made a difference from within government.

As community psychologists, our skills in collaboration and partnership creation can make a positive contribution to programs, as would our knowledge on what works, what doesn’t and how to evaluate programs (Nelson, Amio et al., 2000; Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001). Government interventions such as the Better Beginnings Better Futures and the many programs in Kerala require resident participation, collaboration across sectors, value-based partnerships and a social change agenda that goes beyond amelioration. By engaging community members in the process of human development, community psychologists can play a role in the empowerment of disadvantaged groups.

Another important role for community psychologists within government is that of health promoter. Community psychologists can assist in disseminating health messages and using the media to draw attention to the risks of excessive drinking, sedentary lifestyles, smoking and fatty foods. The media have been used successfully in various countries to improve health and prevent the risks of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer (McAlister, 2000). In addition, community psychologists in government can work with various human service organizations to increase the support they give to people with severe mental health problems (see Chapter 21).

Promoting Equality

Based on international comparisons Wilkinson (1996) arrived at the conclusion that countries with a smaller gap between rich and poor produce healthier outcomes for their citizens than do countries with a large gap. Because of more egalitarian income distribution, the life expectancy of Japanese people dramatically increased by 7.5 years for men and 8 years for women in the 21 years from 1965 to 1986. This dramatic increase took place between the years 1965 and 1986. Japanese people experience the highest life expectancy in the world, almost 80 years, in large part because in that period of time they became the advanced society with the narrowest gap in income differences. Communities with higher levels of social cohesion and narrow gaps between rich and poor produce better health outcomes than wealthier societies with higher levels of social disintegration. We have known for a long time that poverty is a powerful predictor of poor health (Marmot & Wilkinson, 1999), but now there is strong evidence that equality and social cohesion are also powerful determinants of well-being.

As Wilkinson observed, social cohesion is mediated by commitment to positive social structures, which, in turn, is related to social justice. Individuals contribute to collective well-being when they feel that the collective works for them as well. Social cohesion and coherence are ‘closely related to social justice’ (Wilkinson, 1996, p. 221).

The job of promoting equality is particularly challenging for community psychologists. It is challenging because most societal structures reflect and reproduce inequality (Korten, 1995; Ryan, 1994). As policy developers, community psychologists have a chance to influence, to some extent, policies, programs and practices that affect inequality. Based on research, information provided by social planners, government priorities and values, policy developers create new laws and programs that can affect the lives of millions of people. This type of work is very well suited for community psychologists, as it integrates knowledge of research, community needs and interventions (Phillips, 2000). The work of Shonkoff and Phillips (2000) on early childhood development is an example of policy development that can influence inequality in education. Working for the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine in the United States, they formed a committee of experts that formulated recommendations for early interventions. Many of their policy recommendations deal with closing the gap between rich and poor children.

Overcoming inequality in schooling is a major arena of intervention for community psychologists. Rhona Weinstein (2002), recipient of the 2001 award for contributions to theory and research in CP, outlined possibilities for action for community psychologists at research and policy levels. Education, for Weinstein, is a basic human right of which many minority children are deprived due to discriminating policies and practices in schools and communities. In a famous 1954 case in the United States (Brown vs Board of Education), Kenneth Clark, a former president of the American Psychological Association, submitted evidence regarding the deleterious effects of segregation on the mental health of black children (Clark, 1974). That evidence was highly influential in promoting racial integration in schools. If full equality in education were achieved in most countries, a truly transformational leap could take place in the world.

Another potentially transformative intervention is the development of policies that redistribute wealth and income. Community psychologists can develop policies for demonstrating the positive effects of equality on well-being, as shown by Wilkinson (1996), and try to develop policies to implement progressive tax laws that redistribute wealth from the richest echelons of society to those in need, such as single parents without supports (George, 2002). Alternatively, they can develop policies that challenge exclusion (see Chapter 14 for examples of social exclusion in the United Kingdom) and discrimination (see Chapters 16, 18, 19 and 20 in particular).

As action researchers, community psychologists can influence policy processes through the dissemination of relevant data. Wilkinson (1996) made a persuasive case for linking health and equality. He presented the data in such a way that governments started to pay attention. Community psychologists can refine the science of research dissemination in order to maximize the impact of studies linking inequality with oppression and ill-health. Some useful but hitherto unappreciated dissemination strategies include videos, summary bulletins, newsletters, workshops and consultation sessions. In our project on family wellness for the Canadian government, we developed summary bulletins in English and French. We distributed thousands of them across the country and made presentations and audio conferences to spread the message. Some Canadian provinces are now using the materials to reconsider their child welfare policies (Prilleltensky, Nelson & Peirson, 2001a; see also Chapter 22).

Psychologists with a social, community and developmental orientation have secured influential positions as advisors to legislators and policy makers. In a few cases, psychologists have successfully run for public positions (see Lorion, Iscoe, DeLeon & VandenBos, 1996). To strengthen the connection between CP and public policy we recommend more training programs such as the one developed at the Florida Mental Health Institute (Weinberg, 2001) and more policy-oriented research.

Protecting National Resources and the Public Sector

We move now from the national to the international scene. Whereas in the past powerful countries invaded territories and dispossessed people of their resources by brute force, in the present, international lending agencies pressure poor countries to open their markets to foreign competition (Gamble, 2001). Whereas in the past, raw materials and slave labour were extracted from colonies, nowadays economic empires expect the poor to buy their products (Korten, 1995, 2001). In many instances, as in the case of Haiti (Aristide, 2000), countries became poor precisely because of a history of colonization, oppression and dependency. Forceful contact with colonizers not only depleted environmental resources but also tarnished social traditions of native groups. In the case of indigenous Australians this resulted in economic deprivation, psychosocial problems and health outcomes comparable to so-called Third World countries (see Chapter 16).

As poor countries depend – often because of histories of colonization – on foreign loans, lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) dictate terms and conditions that wipe out social services, health care and public education (Gamble, 2001). Economic growth and efficiency, touted as the only way to prosperity, require the privatization of public utilities and services, resulting in massive unemployment of public sector workers and in restricted access to health, education (Korten, 1995; Shaoul, 2001) and sometimes even water, as in the case of Ghana (see www.africapolicy.org and www.challengeglobalization.org for updates).

The case of rice producers in Haiti illustrates the dynamics of globalization quite well. Governments are forced to open markets and lift restrictions on imports; local producers have to compete with cheaper foreign products that are either subsidized or produced with more efficient equipment. Once the local competition is eliminated, prices go up and fewer people have access to them (Aristide, 2000; Korten, 1995; Weisbrot, 1999).

The public sector often comes under attack by policies of privatization. In the field of education, for instance, soon after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, there was a concerted effort by promoters of free market capitalism to replace the public school system with vouchers and charter schools (Klein, 2007). The belief that competition will offer poor students better choices resulted in flight of good teachers, principals and students from poor schools to magnet and charter school, lowering even further the quality of education in disadvantaged communities. As Hargreaves and Find (2006) observe,

Schools and school leaders are on an uphill slope. Injustice is everywhere. When American schools were segregated by race, governments introduced busing and integration, only to see wealthy whites take flight to protected enclaves in the suburbs. Because people in many countries have historically separated themselves into different communities by class or race, turning their local schools into segregated institutions, some reformers suggested market choice and magnet school and charter school options so that minorities and the poor wouldn’t be confined only to what their own neighbourhoods could offer. However, market and magnet school strategies ended up exaggerating the injustices even further as the affluent parental ‘tourists’ exercised their right to choose, while ‘vagabond’ parents with few financial or social resources were left even further behind. (p. 148)

As if promoting equality at the national and global level was not difficult enough, imagine how hard it would be to challenge global policies. Psychologists working in government have limited opportunities to resist globalization. If they live in rich countries, most of their governments espouse globalization because they want access to new markets. If they live in poor countries, their governments have limited options for resisting globalization. Opposing globalization is something that may be easier to do from outside government. In the next section of this chapter we explore some opportunities to use psychological research and action in solidarity work at the national and international levels (see, for example, the work of Psychologists for Social Responsibility at www.psysr.org and PsyACT – Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together www.psyact.org).

It would seem that community psychologists are better positioned to defend public services than to fight global economic trends. One way they can do this is by linking with external groups to put pressure on government to be accountable to the people. Community psychologists can open doors to citizens to enter the halls of power and learn the rules of the game. In one telling case, residents of Better Beginnings Better Futures communities organized themselves, with the help of government psychologists, to fight budget cuts in their funding. The programs withstood various changes in governments and several ministers with shifting political agendas.

What Are the Strengths and Limitations of Government Social Interventions?

The resources held by governments enable them to create profound change: sometimes positive sometimes negative. The benefits, which can be classified into four categories, speak to the issue of sustainability (Fullan, 2005; Hargreaves & Fink, 2006):

a. Breadth. Government action on health, education, transportation, housing and human rights can reach far and wide and touch almost every citizen of the country. New laws banning smoking or discrimination against same-sex couples affect everybody in urban and rural regions. This benefit may be regarded as wide horizontal impact.

b. Depth. Changes promoted by governments affect not only vast geographical regions but within each location they affect human beings deeply. Each individual is deeply affected by human rights legislation or a progressive taxation system. Government interventions have the potential to lift children and families out of poverty and to prevent epidemics by massive immunization campaigns.

c. Length. Once a change is written into the law, interventions can last a long time. New educational policies can last decades, as can mental health initiatives such as deinstitutionalization. The longevity of the changes can have profound impacts on people’s lives.

d. Sustainability. Once a commitment is made, resources are likely to be made available until a change in power takes place.

Some of the weaknesses of government action can be gleaned from preceding discussions. In brief, they are:

a. Ameliorative. The first risk of government action pertains to its ameliorative nature. Almost by definition, governments do not want to alter power structures. This would constitute self-depowerment, a noble aim but not one characteristic of people in office. As a result, we face interventions that engage in bandaid approaches (Taylor, 1996).

b. Conservative. In a similar vein, many policies concentrate on changing individuals and not the social environment. Even with the best of intentions, governments often end up blaming the victim (Ryan, 1971).

c. Regressive. In some instances, governments are not only conservative, they are outright regressive. Privatization in the United Kingdom is a case in point. Initiated in full force by Margaret Thatcher, the result of privatization has been a deterioration of public services and unemployment (Shaoul, 2001). Very similar was the fate of Canadian public policy under the governments of the 1980s and 1990s (Barlow & Campbell, 1995). The decimation of the public service and safety nets in developing countries has resulted in massive hunger and homelessness (Sen, 1999a, 1999b).

What Are Some of the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working in Government?

Governments change, and with them their philosophy and pilots. The crew does not get to choose the pilot. If the pilot’s philosophy is congruent with the crew’s, there will be a smooth ride, but if it differs, it is usually the crew who have to change their views. We know a few psychologists who started their jobs under one government and were compelled to resign when governments changed. They found it nearly impossible to work with people whose philosophies were antithetical to their views of health and well-being. From being supporters of consumers and enablers of community action one day they were expected to cut services and impose top-down managerial styles the next. To survive under adverse circumstances workers need the support of their peers and superiors. The dilemma of working for someone whose ideology you do not share is a difficult one. Not all psychologists can afford to resign and look for another job, especially when governments are cutting down funding for social services.

Another serious dilemma is what Prilleltensky, Walsh-Bowers and Rossiter (1999) called ‘systemic entanglements’. This is a situation in which psychologists have to be accountable to several ‘masters’. Psychologists working in schools present a case in point. They have to report to their professional supervisors, to school principals, to superintendents, to area managers and others. And, of course, they feel that their primary mandate is to help children. When various superiors have conflicting perspectives on what is good for the child and the family, the psychologist find him/herself in a dilemma. Being able to resolve this dilemma is not always easy. Clarity of roles and expectations, as well as a degree of autonomy, are vital. But this requires cooperative partners, which one cannot always take for granted.

A related dilemma derives from clashes of values. When the psychologist believes in resident participation in design and delivery of programs but his or her colleagues are less than enthusiastic, conflicts arise. Siding with the community members can stigmatize you and antagonize your peers – not a cheap price to pay for your values. We always recommend working with a group of supporters in peer supervision, either inside or outside the organization. Situations such as those just described require support and understanding by people who know your work (Rossiter, Prilleltensky & Walsh-Bowers, 2000; Rossiter, Walsh-Bowers & Prilleltensky, 2002).

What Is the Role of Community Psychologists in Social Movements and Non-Government Organizations?

We move from the work of ‘insiders’ to the role of ‘outsiders’ (Hall, 1995). In general, social movements and social movement organizations (SMOs) tend to be more transformative than non-government organizations (NGOs). Yet many social movements collaborate with NGOs and vice versa. Sometimes NGOs are part of networks that support social movements. Hall (1995) explains the relationship between the two. Social movements share the following three features:

a. Social change: social movements promote or resist some kind of social change in order to uphold an explicit set of values

b. People power: people come together to promote or resist the change, and

c. Collective action: people undertake collective actions such as sit-ins, strikes, marches, media campaigns, protests and others.

Some, but not all, NGOs try to advance the three features of social movements (Chetkovitch & Kunreuther, 2006). Others can be very conservative. Here we concern ourselves primarily with NGOs that support social movements in line with the goals and values of CP, as explained in Chapters 1, 2 and 3. Examples of social movements include the women’s movement, the human rights movement and the environmental movement, which are supported, respectively, by NGOs such as the National Organization for Women in the United States, Amnesty International and Greenpeace (Freeman & Johnson, 1999). In contrast to these movements, which are in line with the values of CP, some movements oppose the principles of liberation and well-being that we espouse and uphold instead patriarchal institutions (Green, 1999; Tarrow, 1998).

As ‘outsiders’ social movements have fewer resources than governments do. In fact, the very essence of social movements is often predicated on getting more resources. We explore below some of the processes leading to the emergence of social movements and some of the strategies used to obtain more material or symbolic resources (Bourdieu, 1998). Depending on context, strategy, traditions and leadership, movements may use more or less contentious strategies to get their points across (Della Porta & Diani, 1999; Katsiaficas, 1997; Tarrow, 1998).

Roots of Social Movements

Based on the work of social movement scholars and activists (Bourdieu, 1998; Della Porta & Diani, 1999; Freeman & Johnson, 1999; Gerlach, 1999; Hall, 1995; Kahn, 1982; Katsiaficas, 1997; Stout, 1996; Tarrow, 1998), we identify the following roots of social movements.

Suffering and Deprivation. People are driven to action when some of their basic human rights are denied (Hall, 1995; Tarrow, 1998). We can think of suffering and deprivation as the opposite of well-being and liberation. Manifestations of suffering are present at the collective, relational and personal domains. Concrete examples of suffering derive from the lives of poor people. At the collective level, poor people in the Southern hemisphere suffer from two sets of devastating experiences: (a) insecurity, chaos, violence, and (b) economic exploitation. Narayan and colleagues (Narayan, Chambers, Shah & Petesch, 1999; Narayan, Chambers et al., 2000; Narayan, Patel et al., 2000) interviewed thousands of people who commented on the fear of living with uncertainty, deprivation and lack of protection.

In the struggle for survival, the social relations of the poor also suffer. Suffering at the relational level is marked by: heightened fragmentation and exclusion, and by fractious social relations. The personal dimension of suffering in poverty is characterized by powerlessness, limitations and restricted opportunities in life; physical weakness; shame and feelings of inferiority; and gender and age discrimination. Impotence in the light of ominous societal forces such as crime and economic displacement fuels the sense of powerlessness. This type of suffering engenders justified rage and indignation in many poor people. When the suffering is tied to an assessment of the power differentials leading to it, consciousness-raising takes place.

Consciousness-raising. Suffering in itself is not enough to generate action. People have to connect their plight to external factors. Otherwise, fatalism and internalized oppression ensue (Moane, 1999). Bombarded with messages of incompetence, many poor people believe they are to blame for their misfortune (Stout, 1996). Connections between personal suffering and external roots of oppression and exploitation are the beginning of consciousness-raising (Cerullo & Wiesenfeld, 2001; McLaren & Lankshear, 1994). It is only when people begin to unveil the societal causes of oppression that a new awareness ensues. Although this is only the first step in bringing about change, it is highly liberating because people discover that they are not to blame for their suffering and that they have the capacity to challenge the status quo (Cerullo & Wiesenfeld, 2001; Freire, 1972; Hirsch, 1999).

Congealing events. Although discrimination and exclusion may be the daily bread of many people, changes in consciousness often do not take place until there is a crisis or a catalytic event that puts suffering in sharp relief. Such was the case when Rosa Parks occupied a ‘white’ seat in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on 7 December, 1955, triggering the bus boycott and the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was very influential in the civil rights movement (Freeman, 1999).

Political opportunities. Despite the presence of the three conditions listed previously, efforts to create a movement may be thwarted by political repression. If the regime does not permit freedom of expression or association, organizers will encounter barriers (Hall, 1995; Tarrow, 1998). The regime has to be democratic enough to enable people to organize without fear of repression or violations of human rights. At the same time, the political climate has to be such that popular support will be gained for the emerging movement.

Preparing for Action

The next step in the formation of social movements is the progression from consciousness to action. Collective action requires coordination and sophisticated levels of organization, communication and strategies. In this section we review some of the necessary factors in the transition from awareness to preparation for action.

Multiple sources of support. Some scholars argue that the presence of diverse organizations within the movement is a vital condition for action. If some organizations face difficulties, others assume the leadership and continue the preparation. In fact, not all organizations need to have precisely the same ideology; it is enough to have an agreement on broad issues.

Gerlach (1999) studied the structure of social movements and concluded that there are two main characteristics that make them resilient. The first one is the fact that they consist of multiple groups that serve different and complementary functions. The second feature is that these diverse groups share symbolic and concrete resources. They have common reading materials, invite the same speakers to talk to their groups and often have overlapping memberships.

People with serious mental health problems have been subjected to oppressive treatments by ‘well-meaning’ helpers (Whitaker, 2002; see also Chapter 21). Their oppressive experiences congealed into a large social movement to reclaim their rights and ability to participate in their treatment (Chamberlin, 1990; Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001b). Psychologists played a role in the anti-psychiatry movement and in the consumer/survivors movements. The history of these movements shows that they rely on various groups and that they share members and an ideology.

Congruence of interests. While disagreements across organizations are common and expected, it is important to emphasize common interests and goals. For a social movement to engage in action, partners have to agree on certain actions that will advance the overall well-being of the affected population. ‘Purists’ remain isolated and fail to collaborate because they expect everyone else to think exactly like them. Diversity within movements has to be accepted and managed carefully (Della Porta

& Diani, 1999). Organizations may not have shared values, but they may have shared opposition, which is often enough to engage in a common struggle.

Communications network. One of the factors that ensure collective action is disseminating information to as many people as possible about a particular concern. Newsletters, websites, public rallies, media campaigns, all are important in letting people know that there is an injustice that must be addressed (Freeman, 1999). The role of networker is an important one for community psychologists (FosterFishman, Berkowitz et al., 2001).

Organizational effectiveness. Organize, organize and organize! This is the lesson we derive from organizers such as Si Kahn (1982) and Saul Alinsky (1971). Each organization within the social movement has to perfect the art of internal and external effectiveness. This requires a delicate balance between attending to the needs of their members and completing tasks. Two threats assail organizational effectiveness. One is the lack of attention to members’ needs for personal attention (Speer et al., 1995). The other is the lack of attention to task orientation. We have to be good at both. Without attending to members’ voices we neglect relational and personal wellness. Without attending to specific tasks we neglect the aims of the movement.

As organizational leaders, community psychologists can help in devising a strategic plan; establishing democratic decision-making processes; inspiring members; monitoring the implementation of actions and taking the pulse of the membership to know whether people are, overall, satisfied with the work; or feeling disaffected or burnt out. In essence, the leader has to keep an eye on the internal health of the organization and the external effectiveness of its actions (Maton & Salem, 1995).

Resource mobilization. This refers to the infusion of human, intellectual, organizational and material resources into emerging movements. ‘According to this model, strain leads to discontent, from which grievances result, yet the movement will remain dormant until resources are infused’ (Hall, 1995, p. 6). Jenkins (1999) compared three movements launched by Californian farm workers since World War II and came to the conclusion that the one that succeeded, the United Farm Workers, did so because of the mobilization of essential resources. ‘The crucial ingredients for the UFW’s success were the mobilization strategy adopted by the union organizers and major changes in national politics that enabled the UFW to mobilize sufficient external resources to compensate for the powerlessness of farmworkers’ (Jenkins, 1999, p. 278).

Psychologist David Hallman and the United Church of Canada mobilized their resources to stop Nestlé from distributing infant formula in developing countries. David Hallman (1987) described his role working for the United Church of Canada on the boycott of the Nestlé corporation. Nestlé was the major marketer of infant formula, developed in the 1800s by Henri Nestlé, to women in developing nations. Advertising in hospitals and free samples were provided to new mothers, with infant formula as a symbol of Western affluence and progress. By the time the free samples were exhausted, mothers’ breast milk had dried up and they were forced to use formula. This resulted in increased rates of infant malnutrition and mortality brought about by poor conditions for the use of formula in developing countries, including lack of clean water, lack of refrigeration, mothers’ diluting formula because they found it expensive and difficulty sterilizing bottles and teats. All of these conditions can increase infants’ exposure to sources of infection.

As these problems became evident to health care workers, a coalition of community groups across the world was formed in 1977 to oppose the promotion of formula. The Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT), which consisted of religious organizations, health care organizations, women’s groups, nurses, the La Leche league and others, decided to conduct an international boycott of Nestlé products. The United Church of Canada donated David Hallman’s time to work with INFACT and the boycott committee. In 1984, three years after the boycott started, Nestlé met with INFACT representatives and resolved all issues, thus ending the boycott. This social intervention illustrates the importance of coalitions and their mobilization for social change. What is remarkable about this intervention is that there was an organized worldwide outcry and opposition to a major international corporation which had a successful impact that has benefited babies throughout developing countries. And a community psychologist was behind it!

Collective Action Strategies

When discontent has matured into organization and when frustration has turned into motivation for change, it is time for action. A number of strategic actions have proven efficient in the past.

Recruitment. Numbers count. Every social change organizations needs volunteers and paid staff to spread the message of change, to talk to new recruits, mail information, talk to the media, go to protests, learn about issues and write briefs. Strategic recruiters go to places where discontent is latent or manifest and where large numbers of sympathizers may be found. Faith and religious organizations often offer support for social justice causes (Hall, 1995; Speer & Hughey, 1995).

Media campaigns. The role of the media cannot be underestimated. As French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu noted, the media are, overall, a factor of depoliticization, which naturally acts more strongly on the most depoliticized section of the public.... Television (much more than the newspapers) offers an increasingly depoliticized, aseptic, bland view of the world and it is increasingly dragging down the newspapers in its slide into demagogy and subordination to commercial values. (1998, pp. 73–4)

The challenge to counteract this trend has to be taken seriously by psychologists interested in social change. Effective social movements nurture writers who can express the movement’s views in mainstream and alternative media.

The skills of community psychologists as researchers and writers cannot be underestimated in media campaigns. In Chapter 20 you will see how community psychologists helped to mobilize people with disabilities in letter-writing campaigns. Social movements require up-to-date information to educate their own members and the public about issues of concern. Information on the source, scope and effects of pollution or discriminatory policies and practices can be vital for strategic actions such as recruitment or media campaigns.

Increasingly grassroots organizations wish to evaluate the effectiveness of their actions (Dimock, 1992). Programs and actions may be measured against values and/or outcomes (see website). Community psychologists can help organizations to find out whether their efforts are congruent with their own values and with predicted or desirable effects. As program evaluators, community psychologists can contribute to the improvement of campaigns and collective action.

Writers can express information and the values of the movement in impassioned ways. Dennis Fox, a psychologist and co-founder of the Radical Psychology Network (www.radpsynet.org), often writes for the popular media to raise awareness about social issues and social injustice. His articles and commentaries may be read on www.dennisfox.net.

In addition to writers and researchers, social movements need eloquent speakers. Movements need articulate representatives who can speak with confidence in front of a TV camera or a city council. While in graduate school, CP students often make presentations to colleagues in class and at conferences. These experiences strengthen their public-speaking skills and their ability to debate issues. These competencies cannot be underestimated, particularly when working with marginalized people who often feel intimidated by audiences (Stout, 1996).

Coalitions. As indicated by Gerlach (1999; see the section ‘Multiple Sources of Support’, discussed previously), effective social movements are most resilient when they share the load. In the case of the Pro-Choice movement in the United States, for instance, Staggenborg (1999) found that more progress was achieved by the work of coalitions than by the work of individual organizations. Furthermore, she found that established organizations with paid staff were more efficient in their coalition work than informal groups staffed mainly by volunteers. Similar findings were reported in a special section of the American Journal of Community Psychology dealing with community coalition building (Wolff, 2001). In fighting poverty, Narayan, Chambers and colleagues (2000) report that ‘coalitions representing poor people’s organizations are needed to ensure that the voices of the poor are heard and reflected in decision making at the local, national and global levels’ (p. 265).

As coalition builders community psychologists can help in the identification of shared goals and missions (Nelson, 1994). Applying principles of collaboration, community psychologists can bridge differences and create bonds of commonality where shared values exist. Building value-based partnerships for solidarity is a task that calls for many community psychological skills. To promote the values of caring and compassion, health, self-determination, power sharing, human diversity and social justice, we need to engage with partners in four skilful tasks: building relationships and trust among partners, establishing clear agreements and norms of reciprocity, sharing power and resources and challenging ourselves to make sure that we do not perpetuate, consciously or unconsciously, oppressive practices (Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001).

Lobbying and political influence. Franke and Chasin (2000) concluded that ‘Kerala’s quality-of-life achievements result from redistribution. But why has redistribution occurred in Kerala?’ (p. 24). According to the authors, the answer lies in the century-long history of popular movements in the State. ‘These movements have gone through many stages, from caste improvement associations to trade unions and peasant associations to Communist parties to the Kerala People’s Science Movement’ (Franke & Chasin, 2000, p. 24). These social movements have forced the government to listen to the concerns of the poor and have lobbied successfully for the introduction of poverty alleviation measures. The importance of social movements in reducing poverty cannot be underestimated. The case of Kerala demonstrates that governments can respond to social movements and coalitions. Through participatory democracy and civic associations, citizens created enough pressure on government to institute land reform and other distributive policies that enhanced the well-being of the poor.

Protest. Sometimes the only way to get attention is to engage in contentious actions such as disruption of meetings, occupation of premises, road blockades, petitions or civil disobedience. In Edwardian Britain, women campaigning for the vote chained themselves in public spaces to make their point. In 1930, Gandhi marched 380 kilometres to the sea to protest about the salt monopoly of colonial interests in India (Brazier, 1999). In Copenhagen, young people called attention to homelessness and abuse in the 1970s through a number of occupations of vacant buildings. A wellknown occupation took place in 1971 in Christiania, an abandoned military base, where the Children’s Liberation Front was established and provided housing and employment opportunities for hundreds of young people for several years (Katsiaficas, 1997). When I (IP) visited Christiania in 1978 it was still going strong.

Community psychologists Speer and Hughey (1995) studied the strategies of the Pacific Institute of Community Organizing (PICO). While not exactly a social movement in scope, PICO can mobilize large numbers of people for protest and local action. The organization usually goes through a cycle of assessment, research, action and reflection. Social movements engage in similar, if more prolonged, phases.

Community psychologists can contribute to each one of these phases as community researchers, planners of action and organizational leaders.

What Are the Strengths and Limitations of SMOs and NGOs?

Social movements may not have the resources governments do, but they have the potential to create consciousness to change government itself. Anti-colonial movements, labour movements, human rights movements, the women’s movement – all have had an enduring impact in the past century (Brazier, 1999). Some of the clear strengths of movements are as follows:

Transformative. Movements seek radically to alter oppressive power structures. Anti-apartheid movements in South Africa and civil rights movements in the United States managed to transform the way millions of people are treated in law and in front of each other (Freeman, 1999; Seedat et al., 2001).

Participatory. Unlike government interventions, which can be top-down, social movements recruit, rely on and reach out to people who are disenfranchised and oppressed. Poor and disadvantaged people have an opportunity to participate in creating their own destiny. In Latin America, community psychologists collaborate with social change movements in enhancing community participation (Cerullo & Wiesenfeld, 2001; Reich, Riemer, Prilleltensky & Montero, 2007; Rosa, 1997).

Integrative. Social movements, at their best, promote not only social change but also meaning in life (Matustik, 1998). The women’s movement promoted not only changes in policies, which are not only crucial on their own right but also changes in personal philosophy (hooks, 2000, 2002). Such collective action fostered a new way of life, a new way of relating and a new way of being in the world. Women in the movement were concerned not only with changing governments and corporations but also with transforming sexual and family relationships. It was about a philosophy of life as much as anything else. The same can be said of the work of activists in El Salvador, who fought not only the government but also forms of oppression at every level in the community. The outcome of this was devotion to a cause and a passion for meaning in life (Rosa, 1997).

But with strengths come weaknesses. These are some that concern us:

Unaccountable. Due to the informal structure of some social movements, some people allow themselves liberties that would not be tolerated in more formal structures. Katsiaficas (1997), for instance, noted the aggression displayed by some youngsters in the youth movement in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s.

Contradictory. As noted in Box 8.1, Stout (1996) reported the inconsistent behaviour of some of her peers. While highly concerned about social justice on the outside, some neglected basic values on the inside. Contradictions are pervasive and must be carefully monitored. Means of accountability articulated in Chapter 6 may be brought to bear on these two points.

Transitory. Some movements, such as the student movement in France in 1968, do not manage to survive the initial stages of formation. Following the student uprising, some gains were achieved and some changes were made to educational policy. However, as Tarrow (1998) pointed out, the movement did not last long. Associated with this risk is the threat of cooptation (Salem, Foster-Fishman & Goodkind, 2002).

Insular and internecine. Some movements become so focused on the rights of their own members that they fail to establish bonds of solidarity with others who are also oppressed (Benhabib, 1996). Worse still, some engage in internal fights that detract from the cause of solidarity (Della Porta & Diani, 1999; Tarrow, 1998).

Indifferent to diversity. While solidarity with other oppressed groups is healthy, indifference to their unique circumstances is not. Assuming that one type of oppression is similar to the next violates the principle of diversity and diminishes self-determination.

What are the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working in SMOs and NGOs?

First and foremost, income is an issue. It is hard to get well-paid jobs in SMOs and NGOs. Jobs are scarce and they are often only temporary. Without a guaranteed source of income, it is hard to make a living from activism. Many community psychologists volunteer their time to work for a variety of causes.

A second dilemma pertains to expectations and task orientation. Social movements consist of people from diverse backgrounds, some of whom may not be used to efficient ways of working. Adjusting to the norms of the organization is a challenge for people who are used to being very efficient with the use of their time.

Similar to dilemmas presented in government positions, value clashes can also occur in SMOs and NGOs. We have to make choices whether to confront peers or let go of minor misdemeanours. But what to do when basic norms and values are violated? What if we risk internal solidarity by pointing out the unethical behaviour of a well-respected leader? These are not easy situations. Nourishing open communication processes and measures of accountability similar to those developed in Chapter 6 can help. Linda Stout (1996) faced many risks when she confronted her board members in the Piedmont Peace Project. She challenged them to renounce their homophobic tendencies. It was not easy for her, but she decided that certain values cannot be compromised. She took a risk and stood by her convictions.

As a young person, I (IP) took some risks by the mere act of reading progressive literature. Once I had to go to the youth movement to burn some books because we heard that the police might raid the centre. I did not endure any pain or suffering, but many of my friends and relatives did. Proceed with caution was a must then and it is a must today. In some parts of the world, transformative activity can cost you your life.

There are no set answers for these dilemmas. What we can recommend, as we have in the past, is to unite with like-minded people in sharing ethical dilemmas and searching for solutions (Prilleltensky, Sanchez, Walsh-Bowers & Rossiter, 2002; Prilleltensky, Walsh-Bowers & Rossiter, 1999; Rossiter et al., 2000, 2002).

Chapter Summary

Community psychologists have opportunities to promote social change as insiders working within government and as outsiders working in SMOs and NGOs. In both settings there are ample opportunities to promote well-being and liberation. While governments tend to concentrate on ameliorative functions such as risk reduction and social aid, social movements seek to change structures of inequality. The former engage in policy development, legislation and funding of new programs, the latter in collective action such as protests and civil disobedience. In both instances it is possible to pursue well-being and liberation. Government work is not antithetical to emancipation. Under pressure from women’s movements, a sea change in levels of human development took place in Kerala.

While some social movements proliferate, others dwindle. On the one hand we witness youthful and courageous opposition to globalization, and on the other we face massive apathy to poverty and victimization. Some governments dismantle the public sector at the same time as they tout prevention and promotion. Contradictions abound within governments, social movements and within our own lives. Our challenge is to keep our values front and centre and to create opportunities for transformation where amelioration reigns. But over and above these challenges, the biggest challenge for community psychologists is simply to get there, to be part of social movements, to document their work, to assist them and to reach a new level of congruence between our philosophy and our actions.

Towards Transformative Social Interventions Dennis Fox

The most useful contribution of this useful chapter on Social Interventions is its discussion of dilemmas facing community psychologists who work within governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and social movement organizations. As Geoffrey Nelson and Isaac Prilleltensky point out, every choice forces one to navigate through difficult circumstances. Those who are determined to spend a lifetime fostering social change and advancing social justice must determine for themselves how to retain their motivation beyond the exciting cause of the moment. Burn-out is a serious problem.

Not all roads raise the same hurdles, however. My own experiences in the United States make me especially sceptical about working in government. Up to a point, Nelson and Prilleltensky share this caution; even as they highlight examples of using one’s government position to advance socially useful work, they remind us that most reforms don’t go nearly far enough and that government is by nature conservative. Yet, perhaps reflecting their own dilemma posed by seeking to guide students in useful yet practical directions, they are much more encouraging than I could be. So I urge students to contemplate this route carefully. Caution is important even for the many in the United States who will work in the new administration of Barack Obama only to discover several years down the road that fundamental transformation is not the kind of change any government can facilitate.

Although it is sometimes possible to do useful work inside the belly of the beast, and although government involvement may seem necessary to sustain comprehensive social interventions aimed at changing “values, policies, programs, distribution of resources, power differentials and cultural norms”, pressure to avoid challenging the underlying system – as Nelson and Prilleltensky point out – is often overwhelming. Too often, rather than opposing globalization and other elite-driven programs designed to reshape the world to meet corporate needs, governments serve the same interests, perhaps reducing corporate damage but never threatening corporate power. Too often, government dampens popular support for change by supplying the appearance of justice rather than the reality (Fox, 1999). Even the tools we think will help us transform society often turn out to be less adequate than we hope. A bulwark of state control, law more often inhibits social change than advances it (Fox, 1993, 1999; see http://dennisfox.net/links.html#law for law schools explicitly focused on justice.)

Thus, although Nelson and Prilleltensky note the risk of co-optation for those who work in social movements, the risk is much greater for those in government, where lifetime careers can be destroyed if one pushes the boundaries too far and where the attractions of climbing a career ladder ‘inside the loop’ dampen reformist zeal. Change advocates inside government too often find themselves pushing for policies that, while tolerable or even humane, have little transformative potential. So although I appreciate the authors’ optimism about using government against itself, and although I’d rather have government agencies filled with do-gooders than automatons, more attention should be paid to bureaucratic imperatives that make transformative efforts unlikely to succeed. In my view, not every project that’s socially useful leads to useful social change.

There are three additional problems with government efforts to ameliorate social problems – the first, somewhat ironically, with efforts that actually provide needed services. Community psychologist Seymour Sarason (1976) warned more than three decades ago that programs advanced by modern centralized states often damage two important values congruent with those advanced by Nelson and Prilleltensky: personal autonomy and psychological sense of community. Because the impetus for change comes from outside, community members direct their attention and expectations to external authorities rather than to themselves and their peers; this fosters dependency and apathy rather than liberation and participation. In this sense, thus, there’s another dilemma for those who work inside government: how to provide services and meet important needs while also enhancing, rather than inhibiting, people’s ability to work with others. Sarason urged community psychologists to pay more attention to this ‘anarchist insight’, and indeed community psychologists should find much of interest in anarchist suspicion of centralized authority (Fox, 1985).

Second, emphasizing the kinds of social change possible within traditional governments and advanced by traditionally pragmatic policy-oriented NGOs can lead to an unnecessarily restricted vision of what transformative change might mean. For example, in the top half of Table 8.1, the ‘insider’ goals identified as transformative (progressive taxation, universal health insurance and the like) are designed to make our current system more bearable (more fair and less destructive), not to replace the system with a fundamentally better one. If accomplished, these changes would ease injustice and make life measurably better – people might be ‘happier’, as this chapter’s preliminary exercise suggests – but they would also leave intact the underlying system of corporate and state power.

The third problem with government work is that emphasizing program evaluation and similar roles as key to instigating change leads to an exaggerated belief that injustice exists because of bad data rather than elite power. Demonstrating to authorities, for example, that inequality leads to ill health is unlikely to persuade them to create an egalitarian society. Although more data always seem useful, the lack of data is rarely the most crucial barrier to resolving our most serious societal problems (Fox, 1991). Data gathering and dissemination are necessary for effective amelioration, but we shouldn’t expect them to lead to transformation unless government authorities have first been forced to embrace transformation for other, more political, reasons.

So what’s a budding transformational community psychologist to do?

If community psychology is – or is trying to be – a psychology of liberation, then we have to acknowledge government as a central source of injustice. Governments do react to pressure for change, but rarely generate their own. It’s our job to help create that pressure. Thus, social movement organizations of the kind this chapter describes are the most important element in building strains to the boiling point, at which time government is more likely to respond regardless of whether its agencies are filled with do-gooders or automatons. Our dilemma is how to practice this kind of from-the-bottom politics effectively and honestly, without overwhelming our audience, burning ourselves out or accepting invitations to become rock-no-boat insiders beholden to governments or large non-governmental funding sources.

Fortunately, social movement activists have generated a large literature on how to analyse the sources of oppression and injustice, mobilize resources, raise consciousness and in many other ways work more effectively. In addition to the sources cited in the chapter, especially useful is the pamphlet Principles for Promoting Social Change (undated) written by peace psychologist Neil Wollman and others and published by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, a long-established organization of liberal psychologists (see http://www.spssi.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.viewpage&pageid=693). Wollman and others also have material on the website of RadPsyNet: The Radical Psychology Network (http://www.radpsynet.org), which Isaac Prilleltensky and I co-founded in 1993 to foster interaction among psychologists and psychology students who want to make transformational change a reality. A useful book focused on how social movements can counter globalization is Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity (Brecher, Costello & Smith, 2000).

Nelson and Prilleltensky remind us that successful social movements have altered the course of history. Indeed, government endorsement of social interventions most often comes in response to persistent popular pressure. Fortunately, working towards building that pressure often provides movement participants with the satisfaction of doing the right thing while enabling them to meet others with similar values, share their useful skills and learn new ones, and build a values-based life. It’s not all drudgery! Although we should keep in mind the potential drawbacks that the authors note – internal contradictions, insularity, narrowed focus and the like – movement organizers increasingly acknowledge and try to deal with such drawbacks. The most significant role community psychologists can play may be ‘entering into alliances with community-based groups engaged in campaigns against some form of injustice[,] ... sharing one’s resources and expertise and accepting their leadership’ (Steinitz & Mishler, 2009, p. 407).

Organizational and Community Interventions

Chapter Organization

What Are Organizational and Community Interventions?

◆ Re-organizing Organizations + Politicizing Communities

What Values Justify Organizational and Community Interventions?

◆ Promote Amelioration and Transformation within the Organization

◆ Promote Amelioration and Transformation in the Community Served by the Organization + Internal and External Agents of Change + Emotional Competencies and Their Transformational Potential

◆ Steps for Organizational Change + What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Organizational Intervention?

Why Are Organizational and

Community Interventions

so Important?

What Are the Roles of Community Psychologists Working in Organizations?

◆ Promote Amelioration and Transformation within the Organization

◆ Promote Amelioration and Transformation in the Community Served by the Organization + Internal and External Agents of Change + Emotional Competencies and Their Transformational Potential + Steps for Organizational Change

What Is the Role of Community Psychologists Working in Communities?

◆ Partnership Maker + Change Maker + Knowledge Maker + What are the Strengths and Limitations of Community Interventions?

◆ What are some of the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working in Organizations and Communities?

Chapter Summary

COMMENTARY: Power and Participation in Context


Warm-up Exercise

When consulting with organizations, community psychologists are typically hired by managers and executive directors. Historically, unions and workers have been suspicious of psychologists because they side with the management and not with the workers. As a community psychologist, test yourself with the following questions:

a. What do you tell workers in organizations who may be afraid that you will serve the interests of management and not the interests of workers?

b. What do you do tell managers about the need to listen to workers’ concerns?

c. How do you balance the interests of workers, managers and, last but not least, the interests of the community served by the organization?

After reading this chapter you will be able to answer the following questions:

■ What are organizational and community interventions?

■ Why are they important?

■ What is the value base of organizational and community interventions?

■ What are the roles of community psychologists in organizational and community interventions?

■ What are the strengths and limitations of social interventions?

■ What are the dilemmas facing community psychologists in this type of work?

In this chapter we link organizational and community interventions because most efforts for liberation and well-being take place in, or through, organizations such as human services, voluntary agencies or alternative settings (see Chapter 7). To enable community change, first we have to persuade our own organizations to contribute to the process. Organizations possess human and material resources that are crucial for initiating and invigorating ameliorative and transformative interventions. But we should not take it for granted that organizations will rally behind social change or that they will examine critically their own role in promoting suffering and oppression, either in their own workers or in the communities they serve. In a multi-site study exploring the ethical dilemmas of mental health workers in agencies and clinics, we found that most organizations fall short of supporting their own workers in resolving daily dilemmas and resist changes that may diminish management control or increase worker and stakeholder decision-making power (Prilleltensky, Sanchez et al., 2002; Prilleltensky, Walsh-Bowers & Rossiter, 1999; Rossiter et al., 2000, 2002).

These studies reinforced in us the belief that even well-meaning institutions can be unresponsive to the needs of workers and clients alike. That has been the case with schools (Fullan, 2006), hospitals (Gawande, 2007), community organizations (Stout, 1996), and businesses (Fullan, 2008; Sisodia, Wolfe & Sheth, 2007). As we saw in Chapter 7, community psychology (CP) begins at home, where we live, where we work, where we volunteer. It would be unpsychological for us to expect to contribute to others’ well-being and liberation when we suffer from oppression and indifference in our own backyard. It would be equally unpsychological for us to promote well-being in the community at large when we ignore the plight of those next to us at work. Therefore, we deal in this chapter with interventions that promote the well-being of workers in organizations and of citizens in communities. We look at organizational development as an end in itself, designed to improve the life of workers, and as a means to an end – the promotion of wellbeing and liberation in disadvantaged communities. These organizational aims are congruent with the principles and values of CP around the globe (Reich, Riemer, Prilleltensky & Montero, 2007).

What Are Organizational and Community Interventions?

Inasmuch as community psychologists strive to promote liberation and wellbeing in marginalized groups, we are interested in organizational and community interventions that foster these two goals. Communities depend on organizations for their improvement, while organizations justify their existence by assisting communities. Community interventions always occur through the efforts of people organized in either formal institutions or loosely based grassroots agencies, NGOs or social and political movements.

Re-organizing Organizations

For us, organizational interventions are systematic methods of enhancing an institution’s capacity to promote the personal, relational and collective wellbeing of their workers and community stakeholders. This definition is congruent with Maton and Salem’s (1995) characterization of empowering organizations, according to which empowering settings enable workers, service recipients and community stakeholders to experience greater self-determination (personal wellbeing), social support (relational well-being) and awareness of political forces impinging on their lives (collective well-being). The interconnection between the three levels of well-being was illustrated in a church-based organization where social bonds and close relationships contributed to both psychological empowerment and effective collective action (Speer et al., 1995). While the organizations studied by Maton and Salem concentrated on consumer well-being, the groups studied by Speer and colleagues went beyond members’ well-being and focused on political action for community change. The leap from well-being to liberation is not an easy one. Some organizations do a good job at empowering their own members but don’t always engage in political action or coalition formation. Others manage to focus more attention on issues of power, oppression and disadvantage.

In a more recent review of empowering community settings, Maton (2008) identified six distinct features: group-based belief system that inspires strengthbased change; core activities that are engaging and meaningful; relational environments that foster sense of community within and beyond the setting; opportunity role structure for people to express their views and talents; visionary and committed leadership; and organizational learning where diversity is valued and conflict resolution praised. According to Maton (2008), empowering community settings with these characteristics lead to empowered citizens, empowered members and potential engagement in social change. Indeed, in this chapter we wish to explore organizations that re-organize to contribute to the internal well-being of their own workforce and to the external struggles of disadvantaged groups.

School reform has been a highly contested topic in recent years. As Michael Fullan (2006) claims, not all the recent changes have been positive to teachers, or kids. What’s more, achievements have been short lived. Fullan details changes that put enormous pressure on school principals and teachers, which, in turn, are transmitted to children. Disempowering would be the best way to describe many of the current “turnaround” efforts in urban schools, which includes disempowering of teachers and students. Instead of fostering a culture of shame for underachieving schools, Fullan calls for initiatives that tap into people’s dignity and sense of respect. Schools have become increasingly oppressive of the people who work in them and the students who are supposed to thrive in them. Fullan maintains that the focus of school reform has to be on three outcomes: literacy, numeracy and well-being. The focus on the former two has overshadowed by far the emphasis on the latter.

Politicizing Communities

By community interventions we mean efforts by organized groups and agencies to enhance the well-being of community members marginalized by social practices of exclusion, cultural norms of discrimination and economic policies of injustice and inequality (Ife, 2002; Mullaly, 2002; Orr, 2007; Smock, 2004). Community well-being, as noted in Chapter 2, is predicated on emancipation from oppressive forces. Therefore, we are not content to improve narrow aspects of health, such as better hygiene or diet awareness, when systemic conditions of inequality perpetuate hunger. Similarly, we are not satisfied to improve charity services when the conditions that lead to charity in the first place continue unabated. In the language of Chapter 7, we seek to develop community interventions that go beyond amelioration and move towards transformation. This is not an ‘either/or’. We do not advocate the elimination of social supports because they do not eliminate economic exploitation. Services are very much needed. What we do advocate is the pairing and integration of ameliorative and transformative thinking and action (Martin, 2007; Prilleltensky & Nelson, 1997, 2002). We recommend intervening in communities in such a way that they receive services and resources and increase their political awareness and capacity for mobilization at the same time. Hence, we put emphasis here on strategies that ameliorate and, concurrently, have the potential to transform. As Fisher and Shragge recently noted, ‘organizing is about both building community and engaging in a wider struggle for social and economic justice’ (2007, p. 196). Although these strategies are not the norm but rather the exception in many organizations, a recent issue of the American Journal of Community Psychology contains examples of interventions that combine skill enhancement with sociopolitical awareness (Watts & Serrano-García, 2003). Similarly, recent work in the not-for-profit and community organizing sectors illustrate work that increasingly seeks to blend services with social change (Chetkovich & Kunreuther, 2006; Orr, 2007; Smock, 2004).

In a study of 16 grassroots organizations, Chetkovich and Kunreuther (2006) identify four types of institutions:

a. Collective action that involves individual transformation

b. Collective action that does not involve individual transformation

c. Individual empowerment that involves individual transformation

d. Individual empowerment that does not involve individual transformation

Whereas the first two strive to promote social change, only the first one aims to build on personal experience to overcome personal and communal oppression. The second type aims to provide information and analysis, but not a space for personal growth. The third type of grassroots organization seeks primarily amelioration and human development through supports, caring and the provision of needs. The fourth type, in turn, seeks to dismantle legal barriers and uphold citizens’ rights. Winning legal battles, fostering personal growth, producing useful information and empowering people to stand up for themselves are all worthy endeavours. In our view, the most promising avenue for the promotion of personal, relational and collective well-being is an integration of all these approaches. Legal aid is very important for people who are about to be evicted, but so is the provision of need and joining forces with others to advocate for affordable housing. It is a constant struggle in the human development sector to attend to the personal and collective needs of people, at the same time, in empowering ways. This is a definitional struggle for those of us who wish to advocate with people, not just on behalf of people. And for those of us who wish to change the system of injustice, and not just the victim or the perpetrator of it. This struggle is picked up by Fisher and Shragge (2007) in their analysis of current community building and organizing efforts.

Fisher and Shragge draw a useful distinction between community organizing and social action, on one hand, and community development, on the other. According to them,

Organizing efforts tend to prefer community development or social action. In a nutshell, social action represents an engagement in the struggle for social change through organizing people to pressure government or private bodies. Central to this perspective is an oppositional politics and the use of conflict strategies and tactics. This kind of organizing may challenge social inequalities and oppressive power by offering an alternative politics, a critique of current conditions and power relations. Or it may focus on specific winnable local demands. In contrast, community development assumes a shared interest in society. It seeks primarily to bring together diverse community interests in a common process that contributes to the well-being of the community as a whole. It often results in a strengthened sense of community, referred to as community building, and/or delivers tangible community projects such as housing or social services. (2007, pp. 195–6)

As Chetkovich and Kunreuther (2006) claim, both approaches need to coexist. One problem, as Fisher and Shragge (2007) and Dreir (2007) note, is when community building depletes resources from social action aimed at larger transformative change. Another problem is when social action and policy work neglect the immediate needs of community members. It is all about the balance!

What Values Justify Organizational and Community Interventions?

In principle, all the values presented in Chapters 2 and 3 justify the need for organizational and community interventions. We have noted before that well-being emanates from the confluence of balanced value systems. Thus, well-being takes place at the intersection of holism, health, caring and compassion, self-determination, participation, social justice, respect for diversity and accountability. When the salience of one or more of these values obscures the presence of others, the balance is shaken. Different organizations and communities emphasize some values more than others. Although our assessment is not definitive, it seems to us that most organizations and communities pay attention to health and caring and compassion, and, to some extent, to diversity and participation. Few, however, are the organizations and communities that place social justice, holism and accountability front and centre (Prilleltensky, 2001). Not by coincidence, the three neglected values have to do with power. Social justice has to do with the fair and equitable distribution of burdens and resources in society, something that cannot happen unless those with power relinquish some of it. Similarly, accountability cannot be fulfilled unless there is a transfer of power away from dominant sectors. Holism, which can be deceiving because it is often narrowly interpreted, is not only about the natural environment but also about the social context. And power, as we know, is an immanent part of the social ecology. Unless we view power and its unequal distribution as a central determinant of health and well-being, we will continue to shift pieces within the present configuration of injustice, without challenging injustice itself (Ife, 2002).

The very neglect of power inequality warrants organizational and community interventions that do more than ameliorate. In his analysis of community coalitions, Himmelman (2001) arrives at a similar conclusion. Without power equalization coalitions cannot go further than community betterment. With it, they can approximate community empowerment. A similar conclusion was reached by John (2003) in her exploration of children’s movements, participation in civic life and alternative schools. In studying children’s parliaments in India, alternative schools in the United States and youth participation in local government in the United Kingdom, she realized that meaningful and lasting changes occurred only when children and young people were afforded, or simply took, power away from adults. The inspirational examples documented by John (2003) point to the need to redistribute power, not only across gender, race and social class but also across generations. Her study reinforces the assumption that power and control over one’s life is not only a health-giving experience, but a sine qua non for lasting and effective change.

Why Are Organizational and Community Interventions so Important?

We spend most of our lives in organizations, either as workers or recipients of services, such as education. Think about your life. As a student, you probably spend about 14 years of your life in school. Once you leave university, you are very likely to join a workplace. If you do sports, you practice in an organizational setting. If you volunteer, you do so in an agency. The way organizations operate has an impact on you, your family and society at large.

Organizations can promote life satisfaction and creativity or can induce a great deal of stress, as in the case of workplace strain, bullying and harassment (Beehr & O’Driscoll, 2002; Bond, 2007). In a compelling longitudinal study, Marmot (2004) showed that the level of control exercised by different people within an organization has powerful effects on health, well-being and even mortality. The less control people have, the higher the risk of dying (see Box 9.1).











Figure 9.1 Percentage of people in distress by occupational status as measured by the Hopkins Symptom Checklist (HSCL-10)

The HSCL-10 is a short version of the HSCL-25 measuring psychological distress. The pattern of the chart remains the same when controlling for age and sex. Used with permission from the authors (McCubbin & Dalgard, 2002).

Within countries, the poor, the unemployed, refugees, single parents, ethnic minorities and the homeless have poorer indices of health than more privileged groups (Blane, Bruner & Wilkinson, 1996; Marmot & Wilkinson, 1999). This applies not only to poor countries but to rich countries as well. Homeless people in Western countries, for example, are 34 times more likely to kill themselves than the general population, 150 times more likely to be fatally assaulted and 25 times more likely to die in any period of time than the people who ignore them on the streets (Shaw, Dorling & Smith, 1999).

In addition to the pressing need to narrow the economic gap, there is some urgency to increase social cohesion, solidarity and a psychological sense of community (Fisher, Sonn & Bishop, 2002; Mustard, 1996). Inspiring community interventions, like the one carried out in Kerala (see Chapter 8) and others reported in North America by Repucci et al. (1999), show that mobilization can deliver positive effects in reducing hunger, malnutrition, violence and addictions, and in enhancing community health, social capital and quality of life.

What Are the Roles of Community Psychologists Working in Organizations?

We identify two potential roles for community psychologists working in organizations. The first one is the promotion of amelioration and transformation within the organization. The second role is the pursuit of amelioration and transformation in the community served by the organization. These roles may be fulfilled either as internal or external agents of change. To be effective, community psychologists require certain skills. The skills we present extend the emotional competencies of effective leaders documented by Goleman (1995, 1998). Whereas Goleman’s skills of emotional intelligence apply primarily to organizational efficacy, we discuss the implications of such skills for transformational work. Finally, based on the work of Prochaska and colleagues on processes of change, we describe the steps necessary to succeed in organizational development (Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente, 1994; Weick & Quinn, 1999).

Promote Amelioration and Transformation within the Organization

We show in Table 9.1 a variety of outcomes pertaining to either amelioration or transformation. The difference in outcomes is predicated on the depth of the changes and the values that underpin them. Ameliorative interventions pay more attention to the values of health, collaboration and support, whereas transformational interventions attend more to self-determination, social justice and accountability. Some values, such as self-determination and participation, can be promoted in ameliorative and transformational interventions, but in very different degrees. The literature on employee involvement and participation demonstrates that organizations vary greatly in the degree of autonomy they grant to their workers and volunteers. Most business organizations tend to limit employee input to suggestions for problem-solving activities (Fullan, 2008; Klein, Ralls, Smith Major & Douglas, 2000; Sisodia, Wolfe & Sheth, 2007), whereas human services and alternative settings usually afford workers and volunteers more voice and choice (Cherniss, 2002; Cherniss & Deegan, 2000; Lord & Hutchison, 2007; Maton & Salem, 1995; Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001b). This may reflect the fact that the latter ‘focuses on empowerment and well-being’ and the former on ‘productivity and profitability’ (Shinn & Perkins, 2000, p. 635). It should be noted, however, that within each type of organization, business, public sector or human services, there is also great variability in the amount of control and participation given to workers.

Table 9.1 Ameliorative and transformative interventions in organizations

Population Served by Interventions



Workers within the organization

Collaboration across units Moderate participation Autonomy

Caring and compassion for colleagues Conflict resolution plans

Policies against harassment and bullying Family friendly policies

Peer support Personal development Stress reduction Prevent burnout

Improve communication

Accountability across and within levels of organization

Attention to issues of social injustice

Full participation in decisionmaking processes

Meaning-seeking activities Attention to power differences Oppose discrimination Equalize power

Community, citizens, clients and consumers

Caring and compassion toward clients and citizens

Workers contribute to civic associations through charity

Partnerships for health and well-being Reinforce community structures Advocacy on behalf of clients Provision of new or better services

Mission of social change Allow community stakeholders full access to decision making Respect the environment

Make community politically aware

Accountability to disadvantaged members of community

Support clients in resisting oppression and injustice

Interventions to enhance worker participation take place in small groups where colleagues discuss ways to improve productivity or service delivery. Some of these initiatives have been called Total Quality Management (TQM) or Quality of Working Life (QWL). In essence, groups are formed to analyse processes and outcomes of work and ways to enhance effectiveness and satisfaction. The nature of the groups varies greatly, with some being initiated by management, some by external consultants and some by union–management committees (Johnson & Johnson, 2000; Klein et al., 2000). Depending on their origins and intent, groups can exercise more or less influence, can be permanent or sporadic, tokenistic or serious. The impact of such groups may very well depend on the depth of the changes generated by them and on the actual control afforded by management.

Although it is hard to generalize because of the variability in teams and forms of worker participation, several reviews documented positive effects for both productivity and worker satisfaction (Johnson & Johnson, 2000; Klein et al., 2000; Shinn & Perkins, 2000; Weick & Quinn, 1999). Reviewers seem to agree that the overall impact on productivity and worker satisfaction depends on the duration, intensity and actual – as opposed to perceived – control over jobs. When these conditions are present and long lasting, organizations improve their services and workers feel better about their jobs. When interventions are short-lived and half-hearted, positive results fade quickly (Fullan, 2006, 2008). If means of increasing worker participation and control were profound, institutionalized and endorsed by management, we could say that an ameliorative change has turned into a transformative one. Thus, it is not only the type of values endorsed that make a difference between amelioration and transformation but also the degree to which the values are fostered.

Reducing stress in the workplace is an aim of many managers, consultants and worker themselves. Strategies to alleviate stress include participation in decisionmaking, structural innovations, ergonomic approaches, role-based interventions, social support and provision of information. In a comprehensive review of the literature, Beehr and O’Driscoll (2002) found that most interventions had only modest effects on stress reduction. Some of the most promising strategies included worker participation in decision-making and role clarification. Role ambiguity, role conflict and role overload are three serious causes of strain. Making sure that workers know what is expected of them, that they do not have unrealistic caseloads and that they have management support for their duties are useful ways of decreasing strain (Beehr & O’Driscoll, 2002).

Role ambiguity is very common in human service organizations. In several of our studies, workers in clinics and family agencies reported dilemmas related to caseloads, territoriality, diffused responsibility and lack of support by supervisors and management (Prilleltensky, Sanchez et al., 2002; Prilleltensky, WalshBowers & Rossiter, 1999; Rossiter et al., 2000, 2002). Participants reported that peer support, management backing and the creation of a safe space for sharing dilemmas were essential components of effectiveness, satisfaction and sometimes even ‘emotional survival’. Social support in the workplace has long been recognized as an important correlate of worker well-being (Kyrouz & Humphreys, 1997; Milne, 1999; Quick, Quick, Nelson & Hurrell, 1997; Shinn & Perkins, 2000; Stansfeld, 1999).

Transformational interventions that enhance the well-being of workers can be found in both the human and business sectors. In the human services sector, including health, mental health, disabilities, education and employment organizations, transformational workplaces tend to have horizontal structures with minimal hierarchies. In addition, they tend to make decisions by consensus and to flatten power differentials within the organization (Reinharz, 1984; Riger, 2000). Many feminist organizations were created with visions of equality and mutual accountability (hooks, 2002). Self-help organizations often espouse egalitarian structures as well, as do alternative settings that are value based, mission oriented and human focused (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000). In reviewing the creation of alternative settings in human services, Cherniss and Deegan noted that ‘the self-development of the staff and the health of the organization were considered to be two of the most important priorities’ (2000, p. 374).

Promote Amelioration and Transformation in the Community Served by the Organization

Improving quality of life for workers is only part of a community psychologist’s job. The other part is to enhance the well-being of consumers, citizens and communities at large. Caring and compassion and client participation in decision-making processes go a long way in humanizing social services and empowering people who experience disadvantage. Re-designing organizations with consumer well-being in mind is an appropriate task for community psychologists.

Smock (2004) identified five models for amelioration and transformation in the community: power based, community building, civic, women centred and transformative. In the power-based model, suffering is construed as deriving from lack of political power and participation in decision-making processes. To change that, activists build large people’s organizations that engage in confrontation until powerholders concede to community demands.

The community-building model, introduced earlier, seeks to rebuild the social fabric through partnerships of diverse stakeholder groups. This approach avoids confrontation and instead aims to build consensus among political and community stakeholders.

In the civic model, neighbourhood problems stem from lack of social order and instability. Solutions derive from accessing existing resources and interacting with civil servants to enhance responsiveness to the community.

Women-centred models concentrate on gender discrimination and the resulting suffering for children and women. Women assume leadership roles in the community and create spaces where the public and the private spheres come together.

The transformative model, in turn, views neighbourhood problems as a symptom of social and economic injustice. Social and political changes are the most viable means to alter existing arrangements that marginalize the poor and the disadvantaged. As noted earlier in the study by Chetkovich and Kunreuther (2006), our aspiration is to blend the provision of needs with the pursuit of social change. We believe that this is fertile soil for community psychologists to get involved. Our profession has a chance to blend psychological growth and well-being with social change and liberation. This is the subtitle of our book, and the heart of our aspiration for the field.

Community psychologist Paul Speer and his colleagues have been studying an organization that is trying to make change rather than simply cure, an organization that pursues social change (Speer, 2002; Speer & Hughey, 1995; Speer et al., 1995). Pacific Institute of Community Organizations (PICO) is a communityorganizing network with affiliates in 25 cities across the United States. PICO helps to organize communities to demand more resources for children, families, crime prevention, poor neighbourhoods and people with addictions and other social problems. This organization is very clear on the need to transcend therapeutic models and to use community power to access more resources. Three principles support PICO’s organizing efforts:

■ Empowerment can only be realized through organizing

■ Social power is built on the strength of interpersonal relationships

■ Individual empowerment must be grounded in a dialectic of action and reflection.

PICO is successful in empowering its members and in getting results. Like other empowering organizations, this one allows members to rotate in their roles and to engage in a variety of tasks. Some of the jobs done by members and volunteers include getting information from public officials, asking politicians difficult questions, mobilizing communities for rallies, arranging transportation, arranging media coverage, facilitating meetings and so on. Some of the results include better resources for communities and increased awareness of the political dynamics oppressing the poor and the disenfranchised. In one campaign PICO obtained from city council and private corporations $9 million for substance abuse treatment and prevention.

Community psychologists can learn from and assist organizations and communities to change. This can be done from within the organization, as internal agents of change, or from the outside, as consultants or volunteers. We explore these different roles in the next sections.

Internal and External Agents of Change

Community psychologists can help organizations and communities from the inside or the outside (see Table 9.2). Graduating community psychologists often get jobs as program planners, managers in human services, program evaluators or directors of community services or government departments. Other community psychologists open their own consulting firms and work for other organizations on contract. Alternatively, consultants get government grants to help community organizations deliver a service or evaluate their programs.

As either internal or external agents of change, community psychologists can exert more or less control over the process of change. Depending on the level of control exercised, Dimock (1992) identified six possible roles for agents of change. In decreasing order of control, they are as follows:

Director: manager or administrator who makes decisions and gives instructions in order to control the intervention

Expert: system analyst or organizational consultant who diagnoses problems and uses knowledge to tell others what to do

Consultant: community developer and consultant who makes suggestions and whose influence derives from respect and trust

Resource: group trainer or resource provider who helps group to collect data and provides training in planning skills

Facilitator: process consultant, helper or group observer who assists with group processes

Collaborator: staff, board or community member who is interested in change and joins groups or teams planning and carrying out interventions.

As internal or external agents of change, community psychologists can fulfil any one of these roles. We caution, however, against the adoption of director or expert roles, as they tend to alienate partners. However, it is possible to be a manager or executive director, but still work in a very collaborative manner; the position does not have to dictate the intervention style. We favour intervention styles that are collaborative and that share control across levels of the organization and the community, not only because they are in line with our values but also because they are more effective (Bond, 2007; Dimock, 1992; Ife, 2002; Johnson & Johnson, 2000; Klein et al., 2000; Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002; Shinn & Perkins, 2000).

Table 9.2 Internal and external agents of change in organizations

Internal Agents of Change

External Agents of Change


Organizational consultant

Executive director

Member of the community


Conflict resolution mediator

Staff member


Member of the board

Program evaluator

Emotional Competencies and Their Transformational Potential

To be effective as internal or external agents of change community psychologists require a set of skills. In previous chapters we reviewed the conceptual foundations of CP theory, research and action. In this section we want to emphasize some of the interpersonal and emotional competencies required to interact with people in organizations and communities. Goleman (1995, 1998) integrated a great deal of research concerning the personal and interpersonal skills that predict satisfaction in families, work, school and communities. He called this set of skills ‘emotional intelligence’.

Goleman’s work provides a valuable foundation for understanding what is required to become an effective change maker. However, his contributions do not emphasize the same value base or transformational goals that we deem important for CP. Goleman neither necessarily critiques the exploitive nature of the corporations he studied nor does he emphasize the need to use emotional intelligence to overcome oppression and injustice. Hence, we present in Table 9.3 the main emotional competencies identified by Goleman (1998) and their transformational potential. We agree with Goleman that these skills are vital for communicating effectively with others and exerting influence in respectful ways. He is very clear that change needs to take into account how other people feel about it. In our view, Goleman’s main contribution is to personal and relational well-being. We are interested in distilling the implications of his theory for collective well-being as well.

The left-hand side of Table 9.3 lists the emotional competencies required to get along with others, to get along with oneself and to get self and others to work for change. The right-hand side of the table shows the implications of such skills for transformational change in organizations and communities. Whereas the top half of the table deals with personal competencies such as self awareness, self regulation and motivation, the lower half lists social competencies such as empathy, communication skills, conflict resolution and leadership. In a review of studies of work organizations, Cherniss and Adler (2000) found that individuals who excel at their jobs also have many of the skills that characterize emotional intelligence.

Goleman’s emotional competencies concentrate on the values of caring, compassion and collaboration at the interpersonal level. We see in them potential to

Table 9.3 Emotional competencies and their transformational potential

Personal competence

Social competence contribute to social justice and accountability at the collective level. If Goleman highlighted personal and interpersonal intelligence, we want to develop the concept of collective intelligence, or the ability of the individual to think about the well-being of the collective, and the capacity of the collective to act on behalf of the individual. As community psychologists, it is our job to find ways to promote collective intelligence, not just interpersonal skills.

Steps for Organizational Change

Now that we know what emotional competencies are needed to foster and sustain change in organizations, we can use them to make progress through the different stages of change. All phases of organizational development require a combination of self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and social skills. Self-awareness is required to assess how organizational dynamics affect your own well-being and your confidence to challenge the system. Self-regulation is required to make positive use of self-awareness in instigating change, while motivation is needed to get the process of transformation under way. Empathy, in turn, is needed to understand how the status quo and alternative modes of operation affect co-workers and partners. Social skills are essential in negotiating with multiple stakeholders the various tasks, aims and processes of innovation, being always mindful of how power differences affect the different players in the organization. Each phase of change calls for the synergy of the various emotional, interpersonal and transformational competencies described in Table 9.3.

Prochaska and colleagues postulated a theory of change that has been successfully used and applied to individual and organizational change (Prochaska et al., 1994; Weick & Quinn, 1999). The theory describes predictable and necessary stages of change. Table 9.4 applies concepts of the theory to organizational work. For each one of the steps we describe key questions for planning and implementation. These questions should help you and other community psychologists trying to produce change and recruit support for it.

The first two stages of change relate to pre-contemplation and contemplation. In pre-contemplation it is possible that nobody, except perhaps you, or a few silent others, are aware that something needs to be done about an unsatisfactory situation. In which case, somebody needs to raise consciousness about the problem. In contemplation you are already planting the seed to move the process forward. Discontent may turn into positive action. But for others to listen to you, you need to stay connected while creating a minor (or major) disturbance to the status quo. Bond (1999) coined the concept connected-disruption to describe the job of community psychologists within organizations. According to her we have to be able to point to unjust practices and still remain engaged with most people in order for them to listen to us.

I characterize this prescription for change as connected disruption. Confronting our collective complacency with organizational arrangements that preclude meaningful involvement across gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability involves a process of developing a disruptive edge yet doing so while staying in relationships with others. It involves connecting to individuals while disrupting organizational culture. (Bond, 1999, p. 351)

The third step, preparation, involves the planning and design of innovations or alterations to the current system of work, service delivery or communication patterns, whatever the case might be. During the action phase, it is very important to make sure that all stakeholders affected by the new system of work are involved, which, to reiterate, not only is it in line with our values but is also the most efficacious way of going about change because it creates ownership, commitment and accountability (Dimock, 1992; Goleman, 1998; Johnson & Johnson, 2000).

Once the action has been initiated, it is crucial to put in place systems for monitoring accurate implementation of the intended changes. The sustainability and dissemination of innovations depend on a careful plan for making the innovation or new program an integral part of the institution (Dalton et al., 2001). In the absence of maintenance and monitoring systems, change is

Table 9.4 Steps for organizational change


Aim: What do we want to achieve?

People: Who should be involved?

Tasks: What needs to be done?

Accountability: Who will do it?


When will it be done?


Create awareness

Allies in change

Inform others

Choose effective people

Decide on period of time to raise awareness


Create need for change

Allies and potential allies

Identify specific problems and spread information

People with credibility in organization

Enough time to build momentum for change


Choose specific goals and areas of change

People with influence and credibility

Gather data about problem and devise plan

Internal and/or external consultants with representative group

Have clear timelines for preparation phase


Carry out most effective interventions

Everyone affected by the proposed change

Multiple tasks associated with changes

Involve multiple agents of change

Decide ahead of time on schedule as too much time diminishes credibility


Put in place systems for sustainability

Everyone affected by change

Key activities to sustain and institutionalize change

As many people as possible

Offer maintenance activities at regular intervals


Evaluate process and outcomes of change

Consult with as many people affected as possible

Quantitative and qualitative techniques of evaluation

Internal and/or external evaluators

Ideally conduct pre-, during and post-evaluations


Become a learning and empowering organization

As many people affected by intervention as possible

Institutionalize learning circles and cycles

Decentralize responsibility for learning cycles and circles

Continuous cycle of learning likely to be weak and short lived. Although parts of the next step, evaluation, cannot be undertaken until changes have been introduced into the system, some aspects of the evaluation can be undertaken during the implementation phase itself. This will enable a formative assessment of how things are going. By observing the change process itself, we are able to feed back useful information that can improve and refine the innovation while it is being introduced. We call this process action research (Reason & Bradbury, 2001), and you will learn more about it in Chapters 11 and 12.

An ideal follow-up to any process of organizational development is for the setting to become a learning organization itself, one that constantly evaluates and adjusts its operations in line with its values, goals and changing contexts. The learning organization involves everyone in the process of improving the personal and interpersonal well-being of workers and the collective well-being of the community (Senge, 1990; Senge & Scharmer, 2001). This model has also been called the continuous change process (Weick & Quinn, 1999).

What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Organizational Interventions?

The strengths of organizational interventions derive primarily from their potential to affect the lives of thousands or millions of people. Organizations affect our lives in multiple ways. The sooner we make workplaces, schools, civic institutions and government departments more participatory, value-based and transformational, the sooner we will be able to improve the lives of workers and communities alike. As social change happens in, through and because of organizations, the potential to use organizations to produce larger changes is significant. Given that community psychologists work or volunteer in organizations, they have many opportunities to make a change. This potential notwithstanding, we realize that change is a hard and humbling enterprise.

We have to be conscious of traps and threats. Complacency and resistance are major barriers to change. Swimming against the tide can be emotionally draining and potentially risky. Challengers of the status quo risk exclusion, marginalization, labelling and potential unemployment. The forces of resistance are almost always stronger than the forces of change (Beehr & O’Driscoll, 2002; Dimock, 1992; Hahn, 1994; Klein et al., 2000; Weick & Quinn, 1999).

The ubiquitous risk of cosmetic changes is called tokenism. It is a technique used to introduce small changes that create the appearance of change but in fact help to prevent transformations. Sullivan (1984) calls this phenomenon dislocation, by which he means ‘a process whereby something new is brought into a cultural system and has the ability to mute the partial critical insight of that cultural system’ (p. 165). Changes of a minor nature are introduced into organizations with the purpose of creating an aura of innovation, changes that invariably delay attention to more structural issues.

An exclusive inward focus is another potential deviation that needs to be monitored. Some organizations invest in development only to advance the interests of upper management or privileged stakeholders (Alvesson & Willmott, 1992; Baritz, 1974; Hollway, 1991; Lawthom, 1999). Business and human service organizations alike have also been criticized for starting half-hearted initiatives that create expectations of improvement but amount only to passing fads that strengthen the status quo (Prilleltensky, 1994b; Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002).

What Is the Role of Community Psychologists Working in Communities?

The skills and processes required for organizational change apply to community change as well. In many cases, community psychologists represent one organization in working with another. Neighbourhood centres, schools, community mental health clinics and universities all interact with each other and with government in starting new programs or policies. But if the skills are similar, the contexts are different. We are moving from one level of analysis to another, a larger one. Inter-organizational work is becoming prevalent in CP, and for good reasons. No one organization has the power to enhance community well-being on its own. Inter-agency collaborations can mobilize multiple partners for interventions with synergistic outcomes (Foster-Fishman, Salem, et al., 2001; Wolff, 2001). Given the promise of partnerships for community change, we chose to concentrate a part of this chapter on the role of partnership maker. The creation of coalitions is really a prelude to community change. Hence, we also discuss the role of change maker. Finally, we discuss the role of knowledge maker, which should always accompany intervention efforts.

Partnership Maker

To make a change in an organization you need to find allies. Similarly, to make a change in a community you need partners. We describe below eight steps in the creation and actualization of partnerships for change. In each step the community psychologist assumes a particular role. She wears different hats depending on the phase, but she always keeps all the hats in her bag, just in case, for partnerships are very dynamic and boundaries across phases often blur. Still, it is useful to identify the primary role in each step. Based on our previous work and reports of other community psychologists we identify seven main roles for the seven main tasks of partnerships (Elias, 1994; Foster-Fishman, Berkowitz et al., 2001; Nelson, Amio et al., 2000; Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001; Prilleltensky, 2001; Prilleltensky, Peirson et al., 1997; Wolff, 2001).

Inclusive host: Whether you are initiating the partnership yourself, or you have been invited to one, you need to behave like an inclusive host. Power differentials are always at play in partnerships, primarily when community members with little or no formal education join the group. We think it is very important to contribute to a climate of respect and mutual support.

Visionary: Once we are comfortable with each other, the business of change begins. We caution against skipping this stage. As a collective, partners need to establish a common vision for the project. Our role is to help in visioning outcomes and processes for the collaborative work.

Asset seeker: This is an important role for two reasons. First, in line with the values of self-determination, collaboration and respect for diversity, we want to afford everyone an opportunity to express her or his views about what needs to be done. Each person has the right to express an opinion, regardless of expert status. Second, and just as importantly, valuable knowledge emerges from everyone in the partnership: citizens, professionals and volunteers alike. We will never know what material or conceptual assets people bring unless we look for them.

Listener and sense maker: To define the problem cooperatively we need to listen carefully to what all the partners are saying. Next, we need to formulate the problem in light of previous research and local knowledge.

Unique solution finder: At this stage we wear the doer hat. The time has come to take action, and to find a solution that is uniquely suited to this context. We have to be able to read the context and assess the group’s readiness for action. To do so, we invoke the set of emotional and transformational skills presented in Table 9.4.

Evaluator: Throughout the planning and implementation, we study the work of the partnership. We engage partners in evaluating the process and the outcomes of the work.

Implementer: This is a crucial role. After gathering information, engaging partners and evaluating solutions, the time has come to implement sustainable changes.

Trend setter: It is not enough to have an excellent pilot project that gets forgotten soon after it was born. We have to ensure that partners adopt the innovation and disseminate it widely. We have to create enduring trends, not just passing fads.

In March 2003, Isaac and Scot Evans began a consultation process with Oasis Youth Center in Nashville (www.oasiscenter.org). The process illustrates many of the seven roles of partnership makers. What was wonderful about the consultation process was that people in the organization were magnificent partnership makers themselves. The aim of the consultation was to work with the organization to move it from ameliorative to transformative mode. Following a presentation by Isaac on the topic, a group of workers, including the executive director, decided to form a T-Team, short for transformative team.

During our first meeting, which followed shortly after Isaac’s presentation, everyone behaved like an inclusive host. Aware of some tensions among various branches of the organization (youth shelter, counselling, youth leadership), Scot and Isaac wanted to make this process as inclusive as possible. This was not hard. Everyone who attended the meeting emphasized the need to have all voices heard in this renewal process. Representatives from all the branches were invited to subsequent meetings.

As soon as we started the process we realized that if we wanted to move the organization from merely reacting to problems to transforming the conditions that lead to problems, we needed a new mission statement. We all engaged in a visioning exercise that started within the committee but spread throughout the organization. Through a participatory action research process, members of the T-Team interviewed co-workers, parents and youngsters about their visions of personal, relational and collective well-being.

Soon after the new mission statement was adopted, the T-Team began identifying areas of strength within the organization, areas where the mission statement was already being enacted and enacted well. This was an exercise in asset seeking. Oasis wanted to recognize and celebrate what it was doing well. But not all aspects of the organization aligned well with the new mission statement. The T-Team started doing some focused listening. We all tried to identify what issues prevented the organization from becoming more transformative. From this listening phase we moved to problem solving. One of the first places where changes took place was in the youth shelter. Following the adoption of the mission statement, staff started to involve young people much more in the operation of the shelter, giving them more choices and opportunities to participate in decision-making processes (Evans, Hanlin & Prilleltensky, 2007).

Change Maker

How do we make sure that partnerships do not end up reproducing the status quo? After all, collaboration is a powerful tool used by protectors of the status quo. Business elites and conservative groups strike alliances to repel threats to the dominant social order (Barlow & Campbell, 1995; McQuaig, 1998). The risk of dislocation, reviewed in the context of organizations, applies equally to partnerships and coalitions. It is entirely possible that coalitions for health, safety and prevention divert attention from political reform. Hence, we make a distinction between partnership maker and change maker. For us, change makers have to elicit in themselves and others the transformational potential of emotional competencies. This involves asking hard questions: Whose interests the coalition represents? Whose power will be enhanced? Whose values will be upheld? Whose lives will be improved by the intervention? (Lord & Church, 1998).

The emotional competencies for transformation reviewed earlier are a resource for community change. They just need to be focused on how the interventions will improve the lives of those with less power, less access to services and less influence. Organizations such as PICO strive to keep a focus on social change, as do consumer/survivor organizations struggling to change not only psychiatry but also society’s perceptions of people with mental health problems (see Chapter 21). Going back to Table 9.1, we want to make sure that our interventions transcend amelioration and move towards transformation.

Some radical transformations occur when people renounce the dominant system of consumerism and form communes and co-operatives such as Mondragon in Spain and the Israeli kibbutzim (Ife, 2002). In co-operatives of that kind people make major changes by adopting a simpler and more environmentally friendly lifestyle. These are examples of self-contained communities where co-operation is the primary value. Transformational changes in communities that are contiguous with the dominant capitalist system are harder to sustain.

Nation, Wandersman and Perkins (2002) review the work of several North American community development corporations (CDCs) and comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs). These partnerships address health, psychological, social, economic and urban issues. The Bedford–Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, for instance, implemented political and economic action that culminated in better social services, improved housing and new retail stores. Other efforts improved health habits and rates of child immunization. These and other achievements, obtained through community development, group mobilization, advocacy and political lobbying, tended to fade away due to lack of sustainability. For interventions to be effective, and to last, the authors recommend four strategies:

a. Comprehensiveness: In line with the value of holism expressed in Chapter 2, the authors recommend intervening at multiple levels and targeting multiple issues at the same time. According to them ‘a piecemeal approach rarely produces the critical mass needed to turn around distressed communities’ (Nation, Wandersman & Perkins, 2002, p. 15).

b. Empowerment: Citizen participation and capacity building are emphasized to embed the intervention in the life of the community.

c. Identification and utilization of assets: Similar to the role of asset seeker in creating partnerships, the authors recommend ‘identifying, mapping, developing, and using indigenous social, physical, and economic assets’ (Nation, Wandersman & Perkins, 2002, p. 16).

d. Sustainability: Community psychologists need to procure the continuation of material, human, environmental, social and political resources to maintain the momentum for change.

The Massachusetts Area Health Education Centre supports health and human service coalitions (Wolff, 2000). This csoalition seems to enact most of the prescriptions suggested by Nation, Wandersman and Perkins. In addition, and crucially, the coalition seems to inch towards transformation.

Knowledge Maker

Community psychologists have much to learn from successful and failed interventions. Each intervention consists of mini cycles of interventions. By studying the enabling and inhibiting factors each step of the way, they can improve the next cycle, and the one after that. We call this a formative evaluation. At the end of a project or a major initiative, it is time to take stock of what has been accomplished, what has been learnt and what could be done differently in the future. We call this summative or outcome evaluations. An action research approach that promotes learning by all stakeholders, throughout the whole process, ensures that important lessons are not lost along the way (Elias, 1994; Flyvbjerg, 2001; Reason & Bradbury, 2001). Part of the community psychologist’s job is to nurture a culture of knowledge.

What Are the Strengths and Limitations of Community Interventions?

The strengths and limitations of community interventions can be gleaned from a review on citizen participation and community organizations. Wandersman and Florin (2000) report that the main effects of citizen participation are related to physical and environmental conditions of the community, levels of crime, provision of social services, interpersonal relationships, sense of community, satisfaction with place of residence, personal efficacy and psychological empowerment. Although these are positive and encouraging findings, their review does not reveal outcomes associated with increased political activity or direct social action. Most effects appear to be associated with ameliorative – as opposed to transformative – actions. Herein lay the main benefits and shortcomings of community interventions.

There is little doubt that community interventions can improve quality of life. Tangible outcomes in the form of reduced crime, abuse, violence and improved health, and cohesion and urban civility make a difference in the daily lives of community members (McNeely, 1999; Power, 1996). Our challenge, however, is to blend the pursuit of short-term care and compassion with the long-term struggle for justice. For it is only when justice prevails that political, economic and social resources can be distributed fairly and equitably.

What Are Some of the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working in Organizations and Communities?

Once you are trained to identify injustice at the interpersonal, organizational, community and societal levels, it is hard to keep it a secret. Once you associate with people who share your passion for making a difference, it is hard to ignore norms of oppression. ‘What’s the problem?’ you may ask. The problem is that many others may not share your passion or convictions. When opposition mounts, you face a tough choice: struggle and resist, or acquiesce. As Bond (2007) claimed, it is hard to remain connected with the people who perpetuate injustice. The dilemma is how far you can challenge the system before you begin paying a price in the form of exclusion, labelling and disconnection. The opposite dilemma is no less pressing: how to live in harmony with your values if you do not enact resistance?

The foregoing dilemmas refer to taking action. A further quandary is what type of action to take. What to do when we are aware that, despite much rhetoric, we are stuck in ameliorative mode? David Chavis (2000) has been involved in community development for 25 years. He has worked for many citizen committees and organizations. His capacity-building efforts have made a major contribution to many block associations in the United States. To what extent that type of work leads to transformation and not just amelioration is not very clear. Chavis (2001) himself criticizes community coalitions for not pushing the social justice agenda far enough.

Chapter Summary

In this chapter we considered how community psychologists could make a difference in organizations and communities alike. We drew a distinction between interventions that ameliorate conditions of suffering and daisadvantage and those who seek to make more profound transformations. This challenge pervades CP work. Typically ameliorative changes attend to values such as caring, compassion, health and a measure of participation. Transformative interventions, in turn, promote social justice, accountability and meaningful participation and empowerment. To promote either type of change, we require skills that can be strategically applied at different stages of the intervention. Emotional competencies are important for working effectively with people in groups, organizations and partnerships. To ensure that emotional competencies are used for social change, we pointed to their transformational potential.

Discrete steps can be followed to increase the likelihood of success in organizational and community interventions. Following the theory of change proposed by Prochaska and colleagues we outlined a sequence of steps for raising awareness of problems, planning, implementing and evaluating new initiatives.

At the community level, we identified three primary roles for community psychologists: partnership maker, change maker and knowledge maker. Most of the skills and steps discussed in the organizational context may be applied in the community context and vice versa. The functions performed by the partnership maker can be assimilated into the job of the organizational developer. The emotional competencies identified for organizational work are equally valid in coalition formation (Cherniss, 2002). Likewise, the dilemmas experienced in organizations make life harder in community settings as well.

Remember That Representation Is Not Enough

Interventions to promote just settings often involve increasing the diversity of those in decision-making roles. Participation of previously marginalized groups is fostered by inviting members of these groups to ‘sit at the table’ as decisions are made about issues ranging from task assignments to priority setting. Increasing representation of ‘minority’ groups is indeed a useful step toward greater equity, yet this step is not inherently transformative.

Beyond elevating voices of individuals from underrepresented group, social justice involves confronting the systems that contribute to a differential distribution of resources. For example, increased family participation on school councils in a diverse urban neighbourhood will have a more dramatic impact if there is also a challenge to the ways that using highly structured tests to determine resource distribution can disadvantage communities of colour. In organizations that have been predominantly white male, the process of involving women and ethnic minorities in decision-making needs to be paired with effective work–family supports and consistent implementation of anti-discrimination policies. It may also require challenging the strict use of seniority to determine promotions when the women and ethnic minorities are the newer hires.

In other words, representation is not enough. The values and practices that guide the distribution of resources are not necessarily altered just by changing who is involved in decision making; social justice also requires changing ongoing organizational and community practices.

Beware of Illusions

Power and privilege dynamics are often out of sight – embedded in taken-for-granted practices. In this regard, I suggest a closer look at the authors’ contention that minimal hierarchies are a step toward transformative change. Flattened hierarchies can be helpful in promoting participation; however, such an impact is anything but guaranteed. Truly transformative interventions must contend with informal interpersonal dynamics, not just with the formal structures that outline opportunities for participation. One important lesson from feminist movement organizations is that structures that masking differences in power and influence by emphasizing collective processes can be more silencing than explicit hierarchies that are visible enough to be commented upon and challenged. Jo Freedman (1972), an early activist in feminist movement organizations, dubbed this dynamic ‘the tyranny of structurelessness’. Differential verbal abilities, comfort with collective arrangements, and age, for example, can give some members more power than others even when the philosophy is feminist and the official hierarchy is ‘flat’. The illusion of power sharing can actually further silence those at the margins through a process of mystification; that is, when people do not see any clear structural barriers to their participation, they may be more inclined to blame themselves for their relative lack of influence.

In summary, it is essential to confront illusions of equity and assess whether the informal dynamics privilege some and silence others (even if inadvertently). Similarly, it is critical to avoid idealizing a lack of differentiated roles or lines of accountability.

Notice the Subtle Divides

The distribution of power and influence often parallels gender, racial and cultural differences. When engaging people as partners, there is a risk of reifying community and organizational norms that are built upon the preferences of the majority group, and, ironically, the dynamics can play out in such a way that only those who are members of the majority group become fully able and/or comfortable to participate. For example, in one long-term consultation, I observed the ways in which organizationally choreographed ‘worker empowerment’ efforts inadvertently impeded social justice goals when the preferences of the demographically dominant group (white male workers) determined the flow, substance and decision-making approaches adopted by teams. Most of the women were not taken seriously, particularly if they did not talk sports at the water cooler; the men of colour were welcome as long as they did not mention racial discrimination (Bond, 2007).

In a case study of agencies that serve individuals with developmental disabilities, we observed a similar dynamic (Bond & Keys, 2000). On these community-based boards, difficulties were often characterized as tensions between those who were parents of service recipients and those who were not. Yet looking across organizations, it became clear that such tensions were much more intense when there were also class differences between the two groups. The class differences, however, were not openly acknowledged. Some of the ‘professional’ board members were dismissive of the more direct style of the parents (calling it unprofessional) – yet it was an approach probably born more of class identity and a history of being ignored than of status as a parent.

Noticing the subtle divides sets the stage for challenging the ways in which the privilege to define dominant norms, values and preferred interpersonal styles is differentially distributed among groups. To support a process of participation that does not attend to these informal power dynamics is to run the very real risk of subverting empowerment. And this can happen in spite of everyone’s best intentions!

Connected Disruption: Seeking Authentic Shifts in Power Relations

What skills, perspectives and sensibilities are useful for change agents as we muck around with these complex dynamics and idealistic goals? A stance of ‘connected disruption’ can be helpful as it emphasizes both the value of participation and the importance of disrupting organizational and cultural arrangements that are blind to privilege (Bond, 2007). The cautionary notes outlined above are not meant to imply that the dynamics that have the impact of subverting equality involve any intentional effort to curtail the empowering potential of participation. Rather, they are subtle system dynamics that are typically quite invisible to participants – particularly to those who are most comfortable with the dominant norms (in the same way that fish are probably unaware of water until it is no longer there). Yet there is no need to blame any individuals or groups for these inequities. Instead, our interventions can hold people accountable for their impact while connecting with them as human beings who are, quite possibly, very well-meaning. Connection and empathy – even with the dominant group – can help set the stage for change.

Simultaneously, I believe we need to work in partnerships that actively recognize system dynamics whereby the supposedly ‘equally valuing’ of groups can actually further silence non-dominant group members. Revealing and elevating minority perspectives is disruptive and signals a loss of power for the majority to define the prevailing version of ‘reality’. This spirit is captured by the slogan, “May the troubled be comforted, and may the comfortable be troubled” (Sanborne, 2001).

In Chapter 9, the authors extend the notion of emotional intelligence to ‘collective intelligence’. I suggest that attention to ‘the well-being of the collective’ requires empathy and an ability to reach out and understand that there are multiple ‘realities’. The ‘capacity of the collective to act on behalf of the individual’ requires a willingness to be disruptive when the collective becomes complacent about arrangements that only support the genuine participation of a privileged few.

Community and Organizational Interventions as Linked

Other texts often treat organizational interventions as if they were another ‘type’ of community intervention. In one sense, the workplace is a ‘community’ and deserves attention as such. However, as the authors point out, it is also the case that organizations are the primary vehicle through which we direct our work with communities and thus deserve additional attention. We need to express – and experience – justice, respect and involvement in this context in order to develop the foundation for our work with the community. If we feel inconsequential, disrespected and diminished in our workplaces, it certainly makes it difficult to support the empowerment of others. Finding authentic ways for all voices to matter and attending to the nuances of power and privilege that accompany participation are goals that are simultaneously common sense and profoundly radical.

Small Group and Individual Interventions

Chapter Organization

What Are Small Group and Individual Interventions?

What Are the Values Supporting the Work with Small Groups and Individuals?

Warm-up Exercise

For us to change and to help others to change, we need to understand how social influences prevent us from transforming our attitudes and behaviour. In particular, we need to understand our relationship to our own power and privilege. Many theories claim that society influences us. We claim that society does not just influence us; society is in us. It is not just a matter of society shaping our ways; we embody society within ourselves. Therefore, it is very hard to be critical of society when we are it, and it is very hard to be critical of ourselves when society doesn’t want us to be critical of the status quo. We are part of the status quo; we are the very society we wish to criticize.

To explore our blind spots then, consider the following group exercise:

a. Form in class a group of four or five students.

b. Make a list of privileges you enjoy in life.

c. Share your list with the group.

d. Discuss with the group how your privileges may come at the expense of others.

e. Contemplate what privileges you may be willing to give up.

f. Discuss what group norms may help you to give up some of your own power and privileges.

After reading this chapter you will be able to answer the following questions about small group and individual interventions:

■ What are they and why are they important?

■ What is their value-base?

■ How do they promote well-being and liberation?

■ What is the role of community psychologists in promoting them?

■ What are some of the limitations and dilemmas they pose for community psychologists?

Is it fair to expect community members wounded by interpersonal and social oppression to change society while they are hurting? At what point do we expect people who have been damaged emotionally and socially to turn their attention to the plight of others? If we expect them to do so too soon they may not be ready or it may not even be fair. After all, they may need some time and space to nurse their wounds and recover, spiritually and psychologically, from experiences of subjugation and minimization. On the other hand, if we don’t connect their plight to the plight of others, in some form of solidarity, we may end up isolating them and their source of discomfort even further. There seems to be a unique paradox at play here. Without some kind of individual attention and space, individuals may not process their own sources of suffering and alienation; but with too much space and individual attention they may not connect their own suffering to the suffering of others, or join hands with others to overcome the forces pressing them down. The paradox may be resolvable if we time individual and small group interventions right and if we connect them to larger efforts at social transformation.

It is entirely possible that citizens experiencing psychosocial emergencies (e.g. abuse, depression, homelessness, crime) may be depleted and unable to turn their attention to the psychopolitical sources of personal, relational and collective suffering. Some of them may justifiably want to focus on the pain of abuse, depression or eviction. Some of them want food and school supplies for their children now. They cannot wait until a radical social transformation takes place. And they are right. So we, community psychologists and community workers of all stripes, rally behind their cause to demand psychosocial emergency help now. But our political awareness tells us that something must be done to stop these tragedies from happening in the first place. Something tells us that it’s not fair that some live in opulence and others in destitution. But the unceasing demand for services and emergency supplies barely leaves time for transformative work. So we, community psychologists and community workers of all stripes, face a serious dilemma: when do we stop looking at the individual emergencies in order to put out the fire that is causing so many burns in the first place? It may seem out of place to worry about politics when children cannot eat now. It may seem utopian to think of a better society when homeless families are on the streets now. But if we fail to dream and we fail to put out the fire, more and more casualties will continue to require our immediate attention and nobody will have the foresight to think about the future, or the other children who will become homeless and hungry if we don’t act now.

In the context of this dilemma we explore the role of individual and small group interventions. Our premise is that individual and small group interventions must be connected to the large socioeconomic spheres that dictate so much of what transpires at the local and micro levels of experience and analysis. Hence, we are in favour of providing psychosocial emergency services, provided they are accompanied and paralleled by efforts at social transformation. Otherwise, however well intentioned they might be, individual and small group interventions strengthen the status quo by giving the message that what ought to change is primarily psychological and not sociological. By the same token, we oppose societal interventions that neglect the psychological needs of individual members and force social changes without community consultation (Aldarondo, 2007; Lord & Hutchison, 2007; Quiñones Rosado, 2007; Toporek et al., 2006).

Think of yourself as a practising community psychologist. You are under pressure to look after psychosocial emergencies such as abuse, neglect and teenage pregnancy, but you know that you cannot expend all your energies treating the casualties of social decay. If you do, you’ll have no time or stamina to prevent them in the first place. Well, most of us community psychologists feel that way. In this chapter we review the benefits of individual and small group interventions but we caution against glorification of their virtues, lest we forget that psychosocial emergency treatments have their limitations. Not surprisingly, their usefulness is a question of timing, balance and context.

Hitherto we have turned our attention to interventions with people who require some form of help. But this is only one way of using individual and small group interventions. These strategies may also be used with people who do not necessarily hurt but can, and want to, fight injustice. The foci may change, but some of the tools are the same. In both instances we need to be good listeners, good communicators and good challengers of the status quo. This preamble alerts us to the many uses of individual and group interventions. They can be used in supporting the unwell, but also in channelling the transformational energies of the well-enough. Let’s see how we can do this in our work and personal lives.

What Are Small Group and Individual Interventions?

Situations requiring small group and individual interventions are as diverse as the sources of oppression and suffering. Our holistic notions of health and wellbeing require that we intervene at the personal, relational and collective levels.

Problems of abuse, homelessness and discrimination have multiple sources and multiple manifestations. While the problems go beyond any one individual’s scope of action, the repercussions are often felt deeply at the personal level (Goodman et al., 2007; McWhirter, 1994; Perilla. Lavizzo, & Ibáñez, 2007). To help individuals cope with problems in living and to strengthen their personal resources we devise individual and small group interventions. These interventions identify people’s assets and build on their resilience. However, these strategies are not meant exclusively for people experiencing psychosocial challenges, for they can also be used to generate social change with people who are fortunate not to experience severe challenges.

For us, then, individual and small group interventions are paths and strategies towards coping and social transformation at the same time. Interventions of this kind may occur in mental health centres, community centres, adult education programs, schools, as part of a prevention program or as a component of mutual help projects. Furthermore, they may be directed by community, clinical, school or organizational psychologists, natural helpers, mentors, lay people or community workers. The crucial component for us is that people working with individuals and small groups follow the values and principles of CP articulated in earlier chapters. This means constant attention to the balance among values for personal, relational and collective well-being. This type of work requires the skilful combination of compassion and empathy with the ability to challenge preconceived notions of community members. All of it in such a way that trust may be built between the helper and the community member (Corey & Corey, 2003).

We want to be clear though that some mental health problems require the specialized treatment of clinical psychologists or counsellors. However, there are many issues in life that may be addressed with the help of natural helpers in the community such as youth leaders, pastors, mentors, friends, teachers and relatives. Hence, personal and small group work happens in parenting groups, counselling sessions, mutual help associations and so on (Gitterman & Shulman, 2005).

Chapter 2 outlined the two main goals of CP: well-being and liberation. Driven by these goals and by the values expressed in Chapter 3, the task is to develop skills that can put these visions into action. The remainder of the chapter deals with that challenge.

What Are the Values Supporting the Work with Small Groups and Individuals?

While all the values articulated in Chapters 2 and 3 play a role in well-being and liberation, the need for some values may be more pressing for some people than for others. People’s needs, in turn, are greatly determined by the context of their lives. Hence, we cannot predetermine what combination of values will be most helpful to a woman before we know her situation. Victims of abuse, during a certain phase of their recovery, may need more compassion than assertiveness and self-determination. They may not have the emotional wherewithal to deal with the abuser or with the system that often re-victimizes them. But after a certain period of mourning or reflection or participation in self-help groups, victims may be ready to fight the system and help others who have been equally victimized. As discussed in Chapter 5, empowerment is closely linked to mentoring relationships and participation in action groups. Connecting with others in similar situations is a source of support and growth; it’s comforting and energizing at the same time (Alsop, Bertelsen, & Holland, 2006; Lord & Hutchinson, 2007).

The question we have to ask ourselves is what does this person need right now? As we progress in our work, we have to ask ourselves how her or his needs have changed over the course of our relationship. These are questions we cannot answer for ourselves. Our partners in the helping relationship have a big say in what they need. We accompany them on their journey, but we don’t necessarily tell them where to travel, even if at times we may suggest a different course of action (Kamya, 2007).

Why Are Small Group and Individual Interventions Important?

This question has a three-part answer. They are important because they enhance personal, relational and collective well-being. As may be seen in Table 10.1, the effects of individual and small group interventions may be felt at all these levels. Whereas some individual interventions may concentrate on the emotional well-being of the person in front of us, others can target relational or societal domains such as norms of aggression or social capital (Aldarondo, 2007; Toporek et al., 2006).

Table 10.1 Potential contributions of small group and individual interventions







Effective coping Resilience

Better quality of life Voice and choice Dignity and self-respect Respect

Sense of control

Supportive relationships Caring and compassion Participation in decisions affecting one’s life Respect for diversity in relationships

Better parenting

Enhanced social capital Higher educational outcomes

Reduced prevalence of mental health problems Economic productivity Sense of community Improved safety

Liberation from

Overcome internalized

Support people to leave

Group action against oppressive forces oppression abusive relationships patriarchy and other forms

Personal de-blaming

Prevent emotional abuse in of domination

Personal empowerment family, school and work

Links with other solidarity

Expression of anger

Join with others in struggle groups

Protest against personal for liberation

More leaders in social and social injustice

Accountability in relationships movements

Clear connections between

Relationships based on ‘power

Citizens with political personal and social with’ instead of ‘power over’ consciousness injustice

Education about sources of injustice

At the personal level, research has documented some of the beneficial effects of counselling and therapy. Positive outcomes include better coping, higher sense of control, improved life satisfaction, renewed appreciation for one’s voice, enhanced self-concept as well as other positive effects (Joyce, Wolfaardt, Sribney & Aylwin, 2006). These positive outcomes concern primarily a person’s well-being. Equally beneficial outcomes include liberation from oppressive psychological, social or political forces (Prochaska et al., 1994). Emancipatory outcomes at the personal level include overcoming internalized oppression, personal de-blaming, empowerment and making the connection between personal suffering and political circumstances (Green, 2007; McWhirter & McWhirter, 2007). Personal well-being is closely tied to political well-being (Goodman et al., 2007; McWhirter, 1994; McGillivray & Clarke, 2006; Moane, 1999; Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002).

Working with individuals or small groups can also have positive effects in the relational domain. They can improve relationships, balance power dynamics and increase participation in decisions affecting one’s life and others. The benefits of individual and small group work can radiate outwards and create positive ripple effects. If I learn in a group how to identify my own biases and how to communicate with others better, those who surround me at work and at home will benefit from my participation in such group (Barrera, 2000; Cohen et al., 2000; Maton, 2008).

At the collective level, this kind of work can strengthen social capital, reduce the prevalence of mental health problems, improve community safety and even generate social action to challenge oppressive norms (Putnam, 2000). We are reminded of Margaret Mead’s ‘never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ Research demonstrates that empowerment is a very relational construct. Few are the people who empower themselves without joining groups or getting support from others (Alsop, Bertelesen & Holland, 2006; Lord & Hutchinson, 2007).

In addition to these beneficial outcomes, let’s not forget that all our work in organizations, communities and social movements reviewed in earlier chapters relies heavily on our ability to work with people – another useful legacy of clinical and counselling psychology. There is, in fact, a great deal of correlation between our ability to listen empathically and to be a small group facilitator and our ability to be effective in any kind of organization. As Goleman (1995, 1998) noted, there is a core set of emotional intelligence skills that are transferable from setting to setting.

How Do Small Group and Individual Interventions Promote Well-being and Liberation?

Individual and small group interventions can, and often do, go together. A common intervention in community psychological work is home visiting. In many early intervention programs, parents work with a nurse, a psychologist, a community worker or a volunteer. Mothers are often given advice on how to stimulate their infants and what to expect from them at different developmental phases.

Often these mothers also attend parenting groups where they share experiences and learn from each other.

People who are effective changers go through identifiable stages. We introduced in Chapter 9 stages of change. Prochaska and colleagues observed that people move through different phases when they get ready to make changes in their lives (Prochaska et al., 1994). Although recent research shows that people do not necessarily move sequentially from one stage to another, there is evidence that a certain amount of readiness is needed to engage in behavioural changes and move to action (Adams & White, 2005; Brug et al., 2005; DiClemente, Nidecker

& Bellack, 2008; Littell & Girvin, 2002). The heuristic value of the Prochaska model lies in identifying certain prerequisites for affective, behavioural and cognitive change. In this chapter we apply these phases to individual and small group work. Our dual emphasis is on how people work to alter circumstances oppressing them and create changes to give up some of their power and privilege. Whereas the former concentrates on forms of empowerment, the latter deals with forms of depowerment (see Chapter 16). In this section we deal with both kinds of change.

Table 10.2 Steps for interventions with individuals and small groups


Work with Individuals

Work with Small Groups


■ Explore sources of oppression and suffering

■ Explore need for accountability

■ Review reasons for coming together

■ Legitimize group’s existence


■ Refine and define areas of work

■ Think about personal, relational and collective changes

■ Refine and define areas of work

■ Establish principles for working together

■ Validate misgivings and hesitations


■ Choose specific goals and areas of change

■ Warm up to idea of doing things differently

■ Devise plan for achieving personal and group goals

■ Have timelines for preparation phase


■ Experiment with actions to overcome oppression

■ In cases of over-empowerment, explore ways of sharing power and increasing accountability

■ Balance attention to participatory processes with concrete actions

■ Decide ahead of time on schedule but remain open to changes as group evolves


■ Put in place systems of sustainability that will reinforce personal empowerment or depowerment, as the case might be

■ Develop norms and procedures to sustain and institutionalize change either in people’s behaviours or in social changes pursued


■ Evaluate process and outcomes of change, not only at the end of a trial period but throughout work phase as well

■ Group conducts formative and summative evaluations of the work


■ Procedures are in place for individual to check with self and others to see if changes are maintained

■ Institutionalize procedures to help group members to remain accountable to each other

During the various phases of change there are certain jobs that need to be done. In this section we describe the tasks community members embark on. In the next section we focus on what we, as community psychologists, need to do to enable community members to be effective change agents.

Helping encounters come in many forms. In some instances service providers and service recipients are paired because of a third-party order. Such is the case when a court mandates a young person to see a probation officer or when a school principal sends a child to a counsellor. In other cases help is voluntarily sought from a social worker or a psychologist. In yet others, it happens because the community psychologist is part of a project and people trust her and come to her with their personal issues.


During pre-contemplation some people are in denial. Our role as agents of change is to begin exploring what are some of the challenges affecting them in life. Some may feel uneasy or unhappy but may be unable to articulate the source of oppression or concern. Some others may completely deny the mere existence of an issue. A milestone is achieved when they can verbalize what is bothering them and what may be the source of the problem. Whereas some people may be the subject of oppressive relationships or discriminatory practices, others may be exerting too much power over others, causing themselves and others pain and suffering. But being the complex beings that we are, most of us are somewhere in between these two poles of oppressed or oppressors. In fact, most of us experience some of both (Goodman, 2001). In some realms of our lives we suffer some form of minimization and exclusion; in others we do the same to other people. This requires that we, as helpers, view our clients and ourselves as potentially inflicting pain on others, directly or indirectly, wittingly or unwittingly, consciously or unconsciously. This interpretation rejects simple categorizations of people as either oppressors or oppressed. In pursuing well-being and liberation, we think that lasting changes come about when individuals reflect on their dual roles in life as contributors to well-being and possible oppression at the same time.

In group work, the beginning stages also require that the group review its origins and aims (Dimock, 1987; Johnson & Johnson, 2000). In cases where the group is mandated, as in patients in psychiatric hospitals or young people in courtordered treatment, there may be animosity towards the leader or other members of the group. Hence, we think it’s important to spend some time clarifying feelings and legitimizing the group’s existence, if such can be accomplished.


Whether it is in individual or small group work, we recommend that people spend some time during the contemplation phase defining the problem. It is all too possible and common to jump into action before knowing what the problem is. Ideological influences are such in our society that people can seriously misjudge the source of their suffering. A common misattribution is to impute to oneself blame for things beyond one’s control. Unemployed people blame themselves for losing their jobs and victims of spouse abuse blame themselves for not doing the right things. Advice programs, widely prevalent in North America, oversimplify problems and hosts are quick to diagnose a mental disorder. Judging by their popularity, their followers must be substantial. Contemplation requires that we explore carefully what we need to change and where we should channel our energies. Beware of actions that precede contemplation.

Group work also requires some contemplation with respect to values and working principles. Do we have a leader? Do we make decisions by consensus? Do we rotate in our roles? Nothing is worse than starting a process with only an implicit understanding of how it ‘should’ work. People come to the table with varied experiences and expectations. The sooner we clarify them openly the better off we are. It is at this stage that misgivings and hesitations need to be aired. Otherwise they can fester like wounds, create resistance and undermine ownership (Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001).


The preparation phase is very important. Eager clinicians send their clients to do something different, only to find out later that they were not ready for it. After all, change is hard and there is no reason why people should welcome it. Habitual modes of relating to others and thinking about ourselves are profoundly engrained in our individual and collective psyche. Imagery, visualization, concrete plans and achievable goals can all help in moving forward.


Action, then, is only one more element in the equation, albeit an important one. People need a great deal of support to experiment with new ways of being and relating to the world. Some mechanisms for the promotion of resilience include person-centred changes such as enhanced self-esteem, while others entail environmental modifications. Action must take into account research on resilience, for it elucidates naturally occurring mechanisms that can be incorporated into helping processes.

Groups can act as powerful resources in introducing new behaviours in their members or getting rid of undesirable ones (Johnson & Johnson, 2000). The literature on mutual help and organizing confirms that empowerment often grows out of social support and solidarity (Gitterman & Shulman, 2005; Speer & Hughey, 1995). But groups can be powerful in multiple ways, not all of them positive. Norms of conformity can suppress creativity, and power dynamics can further oppress vulnerable members. Hence, attention to process is crucial throughout the life of the group (Johnson & Johnson, 2000).


If you have ever tried to change something, you know how difficult it can be to sustain the new behaviour. If you tried to stop smoking or to lose weight, you probably know that starting is not as hard as keeping it up. This is why the stage of maintenance is so crucial (Prochaska et al., 1994). Planning for change without planning for maintenance is a recipe for failure. Imagine you decided to start exercising every other day for 30 minutes. You made a plan that read like ‘exercise for 30 minutes Monday, Wednesday and Friday’ but you did not plan exactly what time. What if somebody invites you to go out for a drink instead or if you just have too much to study? You may have had a good beginning, but you did not have a contingency plan or a maintenance plan. Groups can be powerful in creating norms of accountability. Alcoholics Anonymous creates pacts among its members that serve to maintain the gains newly acquired. Attending the meetings and sharing the personal odyssey towards sobriety helps people with addictions to keep the risk at bay.


Evaluation should not be relegated to the end of the change process. Nothing is more disappointing for group members or facilitators than to realize at the end that you had missed the ball from the beginning, that you didn’t notice some people were disengaged, that therapy wasn’t working, that there wasn’t ownership of the process. To prevent this, it’s important to build in reflective practice structured moments where people can express their feelings about how things are going, either in group or individual quests for change (Patterson & Welfel, 2000). This requires the creation of a truly safe space where discontent may be expressed and achievements may be celebrated. Role modelling is crucial for formative evaluations to work. The message from the facilitator of change ought to be that mistakes happen, things can go wrong and it is better to express discomfort as is felt. A skilled facilitator balances opportunities for process reflections with concrete actions and achievements.


Part of maintenance and evaluation is follow-up. Setting dates for reviewing new practices, assigning roles for championing new procedures, animating processes that keep an innovation alive are all parts of follow-up. Institutionalizing innovations is the culmination of change.

What Is the Role of Community Psychologists Working in Small Groups and Individual Interventions?

In a nutshell, the role is to enable the progression from pre-contemplation to maintenance and follow-up. But for this to occur, certain skills and roles have to be developed. Tables 10.3 and 10.4 describe eight roles that must be present every step of the way. While the discrete learning of these roles is vital, it is their integration that is crucial for success in facilitating change in individuals and small groups (Prilleltensky & Prilleltensky, 2006). What is expected of a skilled facilitator is to invoke the most appropriate role at the most opportune time. Based on the first edition of this book, Prilleltensky and Prilleltensky (2006) elaborated affective, behavioural and cognitive (ABC) strategies to reinforce the eight roles presented as follows. To engage people in processes of change, we need to involve their emotions, their actions and their thoughts. ABC strategies help to be very specific in our roles.

The eight roles we recommend can be summarized in the acronym I VALUE IT, which stands for:

Inclusive host Visionary Asset seeker

Listener and sense maker Unique solution finder Evaluator

Implementer Trendsetter

In the next sections we describe these roles. Reading Tables 10.3 and 10.4 will give you concrete ways to exercise these roles.

Inclusive Host

The role of inclusive host calls for the creation of a welcoming atmosphere. In such a climate people feel safe to explore sources of oppression, avenues for empowerment, vulnerabilities, as well as personal and social privilege. An inclusive host makes space for all guests to feel at home. In a non-judgemental atmosphere people begin to consider aspects of their lives they didn’t feel comfortable to explore before. This is the case in individual and small group interventions alike, although it is somewhat harder to achieve in the latter because of the gaze of multiple spectators.

An inclusive host strives to make all members of the group as accepting as possible. This requires a ‘reading’ of where people are at during the conversation. Skilful facilitators have a finger on the pulse of the group at all times. This is quite a sophisticated ability, as it requires identification of people’s moods as individuals and as a group. Some of the questions inclusive hosts ask themselves are:

a. Is everyone feeling comfortable?

b. Is someone dominating the discussion in the group?

c. Are there some people who feel afraid to speak?

d. Have I made an effort to hear from all the people in the group?

e. Are people leaving the meeting enthusiastic or disappointed?

Once people feel comfortable and ready to do some individual or group work, it is important to help them envision a better, yet realistic, state of affairs. When people grow up in violent homes sometimes they come to believe that this is the way things are supposed to be. Their world of possibilities may be constrained by multiple factors including socialization, family experiences, community narratives and deprecating messages about one’s group or personal abilities.

Table 10.3 ABC – I VALUE IT: Roles and strategies for personal well-being in work with individuals





Inclusive host

Make person feel safe and welcome to explore sensitive issues and ways of thriving

Help person experiment with new modes of behaviour, including asking for help or admitting insecurity

Encourage exploration of meanings associated with issues

Visionary Process

Ask what processes or ways of working would make person feel comfortable

Find out what behaviours person expects from self and from you in the process

Articulate goals and objectives for process of working together


Explore what feelings would person like to have or experience as result of work

Inquire what new behaviours would person like to see in self and others

Help visualize better state of affairs and personal role in it

Asset seeker

Affirm person’s unique feelings and abilities

Recognize previous ways of coping and thriving that can be built upon

Identify meaning and meaning making ways that help integrate experiences into life narrative

Listener and sense maker

Collaborate in exploring full range of feelings

Explore how own behaviour impacts self and others, and how others’ behaviours impact self

Make connections between feelings, behaviours, thoughts and meanings associated with them

Unique solution finder

Overcome emotional barriers in enacting new behaviours and reward and celebrate new behaviours

Articulate plan of action and break new behaviours into small chunks

Use cognitive strategies such as reframing and challenging cognitive errors


Past efforts

Explore feelings associated with past efforts at change or thriving

Evaluate past behaviours and their successes

Examine interpretation of past efforts

Present efforts

Explore feelings associated with current efforts

Evaluate present behaviours and their successes

Examine interpretation of current efforts

Future efforts

Anticipate feelings associated with future efforts

Identify what behaviours have to occur to explore future actions

Plan evaluation of future actions and explore associated meanings


Explore feelings associated with making new behaviour or perceptions part of life

Create a plan to make new behaviour or perceptions part of life and for handling barriers

Develop cognitive strategies for making changes integral part of your life and for anticipating barriers


Explore feelings associated with taking risks and becoming a leader

Explore steps needed to disseminate changes in other parts of your life or with other significant others

Work on self-perceptions of leadership qualities and opportunities

Source: From Prilleltensky & Prilleltensky, 2006; Reproduced with permission from John Wiley & Sons.

Table 10.4 ABC – I VALUE IT: Roles and strategies for personal well-being in work with groups






Inclusive host

Create safe environment for people to express views and emotions

Structure time and space where safe and fun dialogue can occur

Promote sharing of personal narratives and interpretations of events and beliefs

Visionary Process

Foster feelings of affiliation and solidarity in group work

Engage people in activities to devise a vision for working together

Address basic assumptions about working in groups


Make the vision alive and foster ownership of it throughout the organization or community

Involve people in the development of a vision for team, unit, organization or community

Analyze gap between actual and desire state of affairs

Asset seeker

Make sure you recognize and affirm people’s strengths

Help people develop inventories of own strengths

Reframe life experiences and ways of coping as strengths

Listener and sense maker

Establish processes for people to feel heard and valued

Structure opportunities for people to speak, learn, and problem solve together

Learn how to listen to each other and problem solve in teams

Unique solution finder

Small wins keep people engaged and energized

Assign specific actions in line with goals and objectives

Identify what values, beliefs and assumptions either promote or inhibit new actions

Evaluator Past efforts

Make it safe to explore past failures and successes

Get people involved in evaluation criteria that is meaningful to them

Analyze links between sites, signs, sources and strategies of well-being

Present efforts

Reward people for sharing sources of stress

Use empowerment-based evaluation and appreciative inquiry to evaluate efforts

If change is needed, create cognitive dissonance between aspirations and actual actions

Future efforts

Build trust by showing your own personal commitment to act

Institutionalize mechanisms to monitor well-being of staff and community members

Create narrative of ongoing growth and development


Celebrate attempts to implement new behaviours and attitudes into life of organization or community

Build structures that support new behaviours and attitudes and foster sustainability

Tell stories of success and how they have helped other people improve well-being


Generate enthusiasm among peers about being leaders in a field

Have a participatory plan for disseminating lessons learned

Spread the message across organizations and communities in compelling ways

Source: From Prilleltensky & Prilleltensky, 2006; reproduced with permission from John Wiley & Sons.


It is the role of the visionary to expand the realm of possibilities and establish values and principles to guide the work. Hence, in our role as visionaries we fulfil the dual task of aspiring to a better state of affairs and creating norms that will help us work together at the same time. In short, we envision the end and the means to achieve it. But we don’t envision it by ourselves. We most definitely include the group and our associates in making the decision. Hence, we need to become visionaries of a good process and a good outcome, as seen in Tables 10.3 and 10.4.

In individual work there are only two people making decisions about personal growth, coping strategies or social activism. In group situations, the process of crafting a vision and choosing values that guide the collaboration can be fairly involved. Some questions a visionary can ask him or herself at this stage include the following:

a. Have all people expressed their aspirations?

b. Are we able to think of alternative ways of being?

c. Have we established a process that is democratic and inclusive?

d. Have we had time to think about the norms that we all want to follow?

e. Is there collective ownership for the values and vision we have created?

Asset Seeker

As asset seekers it is our job to identify sources of resilience, strength and ingenuity in the people we work with (Prilleltensky & Prilleltensky, 2006). In individual encounters it is important to validate what the person in front of us is already doing well to cope with a problem or to fight injustice. Disenfranchised community members are used to hearing about their deficits, when in fact many of them have remarkable talent in coping with adverse circumstances. Within group settings it is vital not to leave anyone behind in our search for assets and strengths. People have experiential or academic knowledge they wish to have validated. To make sure we are effective in our search for assets we can ask the following questions:

a. Have I asked people how they cope with this difficult situation?

b. Have we discussed what each of us can contribute to the process?

c. Are we able to combine our strengths in a synergistic way?

d. Have I offered my input as an equal member of the group?

e. Have we explored different types of knowledge and wisdom that can help us in our collaborative work?

Listener and Sense Maker

A listener’s main job is to attend carefully to what people are saying about their lives, challenges, struggles and aspirations. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of letting people speak and explain on their own terms what they are experiencing and hoping and feeling. It is not uncommon for eager helpers to rush to give advice before they have listened carefully. Each of us brings to the table multiple assumptions that can lead to unwarranted conclusions about other people’s lives. It is best not to presume anything about people’s lives or views before we check it out with them (Green, 2007; O. Prilleltensky, 2009).

Once we have a good grasp of the issues and challenges ahead, we begin to conceptualize the problem and isolate the main factors causing and perpetuating suffering, injustice and oppression in personal, communal and social lives. As community psychologists we always have our antenna up for signals of oppression and exclusion. Power differentials and inequality figure prominently in the lives of people we work with (Lewis et al., 2003; Quiñones Rosado, 2007; Vera & Speight, 2007). Unlike other professionals in the helping fields, we do not necessarily concentrate on intrapsychic dynamics, although they may be an important part of the puzzle. For us, internal psychological processes are just one more element to consider. Ecologically speaking, we conceptualize problems in terms of micro, meso and macro spheres. As noted in Chapter 2, holism is the perfect antidote against reductionism in the formulation of problems.

As we come to our own conclusions about a problem in living or a challenge to work on, we have to recognize that our views may differ from the group or the individual we are working with. We have to consider the possibility that our conceptualization may be wrong or that it may take more dialogue for people to reach consensus on causes and possible solutions. Conflict is expected and unavoidable. The very way we deal with that may be therapeutic and growth enhancing.

To remind ourselves of the various tasks involved in being a good listener and sense maker, we can use the following prompts:

a. Have I listened without interruptions to what people have to say about their issues?

b. Have I thought about it in ecological terms?

c. Have I expressed disagreement or alternative conceptualizations in a respectful way?

d. Have I thought about the influence of power inequality in this person’s life?

e. Has the group agreed on the definition of the problem and possible solutions?

Unique Solution Finder

Based on the vision, the assets and the particular circumstances affecting a person or group, we craft together with them unique solutions. We call upon our previous knowledge, research and experience to inform decisions uniquely suited to the plight of this person or collective. If a group wishes to use a confrontational technique with city hall, and you know that this strategy will alienate potential allies, as a unique solution finder you want to discuss the merits of other options. If a victim of spousal abuse wishes to return to the marriage, and you know from her past experience and other research that this will probably not work out, as a unique solution finder you want to raise the possibility that this may not be the best way to proceed. In either case, our alternatives have to be accepted by the people we work with. There is no point in forcing our views upon others who are not ready to listen.

Our ability to identify transformational actions while keeping everyone effectively engaged at the same time is essential. We discussed in the previous chapter the set of emotional intelligence skills that can help us not only in ameliorative, but in transformational work as well (see Table 9.3). These competencies come in handy when working with individuals and small groups. Questions that sharpen our skills as unique solution finders include the following:

a. Have I considered with the group the risks and benefits of every course of action?

b. Have I consulted colleagues and the literature on the merits of various alternatives?

c. Is our work balancing attention to process with attention to outcomes?

d. Is the preferred action in accord with our values?

e. Do we have a contingency plan in case this strategy doesn’t work?


As seen in Tables 10.3 and 10.4, we need to evaluate previous, current, and future efforts. Empowerment-based evaluations and appreciate-inquiry methods make it safe for individuals and groups to explore what is going well, what needs changing and what can be done better in the future. To be an effective evaluator we have to build on the previous roles of listener and asset seeker. We need to celebrate prior achievements, however small, and make it safe for people to reflect critically on their own actions. Evaluating our actions is part of becoming a reflective practitioner and a learning organization. Some questions we find useful for the evaluator role are as follows:

a. Have we created a space to reflect on how we’re feeling about our work together?

b. What have we done to evaluate our intervention?

c. Are people feeling safe enough to express disapproval?

d. Am I open to challenges and criticism?

e. Have we practiced how to give feedback in respectful and useful ways?


The main role of the implementer is to synthesize all the previous roles and to create structures that enable the adoption of new behaviours, policies and practices. It is not enough to hope that individuals will stick to a plan. Incentives, supports and rewards are required to sustain efforts at change. A skilful implementer takes the pulse of the individual or group often and decides what the best course of action is and how this decision will affect future accomplishments. In a sense, we are integrating all the skills when we assume the role of implementer. This is the meta-role community psychologists assume. Prilleltensky and Prilleltensky (2006,

p. 93) propose the following questions as a guide to becoming a proficient implementer and integrator of skills:

a. Have I tried to be an inclusive host, asset seeker, good listener and solution finder?

b. Have I tried to identify with my partners the most suitable solution for the long term?

c. Have I made a mental list of the important considerations at play?

d. Have I considered the power differentials at play that might interfere with our goals?

e. Have I considered enabling and inhibiting factors that will impact our plan of action?

Trend Setter

Perhaps the toughest part of the job is to make changes last, both in our personal and institutional lives. This is why we have to pay particular attention to our role as trend setters. To achieve a change is admirable, but to make it into a new trend is even more remarkable (Mayer & Davidson, 2000; Prochaska et al., 1994). This role supports maintenance and follow-up as described in Table 10.2. When starting new programs in the community so much effort goes into project development, recruitment and evaluation that sustainability is often not a priority. By the time funding runs out in a few years, there are rarely plans for the continuation of the initiative. Long-term planning applies to individual, group or community change alike.

The first priority is to institutionalize the innovation at the personal and local levels. Once that has been accomplished, it’s important to take the message to other communities and groups (Mayer & Davidson, 2000). In Chapter 16 we can see how indigenous groups in New Zealand, in collaboration with treaty workers, strive to educate the entire population about Maori rights. Treaty workers have a systematic way of working with organizations so that education and affirmative actions may be institutionalized in government and private settings alike. It is not enough to raise the consciousness of a few people about the rights of aboriginal people – their plan of action includes a strategy for disseminating knowledge about past wrongs and possible ways of addressing them. This is an example of trend setting. The essence of trend setting is going beyond the initial goal. Remember: one swallow does not a summer make.

What can be done to make trend setting a priority? Some questions community psychologists can ask include the following:

a. What have we done to make sure that the changes we plan for are maintained?

b. How do we change the system, not just perceptions, in order to institutionalize innovations?

c. What group norms can we establish to help members sustain new behaviours?

d. How can we disseminate knowledge gained in one setting to others?

e. What do we know from the literature about institutionalizing innovations?

Trend setting is not only very challenging but is also very exciting. Community members like being part of something new and transformative. Motivation increases when people realize that their contributions may transcend the local level. Think of environmental trends such as recycling and composting and you can appreciate how much rarer they were 20 or 30 years ago than they are today. At first environmentalists encountered much more opposition than they face today when trying to institute earth-friendly policies and practices. The same may be said of civil rights activists who fought an uphill battle to obtain basic human rights. While their struggle is far from over, new trends, such as affirmative action and disability rights legislation, make it easier for people of colour and people with disabilities to participate in society.

What Are the Strengths and Limitations of Small Group and Individual Interventions?

We started this chapter with the concept of psychosocial emergencies. These are wounds that require urgent treatment. Abuse, neglect, violence, addictions, depression and homelessness, all require immediate attention. And when properly given and carefully applied, sensitive one-on-one and small group interventions can help. People recover hope, feel empowered, join others in fighting inequality and enjoy the benefits of mutual support.

Research demonstrates that individual and small group interventions can help at the universal, selective and indicated levels (if you need a refresher on these concepts see Chapter 4). At the universal level, schools that smooth the transition from elementary to high school by grouping children in small clusters and restructuring the school environment deliver positive outcomes. In the School Transition Environment Project (STEP) in the United States, the school was reorganized so that Grade 9 students remained with the same group of students in the same part of the building for most of the day; they had a small group of teachers, and the class teachers handled many of the guidance-related issues for these students. Effectively this intervention created a smaller, more supportive environment within the context of a larger, more impersonal school. Compared with students in a control group, the students who participated in this new arrangement reported more positive attitudes towards school, had fewer absences and had better marks (Felner & Adan, 1988). This is a universal intervention in that all school children in the United States participate in the program. They all receive individual guidance and they all work in small groups. Such a program has proved to be effective in enhancing academic performance and satisfaction with school overall.

At the selective level, families at risk for abuse or neglect, or children at risk for educational underachievement benefit from individual and small group interventions with parents and children alike. Geoff Nelson and colleagues conducted two meta-analyses to find out whether programs such as home visitation and family preservation achieve reductions in abuse and whether early intervention programs have lasting effects on children’s educational well-being (MacLeod & Nelson, 2000; Nelson, Westhues & MacLeod, 2003). In both instances Nelson and colleagues found that individual and small group interventions work. Some work better than others and some achieve longer-lasting results than others, but in general these analyses support the implementation of individual interventions with parents to prevent abuse and with children to enhance educational outcomes. Parents feel better about their children, obtain better employment and improve rearing knowledge and techniques. Children, in turn, become better learners and experience higher family and social well-being.

Sensitive home visitors help parents to remove blame and feelings of inadequacy. Trained group facilitators also help children of divorced parents to remove blame and feelings of inadequacy. Social support groups help people with addictions, mental health problems, physical disabilities and other afflictions to overcome exclusion, marginality and depression (Levy, 2000).

At the indicated level, individual and small group interventions are also effective in coping with adversities such as ill-health and serious mental health problems. In Chapter 21 we can see how people with psychiatric conditions benefit from mutual help and empowering approaches.

At all levels, through a process of personal affirmation and safe exploration, individuals and groups achieve higher levels of well-being. In the best possible world, the newly gained confidence and psychological health would be invested in helping others achieve higher levels of well-being and collective liberation. But often this is not the case. Self-actualization can easily turn into selfish actualization, a trend that has been inadvertently supported by traditional therapeutic approaches that reinforce individualism (Prilleltensky, 1994b).

At present, most preventive interventions are person-centred or smallgroup-centred. This flies in the face of ecological formulations of problems. If problems reside in systems as much as in individuals, how come most of our psychological interventions put the onus of change on the victim and not on the system? Furthermore, most interventions wish to fix the person damaged and not the powerful ones inflicting the damage. These are inherent risks of individual and small group interventions. On one hand they are helpful, but on the other hand they divert attention from mesoand macro-sources of conflict.

A final caveat to keep in mind: the vast majority of individual and small group interventions are ameliorative in nature. They soothe wounds and react to pain, but do not confront their origins. In a sense, they follow the medical model of ‘wait and they shall show up in your clinic’ (Albee, 1990; Vera & Speight, 2007).

What Are Some of the Dilemmas Faced by Community Psychologists Working with Small Groups and Individuals?

What right do we have to convince people to work for social change, to oppose convention, to rebel? If we are clear about our values, we are bound to share them with the people we work with. If we have an agenda for change, we will want to propagate it. Who is to say that our values will not seep into the work we do with individuals and small groups. That would not be a dilemma if people invited and allowed us to work for social change, but what about groups who think we can help them with addictions and we end up talking about how corporations exploit children and poor people and entice them to smoke? Aren’t we politicizing the helping process? The answer is we most definitely are. The dilemma lies not in pretending we are apolitical when in fact we are not, but in introducing agendas community partners may not be ready for, or interested in. After all, community psychologists are well known for working on healthand welfare-related issues but not on radical transformation.

In our view, the ethical way to proceed is to share our convictions, our analyses and our strategies with people we work with. It is up to the partners to decide whether health can be isolated from corporate greed or not and whether they see any connection between eating disorders and the fashion industry. If our partners refuse to make the connections, or if they oppose our agenda, which is entirely possible, the collaboration may not work, in which case we gracefully exit the scene. We cannot be all things to all people.

We should not psychologize everything and think that people who exploit others are simply misguided or psychologically unhealthy. That may very well be true. But we must keep in mind that certain groups may expressly reject our values and wish us away. How wonderful it would be if we could easily tell who is misguided and who is a genuine despot. Until there is a quick procedure for such diagnosis, we are stuck with disclosing our values and seeing how far we can go with them.

Chapter Summary

This chapter merely touched upon ways of working with individuals and groups. Due to space considerations we could not expand on specific interviewing skills or group facilitation. Fortunately, there are excellent resources for learning the craft of interview and group processes (see Resources section below). In this chapter we chose to discuss the more likely roles of community psychologists and the likely stages people go through in their efforts to make personal or social change.

Prochaska’s stages of change remind us that effective self-changers go through discernable steps, from pre-contemplation to maintenance and follow-up (Prochaska et al., 1994). There is merit in following their wisdom. Each phase builds on previous ones and skipping may cause unnecessary regressions. Action without contemplation may be misguided and contemplation without action may be frustrating. These phases are enabled by a set of skills and roles.

We recommended the use of seven roles, introduced in earlier chapters and applicable to work with both individuals and small groups: inclusive host, visionary, asset seeker, listener conceptualizer, pragmatic partner, research partner and trend setter. Mastery of individual skills is important, but their integration and activation at appropriate times is vital.

The dilemmas we posed at the beginning and the end of the chapter are not easily resolvable. How do we allocate our time between psychosocial emergencies and preventive measures? How can we tell if people who reject our values are simply misguided or genuinely disinterested in the well-being and liberation of others? For how long do we try to persuade others before we decide they need to be disempowered instead of empowered? When do we tell ourselves we have too much power and we need to find ways of giving it up? Answers will perpetually vary across contexts. But until all contexts look the same and before we can safely tell friend from foe, there is one simple answer: we struggle with each and every one of these dilemmas. At best, we will find colleagues to help us resolve them. At worst, we will pretend they don’t exist.

Restorative Practices in Small Group and

Individual Work Mary Watkins

In Judaism humans are imaged as God’s partners in creating, repairing and restoring the world (tikkun olam) so that justice, peace and love can flourish. Acts of restoration are not thought of as returning the present to a previous paradisiacal state, but restoring relations to what is most deeply desired. The individual and small group work Prilleltensky and Nelson describe can be read as part of the tradition of such restorative work.

Amid violence and injustice, it is necessary for people to join together to create relationships and communities where justice and peace on a small scale are possible. Such relationships and communities resist the dehumanizing forces present in the dominant culture. From this base it becomes possible to network with others and to address the societal structures that create violence and injustice. This work depends on restoring psychological and community well-being. Nelson and Prilleltensky’s critical psychology approach to individual and small group therapeutic work can be understood as providing important building blocks for this wider work of creating communities of resistance.

Thich Nhat Hanh (Nhat Hahn & Berrigan, 1975) describes communities of resistance as important in demonstrating that life is possible, that a future is possible. By ‘resistance’ he means ‘opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system’ (p. 129). The purpose of resistance is to seek the healing of oneself and one’s community in order to be able to see clearly. Such local efforts of renewal are crucial to the regeneration of solidarity and the work of transformation. The liberation of psychic space goes hand in hand with the creation of social spaces that support the development of critical consciousness, the strengthening of dialogue and the nurturing of imaginative practices of representing history and conceiving the future (Oliver, 2004). Individual and small group approaches to healing can be effective in creating the psychic and social space for such recovery and healing.

Nelson and Prilleltensky are careful to differentiate therapeutic work that is ameliorative of individual suffering without being transformative of the underlying sociopolitical structures that give rise to such suffering. The work they describe creates processes to help practice ways of being with ourselves and others that embody the changes we seek in the larger world, linking amelioration and transformation.

They boldly and systematically articulate the scaffolding for such restorative work by exploring the steps for intervention with individuals and small groups: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, evaluation and follow-up. Such participatory groups begin with participants and facilitator attempting to bracket presuppositions about ‘the problem’. A more open, problem-posing inquiry is hosted that invites reflection on assumptions and values. In an addiction recovery program, people might begin by wondering whether ‘recovery’ is what they are aiming for. If so, what is each person feeling in need of ‘recovery’ from? What have they found helpful in previous efforts at ‘recovery’? What needs to be recovered? What in the wider community and culture thwarts ‘recovery’ and what does or could support it? How have other efforts at ‘recovery’ they have been involved in understood ‘recovery’, and how did this effect how they were seen and came to experience themselves? Deconstructing the ‘problem’, allows it to be placed within a larger frame of understanding to which all the members can make contributions, freeing it from definitions that are overly professionalized, reductive or collusive with the status quo.

Listening carefully to one’s own experience is placed side by side with careful listening to the multiplicity of perspectives available in the group. The group can begin to think more complexly and discern the threads of common experience from which possible joint action can emerge. Empowerment unfolds through articulation and deconstruction of experience, the practice of shared leadership and the back and forth movement between reflection and action that honours emerging insights. Ongoing opportunities for the evaluation of goals, process and action provide a dynamic participatory experience that can become a model for future collaborations for transformative change.

Belenky (1996) presents a moving example of the kind of ripple effect Prilleltensky and Nelson refer to. In her Listening Partners Project groups of 12 mothers of young children met once a week for a year. These women were what Belenky described them as ‘silenced knowers’. Often victims of child abuse and neglect, they were raised in authoritarian households with a marked absence of dialogue and opportunities for pretend play. Once mothers they found themselves unable to resolve childcare dilemmas through verbal negotiation, often resorting to physical force. Through the kind of problem posing small group work described by Nelson and Prilleltensky these women became able to listen not only to the thoughts of others but to their own thoughts, to express them and to risk entering into the give-and-take of dialogue. They became able to extend to their children the listening and opportunities for expression they had come to enjoy, mitigating against the use of force to negotiate issues of difference and questions of authority.

Nelson and Prilleltensky ask facilitators hosting individual and small group interventions to question whether work that focuses on individual healing and self-actualization may become a dead-end in terms of community or cultural transformation. They caution that while it may address some of the wounds of its members, it often fails to sufficiently insight the connections between personal suffering and taken-for-granted cultural arrangements and to weave the threads of solidarity that enable members of a group to effect systemic cultural change. The authors acknowledge that facilitators must be careful to discern whether an individual is so depleted from psychosocial emergencies that he or she is unable to turn attention to psychopolitical sources of suffering, let alone commit time to changing them.

As we move from an individualistic to an interdependent paradigm, these dilemmas begin to yield. An individual’s liberation cannot be complete when the systems she is part of are oppressive. The structure of relations in the world we partake of become the scaffolding for our internal conversations as well as our roles in relation to others. When working therapeutically from standpoints within liberation psychologies (Watkins & Shulman, 2008), it is critically important to be able to hear the resonance between societal arrangements of power, internal dynamics and patterns of relations to others. This contributes understanding that our suffering is shared by others and is not a sign of personal inadequacy. It also clarifies the cultural pressures that make it difficult for us to resist patterns that are disempowering and unhealthy. Instead of delaying understanding the cultural level of our suffering until some of it is alleviated, we begin to see that such alleviation depends in part on our understanding.

For instance, a young woman may come to individual or small group therapy complaining of depression, feelings of worthlessness and inferiority, stuck in being unable to see a possible role for her in the future. She is quiet in school, but anxious when called on to voice her opinion. Individual therapy or a small group intervention might focus on her childhood, her relation to her mother and her father’s view of her. As Nelson and Prilleltensky stress, however, holism is needed as the ‘perfect antidote against reductionism in the formulation of problems’. How was she treated in school as a learner and a thinker? How are girls and women seen in her extended family? What is the message she receives about being a young woman from the media she is exposed to? While she may not become an activist for how media represent girls, she may begin to resist its messages and seek to embrace challenges that she had previously avoided. It is also likely that her growing capacity to support her strengths will extend to helping others resist cultural messages that encourage silence and conformity.

Some would argue that while it is helpful to connect with such insight, a person should be focused on their own healing before embarking on efforts at community or cultural change. Sometimes such a narrowing of focus is clearly necessary. We need to leave room, however, for individual healing to come about through systemic change efforts in solidarity with others. Here the divides between the internal and external, the private and the public is challenged.

To prepare to midwife such work we must learn to fluidly move between individual and small group work and cultural work. While attention has been given to what degree the small group participant can engage in cultural work while suffering under present burdens, even greater attention needs to be paid to the ethical demands placed on the practitioner of such work. For instance, in Taylor, Gilligan and Sullivan’s research (1995) with Boston inner-city adolescent girls at risk for high school drop-out and teen pregnancy, they slowly faced the ethical demands their listening gave rise to. These girls felt failed by their teachers and their large urban public high schools, where they often felt completely on their own. They reported little continuity of relationship with teachers and counsellors. Their youthful aspirations for their futures were not met by adults who could help them avail themselves of opportunities and gather information needed to turn their dreams into reality. They experienced their teachers as unwilling to engage with them around the controversial issues they wondered and thought about the most. Without such supportive engagement many withdrew into a brittle independence; their adolescent dreams of who they could be met with bitter disillusionment.

Listening to these girls, the researchers (Taylor, Gilligan & Sullivan, 1995) say, is to invite disruption, disturbance, or dissolution of the status quo. To support the strengths, intelligence, resilience, and knowledge of girls whose culture or class is marginalized by society is to support political, educational, and economic change. It may be easier to sacrifice girls than to support their development, and when girls sense this, it may be hard for them, with the best of intentions, not to give up on themselves and sacrifice their hopes. (pp. 202–3)

The listeners were confronted with the ethical imperative of honouring what they heard through public policy advocacy as well as direct services to the girls that could effect the situations from which they suffered.

Nelson and Prilleltensky worry both that individual work can become suffused with cultural amnesia and that small group work may ask too much activism of participants who are already struggling in their lives. Here again the facilitator’s understanding of the interconnection between psychic and social space and healing is critical. Participants in a small group can be helped to accomplish much individual healing, and those in individual therapy can be helped to see their difficulties in wider context if the facilitator can hold an interdependent perspective.

Nelson and Prilleltensky use the term ‘natural helper’ to distinguish those who are gifted at midwifing the kind of work they describe without benefit of professional training. Such helpers, however, do not acquire their gifts ‘naturally’, but have had the benefit of situations in which there is a giveand-take between listening and expression, where silenced knowings have been coaxed into more public dialogue and where the risk of seeing through arrangements of power that have been made to seem ‘natural’ are questioned and rethought. Such helpers – whether ‘professionally’ trained or not – encourage acts of resistance intrapyschically, interpersonally and culturally, seeing clearly the interdependence of these levels in our lives. By enlisting others to be what Nelson and Prilleltensky call research partners, joint resistance begins to hold open a space where visions of what could be possible can arise along with actions that can be part of birthing these visions.

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Tools for Research

The focus of this part of the book is on how community psychologists understand the nature of oppression and efforts to transform settings so as to promote liberation and well-being. To advance community psychology’s understanding of its phenomena of interest and to promote social change, a variety of research approaches and strategies are required. In this part of the book, we consider the nature of CP research and the different methods that are used in that research.

In Chapter 11, we consider the goals, assumptions, values and processes of CP research. Mainstream psychological research has been dominated by the so-called scientific method (positivism and post-positivism) that emphasizes the separation of the researcher and subject, detached objectivity, reduction of psychological phenomena to measurable and quantifiable bits of data, an analysis of cause and effect, and hypothesis testing derived from theoretical propositions. The ‘scientific method’ has traditionally been viewed as the approach to research, rather than as one approach that is based on a certain set of assumptions. More recently, alternative approaches to research have emerged in the social sciences. In contrast to the positivist approach, phenomenological, contextualist and constructivist approaches focus on human experience, language, subjectivity, textual or qualitative data, and inductive, discovery-oriented research. We examine the assumptions, values, strengths and limitations of the positivist and constructivist paradigms.

Due to the value-laden, social-change focus of CP, a critical perspective on the subject matter under scrutiny is required. A third research paradigm, the transformative paradigm, is evident in the work of feminist-standpoint, anti-racist, participatory and action-oriented approaches to research. We argue that this paradigm provides an important meta-framework for research conducted from either positivist or constructivist approaches. The transformative paradigm suggests that community research must be highly attentive to issues of power both in the goals and the process of the research and that research should be guided by the values that we have put forward in this book.

In Chapters 12 and 13, we review some of the most frequently used methods in community research. We organize this presentation around the three principal research paradigms that we outline in Chapter 11: post-positivism, social constructivism and transformative approaches. In Chapter 12, we cover the methods associated with the post-positivist and social constructivist paradigms, while in Chapter 13, we focus on methods used in the transformative paradigm. Rather than have a separate commentary and list of resources for each of these chapters (Chapters 12 and 13), note that we have one integrated commentary and list of resources at the end of Chapter 13 that pertains to both of these chapters.

In Chapter 12, we review methods that are associated with post-positivism and social constructivism. While both quantitative and qualitative research can be used in both post-positivist and constructivist research, post-positivism emphasizes quantitative research and constructivism emphasizes qualitative research. For ease of presentation, we describe quantitative methods in the context of post-positivism and qualitative methods within the context of constructivism. Various quantitative methods that are useful in community research are reviewed in Chapter 12. Qualitative methods are also reviewed in this chapter, as are issues of how to analyse and establish the trustworthiness of qualitative data.

In Chapter 13, we review research methods associated with the transformative paradigm, focusing specifically on participatory action research. We suggest that the transformative paradigm can be used to inform both positivist and constructivist research towards the goals of liberation and well-being. Examples of research that is used to promote social change for disadvantaged people are presented in this chapter. Also in Chapter 13, we discuss the steps that community researchers follow when they enter a community to study a problem of interest. Establishing equal relationships with the individuals, groups and organizations hosting the research and developing an action agenda as well as a research agenda are emphasized. Practical examples are used to illustrate these points, as well as to emphasize the importance of the process and action orientation of transformative community research.

The Foundations of Community Research

Chapter Organization

The Goals of Community Research: Towards Liberation and Well-being

◆ Personal Well-being and Liberation + Relational Well-being and Liberation + Collective Well-being and Liberation

Assumptions and Values

Underlying Paradigms for

Community Research

◆ Paradigms: Key Questions + Three Paradigms for Community

Psychology Research; The Post-positivist Paradigm; The Constructivist

Paradigm; The Transformative Paradigm + Using the Paradigms

Processes of Community


◆ Representation, Roles and Responsibilities + Decision-making

Power and Conflict Resolution + Community and Support

◆ Communication, Dissemination and Action

Chapter Summary

COMMENTARY: Reconstructing Social Research


Warm-up Exercise: Community, Power and You

Since elementary (or primary) school, we have all learned about the ‘scientific method’. Answer the following questions:

a. What are the key elements of the scientific method?

b. How can the scientific method be applied to the issues and problems that are of concern to community psychologists

c. Do you see any limitations or problems in applying the scientific method to community psychology (CP)?

In this chapter, we lay the foundations of community research. We begin by clarifying the goals of community research. Next, we examine the assumptions and values of competing paradigms of community research. We end this chapter with a discussion regarding the processes of community research.

The Goals of Community Research: Towards Liberation and Well-being

In contrast to the traditional view of science as ‘objective’ and ‘value free’, we believe that community research, like any research, is value-driven. That is why it is very important for community researchers to be self-reflexively aware of their values, social position and relationship with those disadvantaged citizens with whom they are collaborating. Reflexivity also means being attuned to the ethical and power issues that inevitably arise in community research and the assumptions that underlie the research (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000; Stainton-Rogers & Willig, 2007). In collaboration with oppressed people, other allies and those with more power and privilege, community research aims to construct knowledge that challenges the status quo and promotes liberation and well-being for all (see Box 11.1 for some principles of research aimed at promoting liberation and wellbeing). Unlike mainstream psychological research, CP research is action oriented; knowledge development and action are inseparable.

In our journey of mutual learning, we are guided by the values for personal, relational and collective well-being and liberation that we outlined in Chapter 3. Objectivity and subjectivity are both present and important in community research. In our experiences, we have found community research to be passionate, creative and intellectually and emotionally challenging. We strive to integrate our moral values into the collaborative research that we undertake with community groups. The ecological principle of interdependence (Chapter 4) suggests that community psychologists can pursue these goals through value-based research at multiple levels of analysis.

Personal Well-being and Liberation

Beginning with the individual level of analysis, community research with oppressed groups can help to chart the movement from oppression through resistance and empowerment to well-being of both people with less power and resources and those with more power and resources (see Table 2.1 in Chapter 2). We agree with Gaventa and Cornwall’s (2008) assertion that ‘ ... critical self-learning is important not only for the weak and powerless, but also for the more powerful actors who may themselves be trapped in received versions of their own situation’ (p. 182).

Studies of the process of personal empowerment, the development of positive identities, alternative personal stories and consciousness-raising that connects the personal and the political are important concerns for CP (Lord & Hutchison, 1993; Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001a; Watts et al., 1999, 2003).

Relational Well-being and Liberation

CP research that focuses on the relational level of analysis can examine the liberating and/or oppressive qualities of relationships, groups and organizations and outcomes that result from relationships and settings. For example, Maton (2008) has identified some of the following characteristics of empowering settings: (a) a group-based belief system that is focused on change, strengths and a larger purpose beyond the self; (b) core activities that are designed to realize the mission of the setting; (c) a relational environment that promotes supportive relationships; (d) meaningful opportunities for member participation, learning and development; (e) inspirational leadership; and (e) organizational mechanisms that are used to help the setting adapt to internal and external challenges. Research has shown that such setting promote both individual and community empowerment.

Collective Well-being and Liberation

The goals for social or collective change include greater social and economic equity, the development of group structures for further social change and increased control of social institutions by oppressed groups. We believe that CP research at the collective level should focus on social structures and policies that promote liberation and well-being of disadvantaged groups. Moreover, such research should challenge the societal status quo by exposing the damaging impacts of oppressive structures and policies. More CP research is needed on critical social policy analysis and mediating settings, such as NGOs, SMOs and alternative settings, whose mission involves social change. These settings mediate between oppressed groups and larger social structures and policies and have considerable potential for creating social change (see Chapters 8 and 9).

Assumptions and Values Underlying Paradigms for Community Research

Paradigms: Key Questions

Research methods in any field are guided by certain paradigms and related philosophical assumptions. In psychology, research methods are often presented to students as ‘givens’ and the paradigms from which the methods are derived and the philosophical assumptions that underlie those paradigms are typically unexamined and unchallenged. Remember from your introductory psychology course that psychology has its roots in philosophy. In this section, we examine the major paradigms of CP research and their assumptions. We have to warn you that the language and terminology in this section is based on the writings of philosophers of science and it is language that tends to be rather dense and difficult to understand. However, we will do our best to introduce complicated concepts in userfriendly ways. We want to make sure that the political, cultural, existential and social meanings of philosophical concepts are explicit and clear. Hence, we draw their implications for practical applications in community research.

Let’s begin with the idea of a ‘paradigm’, a term that has become so popular and commonplace that one now hears about paradigms in television commercials! A paradigm is a set of beliefs, a world view, a set of assumptions about the world and one’s place in it. Paradigms are human constructions that represent the most informed and sophisticated view that its proponents have been able to devise to understand different phenomena (Lincoln & Guba, 2000). A dominant paradigm is one whose basic assumptions are so taken for granted by most people that to challenge them may be considered heresy. People believe that ‘this is the way the world is!’ Once upon a time, it was widely believed that the sun and stars revolved around the earth and that the earth was flat. It took some time for people to accept a change in paradigms.

In his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, philosopher Thomas Kuhn challenged the prevailing belief that science progresses through the slow and steady accumulation of ‘facts’. Rather he asserted that science progresses through the development of new paradigms. When the inconsistencies or problems of the dominant paradigm become evident, challenges are mounted and alternative paradigms begin to emerge. Such paradigm shifts are often met with scepticism and resistance because they challenge people’s basic assumptions about the world. In many respects the values and assumptions of CP, which we outlined in Chapter 1, represent an alternative paradigm to more traditional applied psychology. The power of paradigms lies in their ability to persuade audiences of the value of their arguments and principles.

With respect to science and research, paradigms represent a philosophy of science that addresses several questions (Guba & Lincoln, 2005; Lincoln & Guba, 1985).

a. The question of ontology: What is the form and nature of reality and what can be known about reality? Is reality something tangible that exists ‘out there’ and is it independent of the researcher? Or are there multiple realities that are constructed and interpreted in the minds of the researcher and the other stakeholders in the research?

b. The question of epistemology: What is the relationship between the researcher and what can be known? This question is closely tied with questions related to ontology. If there is a single reality, then how can the researcher objectively capture that reality? But if one assumes that there are multiple constructed realities, then how can those multiple perspectives, including that of the researcher, be understood and interpreted? What constitutes valid knowledge? The issue of the objectivity and subjectivity of the researcher is important with respect to the question of epistemology.

c. The question of axiology: What are the underlying values, either implicit or explicit, which shape the research and the phenomena under study? Again, this depends on one’s view of reality. If there is a single reality, then the values of the researcher, the participants and community members are not relevant to the research. But if one assumes that there are multiple constructed realities, then the values of all the stakeholders in the research matter a great deal. In this regard, it is important to pose and answer questions about power and the values that underlie the research, such as whose research and whose knowledge? In other words, whose voices are being amplified and who has control over the research agenda? Who will benefit from the research? How will the partners work together and how will conflict be addressed? (Lord & Church, 1998; Nelson, Lord & Ochocka, 2001b).

d. The question of methodology: How can the researcher go about finding out whatever she or he believes can be known? What tools can and should be used in the research to advance knowledge and promote change? Again, the research methods that one chooses depend upon one’s assumptions about ontology and epistemology and one’s values. In the next two chapters, we provide an overview of the different research methods that are available to community psychologists.

Three Paradigms for Community Psychology Research

In this section, we review three paradigms of community research: the postpositivist paradigm, the constructivist paradigm and the transformative paradigm. The distinction between the post-positivist paradigm (which emphasizes empirical-analytical knowledge) and the constructivist paradigm (which emphasizes meaning and experiential knowledge) has been made by several writers (e.g. Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The German critical theorist Jürgen Habermas (1971) took this debate one step further by introducing the transformative paradigm (which emphasizes critical, emancipatory knowledge).

Over the past decade, several researchers, philosophers and psychologists have elaborated on the distinctions between these three research paradigms (Bhasker, 1975; Brydon-Miller, 2001; Guba & Lincoln, 2005; Mertens, 2009; Williams, 1999). Feminist scholars have suggested that the three broad paradigms noted above capture the different approaches to feminist research: (a) feminist empiricism, (b) feminist post-modernism and (c) feminist standpoint theory (Campbell & Wasco, 2000; Harding, 1987b; Riger, 1992). Just as there is no one, single philosophy of feminism, there is no one, single philosophy of feminist research. In Table 11.1, we contrast these three research paradigms in terms of the questions of ontology, epistemology, axiology and methodology. This table is based upon similar, but much more detailed tables that were constructed by Guba and Lincoln (2005) and Blake Poland of the University of Toronto (in Murray et al., 2001).

The Post-positivist Paradigm

While you may be unfamiliar with the terms ‘logical positivism’ or ‘rationalempiricism’, you will be familiar with many of the defining qualities of this paradigm because it has been and continues to be the dominant paradigm of inquiry in the social sciences and psychology (remember the warm-up exercise about the scientific method?). Psychology has borrowed this paradigm from the natural sciences

Table 11.1 Contrasting paradigms of community research







(the nature of reality)

There is a single, external reality that can be imperfectly or probabilistically understood (that is, described, explained, predicted and controlled).

There are multiple realities that are constructed by the research stakeholders. There are no universal laws; reality is relative to the constructions of stakeholders.

There is an external reality that has evolved through history and is constituted of social and institutional structures.


(the nature of knowing reality)

While external reality and the researcher are interactive, they are viewed as partially independent. Controls should be put in place to reduce researcher biases. Reality can be broken down (reduced) into component parts and causal mechanisms can be probabilistically understood.

The researcher, the research participants and community members are interdependent. The goal of the research is to understand and interpret the multiple realities of these stakeholders.

The researcher works in solidarity with oppressed groups and strives to amplify their voices through a process of dialogue and consciousness-raising. The function of deconstruction, reconstruction and construction is to challenge and transform knowledge and society.


(the role of values and politics in knowledge)

Since there is an external reality that is independent of the researcher, research which strives to explain that reality must be value-free. However, the researcher can play the roles of advocate and activist, using the research to promote social change.

Since reality is relative and multiply constructed, the values of the researcher, the research participants and community members are part and parcel of their constructions. Research is value-bound.

Since there is an external reality that is shaped by competing values, the critical researcher is morally obligated to use the transformative values that she or he shares with oppressed groups to guide the research towards the goal of social change. Researchers must be self-reflexively aware of their social position and values.


(the tools that are used to obtain knowledge)

Community research is primarily quantitative and uses reliable and valid measurement scales, both correlational (epidemiology, surveys) and causal methods (experiments, quasi-experiments).

Qualitative methods are used to a lesser extent, particularly in the context of discovery (generation of hypotheses to be tested) or as a complement to quantitative methods.

Community research is primarily qualitative and uses a variety of different methods, including qualitative interviews and observations, ethnographies, discourse analysis, narratives and case studies.

Quantitative methods are used to a lesser extent.

Community research is primarily participatory and action-oriented in nature. Both quantitative and qualitative methods can be used in the service of value-driven research for social change.

Source: Based upon Lincoln and Guba (2000) and Blake Poland in Murray et al. (2001) and adopted it as the scientific approach to guide all psychological inquiry. In their review of this paradigm, Guba and Lincoln (2005) note that there has been a shift from positivism to what they call post-positivism. While these two share much in common, post-positivism is a more modest version of positivism and most community psychologists who work from this paradigm are more closely aligned with post-positivism (Cook, 1985). The movement from positivism to post-positivism is indicative of how paradigms are fluid and constantly emerging. However, it is important to understand that post-positivism has its roots in positivism. Thus, in this section, we note both the positivistic roots of post-positivism and how postpositivism differs from positivism.

Ontology. The positivist paradigm has its roots in the modernist thinking of rationalist philosophers (e.g. Descartes), the British empiricist philosophers (e.g. Locke) and more recently positivist philosophers of science (e.g. Popper). The modernist worldview, espoused by these Enlightenment thinkers (Gergen, 2001), asserts that there is an external reality that is driven by universal laws and that can be known (described, explained, predicted and controlled). The goal of science then is to discover these universal laws that correspond to the true nature of reality. An example of a positivistic law is B. F. Skinner’s law of positive reinforcement, that any consequence that follows a behaviour that leads to a subsequent increase in the frequency of that behaviour is a positive reinforcer. In contrast to positivism, post-positivism holds that reality can never be fully apprehended, only partially and imperfectly understood. Post-positivism is much more tentative than positivism about the possibility of uncovering laws that apply universally. They would argue that Skinner’s definition of reinforcement is circular and that what is reinforcing depends upon the person and her or his context.

Epistemology. Positivism subscribes to the dualistic position that the researcher and the research object (the participants and topic of study) are independent. The mind of the knower (the researcher) and what can be known (external reality) are separate from one another. To understand reality then, research must be objective and value free, so that the biases of the researcher do not interfere with understanding the phenomenon of interest. Various methodological safeguards need to be put in place to control extraneous variables and reduce biases. Positivism further assumes that reality can be broken down (reduced) into component parts and causal mechanisms can be determined. Researchers develop a language of terms, concepts and theories that are believed to correspond to external reality. Theoretical constructs are operationalized or grounded in observable events and behaviours.

Post-positivism shifts this paradigm away from the position of dualism. The mutual influence of the researcher and the researched is acknowledged and taken for granted. However, it is still assumed that various methodological safeguards need to be in place to insure objectivity and the probable truth of findings about the nature of reality.

Axiology. ‘Facts’ and ‘values’ are viewed as distinctly different and separate in positivism. Research should be ‘value neutral’ in pursuit of the truth about the nature of reality. Post-positivism, on the other hand, acknowledges that the values of the researcher do enter the research process. As was noted in the previous paragraph, the goal is to reduce the impact of value biases by introducing a number of methodological safeguards. However, post-positivist researchers believe that they can use research findings to advocate for social change.

From our perspective, values have been relegated to the background in the positivist and post-positivist paradigm. While seldom mentioned or acknowledged, the implicit value underlying positivism and post-positivism is that society will improve with the gradual accumulation of knowledge. In essence, this means that the societal status quo is upheld. As is shown in Chapter 15, this assumption of gradual social improvement through science is challenged by systems of exploitation and colonization that accompanied the scientific revolution. In the shift from feudal and agrarian societies to industrial and urban societies, capitalism became the dominant economic system. And with capitalism came the values of individualism, profit, competition and hierarchies of power. These values, which still compete for dominance today, are challenged by liberal–reformist values of holism, health promotion and caring and compassion – values which we believe focus on the amelioration of social problems, rather than social transformation and underlie post-positivism.

Methodology. Quantitative and laboratory methods, adopted from the natural sciences, are the primary tools used in post-positivist research. There is an emphasis on the development of reliable and valid scales to measure theoretical constructs (e.g. questionnaires that assess sense of community or empowerment). Moreover, hypotheses about the nature of reality are tested and verified (or falsified) through experimental and correlational research. While positivism has emphasized experimental laboratory methods, post-positivism utilizes more field research in naturalistic settings. Community surveys and program evaluation using experimental and quasi-experimental designs, which we describe in the next chapter, are typical of post-positivist community research. There is also an emphasis on using multiple research methods for the purposes of ‘triangulating’ research findings (determining the consistency of findings using multiple methods). Qualitative methods can be used by post-positivist researchers to triangulate quantitative findings. Qualitative methods are seen as particularly useful for the exploratory or discovery phases of research to generate hypotheses that can be tested.

Example of post-positivist research. Up until now, the discussion of the postpositivist research paradigm has been fairly abstract. What does this type of research look like on the ground? One social issue that has been of considerable concern to community psychologists is that of homelessness. An example of post-positivist research is an evaluation of a supported housing intervention for homeless people conducted by Sam Tsemberis and colleagues (Tsemberis, Gulcur & Nakae, 2004). As an example of post-positivist research, this study assumed that there is an external reality, homelessness, and that interventions can be causally related to improvement in that reality. Quantitative, experimental methods were used in the study.

Tsemberis and colleagues evaluated the Pathways to Supported Housing program for homeless people with a history of mental illness and substance use in New York City. Pathways is based on the principle of consumer choice over where and with whom they live and the principle of housing first that consumers should not have to meet requirements of participation in treatment or sobriety to receive housing. Over 200 participants were randomly assigned to the Pathways program, in which they received rent supplements to access housing, or to the typical services (usually emergency services, such as shelters) available to this population and followed up every 6 months over an 2-year period. The Pathways group obtained housing earlier, remained stably housed for longer and reported more choice than those receiving standard services. The two groups did not differ in terms of psychiatric symptoms or substance use.

Problems with the post-positivist paradigm. Psychology has been charged as guilty of ‘scientism’ and ‘methodolatory’, in its slavish adherence to positivism and quantitative methods (Murray & Chamberlin, 1999a). It is important to realize that positivism and its descendent, post-positivism, are not the only approaches to truth and knowledge.

Guba and Lincoln (2005; Lincoln & Guba, 1985) have identified specific problems of the positivist and post-positivist paradigms. While they argue that the two share many common problems, they also note how post-positivism has improved upon positivism. First, there is the problem of ‘context-stripping’ in positivist research. In reducing a phenomenon to the selection of certain pre-determined variables, important dimensions of the micro-, mesoand macro-contexts are often stripped away. To some extent, post-positivism strives to provide a more contextual analysis, but the larger macro-context is often ignored in post-positivism. Second, there is the disjunction of grand theories with local contexts and the inapplicability of group data to individual cases. This problem is acknowledged by post-positivists who believe that research findings in the social sciences are not universally true and generalizable to everyone. A third problem common to both positivism and post-positivism is the exclusion of meaning and purpose. Human beings are more than material objects; we are all involved in making meaning and purpose out of our life experiences.

Fourth, the discovery dimension of research is typically excluded with the emphasis on hypothesis-testing, verification or falsification. With the inclusion of qualitative methods, post-positivism begins to overcome these problems of exclusion of meaning and the discovery dimension. Fifth, there are the problems of the theory and value-ladenness of ‘facts’ and the interactive nature of the relationship between the researcher and the object of study. This problem is acknowledged somewhat by post-positivism. The researcher’s choice of topics (what is worth studying), theoretical perspective (how the topic and research questions should be framed) and methods (what is the best way of learning about the phenomenon) all reflect the values and priorities of the researcher. There is no way the researcher can be separated from that which she or he is studying. Like any other activity, scientific activity takes place in a social, historical and political context, which shapes what is deemed to be worthy of study, worthy of funding and worthy of publication.

The Constructivist Paradigm

Social constructivism has recently emerged as an alternative human sciences paradigm of inquiry in the social sciences. This paradigm is in dialectical opposition to the dominant positivist and post-positivist paradigm. Many of the early explications of this paradigm contrasted constructivism with positivism (e.g. Lincoln & Guba, 1985). This alternative paradigm has tended to develop outside North

America and outside psychology. However, a growing number of psychologists are importing the ideas of this paradigm into psychology (e.g. Gergen, 2001; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Stainton-Rogers & Willig, 2007).

In comparison with post-positivism, constructivism is more phenomenological, interpretive, relational, holistic and humanistic. The focus is more on language, communication, subjective human experience and the meaning that people make of their experiences in their historical, social, cultural and political contexts. It is an approach that has more kinship with the humanities than the hard sciences.

Constructivism also rejects the dominant discourses or grand narratives of psychology (e.g. psychoanalysis, cognitive social learning theory) and other disciplines. For example, the French post-modernist Michel Foucault (1980) was critical of dominant, ‘totalizing’ discourses that reflect the power of one group to dominate another group. For Foucault, knowledge and power are inseparable and those in power use socially constructed knowledge for the purposes of exclusion and control. Foucault illustrated his argument with examples of how mainstream society constructs diversity as deviance. In Madness and Civilization (1965), he showed how society labels, confines and controls people with mental health problems in institutions. This is done through the legitimization provided by the socalled helping professions whose function is surveillance and control of ‘deviants’. Psychiatry provides the grand narrative of the medical model about how people with mental health issues should be viewed and treated.

It is also important to note that social constructivism is more a family of approaches than a single entity. While there are many complexities, nuances and differences within this family of approaches, here we present a more simplified account that emphasizes the common themes of constructivism (for more of the distinctions, see Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000).

Ontology. The constructivist paradigm has its roots in the idealist philosophy of Kant and more recently in what has been called post-modernism and poststructuralism (Gergen, 2001). A core assumption of this paradigm is that there is no single, external reality, but rather multiple, mental constructions of reality, which are based on people’s experiences in context. In other words, in a social and community context, individuals make meaning of their experiences. Thus, reality is not some absolute, universal truth that can only be understood by scientists; rather, reality is dependent on the individuals and groups who hold such constructions, with no one construction being more or less ‘real’ or ‘true’ than another. Reality is relative to the people who participate in the study.

Epistemology. In contrast to the position of dualism in the positivist paradigm, constructivism espouses a position of monism or holism (Montero, 2002). That is, the researcher and the research object are assumed to be interrelated rather than separate. Moreover, research is subjective, value-laden and inductive. Since reality consists of multiple social constructions, the researcher and the participants co-construct or create the findings. Finally, language does not correspond to any external reality, but rather reflects the mental constructions of individuals.

Axiology. Values are an inextricable part of the research, as the researcher and the research participants bring their values into the research process. However, the assumption of relativism renders it impossible to prescribe one set of values over another (Gergen, 2001). Thus, the research is value-bound or influenced, rather than value-driven.

Methodology. Social constructions are generated through dialogue, reflection and a close working relationship between the researcher and the participants. Primarily qualitative methods are used to elicit and understand people’s constructions and participatory processes are used to arrive at a consensus on the findings and their meaning. Qualitative methods are used to understand the values, interests and meanings that underlie language, discourses and texts. The primary data in qualitative analysis are people’s words, not numbers or statistics. However, constructivists can also use quantitative methods in their research.

Example of constructivist research. Returning to the issue of homelessness, an example of the constructivist approach can be found in an article by Boydell, Goering and Morrell-Bellai (2000). These researchers conducted a qualitative study of 29 homeless individuals residing in Toronto, Canada. They were interested in understanding the participants’ conceptions of self. Boydell et al. used the theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism to understand the interrelationships between sense of self and social context. A central premise of this theory is that it is through interactions with others that an individual creates personal identity. The authors conducted interviews with these individuals using an interview guide to inquire about their conceptions of self.

One of the main findings of the study was that the homeless individuals are motivated to have a positive sense of self. While they tended to construct their past selves in positive terms, they were more likely to report aspects of a devalued current self in terms of marginalization, stigma, isolation, feeling inferior to others and ashamed of their situation of homelessness. One participant made the following comment. ‘I felt disgusted with myself, you know, that I messed up. I felt bad like, you know, like I was a nobody, you know?... There’s times I just, you know, just feel what’s the sense of my living now, you know’ (Boydell et al., 2000, p. 31). This devaluation of self is experienced in the day-to-day contacts that these individuals have with other people. As one person said: ‘Well, they all think I’m a lazy shiftless, no-good bum. Take your pick. I have no choice. It’s like, believe me, if I could find work, I’d be very happy’ (Boydell et al., 2000, p. 32).

How is this an example of constructivist research? The goal was not to test hypotheses or generalize the findings to all homeless people. The goal was to understand people’s experiences and constructions of themselves. This was done by talking to homeless people and finding out from them about their experiences. In so doing, the research generated new insights into the lives of homeless people.

Problems with the constructivist paradigm. The primary critique of this paradigm lies in its basis in relativism. No one construction or moral position is deemed to provide a better understanding of reality than another. What is considered to be truth emerges from a consensual process of negotiation and the ability of a particular individual or group’s construction to persuade members of a community of its value. A second challenge has been mounted by realists who argue that it is sheer folly to dismiss the material nature of reality. ‘But there is a world out there. There is no denying the reality of the human body, of death or that the world is round’ (Gergen, 2001, p. 806). Third, the constructivist paradigm has also been criticized as overly descriptive rather than explanatory. Finally, there is a danger in the researcher having too much control over the interpretation of findings in the constructivist paradigm.

The Transformative Paradigm

The German critical theorist Habermas (1971) argued that the transformative paradigm integrates the knowledge of the other two paradigms towards the goal of human liberation. For Habermas, both the empirical-analytic knowledge gained through positivism (and post-positivism) and the historical-hermeneutic knowledge (aimed at the understanding of meaning) gained through constructivism are both valid forms of knowledge. However, he argues that these two types of knowledge should be in the service of personal and collective transformation. Critical knowledge, which the other two paradigms cannot uncover, is necessary to reveal interests, power and values and to create social change (Carspecken, 1996; Flyvbjerg, 2001).

Ontology. The critical paradigm has its roots in Marxism, German critical theory and contemporary forces for social justice and social change, including feminism, anti-racism, Marxism, cultural studies and queer theory (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Guba & Lincoln, 2005; Kemmis, 2008; Mertens, 2009). This paradigm assumes that there is an external reality. However, unlike positivism, the transformative paradigm holds that reality is constituted of institutional and social structures that have been historically shaped by social, political, cultural, economic, ethnoracial and gender factors. This paradigm also assumes that there are social inequalities that are contested and that there are conflicts between dominant and subordinate groups.

Bhasker (1975) has advanced a position of critical realism as the ontology of the transformative paradigm. He distinguishes between the unchanging ‘structures and mechanisms that generate phenomena’ and changing ‘knowledge as produced in the social activity of science’ (1975, p. 25). The former suggests an external reality, while the latter focuses on the social construction of knowledge; both of which exist, according to Bhasker. He argues further that values influence and are influenced by social reality and that values can be used to promote personal and collective transformation.

Teo (1999) distinguished three functions of critical knowledge. First, deconstruction can be used to critique mainstream psychological theories and research (see Fox, Prilleltensky, & Austin, 2009, for critiques of various sub-fields of psychology). Critical analyses are particularly attuned to issues of values and power. Second, reconstruction can be used to reframe psychological issues through an analysis of power. Third, construction is the development of critical theories that take into account issues of oppression and power.

Epistemology. The researcher and the research object are assumed to be interrelated and research is value-laden. Research findings are mediated through the values of the researcher and the participants. The importance of the researcher working and being in solidarity with research participants who are oppressed and disadvantaged is emphasized. Reflexivity is another important concept for the critical paradigm (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000; Mertens, 2009). Since the values of the researcher shape the research, it is important for researchers to be self-reflexively aware of their values and position in society.

Feminist standpoint theory is one example of the epistemological viewpoint of the transformative paradigm (Collins, 1990; Smith, 1990). In contrast to the epistemological and moral relativism of constructivism, feminist standpoint theory ‘claims that all knowledge attempts are socially situated and that some of these objective social locations are better than others for knowledge projects’ (Harding, 1993,

p. 56). Transformative feminist research is done from the standpoint of oppressed women, including women of colour, poor women, aboriginal women, disabled women and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered women. Through reflection and consciousness-raising, feminist standpoint research with women from oppressed groups has the potential to create critical knowledge that can transform society.

Axiology. Research conducted from the standpoint of the transformative paradigm is value-driven (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002). Researchers and participants begin with a moral and political position that underlies the entire research enterprise. Moreover, the transformative paradigm emphasizes the values that we identified in Chapter 3, including self-determination, social justice, respect for diversity, inclusion and accountability to oppressed groups.

Methodology. There is an emphasis on dialogue and dialectical processes. Research is reflexive and transformative; findings are always a work in progress that are subject to new insights and critiques as the research process unfolds. Highly participatory and social-action-oriented approaches are used towards the goal of emancipation of oppressed groups (Flyvbjerg, 2001; Kemmis, 2008; Reason & Bradbury, 2008; Smith, 1999; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2003). Inclusion of the voices of disadvantaged people and democratization and demystification of the research process are emphasized in the critical paradigm (Brydon-Miller, 2001; Nelson, Ochocka et al., 1998). Both quantitative and qualitative methods are used, depending on the research question.

Example of transformative research. Returning to the issue of homelessness, research from the transformative paradigm begins with the assumption that homelessness is caused by social structural factors and that homeless people are an oppressed group that lacks power. Over the past decade, research by members of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee has analysed the problem of homelessness in Canada in terms of a social policy analysis. In a 1998 report to the United Nations, Hulchanski (1998) reported that between 1994 and 1998, the federal government of Canada spent nothing on social housing for low-income people; in spite of the development of national plans of action to end homelessness, the federal government of Canada has not created a program to address homelessness; recommendations stemming from an inquest into the freezing deaths of homeless men in Toronto have been ignored by the federal and Ontario governments; and all forms of assistance to homeless people are decreasing. More recent reports have linked the growth of homelessness in Canada with federal and provincial policies of free trade and tax cuts (Hulchanski, 2002; Shapcott, 2001). Homelessness has increased sharply, while government expenditures on housing, income support and social services have decreased. This transformative research is driven by a value of social justice and focuses on a macro-level analysis of the problem.

Problems with the transformative paradigm. There are two potential problems with this paradigm. First, there is the question of what values will be privileged over others. Values are ever changing and there is a danger that those who are oppressed may stifle the voices of others and become the new oppressors of those who dissent. A second, somewhat more difficult, problem to confront is when people’s actions contradict their espoused values. We all slip from our ideals. Care must be taken to be reflexive, non-dogmatic and non-exploitative. Habermas (1975) developed the idea of an ‘ideal speech situation’ in which there can be an open dialogue regarding values, and participatory action researchers and feminists have likewise discussed the importance of highly participatory and interactive processes to promote reflexivity, share power and prevent exploitation (BrydonMiller, 2001; Flyvbjerg, 2001; Isenberg, Loomis, Humphreys & Maton, 2004). We discuss these important processes later in the chapter.

Using the Paradigms

Having reviewed these three paradigms of community research, we are left with questions about their usefulness. We think it is more fruitful to think about the usefulness of these paradigms for the conduct of community research than to think about which is ‘the best’ paradigm. We also want to emphasize that paradigms are constantly changing and that one can think of the three paradigms as ‘transitional epistemologies’, rather than as fixed entities (Harding, 1987a).

Greene (2008) argues that there are several different positions that researchers can take vis-à-vis research paradigms. First, researchers can assume a purist approach and anchor all of their work in one particular paradigm. This approach assumes that the different paradigms are incompatible.

A second approach is to match one’s research questions with the most appropriate paradigm. This assumes that different paradigms are complementary and have distinct strengths. If a researcher wants to know whether a social intervention causally leads to improvements in indicators of well-being and liberation, then a post-positivist paradigm is called for. But if one wants to know about people’s experiences of the intervention, then a constructivist approach should be used. And if we want to know how the intervention fits within the existing social order and whether it challenges or supports the status quo, a transformative approach is needed. A third approach asserts that since paradigms are social and historical constructions, a dialectical stance should be taken. In this way, new insights can be gained from using more than one paradigm.

A fourth position is that since paradigms are fluid rather than constant, we need to be constantly striving to develop new paradigms that best suit the goals of our work as community psychologists. Recently, Jack Tebes (2005) has argued that the basic worldview of CP is one of contextualism, or the human act in context. He advances a philosophy of science called perspectivism to address the concern that all knowledge is contextually bound. The paradigm of perspectivism breaks down the hard lines that differentiate post-positivist, social constructionist and transformative paradigms and carries with it a number of recommended practices (e.g. focusing on hypothesis generation as well as hypothesis testing). Fifth and finally, some researchers do not dwell too heavily on underlying questions of ontology and epistemology, but adopt a pragmatic position of methodological pluralism, including a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods.

From our points of view, there needs to be greater use of the transformative paradigm in CP research. Flyvbjerg (2001) has argued for a phronetic social science that seeks to address questions such as follows: Where are we going? Is this direction desirable? Who gains and who loses and by which mechanism of power? This approach, based on Aristotle’s concept of phronesis, is concerned with how values and power play out in social change processes in various contexts. Flyvbjerg does not believe that traditional social science, modelled after a natural science approach, can answer these critical questions.

Processes of Community Research

Having outlined the goals and paradigms of community research, we now turn to a discussion of the processes of community research. In an article entitled ‘Tain’t what you do, it’s the way you do it,’ community psychologist Jim Kelly (1979) argued that the process of community research and action is more important than the content of the research and action. Moreover, Ed Trickett, Jim Kelly and colleagues (Trickett & Birman, 1987; Trickett et al., 1985) advanced an ecological view of community research that emphasizes the dynamic relationship between the researcher and community members from the setting that hosts the research. The need for researchers to nurture this relationship through close collaboration, to attend to and strive to prevent unintended negative consequences of the research and to promote the development of community resources are underscored by their ecological conceptualization of the research process.

In line with the main theme of this book, we believe that an important question for CP research is: ‘How do we put our values into action in the way we conduct community research?’ The short answer to this question is that CP should adopt the approach of participatory action research (PAR), which Hall (1993) described ‘as a way for researchers and oppressed people to join in solidarity to take collective action, both short and long term, for radical social change’ (p. xiv). PAR is particularly well-suited to CP because it shares similar values, including self-determination, collaboration, democratic participation and social justice (Nelson, Ochocka et al., 1998; Ochocka et al., 2002). While sometimes transformative research is done primarily with disadvantaged people, other situations call for a more broad-based stakeholder approach, including research with those who have considerable power and privilege (Gaventa & Cornwall, 2008; Nelson, Ochocka et al., 1998). The most important element of PAR is its focus on social change (Kemmis, 2008).

While PAR is closely allied with the transformative paradigm of research, it is not necessarily linked with any particular methodology. Thus, both quantitative and qualitative methods can be used in PAR (Reason & Bradbury, 2008). In PAR, research is done with community members, not on them. Unfortunately, CP research has historically not emphasized PAR. In a review of research published in major CP journals and in interviews with senior community psychologists, Walsh (1987) found that CP research tended to emulate that of the natural sciences (the positivist and post-positivist paradigms). Few articles mentioned any aspect of the relationship between the researchers and research participants and community members. Ryerson Espino and Trickett (2008) reported similar findings in a more recent review of CP research. More recently, community psychologists have underscored the importance of collaborative research (Dalton et al., 2001; Jason et al., 2004; Tolan et al., 1990). But it is not just collaboration that is important, but rather a long-term commitment on the part of the researcher to work in solidarity with oppressed groups towards the goals of liberation and well-being.

While values provide a foundation for the conduct of community research, translating lofty values into practice is often quite challenging. Through our experiences working on different projects with different groups of stakeholders, we have learned that it is useful to have practical guidelines to implement a valuebased approach to community research. In this section, we touch on a few practical guidelines for community research, which we have elaborated on elsewhere (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002, 2004).

Representation, Roles and Responsibilities

The first step in a collaborative research project is to decide who should be ‘at the table’ (Nelson, Amio et al., 2000). In line with the values of self-determination, democratic participation and inclusion, the disadvantaged group that is the focus of the research should be strongly represented in the research process. Disability groups have coined the phrase, ‘nothing about me, without me’ to capture the importance of this issue of representation (Nelson, Ochocka, et al., 1998). Sometimes the research project works primarily with stakeholders who are not disadvantaged, but who have an agenda on creating social change (e.g. a community group working to combat global climate change) so the representation of disadvantaged groups is not a major issue, as the problem under study affects everyone. In addition to the issue of representation, the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the research need to be clarified. Elsewhere, we have suggested that it is useful to create different structures for different types of participation (Nelson, Ochocka, et al., 1998). A research steering committee can be formed to oversee the development and implementation of the project with representatives providing guidance and approving all steps in the research. One of the first tasks of the steering committee is to brainstorm the vision, values and working principles for the research project. This is important for ensuring that everyone is ‘on the same page’ and for establishing a foundation for working relationships for the duration of the project.

Hiring and training disadvantaged people to work as researchers on the research team is one way of ensuing strong representation of disadvantaged people. We recommend that 51% of members of the steering committee and research team should come from the disadvantaged community as an accountability mechanism to ensure their strong representation in the research. Finally, the larger community of disadvantaged people needs to have input into the research process (SerranoGarcía, 1990). This can occur through community forums and other public meetings about the research. Also, steering committee members and researchers from the host community can play an important liaison role with their constituents, so that information can be widely shared.

Decision-making Power and Conflict Resolution

It is not just important to have the key parties ‘at the table’ but also to have all aspects of the research ‘on the table’ for discussion. Guidelines for decisionmaking need to be established that promote the value of power sharing (Nelson,

Ochocka, et al., 1998). Also, conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship and should be expected in participatory action research. We all have ‘blind spots’ and we believe that conflict provides opportunities for learning about power inequalities. It is also important to address conflicts quickly and with clear and direct communication to minimize any potential damage. The role of the community researcher with respect to issues of decision making and conflict is to share power, to be open to learning from conflict and to help facilitate conflict resolution.

If oppressed groups do not have representation and decision-making power in the research, then the research can contribute to the further oppression of disadvantaged people (see Smith, 1999, for a discussion of how research has served to colonize people of aboriginal background). Like others (Perkins & Wandersman, 1990), we have found that due to past experiences, disadvantaged people often react to researchers and research with distrust and scepticism, or even cynicism as to whether they will gain any benefits from the research. The development of a written research partnership agreement, which outlines values, roles, responsibilities, conflict resolution procedures and so on, can be used to overcome these suspicions and promote power sharing. An example of an innovative code of participatory research ethics that was developed by researchers and representatives of the Kahnawake nation in Canada can be found in Box 11.2. Such protocols can serve as another accountability mechanism for researchers to the disadvantaged community.

Box 11.2

Code of ethics for participatory research with aboriginal communities

Policy Statement

The sovereignty of the Kanienkehaka (the people) of Kahnawake to make decisions about research in Kahnawake is recognized and respected. The benefits to the community as a whole and to individual community volunteers should be maximized by the researchers. Research should empower the community goals of health and wellness, to promote healthy lifestyles, improve its self-esteem and to fulfil its traditional responsibility of caring for the Seventh Generation. (In Mohawk tradition, the Seventh Generation represents those as yet unborn.)

The Principles of Participatory Research

The Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project is a partnership of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) community of Kahnawake, communitybased researchers and academic researchers. In this document these three groups are referred to as the three partners. The three partners will work cooperatively and collaboratively in the design, implementation, analysis, interpretation, conclusion, reporting and publication of the experiences of the project. Each partner provides ideas and resources that come from the experience, knowledge and capability of all its members. Together, through respect for each other, consultation and collaboration, they significantly strengthen the project and its outcomes. All three partners of the project share an understanding the community-based research is a powerful tool for learning about health and wellness, while contributing to the health of the community in which it is conducted.

Dissemination of Results

No partner can veto a communication. In the case of a disagreement, the partner who disagrees must be invited to communicate their own interpretation of the same data as an addition to the main communication, be it oral or written. All partners agree to withhold any information if the alternative interpretation cannot be added and distributed at the same time, providing the disagreeing partner(s) do not unduly delay the distribution process.

Source: Macaulay, A. C., Delormier, T., McComber, A. M., Cross,

E. J., Potvin, L. P., Paradis, G., Kirby, R. L., Saad-Haddad, C. & Desrosiers, S. (1998). Participatory research with native community of Kahnawake creates innovative code of ethics. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 89, 105–8.

Community and Support

Community research should also promote community and support. We see the role of the researcher as creating a welcoming atmosphere for participation and facilitating supportive relationships among the different stakeholders in the research (Nelson, Ochocka, et al., 1998; Ochocka et al., 2002). People need to be free to voice their concerns and issues and to have their knowledge and experiences validated and appreciated. To break down some of the built-in barriers to relationships that are normally constructed in a hierarchical fashion (researcher and participant), we have found it useful to set an informal tone to research meetings. Using ‘check-ins’ and attending to the personal and interpersonal aspects of the research is very important for building community and support. The research relationship should mirror the larger values guiding the research project.

Communication, Dissemination and Action

Clear communication is essential to community research. There is a need for regular and direct communication among all participants. We have found that the structures of a research steering committee and a research team, which meet regularly to share information, are important vehicles for communication. It is also important to have methods of communication that go beyond the core research committees so that information can be shared more widely. Summary bulletins, news reports and feedback sessions on the project are other valuable methods of communication. Moreover, such written communication should be done on a periodic basis, not just at the end of the project, and should be written in accessible language that is free of research jargon. The use of videos and dramatic presentations are other more innovative ways of sharing the findings of research.

Project members also need to think strategically about how the research results can be disseminated to promote action and change. To promote change, those involved in the research need to target their message at specific audiences with specific recommendations. Mobilizing support for the recommendations and creating pressure for change are important aspects of the dissemination process.

Chapter Summary

In this chapter, we laid the foundations of community research. We began by outlining some of the goals of community research that are congruent with the value-based approach to CP that we articulated earlier. Next, we outlined three broad paradigms that underlie community research. We compared, contrasted and critiqued each of these paradigms and discussed our standpoint regarding the value of each. Finally, we ended the chapter with a discussion of the processes of community research. We argued for the adoption of a participatory action research and provided some guidelines for the implementation of this approach to community research. In the next two chapters, we present and discuss specific community research methods that are associated with the three paradigms and provide examples of how these approaches can be used to promote social change.

Reconstructing Social Research Michael Murray

Contemporary social research is a child of the Victorian era. This was the age of great scientific developments. The potential of explaining and controlling the power of nature seemed unlimited. Wondrous machines were developed. Psychology and social science arose in this era with similar ambitions to harness the power of humanity and to assist in the building of a new society (Jansz & van Drunen, 2004; Rose, 1996). But whose interests were most served by these research pioneers?

The 19th century was an age of rapid social change. In Europe, millions of agricultural labourers were forced off the land with the collapse of the traditional forms of social organization and the introduction of machinery. They moved into the cities where they found work in the new factories. It was a period of great social unrest as these industrial workers began to assert their role in the growing capitalist society. Social scientists were keen to assist established governments maintain their rule of order. For example, LeBon conducted detailed investigation of the crowds participating in the many popular uprisings that occurred in French society in the 19th century. His aim was to develop a scientific explanation of this threat to social order and to ensure the continuance of government by the ruling elite (see Moscovici, 1985).

This was also the great age of exploration and imperialist expansion. Social scientists often accompanied explorers and colonizers on their voyages of discovery and conquest and eagerly compiled reports of the new lands and new peoples. Museums were established that became hoarding houses to display the wonders of the new lands. Native people were captured and included in circus displays. In her critical review of the character of the social sciences Smith (1999) compares traditional social research with that of the colonizer. Both were concerned with imposing their view on that of the other, of shaping the world in their image. Like the colonizer, the traditional social researchers sought to grasp for their own purpose the knowledge and wisdom of the indigenous peoples.

Throughout the evolution of social science researchers paraded their value neutrality and their desire to follow closely the guidelines of natural science. They were keen to develop a social and human science that privileged measurement and control over understanding and emancipation. The science they sought to develop would contribute to the development of a better world organized on rational grounds and freed from the reign of ignorance and superstition. However, it was also a science in which the interests of the dominant class were served in preference to those of the disenfranchised and oppressed. The new social sciences provided the foundation for the development of tools of social management of the masses (Jansz & van Drunen, 2004).

In the 21st century the challenge is to develop an alternative approach to social science that can contribute to broader human emancipation. As was emphasized in this chapter, the alternative requires adopting a clear stance on the side of those who are oppressed rather than on the side of those who wish to exercise control. In this chapter particular reference was made to the work of Habermas. In this commentary I extend this critique to include the work of some Latin American scholars who have come to the fore in articulating an alternative agenda for social research. This is perhaps not surprising in view of their contemporary history of social and political oppression. However, although their critical social ideas may have evolved in that milieu they have wider currency in developing a critical social research agenda. It is important to refer to the heritage of two researchers in particular: Paulo Freire and Ignacio Martín-Baró.

Paulo Freire (1921–97) was a Brazilian critical educator. In his work with the poor and exploited Freire came to recognize the role of the traditional educational system as one of the instruments of social oppression. It contributed to maintaining a culture of silence among the disenfranchised rather than assisting them in identifying the social and political roots of their oppression and assisting them in developing a strategy of personal and social change. Freire criticized what he described as the traditional ‘banking’ model of education in which the student was conceived as a passive receptacle into which the teacher poured certain value-neutral knowledge. Such knowledge implied unquestioning acceptance of particular social arrangements within which poverty and inequality were endemic. The alternative was a ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ (Freire, 1973) in which the teacher worked with the student to reveal the oppressive elements of social reality. Freire described this process as conscientization. Through this process the student and the teacher together began to challenge the established truths.

Applying such an approach to contemporary society helps to avoid the trap of accommodating social research to the needs of the powerful. As Ledwith (2001) has argued, community work often seems radical while adopting a very accommodative agenda to exploitative social arrangements. Similarly, community research can ignore the broader social and political context within which poverty and oppression exist. The challenge is to attempt to link the immediate concerns of the research project to the broader political concerns. Through participatory forms of research, both the researchers and the community begin to explore their social circumstances and to consider how to challenge the established social arrangements.

Ignacio Martín-Baró was a Jesuit priest and social psychologist who lived and worked in San Salvador during the recent period of military oppression until he was murdered by the Salvadorean Army in 1989. Throughout his life he committed himself to developing a research practice that was linked to promoting the liberation of the poor and oppressed people in his country and throughout the world. Psychologists had to dispense with the false idea of value neutrality and instead place themselves clearly on the side of the oppressed. He termed this adopting the ‘preferential option for the poor’.

For Martín-Baró (1994) the important issue was not the character of the research in terms of the particulars of its methodology but rather the purpose of the research. He saw the research process not as some sort of simple reflection of the world out there as traditional positivists might argue; it was ‘not an account of what has been done, but of what needs to be done’.

His critique of Latin American psychology applies to much contemporary social research. He criticized it for its ‘scientistic mimicry’ by which he meant its uncritical acceptance of the models of natural science. He also criticized it for its lack of an adequate epistemology and referred explicitly to the positivism that he condemned as underlining ‘the how of phenomena, but [which] tends to put aside the what, the because and the why’ (p. 21). He criticized its individualism that ignored the social dimensions of humanity, its hedonism as an underlying motive for human arrangements that was equivalent to the assumed intrinsic nature of the profit motive and its ahistoricism that ignored the changing nature of social reality. Instead, Martín-Baró argued for the building of a new liberation psychology from the bottom up. There is a need to redesign our psychological theories ‘from the standpoint of the lives of our own people: from their sufferings, their aspirations and their struggles’ (p. 25).

Today, as we attempt to develop a more critical social science, these ideas provide not only an important starting point but also an inspiration. A more community-based social science begins with an awareness of the grinding poverty and injustices facing so many of the world’s population. It asks of privileged scholars how their work can contribute not only to a greater understanding of humanity but also to the alleviation of this suffering. The strategies that we can use are many and varied but the challenge is to place our small efforts within a broader movement for social justice. Research should indeed be part of the process of social emancipation, not just for the few but for the many.

In developing our research, the challenge is to expose both the machinery and the consequences of those political arrangements that maintain social injustice in various arenas and to promote a variety of strategies for social change. This includes working from the bottom up with particular communities. This does not mean accepting as sacrosanct their version of reality, but nor does it mean imposing an alternative viewpoint. The path is one of openness and humility to new forms of knowledge and social arrangements, while at the same time developing collaboratively an awareness of how the broader forms of social oppression impact on our everyday lives and exploring new avenues of resistance and social change.

It means both an emotional as well as a rational commitment to change and an awareness that personal change and emancipation are interwoven with social change and emancipation. On an emotional level it means experiencing the frustrations when things do not go as easily as you would like or when people do not agree with your perspective. On a rational level it means carefully assessing the weaknesses and strengths of particular engagements. It requires an understanding of the broader sociopolitical and historical context within which communities exist and which limit attempts at social change. Comprehensive social change may be a long-term goal but even short-term victories can provide welcome breathing space and provide time to reassess where to go. It is through such experiences that the researcher and the community can grow in self-awareness and confidence.

Community Research Methods: Post-positivist and Social Constructivist Paradigms

Chapter Organization

Post-positivist Research Methods

◆ Analytic Research: Indicators, Epidemiology and Survey Research: Putting Problems on the Map and Identifying Strengths; Making Inferences about Populations; Measurement; Testing Theory and Examining Relationships; Challenges and Limitations of Epidemiological and Survey Research + Activist/Interventionist Research: Evaluation of Programs and Interventions: Program Theory, Logic Models and Evaluability Assessment; Process and Implementation Evaluation; Outcome Evaluation and Research Design; Cost-effectiveness and Cost-benefits Evaluation; Challenges and Limitations of Post-positivist Approaches to Evaluation

Social Constructivist

Research Methods

◆ Analytic Research: Qualitative Approaches: Characteristics of

Qualitative Research; Varieties of Qualitative Research; Sampling in Qualitative

Research; Data-gathering Methods in Qualitative Research; Qualitative Data

Analysis and Verification; Qualitative Needs Assessment; Challenges and

Limitations of Qualitative Constructivist Research + Activist/Interventionist Research: Evaluation of Programs and Interventions: Varieties of Qualitative Evaluation; Challenges and Limitations of Qualitative Evaluation

Chapter Summary

COMMENTARY: What’s the ‘Right’ Method in Community Research?

Class Exercise



Warm-up Exercise

Read the Class Exercise at the end of the chapter.

a. What are some of the assets that are apparent from the description of this community?

b. What additional assets do you think may be present?

c. How would you go about finding more about the assets of this community?

Whereas the previous chapter examined the goals, paradigms and processes of community research, the focus of this chapter is on the methods of community research. Community research methods are the concrete tools that reflect more abstract philosophical assumptions that underlie different research paradigms. We use the research paradigms that we outlined in the previous chapter as the organizing framework for the methods presented in this and the next chapter. In this chapter, we consider methods that are used to understand oppression, liberation and well-being (analytical or basic research) and methods to overcome oppression and promote liberation and well-being (activist or interventionist research) for research operating from the post-positivist and social constructivist paradigms. See Table 12.1 for an overview of the different research methods.

While quantitative and qualitative research methods can be used by researchers operating from either the post-positivist or constructivist paradigms, postpositivist research has been primarily quantitative, and constructivist research has been primarily qualitative. Thus, in this chapter, we describe quantitative methods in the context of the post-positivist paradigm and qualitative methods within the context of the constructivist paradigm. However, we want the reader to know that there is overlap in the research methods used by the two paradigms (i.e. post-positivist researchers sometimes use qualitative methods and constructivist researchers sometimes use quantitative methods).

Post-positivist Research Methods

Analytic Research: Indicators, Epidemiology and Survey Research

Indicator approaches, epidemiological research and survey research involve examining existing data or collecting new data on large samples of people in order to

Table 12.1 Methods associated with the post-positivist and social constructivist research paradigms

Focus of Research



Social Constructivist


■ Primarily quantitative methods, including indicator approaches, epidemiology and survey research

■ Primary methodological concerns are reliability and validity of measurement and generalizability of findings to the population

■ Primarily qualitative methods, including grounded theory, case studies, narrative inquiry, and discourse analysis

■ Primary methodological concern is trustworthiness of the data in capturing participants’ different constructions of their lived experiences


■ Primarily quantitative evaluation methods, including program logic models, program monitoring and information systems, outcome evaluation and costeffectiveness evaluation

■ Primary methodological concerns are internal and external validity

■ Primarily qualitative evaluation methods, using interviews, observation, program documents and other archival data

■ Primary methodological concern is trustworthiness of the data (as above) make generalizations about the population from which the samples are drawn. These approaches use quantitative methods to assess community needs and resources.

Putting Problems on the Map and Identifying Strengths: Needs and Resources Assessment

Needs and resources assessment is concerned with the following questions: What kinds of problems/needs are there in the community? What are the resources, capacities and strengths of the community that can be mobilized to address the problems/needs? What kinds of interventions are needed to address the problems and meet the needs in the community? The primary function of needs and resources assessment is to provide data for planning an intervention (Altschuld & Witkin, 2000; Posavac & Carey, 2007). Needs and resources assessment can show how widespread or prevalent a problem is and highlight some of the factors that are related to the prevalence of the problem. The two primary quantitative methods used in needs and resources assessment are indicator approaches and surveys.

Indicator approaches include social indicators and indicators of service utilization that are likely to reflect the problems a community might be experiencing. Typically, indicator data have already been collected and the researcher’s job is to access them and put them together in a meaningful and useful way. A variety of social indicators (e.g. age, income) are typically gathered by government bodies or planning agencies through a census (information on an entire population) or a survey (a sample of the population). Indicators of service utilization are those that show the number of people who use different health, social or community services. The utility of indicator approaches for needs assessment is that they can help pinpoint communities that might be selected for an intervention. Communities with a relatively high percentage of low-income families (a social indicator) and relatively high rates of police calls and families involved with mental health and child protection services (service utilization indicators) demonstrate a greater need for intervention than communities with lower rates on these indicators. However, in selecting a community for intervention, care must be taken not to further stigmatize these communities. That is why it is also important to examine the assets and strengths of communities (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).

Epidemiological and survey methods involve collecting new information about a problem or need. In public health, epidemiology is used to document the incidence (the number of new cases) and prevalence (the number of existing cases) of a disease in a population, as well as factors that put people at risk of, or protect them from, developing the disease. Community psychology (CP) has been interested in the application of epidemiological approaches to the study of mental health and psychosocial problems (see Box 12.1 for an example). Moreover, Reinharz (1992) has argued that feminist survey research can be used to ‘put a problem on the map by showing that it is more widespread than previously thought’ (p. 79). For example, date rape, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment and violence against women – problems that were previously unnamed – have, through feminist survey research, been shown to occur at alarmingly high rates (Reinharz, 1992).

Box 12.1

The Stirling County study

One of the earliest epidemiological studies of mental health problems was carried out by Dorothea and Alexander Leighton and colleagues in a rural county in Nova Scotia, Canada. This study involved an in-person survey of about 1,000 adults out of a population of about 20,000 people, half English-speaking and half French-speaking (Leighton, Harding, Macklin, MacMillan & Leighton, 1963). Most of the population lived in impoverished. small fishing villages of 200 to 500 people. The researchers tested the hypothesis that communities that were high in social disintegration would have the highest rates of mental health problems. They defined social disintegration much as current theorists define a lack of social capital (Chapter 5), as lack of membership in associations, absence of strong leaders, few sanctions against deviant behaviour, hostile interactions and poor communication. Not only did the researchers find high rates of mental health problems but they also found support for their hypothesis that social disintegration is a major risk factor for mental health problems.

The researchers conducted a follow-up survey in 1962, ten years after the original survey. Some interesting findings emerged (Leighton, 1979). One community, which was very high in social disintegration and rates of mental health problems in 1952, showed significant reductions in these two indicators over the ten-year period compared with other communities. Dorothea Leighton reported that major changes happened in the one community which showed improvement. First, the educational opportunities for children and adults expanded. The community mobilized to improve the school and they eventually made connections with a neighbouring community so the children could continue their education at higher grade levels in schools outside the immediate community. Second, economic opportunities in the community occurred, so that residents were able to increase their income. With higher income levels, the residents were able to improve their homes and to have running water and electricity. These longitudinal data show that improved social and economic conditions were associated with a decrease in social disintegration and mental health problems.

Sources: Leighton (1979) and Leighton et al. (1963).

Making Inferences about Populations

Epidemiology and survey research are closely tied with prevention and health promotion, which have a population-level analysis. Prevention and health promotion are the action steps that follow from epidemiological and survey research. The concepts of population, sample and generalizability, and sampling are important in this type of research. Population refers to everyone in a defined geographic or social space, whereas a sample is a sub-set of people in the population. Samples are studied in epidemiological and survey research so that inferences can be made about the population from which they were drawn. Therefore, researchers strive to ensure that the samples that they study are representative of the larger population. Sample representativeness can be obtained if some method of random sampling is used to draw the sample from the population. In random sampling, every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected. Also, the larger the random sample, the more likely it is to reflect the population as a whole.

In the study of people from different cultures or ethnic backgrounds, postpositivist researchers take an ‘etic’ or outsider approach. The etic approach assumes that there is a single reality and that research can determine how participants from diverse backgrounds differ with respect to psychological constructs.


Epidemiological and survey research utilize quantitative methods. Various measurement scales, administered as self-report questionnaires or through interview schedules, are used to evaluate theoretical constructs that are presumed to correspond to some external reality. Two key concepts related to psychological measurement are reliability and validity. First of all, a measurement tool must be reliable. That is, it must produce consistent or repeatable findings. Several different methods have been developed to test reliability (e.g. the test–retest method). Measurement scales must also be valid; that is, they must measure what they intend to measure. Typically, scales are validated through demonstrations that scores on the scale in question show significant correlations with other scales designed to measure the same or a similar construct. This is called criterion validity. The concept of construct validity includes both criterion validity (or what has been called convergent validity) and divergent validity (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955). Divergent validity is required to demonstrate that the scale is not significantly correlated with measures of presumably unrelated constructs.

An example of a measurement scale that is of interest to community psychologists is a questionnaire that assesses the empowerment of mental health consumer/ survivors. This scale was developed by Judi Chamberlin, who is a mental health survivor, and colleagues in collaboration with consumer/survivors from several different self-help organizations in the United States. They began by defining empowerment and its components, including learning about and expressing anger, having decision-making power and learning to think critically (Chamberlin, 1997). Next, they generated items that reflect these different components. After pilot testing and refinement, the authors created a 28-item scale (Rogers, Chamberlin, Ellison & Crean, 1997; see sample items of this scale in Box 12.2). Moreover, the reliability and construct validity of this scale have been established (Rogers et al., 1997).

Testing Theory and Examining Relationships

Epidemiology and survey research go beyond determining how prevalent a problem is in a population to testing theoretically derived hypotheses about factors that are related to the prevalence of the problem. In particular, this type of research can examine the role that risk and protective factors, which were defined and discussed in Chapter 4, play in contributing to the problem. Low income and unemployment, for example, are major risk factors for health and mental health problems (see Chapters 1 and 15), while social capital is an important protective factor for health and mental health (see Chapter 7). Moreover, longitudinal survey research can shed light on the causal role that risk and protective factors have in the development of psychosocial problems. Hypothesis testing is a deductive approach in which one starts with a general principle (a hypothesis that derives from a theory) and tests that hypothesis in a specific situation.

Challenges and Limitations of Epidemiological and Survey Research

It is very challenging to mount these types of large-scale epidemiological and survey studies. Researchers need a great deal of technical expertise in surveys, sampling and statistical analyses, and ample budgets to conduct this type of research. Because of the level of expertise and funding required, it is difficult for community groups to use these methods for a needs and resources assessment.

One limitation of epidemiology and survey research is that the problems that are studied can become reified. That is, constructs such as ‘mental illness’ and IQ can be taken uncritically as some true reflection of external reality, when in fact those constructions are deeply embedded within the social context and may support the status quo. Critical analyses of ‘mental illness’ (Marecek & Hare-Mustin, 2009) and IQ (Cernovsky, 1997) have shown that these concepts need to be contested. Epidemiology and survey research can also individualize personal problems, even if at the population-level of analysis, which may lead to victim-blaming. Claims such as ‘30% of women in the population have experienced a depressive disorder’ need to be subjected to critical scrutiny to uncover the role of power and social factors that contribute to women’s experiences of depression and to avoid the problem of context-stripping that occurs in positivist research. For example, Poland, Coburn, Robertson, and Eakin (1998) provide an excellent critique of population-health research on the socioeconomic determinants of health, arguing that this research is largely ahistorical and apolitical. Alternatively, they propose a critical, historical, political economy perspective on the socioeconomic determinants of health.

The etic approach to cross-cultural research is subject to the same problems. In comparing people from different cultures or ethnic backgrounds, researchers assume that the constructs are meaningful within the different cultures that are compared. However, often the psychological constructs that form the basis of the comparison are rooted in mainstream western research and are imposed on other cultures, for which they may not be meaningful and relevant.

Activist/Interventionist Research: Evaluation of Programs and Interventions

Post-positivist research is also used in the evaluation of social programs and interventions. Since the publication of the first edition of Carol Weiss’s Evaluation Research: Methods of Assessing Program Effectiveness in 1972, there has been considerable growth in the field of ‘program evaluation’ (see the Class Exercise at the end of this chapter), which has been defined as the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics and results of programs to make judgments about the program, improve or further program effectiveness, inform decisions about future programming, and/or increase understanding. Utilization-focused program evaluation is evaluation done for and with specific intended primary users for specific intended uses. (Patton, 2008, p. 39)

As Patton’s definition suggests, program evaluation research is used to inform decision making on how a program can be improved or become more efficient

(formative evaluation) or whether a program should be continued (summative evaluation). Since the inception of evaluation research, program evaluators quickly learned that empirical data are but one source of information that can have an impact on decision-making in what are often highly turbulent conditions within and around social programs and interventions (Weiss, 1998). In other words, evaluation research is saturated with values and politics. Thus, program evaluators need to be clear about their values and skilled in working in with program constituents.

Many program evaluators utilize what they call a stakeholder (Pancer, 1997) or empowerment (Fetterman & Wandersman, 2005) approach to evaluation. In this approach, evaluators begin by asking pre-entry questions, such as follows: Who wants the evaluation? Who are the stakeholders? Often, program evaluators work with program staff, managers and funders as the primary stakeholders. Using the concept of partnership that we have promoted throughout this book, the consumers of services, who are typically disadvantaged people, should also be major stakeholders involved in the evaluation.

Once the stakeholders have been identified, evaluators need to work collaboratively with them to answer other pre-entry questions, including the following: What do stakeholders want from the evaluation? What is the purpose of the evaluation? What are the evaluation questions? What type of evaluation is needed to answer the questions? Answering these questions is an important step in framing the evaluation. In Table 12.2, we provide an overview of the link between evaluation purposes, approaches and questions (see Pancer, 1997). In the previous section, we discussed needs and resources assessment, which is the first approach identified in the table. In the remainder of this section, we elaborate on the other evaluation approaches in Table 12.2.

Program Theory, Logic Models and Evaluability Assessment

Evaluability assessment and program logic models provide a framework for evaluation (Frechtling, 2007; Wholey, 2004). Evaluability assessment seeks to determine whether a program or intervention is ready to be evaluated. A program must meet three criteria to be evaluated: (a) clear, specific and measurable outcome goals, (b) clearly articulated program components and (c) a rationale that links the goals and program components. It is common for program constituents to have difficulty articulating the outcome goals of the program in question. Program staff sometimes becomes confused with evaluation jargon regarding goals, objectives and indicators. Also, the program components themselves are sometimes not clearly defined and their link to the outcome goals is tenuous. Program staff may expect changes in outcomes to occur when the intervention components are not powerful enough to effect a change. The rationale that links program activities and outcomes is the program’s theory of change (Chen, 2005). The program’s theory can be implicit and unique to the program, or it can be one that is explicitly drawn from the research literature.

The construction of a program logic model is a way of overcoming these problems (Pancer, 1997). First, outcome goals are identified in terms of the changes in individuals or systems that the program or intervention is striving to make.

Table 12.2 Matching evaluation purposes, approaches and questions in the post-positivist paradigm

Evaluation Purposes

Evaluation Approaches

Evaluation Questions

Planning – to develop a new program or intervention

Needs assessment – focus on needs/problems and resources in a community

What kinds of problems/needs are there in the community? What are the resources in the community?

What kinds of programs are needed to address the problems and meet the needs in the community?

Preparing for evaluation – to develop a working model of the program or intervention that is amenable to evaluation

Evaluability assessment – construction of a program logic model that includes three components:

(i) clear and measurable outcome goals, (ii) an articulation of program activities and

(iii) establishing a rationale that links program activities and outcome goals

Are the program outcome goals and objectives clear, specific, measurable and focused on change?

What are the program components and activities?

Is it reasonable to expect that the activities will achieve the goals?

Program improvement – improving the quality of program or intervention components (formative evaluation)

Process/implementation evaluation – focus on program implementation, intervention specification, input, effort, quality assurance, program monitoring, management information systems

Is the program offering the services it intends to offer? Are the program components being utilized?

Are consumers satisfied with the quality of the program components that are offered?

What information is being collected on program participants and activities?

Program effectiveness – to determine the effectiveness of the program or intervention in meeting its goals (summative evaluation)

Outcome evaluation – focus on effectiveness, goal attainment, change

How effective is the program in meeting its goals?

Can the changes or attainment of goals be attributed to the program? Which program components contributed the most to goal attainment? Is the program ready to be disseminated on a more widespread basis?

Program efficiency – to determine if the program or intervention can be operated in a more efficient, less costly manner without loss of effectiveness

Cost-benefits/cost-effectiveness evaluation – focus on efficiency, comparison of costs and outcomes of different program alternatives

Does the program achieve its goals at a reasonable cost?

Are there less costly ways of achieving the same or better outcomes? Is the program affordable?


Figure 12.1 Program logic model for the Ontario Prevention Clearinghouse

Sometimes when service providers are asked about the goals of the program, they will respond in terms of services that they provide (e.g. ‘The goal of this program is to provide home visitation’). Evaluators need to help program staff and consumers to differentiate between service goals and outcome goals. Service goals involve implementation of the program components, whereas outcome goals are the expected changes that occur as a result of the program components.

In Figure 12.1, we present the program logic model that was developed for an evaluation of the Ontario Prevention Clearinghouse (OPC) conducted by Geoff and Mark Pancer. The OPC is an organization that was designed to support prevention and health promotion initiatives throughout Ontario (Pancer, Nelson & Hayday, 1990). The main program components include the following: (a) information and consultation (a toll-free telephone information and consultation service, with consultants and several computer data banks as resources), (b) networking referrals to other resource people pertinent to the caller’s request and (c) educational activities regarding prevention, including a series of provincial Prevention Congresses (offered every other year) and workshops. In the short term, these program components should enhance the knowledge, support and attitudes towards prevention of those who use the OPC; these short-term changes should lead to more proposals for prevention programs, more funding allocated to prevention and ultimately the reduction of health, education and social problems in the long term (see Figure 12.1). This logic model formed the foundation of a process and outcome evaluation of the OPC, which we describe next.

Process and Implementation Evaluation

Process evaluation involves an evaluation of the implementation of the program components rather than program outcome goals. As is indicated in Table 12.2, a quantitative approach to process evaluation focuses on collecting information about the people who use the service, indicators of the amount and types of utilization of the program components and consumer satisfaction with the program components (Pancer, 1997; Patton, 2008). Typically process evaluation is concerned with providing information on the program components, whether they were implemented as intended, the frequency or intensity with which they are provided and how satisfied consumers are with them. In the evaluation of the OPC, Nelson and Pancer (1990) assisted the OPC in the construction of a data base describing the characteristics of those people using the OPC and the nature of their requests. They also conducted a telephone survey of people who had used the OPC services to inquire about their satisfaction with the different program components. They found that the OPC received an average of 18 major requests for information per month; most (87%) requested information but few received more in-depth consultation (29%), and the overall level of satisfaction of consumers was high. Like any utilization-focused evaluation, the OPC evaluation concluded with three recommendations: (a) that the OPC required additional funding to maintain and expand services, (b) that the OPC should provide more consultation to information requesters to help them with program planning and development and

(c) that the OPC should encourage more systems-centred approaches to prevention (Nelson & Pancer, 1990). Two years after this evaluation was completed, a second evaluation was undertaken that examined the extent to which these recommendations were implemented (Nelson & Hayday, 1995).

Outcome Evaluation and Research Design

Outcome evaluation is concerned with evaluating the extent to which the expected changes occurred as a result of the program or intervention (Posavac & Carey, 2007). In the OPC evaluation, participants were asked about changes relevant to the short-term outcome goals, such as whether or not their knowledge and awareness of prevention increased; whether or not they were able to contact more resource people with the aid of OPC than they would have been able to do on their own and so on. While the participants indicated that there had been changes as a result of their contact with OPC, it is difficult to conclude from this type of evaluation that there were changes and that they were due to the OPC. More convincing demonstrations of change require the use of some type of experimental or quasi-experimental design.

Consider an evaluation in which data relevant to the outcome goals are collected at two points in time: immediately prior to the intervention and immediately following the intervention. While this simple pre-test, post-test design can answer the question about whether or not change occurred in the outcomes, it cannot determine whether or not the change was due to the intervention. Internal validity refers to the confidence that one can have that the intervention was causally related to changes in outcome. There are several threats to internal validity. History is one threat; the passage of time may account for any observed changes. Another threat is maturation. Imagine a program that is designed to improve children’s academic or social competence. Perhaps the children would improve as a result of natural maturational processes. Or maybe the children’s improvement was due to the experience of taking the pre-test. Testing improved their performance. There are many other threats to internal validity. External validity refers to the confidence that one has that the findings are generalizable to other contexts.

Research designs are used to reduce these threats to internal validity and replications in different settings are used to demonstrate external validity. The most basic research design is the randomized controlled trial (RCT). In an RCT, participants are randomly assigned to intervention and control groups. That is, everyone has an equal chance of being assigned to either group. (Note that random assignment is not the same as random sampling, discussed earlier in the section Making Inferences about Populations). An RCT controls for history, maturation, testing and other threats to internal validity because each group of participants should be equally affected by these factors. The only systematic way that they differ is in the terms of the intervention.

There are several examples of RCTs in CP, such as the evaluation of the intervention for homeless people with mental illness described in Chapter 11 (Tsemberis et al., 2004). It is also important to note that being assigned to the control group does not mean being denied services or supports. Rather, individuals in the control group tend to receive the services that are typically available to them, whereas those in the intervention receive supports that are more innovative or intensive than what is typically available. RCTs are typically used for what are called demonstration projects, in which the researchers examine the effectiveness of a new approach. When there are several RCTs demonstrating the effectiveness of the innovation, then the next step in the research and action process is dissemination of the project to other settings. An example of this process of research and dissemination is the Lodge program developed by community psychologist George Fairweather for people with serious mental illness (Seidman, 2003).

In many situations, however, it is difficult to conduct an RCT. When such is the case, evaluation researchers often choose to use a quasi-experimental design which, while not providing all the controls of an RCT, nevertheless approximates some of its controls. Quasi-experiments were introduced to provide some controls when random assignment is not possible. The most popular quasi-experimental design is called the non-equivalent comparison group, in which the evaluator seeks to find some group that is comparable to the intervention group, except for the intervention.

An example of the use of the non-equivalent comparison group design is provided in the evaluation of a multi-site, universal, primary prevention program for children and families called Better Beginnings, Better Futures, conducted by Ray Peters and colleagues, and described in Chapter 22 (Peters et al., 2000). First, all the communities in which the Better Beginnings projects were developed were compared with demographically similar communities. Samples of children and families were drawn from both Better Beginnings and comparison communities and these cohorts are being followed for 25 years to determine the long-term impacts of the project on participants.

One other useful quasi-experimental design is the time-series design. Like the simple pre-test, post-test design, the time–series design examines only one group over time. The difference is that data are collected at several different observation points, both prior to the intervention (baseline) and following the intervention. These multiple observations help to control for many threats to internal validity. This design can be used when the researcher has access to archival data that can be examined over time. For example, if a community development project wanted to examine the extent to which it reduced calls to police and other crime indicators in the neighbourhood in which the intervention was implemented, it would go backwards in time to generate a baseline of crime indicators and then forwards to see whether crime started to drop with the introduction of the community development project.

Cost-effectiveness and Cost–benefits Evaluation

The focus of cost-effectiveness and cost–benefits evaluation is on efficiency (the relationship between effectiveness in achieving outcomes to effort expended to achieve outcomes). This type of evaluation seeks to answer the following questions: Does the program achieve its goals at a reasonable cost? Are there less costly ways of achieving the same or better outcomes? Cost-effectiveness and cost– benefits evaluation is done in the context of an outcome evaluation with some type of control or comparison group, or a time-series design. In addition to gathering data relevant to outcomes, the evaluator must determine the costs of the program (e.g. personnel, facilities, materials, equipment) and other services used by the consumer in order to have a fairly comprehensive comparison of costs across the different programs being compared (Yates, 1998). While cost-effectiveness compares the effectiveness to the costs of different program options, cost–benefits analysis tries to quantify the benefits to participants in terms of monetary values (benefits could include employment income and savings in human service expenditures).

While difficult to conduct, cost-effectiveness and cost–benefits evaluation are important to CP. Government policymakers are interested in these types of evaluations and the types of interventions that are developed by community psychologists and their partners have considerable potential to demonstrate costeffectiveness or cost–benefits evaluation. Community psychologists have been instrumental in developing community-based alternatives to institutionalization for different populations. In a cost–benefit analysis of the Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) for people with serious mental health problems, Weisbrod, Test and Stein (1980) found that the community-based program (PACT) had a better cost–benefit ratio (was less expensive and more effective) than the more traditional approach of hospitalizing people in a state psychiatric institution. Community psychologists have also argued that prevention and early intervention programs are more effective and less costly in the long term compared with traditional reactive approaches to intervention. As was noted in Chapter 4, Schweinhardt (2005) found that the Perry Preschool program in the US, a primary prevention program for disadvantaged preschool children, not only had significant impacts for participants when they reached age 40 but had also produced substantial cost savings. The program gave a return of $16 for every $1 invested. The savings came from a reduction in costs for special education services in school, involvement in the justice system for criminal behaviour and welfare payments and from increased taxes paid due to higher earnings.

Challenges and Limitations of Post-positivist Approaches to Evaluation

In reducing programs to measurable processes, outcomes and costs, quantitative approaches to evaluation do not tell the whole story of interventions designed to assist disadvantaged people. In such evaluations, one seldom hears the voices of disadvantaged people and their experiences of such programs. Also, a major challenge in using this approach is that not all programs fit neatly into the straightjacket of different experimental and quasi-experimental designs. In contrast to the logical-empirical approach of program logic models and outcome evaluation, Etzioni (1960) conceived of programs in terms of a systems model with dynamic and interacting parts. One of the implications of this model, Etzioni argued, is that programs pursue other objectives besides the rational focus on goals. Programs strive to survive and cope with dynamic changes in the larger social-political environment, including funding cutbacks from government. Moreover, many of the programs that are amenable to post-positivist approaches to evaluation are those over which the researcher has some control. Such programs tend to be ameliorative in nature. More amorphous and dynamic social interventions that strive to be transformative are not as amenable to this type of evaluation.

Social Constructivist Research Methods

Analytic Research: Qualitative Approaches

Social constructivist research tends to rely much more on qualitative, naturalistic research. While qualitative research is used in education and many social science disciplines, it does not enjoy widespread use in psychology, which has by and large adopted a natural sciences model of research based on positivist assumptions (Kidder & Fine, 1997). While there has been more attention to qualitative research in some of the applied areas of psychology, including CP (see the list of special issues of psychology journals that focus on qualitative research in the Resources section at the end of the next chapter), qualitative research is still marginalized in psychology. We believe that qualitative research has much to offer CP, in that the two share an emphasis on diversity (including methodological diversity), understanding people in context and collaborative research relationships.

It is also important to realize that not all qualitative research is based on a constructivist paradigm. Kidder and Fine (1997) have made a distinction between what they call Big Q and small q qualitative research. The former is based on the constructivist paradigm, while the latter uses qualitative methods as a minor supplement to quantitative methods (e.g. adding some open-ended questions to a survey) and is rooted in the post-positivist paradigm. The focus of this section is on Big Q qualitative research.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

There are several characteristics of qualitative research (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Kidder & Fine, 1997; Patton, 2002). First, qualitative researchers gather textual data, including observations of behaviour and people’s words and pictures. Big Q qualitative researchers rely on quotes or stories that are told by research participants and they do not attempt to quantify these data. Second, qualitative research is an immersion process for the researcher. The researcher enters the field and strives to get close to the phenomenon under study by immersing herself or himself in the context and lives of the participants for an extended period of time. There is a saying in qualitative research that the ‘researcher is the instrument,’ which captures the shift of the researcher from being a detached outsider to an engaged insider. Third, qualitative research is naturalistic, with the researcher giving up control. The researcher does not attempt to manipulate any ‘variables’, and the research is situated in people’s natural environments. Holism is a fourth characteristic of qualitative research. Rather than reduce the phenomenon under study to different components, the qualitative researcher strives for a holistic and contextual understanding of the phenomenon. Fifth, the subjectivity and emotions of the researcher and the participants are legitimate data in qualitative research. The research process is reflexive, with the researcher conveying experiential as well as intellectual understanding.

Sixth, qualitative research is inductive, moving from the specific to the general. While the researcher may have a hunch about the phenomenon under study, she or he does not begin with a hypothesis or theory to test. Rather, the research process is more open ended, exploratory, adventurous and discovery oriented. Often findings emerge that are surprising, and the researcher constructs a grounded theory to understand these findings (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Seventh, qualitative research is typically more concerned with depth than breadth. Whereas quantitative research emphasizes breadth and generalizability of findings by collecting data on large samples, qualitative research tries to provide a more in-depth understanding of the phenomenon of interest by gathering rich, qualitative data on a small number of participants or settings. Finally, despite being perceived by some as biased and lacking in rigour, qualitative research is in fact quite rigorous. The process of data analysis involves both creativity in developing the grounded theory and rigour in verifying the codes, themes and interrelationships that form the base of the theory.

Varieties of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is quite diverse (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Patton, 2002; Willig, 2001) and there are several approaches that are useful for CP. First, grounded theory research is discovery oriented, and the role of the researcher is to construct a theory that emerges from the transaction between the data and the researcher (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This is one of the most widely used approaches to qualitative research. Case studies are a second approach (Stake, 2005) and are characterized by their focus on the unit of analysis, one or several cases, as opposed to specific qualitative methods (Willig, 2001). Lincoln and Guba (1985) have suggested that the case study should be the unit of analysis in qualitative, naturalistic inquiry. The goal of case studies is to arrive at an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon in a particular context.

A third method, narrative inquiry, focuses on how people make sense of their experiences through stories (Chase, 2005). Julian Rappaport (1993, 2000) has argued for the utility of narrative methods for CP. Rappaport makes a distinction between personal stories, which are unique to the individual, and narratives, which have more common themes and are applicable across individuals. He further argues that there are dominant cultural narratives that provide the context in which individuals develop their personal stories, make meaning of their experiences and create their identities. For oppressed groups, the dominant cultural narratives are often terrorizing, stereotypical and stigmatizing (e.g. the dangerous mental patient). In contrast, alternative settings (e.g. self-help/mutual aid organizations) can provide an alternative, positive narrative from which individual members can fashion a more positive, joyful and hopeful personal story. Other narrative researchers have also pointed to the healing power of narratives in the context of health and illness (Murray, 2000a).

A fourth, and somewhat related method to narrative inquiry, is discourse analysis (Parker, 1997; Potter & Wetherell, 1987; Willig, 2001). While there are different approaches to discourse analysis, there is a common emphasis on the study of language. The focus of discourse analysis is on the function of language. This view stands in contrast to the mainstream positivist view that language is a true reflection of the person’s internal mental processes and structures (i.e. cognitions, attitudes). Discourse analysis can be used to examine existing texts (e.g. newspaper or magazine articles) or data gathered through interviews or tape-recordings of conversation. Like narrative inquiry, discourse analysis can deconstruct the functions of dominant discourses (e.g. psychiatric professionals’ medical discourse about ‘mental illness’) and alternative discourses (e.g. the stories of survivors of mental health problems and the mental health system). Fifth, ethnographic research strives to understand the culture of a setting and people. In contrast to the etic stance of post-positivist research, ethnography adopts an ‘emic’ or insider understanding of the culture and its assumptions.

Sixth, photovoice is a PAR strategy in which people take photos of people and places that are important to them and then come together to discuss the photos they have taken (Hwang, Yi, Tao & Ano, 1998). The group discussion of photos is guided by the principle of VOICE (Voicing Our Individual and Collective Experience). Both the photos and the discussion provide qualitative data for catalysing social change. Photovoice has been used with homeless people, people living in low-income neighbourhoods and with people experiencing different health issues.

Finally, there has been a growing emphasis on mixing qualitative and quantitative approaches in community research (Greene, 2008; Greene, Caracelli & Graham, 1989; Mertens, 2009). Greene et al. (1989) have argued that mixing methods is valuable for several reasons. First, multiple methods can be used to triangulate or validate findings, as no single method is perfect. Second, mixed methods can be complementary with one method uncovering some aspect of a phenomenon that is not well captured by another method. Third, mixed methods can be used sequentially with the findings of one method informing the use of another method (e.g., focus group data may useful for constructing survey items). Fourth, mixed methods can sometimes uncover a paradox and lead to a fresh perspective. Finally, one method may be used to assess one domain, while a different method is used to tap another domain (e.g. qualitative methods used to examine program implementation and quantitative methods used to study program outcomes).

While these different methods are typically associated with the constructivist paradigm, there are variations on the underlying assumptions of these methods. In some cases, grounded theory, case studies, narratives and discourse analysis may be more closely aligned with the critical realist assumptions of the critical paradigm (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000; Parker, 1997; Willig, 2001). Furthermore, the methods that we have briefly noted are by no means exhaustive of all the different methods of qualitative inquiry. For example, hermeneutic/phenomenological research (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000) is another major qualitative method.

Sampling in Qualitative Research

Since qualitative research is not concerned with generalizability to populations, it is not necessary to have the same large samples that are found in survey and epidemiological research. Rather, the main issue in qualitative research is to purposefully select information-rich participants (i.e. those people from whom the researcher can learn a great deal about the central issues which the research addresses; Patton, 2002). Often, different stakeholders are sampled to obtain their constructions of the issues. Including multiple stakeholder groups permits an examination of issues across stakeholder groups so that one can discern both common and unique aspects of each stakeholder group’s constructions of reality. A variety of different sampling techniques in qualitative research has been described by Patton (2002). Patton made the following statement about sample size in qualitative research:

There are no rules for sample size in qualitative inquiry. Sample size depends on what you want to know, the purpose of the inquiry, what’s at stake, what will be useful and what will have credibility and what can be done with available time and resources. (Patton, 2002, p. 244, original emphasis)

One guideline for sample size is that one samples to the point of saturation or redundancy. That is, one continues to sample until little new information is gained from additional participants.

Data-gathering Methods in Qualitative Research

Qualitative interviews. Interviews using open-ended questions (i.e. questions that cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’) are widely used in qualitative research to understand people’s lived experiences (Morgan & Krueger, 1997). Moreover, the qualitative researcher can use in-depth individual interviews or focus group interviews or some combination of the two, depending on the purpose of the research. Sometimes participants are interviewed only once, while in other research there may be multiple interviews with the same participants. Patton (2002) has also identified several different interview methods ranging from very unstructured to very structured: (a) the open-ended conversational interview; (b) the interview guide, in which there are a number of interview questions and probes, but which are not all necessarily asked; and (c) standardized, open-ended questions, in which there are a number of interview questions, which are all asked in the same order and using the same wording. In line with the inductive and discovery-oriented nature of qualitative research, the skill of the interviewer in listening and in allowing the participant to determine the direction of the interview should not be underestimated in this type of research. Qualitative interviews are typically taperecorded and later transcribed so that they can be coded.

Qualitative observation. Qualitative researchers can also gather observational data, which provides information that participants may not talk about. Moreover, the researcher may observe something of which the participants ar