Isabel María Herrera Sánchez (Spain)

What attracted you to community psychology?

When I started my studies in psychology, I had originally planned to pursue a clinical career like most of my classmates. However, as I progressed in my training, I began to explore other fields that held a greater allure. Among them was community psychology. I had the opportunity to do my internships at a municipal community health center, where I collaborated with other professionals of different disciplines. In that inter-professional context, I witnessed how psychology contributed to the well-being of communities, improving living conditions in neighborhoods, and promoting the social welfare of vulnerable groups.

Later, my doctoral research focused on evaluating social organizations, which gave me a broader perspective on the significant role that the social sector plays in social well-being. Subsequently, I got involved in evaluating programs aimed at disadvantaged neighborhoods. This specialization led me to engage in teaching community psychology, participating in undergraduate and postgraduate training programs. Concurrently, I actively worked to ensure the proper development of this academic and professional field. In Spain, we have a strong network of professionals dedicated to the field of social intervention psychology, closely linked to community psychology. Unfortunately, recent professional regulations and socio-political changes have posed challenges to this sector. As a result, I have been actively involved in the efforts of our professional association to ensure the continued strength and empowerment of this field of practice, as its initial beginnings.

What makes community psychology special for you?

Community psychology (CP) can be described as a field that is dedicated to addressing social challenges and creating positive change in communities. CP is committed to achieving equity, social justice, and collective well-being. It confronts structural barriers and inequalities head on, driven by a strong determination to make a difference. Community psychologists strive to overcome obstacles and empower the marginalized individual and communities. When implementing empowerment-based strategies, the goal is not only to alleviate problems but also to address their underlying causes by driving sustainable and meaningful change. These strategies provide tools for the active participation of the individuals and communities involved, promoting decision-making and fostering the strengthening of their ability to overcome obstacles and achieve greater well-being. CP goes beyond the personal and interpersonal level and focuses on transforming social issues at their core. By employing innovative strategies, it aims to empower communities and promote equal opportunities. The adjective to describe the determination to overcome challenges and promote equal opportunity, positive social change and improve quality of life in communities is “resolute”.

Please tell us about an event that was formative for your engagement with community psychology.

It is not so much an event as a circumstance in which I am currently immersed, in addition to my work as a teacher and researcher. For the past few years, I have taken on the role of coordinating the professional area of Social Intervention Psychology in the Andalusia region (Spain) through the professional association of psychologists in the region (Colegio Oficial de Psicología de Andalucía Occidental). In this region, the regional government has the authority to legislate on social policies. From my position as the coordinator of this area and, along with other colleagues, actively lead efforts to review and improve those laws related to social policies. Although our efforts yield varied results, with success or failure (with the less successful outcomes more common), what I want to emphasize is the importance and challenge that psychologists undertake when attempting to influence social policy. Social policies play a crucial role in promoting well-being and equality within society. Therefore, we must actively participate in the analysis and proposal of changes to existing policies, ensuring that we effectively address the needs of individuals and communities. CP has the tools necessary to achieve this objective.

What is the future of community psychology in Europe?

The EFPA Standing Committee on Community Psychology, of which I am a member, is actively working to strengthen CP in Europe. We have undertaken a project to assess the implementation of CP as a field of practice in European countries; to identify the educational offerings available to students and explore the possibility of aligning CP with EuroPsy. We are fully aware of the significant diversity in the professional development of CP across European countries and there are numerous areas closely linked to CP that play vital roles within their respective area of knowledge, such as Social Intervention Psychology, Social Problems Psychology, Applied Social Psychology, Liberation Psychology, and Critical Social Psychology. All these approaches share values and principles including working for the well-being of individuals and communities; promoting equity and social justice in the most disadvantaged groups; promoting social and community participation and empowerment; strengthening the sense of community, community development, and community leadership; intervening from the perspective of diversity and social change; relying on action research approaches and sociopolitical validity. The key challenge lies in harmonizing this diversity of knowledge into a recognized field of practice at the European level, which would result in strengthening the identity and visibility of CP. In addition, it would provide greater opportunities for psychology students to develop competences related to this field, as well as in other more established areas.

What is the most important piece (or pieces) that is missing in community psychology in Europe?

Rather than focusing on a topic, I want to emphasize methodology because the strength of CP lies in its capacity to foresee and embrace emerging fields. I think of the transformative paradigm, which is more than just a conceptual framework; it is a particular stance towards using methodology to bring about social change by questioning power structures and promoting social justice. I cite Donna M. Mertens, who highlighted the primacy of what is to be achieved (social justice) rather than on the rigorous adherence to a methodology, where the vision and values of marginalized groups should be at the core of the transformative process. CP is characterized by its integration of various methodological approaches, and I believe the transformative paradigm is essential.

Please tell us about an event that  summarizes what community psychology is about for you.

The 15M Movement comes to mind, which emerged in Spain on 15 March 2011, in response to the economic crisis that began in 2008 and exacerbated the country’s social inequality. It originated as a spontaneous gathering on the night of 15 March in the “Puerta del Sol” in the city of Madrid and quickly spread to other cities, where people settled in their tents in the main squares for a month. During this time, participants engaged in various assembly-style activities to discuss pressing issues such as inequality, housing, education, job precarity, political corruption, and the prevailing two-party system. The movement organized inclusive activities of all kinds, catering to people of all ages and backgrounds, without focusing on individual ideologies. It stood out as a citizen participation movement that served as a protest and a call for political and social changes. Although this protest movement did not achieve significant improvements in social rights, it laid the groundwork for a greater public awareness of social inequalities and caused a change in the political landscape of the country, moving away from the prevailing bipartisanship towards a new multiparty model that allowed greater representation and diversity of political options. I often refer to this historic moment with my students to illustrate the potential grassroots change.

Beyond Genders. Intersectionality between theory and practice. Interdisciplinary gazes. 

November 24-25, 2023 University of Turin 

 CIRSDe (Interdisciplinary Center for Women’s and Gender Research and Studies – University of Turin is organizing the international conference Beyond Genders. Intersectionality between theory and practice. Interdisciplinary gazes.

The conference aims to foster a multidisciplinary debate and to explore the state of the art of research and reflections on intersectionality. What are the perspectives through which intersectionality has developed over the years, and what are its applications? What makes its implementation complex, and what are the pitfalls to its effective applicability? Why do some areas of study seem to have a more fluid dialogue with this concept while others still prove refractory? What are the most effective research methods, and why?  How is the concept of intersectionality being explored and debated in different disciplines? How can an intersectional perspective be developed in global contexts that necessarily have to come to terms with a past of colonialism and oppression? 

People interested in participating may submit a contribution: the deadline for abstract submission is June 15, 2023. More details can be found here

Michael Richards (UK)

What attracted you to community psychology?

When I was an undergraduate student in psychology in the UK, I soon became frustrated that mainstream psychology was not a psychology that could really make a difference in people’s lives, at least for the most marginalised, and be a psychology that could be about voices, inclusion, empowerment, and creativity. Thankfully, I was introduced to “critical community psychology” by Carolyn Kagan, Rebecca Lawthom and others, and I started to see that psychology could be one of hope and change, a move away from wholly individualistic and exclusionary nature of mainstream psychology. This form of critical community psychology aimed to be driven by values, working with people in context, and was interdisciplinary, driven by change and creativity in its approaches, and I could see hope that this could make a difference in people’s lives. I saw how powerful it could be in part in my own work with disabled people, homeless young people and people in poverty in Manchester, and have not stopped flying the flag for community psychology since.

What makes community psychology special?

For me, what makes community psychology (CP) special is its approach to action that focuses on oppression and liberation and on challenging systems that are unjust, and it seeks to collaborate in solidarity with workers and members of communities through a critical praxis. Participatory action research, wellbeing, and collaboration is different from the work and ideas around labs and individualism that is manifested in mainstream psychology, and CP for me provides hope in a way that critical psychology alone does not. CP, in whatever form, is a psychology that gives me hope that mainstream psychology can move forward in a way that allows psychology to become a psychology for marginalised people.

Please tell us about an event that was formative for your interest in or engagement with community psychology?

There has not been one singular event that was formative in engaging my interests in CP, but the CP festivals that have taken place in the UK since 2015 in cities including London, Manchester, and Bristol, have been hot beds for dialogue and engagement in CP, and seeing these events take place to promote CP and inspire future community psychologists have been rewarding to witness.

In your assessment, what is the future of community psychology in Europe?

Critical CP provides a platform of hope that the shortcomings and old-fashioned ways of mainstream psychology can be challenged, but critical CP also needs to be challenged and maybe the challenge is greater. After all, the well-intentioned core values, principles, and approaches of any form of critical CP is up against conservative and entrenched psychology powerbases across the world. This fits in with the neoliberal and capitalist governments agendas across many countries that only have passing reference to social justice, equality, and diversity values in their economic and political narratives, and instead prioritise medical and individualised approaches that collaborate with multi-billion-pound industries, and this will exasperate further post-Covid-19. This makes it very difficult for community-orientated, qualitative, creative, and dynamic approaches and set-ups to be founded in collaboration with marginalised people because it is not the priority of the most powerful and the elite.

More than ever, there are less degrees, modules, practitioners and speakers of critical CP and psychology’s alternatives. They have become at best a special interest topic, an opportunity for psychologists to get angry now and again, rather than making any headway in terms of penetrating, influencing, and denting the power of mainstream psychology. Additionally, the same names dominate the space, ensuring that a patriarchal and white critical CP is ever-present. Whilst more speakers and ideas are emerging in critical CP from different backgrounds and communities, it is slow paced and not making progress in challenging and changing mainstream psychology. A future critical CP in Europe needs to turn itself upside down and reconfigure itself into an identity that makes a real epistemological break from mainstream psychology, but in a way that is prepared to work with all kinds of psychologists, who can all bring skills, strengths and knowledges that have the potential to genuinely change the lives of people for the better, in collaboration with them.

For CP to thrive in Europe, it needs to decentre itself and work cross-nationally, work across disciplines, engage with technology better, be prepared to think and develop ideas in ways community psychologists have not done before, and be relational, innovative and promote and collaborate with marginalised people, with a view to decolonising all forms of psychology, with justice at the heart of its existence.

What advice would you give to aspiring community psychologists?

CP has the potential to make in-roads within mainstream psychology, with a view to helping psychology become a psychology for marginalised people, and to be able to do that, my advice to aspiring community psychologists is to always aim to underpin your work with the voices of marginalised people. Let them be CP and the foundation to how you practice and speak about CP. Without those voices being at the heart of CP, then CP is just another psychology that means nothing to marginalised people.

How about a song? One that symbolises what community psychology is about for you?

Bon Jovi, ‘Living on a Prayer’, 1986.

Angela Fedi (Italy)

What attracted you to community psychology?

Even as a psychology student, I was fascinated by community psychology (CP). I remember studying for the exam and feeling exactly: “Wow, this is exactly the psychology I want to deepen and practise!” I studied Donata Francescato’s manual and took the class with Piero Amerio, so it was really easy to become intrigued…

What makes community psychology special for you?

I found that CP allowed me to combine my interest in collective phenomena with the psychological perspective and with some values that I had chosen as the basis for my life.

What makes CP so special for me is the possibility to have an understanding and a way to act in almost every situation of ordinary (e.g. stressful situations, collaboration, participation, healthy behaviour…) and extraordinary life (e.g., pandemic, war, climate crisis…). I am so glad to have a psychological theoretical framework that is applicable to many different problems and helps me to think in terms of both problem setting and problem solving.

Also, I was and am in love with the idea (and effort) of moving “from case to problem”: I am convinced that psychology cannot limit itself to chasing single cases (both individual and collective), but should work to limit/eliminate the causes that generate suffering, that hinder balance and harmony (within people, between people, between people and other living beings…), and to improve the resources of people, groups, communities, contexts to achieve goals related to peace, enriching coexistence, flourishing – not in a kind of “positivity at any cost”, but in awareness of power injustice and any other kind of inequality.

Please tell us about an event that was formative for your engagement with community psychology.

A year before I started my studies at the university when I was still living in my beautiful village by the sea, I read an interview with Professor Piero Amerio, who became my mentor, in the newspaper. He had been interviewed on the occasion of the opening of the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Turin. He presented social psychology as an advantage of the new degree programme.

My plans were more oriented toward a career as a social practitioner than as a clinical psychologist. And this interview was like a confirmation. I will be in the right place to do the right thing. (I still have that newspaper clipping.) Now, many years later, I am an Associate Professor of Social and Community Psychology at the University of Turin.

In your assessment, what is the future of community psychology in Europe?

I hope that CP in Europe will become less and less subject to the classical clinical view and evolve into a psychology of peace, well-being and sustainability (in the broadest sense). I would be happy if European colleagues could help shape the scientific (I am thinking, for example, of the large European grants) and political decisions of our continent, which could restore an important tradition related to the psychological study of relationships and social phenomena from the point of view of subjectivity and the social construction of reality.

What advice would you give an Early Career Researcher starting out as a community psychologist in Europe today?

I would suggest to build a solid and broad theoretical base, along with a relevant methodological knowledge, but to avoid choosing a single perspective or topic. Instead, I would suggest building on this foundation to be curious, to study persistently and to look around, with scientific and human curiosity and with empathy and a desire to make things better. I would also suggest travelling through countries and taking the best from each encounter.

Please provide a painting or mural that, for you, symbolizes what CP is about.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effetti del Buon Governo in città, 1338 40,

Sala della Pace, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

[I asked to have it on the first book I edited, about social work, many (!) years ago.]

2023 Turkey-Syria earthquakes: Solidarity from ECPA and an invitation to donate

It has been almost a week since an earthquake struck Turkey and Syria. The devastation is horrific, and the death toll is above 20,000. We want to share the testimony of a worker from INTERSOS, a humanitarian organisation operating in Syria, in one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and already severely affected by The Syrian Civil War.

ECPA wants to express sympathy and solidarity for those suffering from this immense tragedy and all those working in the field. We urge our members and community psychologists across the globe to donate to relief efforts. There are many humanitarian organisations collecting donations and supplies.

To donate to INTERSOS, which is an Italian organisation working in Syria, follow this LINK.

You can also donate to AHBAP (Anatolian Public and Peace Platform), an organisation based in Turkey, reaching out to ask for support. To donate to AHBAP, follow this LINK.

For Syria, you can donate to Förderverein für bedrohte Völker. Details can be found HERE.

These are examples of reliable and trustworthy organisations. Every donation helps.

ECPA Board

Megan Vine(Ireland)

What attracted you to community psychology?

I was introduced to community psychology through a module taught by Dr Ronni Greenwood in the M.A. (conversion) in Psychology at the University of Limerick. I was immediately attracted to community psychology, as it aligned with my values and research interests more than traditional approaches to psychology that I had encountered. I had previously studied Applied Theatre in the UK and had spent several years working as a facilitator of drama and storytelling for community youth groups, so I had an interest in community-based participatory methodologies. Community psychology represents an exciting approach to psychology that allows me to draw on my experience and design research and interventions that can address important social issues.

What makes community psychology special?

The ecological approach and the principles that underpin community psychology make it special. Appreciating the interdependence of individuals and systems (ideally) allows community psychology research and practice to identify and address the root causes of social issues.

Please tell us about an event that was formative for your engagement with community psychology.

Attending the virtual International Conference on Community Psychology in 2020 was a formative experience, in terms of connecting me with an inspiring and supportive academic network of like-minded people. As community psychology is still quite marginal in Ireland, opportunities such as the International Conference on Community Psychology have been invaluable for me to make international links.

How might community psychology be more influential at policy level in Europe?

This is a difficult question, but I feel that greater visibility and awareness of community psychology in general could increase the fields’ impact on policy-making. There seems to be a lack of understanding among the lay population about the value of applying ecological principles to addressing social issues, and an over-focus on individualised interventions.

How would you characterize a “successful” intervention in community psychology?

An intervention that improves the well-being of individuals and settings through empowering approaches that have positive ‘ripple effects’ on wider society.

Finally, a song? One that symbolizes what community psychology is about for you.

Mutual Core by Bjork. The lyrics can be found here.

Call for papers | Symposium on Community, Psychology and Climate Justice

5-7 June 2023, Johannesburg, South Africa

Hosted by the University of Johannesburg, University of Cincinnati, and York St. John University

The world is experiencing increasing global heating and adverse weather patterns, with associated biodiversity loss, natural disasters, displacement, migration, and negative health impacts. Psychologists, however, have been somewhat slow to acknowledge how climate change intersects with historical and contemporary injustices, including colonisation, racism, environmental health disparities, human rights violations, sexism, migration, and extractivism, to name a few. Psychologists have tended to downplay the politics of climate justice, too often adopting an apolitical stance that focuses on individual agency, attitude shifts, behaviour change and education. An additional problem is that writings and voices of marginalised groups are underrepresented in current climate psychology scholarship. There is also an underrepresentation of interdisciplinary work with disciplines such as law, peace and conflict studies, community development, migration, governance and public health.

How can psychologists become inclusive of movements and scholarship seeking structural and political reform, climate justice, racial and gender equity, reparations, and meaningful representation of marginalised groups? How can psychologists continue to work on healing and adaption while recognising upstream mitigation and socio-political reform? How can psychologists grapple with the growing inequities and problems within climate movements? How can psychologists contribute to movements that strengthen decolonised, community-oriented, critical and political approaches to the climate emergency? How can psychologists foster meaningful and conscientised solidarity in the fight for climate justice? How do we close the gap between scholarship and climate movements? What is the role of scientific evidence in climate justice struggles? How can we use politically engaged methodologies such as participatory, decolonising, and indigenous approaches in pursuing climate justice?

There is a growing interest by psychologists in these and other questions. Several recent publications and special issues have focused on a more politicised role for psychology and climate justice. These include, but are not limited to, community psychology and climate change, communities reclaiming power in relation to climate change, the role of justice in climate psychology, and inclusivity of marginalised scholarship in the climate emergency. These writings have focused on deepening the theoretical underpinnings of climate psychology, inter and trans-disciplinary approaches to climate justice, community mobilisation and intervention, literary and arts-based interventions, critical methodologies, marginalised youth activism, and migration. There is, however, much work to do.

This symposium focuses on psychology and climate justice through the lens of community. Communities worldwide are on the frontlines of resistance against the detrimental impacts of large-scale resource developments, deleterious climate change consequences, land dispossession, toxic contamination, and other climate and environmental injustice issues. These and other environmental injustices disproportionately impact those living on societies’ margins, and vulnerability is often rooted in histories of colonial violence and its reproduction in today’s unjust social arrangements. Resisting communities are also fighting for the universal right to a healthy environment for current and future generations, including a liveable climate, participation and fair treatment within environmental decisions, and the equitable distribution of environmental goods and harms. Additionally, indigenous environmental justice struggles often centre land and seek to restitute what has been made destitute through colonial violence. Thus, environmental justice struggles are not only against environmental violence but, importantly, for the flourishing of all life.

We invite theoretical, case studies, original research, critical reviews, and other contributions that may complement this theme. We will also include a broader political psychology analysis that helps frame environmental justice issues. The call is not limited to community psychology; we welcome any theoretical orientation (political, liberation, critical, feminist, indigenous and social psychology) with a community lens. We are particularly interested in the papers that focus on the following:

  • Deepening critical community and psychology theory in climate justice
  • Gender, queer theory and climate justice
  • History, climate justice and psychology
  • Race and racism
  • Intersectionality and climate justice
  • Disability and climate justice
  • Inter and transdisciplinary approaches
  • Critical conscientisation and climate justice
  • Civic monitoring
  • Allyship
  • Cohesion, connectedness and mobilisation
  • Identity and solidarities
  • Decolonisation
  • Youth activism, particularly among marginalised groups
  • Literary and visual arts
  • Participatory methodologies
  • Ethics and climate justice
  • Critiques of individualism and behaviour change
  • Critical mental health and the climate emergency
  • Representation and climate reporting
  • Conservation and justice

Please submit extended abstracts of no more than 800 words covering one more of the above topics. The closing date for abstract submissions is 30 March 2023. Please email abstract submissions to Brendon Barnes bbarnes@uj.ac.za.The hybrid symposium will take place at the University of Johannesburg from 5-7 June 2023, and include a face-to-face (at the University of Johannesburg) or an online option. Selected papers will be invited to submit a chapter to an edited collection after the symposium.

Nikolay Mihaylov (Bulgaria)

What attracted you to community psychology?

I had been interested in psychology more generally as a way of changing the world for the better by changing people for the better (it does sound a little messianic, hopefully youthful idealism is a good enough excuse). I enrolled in a BA in Psychology and explored psychotherapy as a practice that helps people improve their lives. During my studies I engaged in student activism. Studying psychology and doing organizing on behalf of a voiceless community led me to the realization that change is more feasible and perhaps more meaningful when it is planned and performed at a group level, not the individual level of therapy. As a student in a peripheral country (Bulgaria), I was not aware of community psychology; I was aware of social psychology as the “change” variety of psychology – it dealt with attitudes, social influence, conflict and cohesion. I would read Aronson’s The Social Animal and be thrilled by his description of jigsaw groups overcoming prejudice and the experiments on making people care more about the environment. Eventually I set myself a goal to get into a PhD program in Social Psychology in the United States (where all these great textbooks were coming from). I applied through the Fulbright Commission in Bulgaria and won the scholarship. The Commission facilitates and funds applying and studying in the US. I filled in their forms, described in my personal statements how much I wanted to do social-change oriented research and gave evidence from my experience as an activist. The result – I was not accepted anywhere. The Commission was quite dismayed with the US universities not accepting a Fulbrighter. I (and obviously Fulbright) did not know that social psychology in 2010 had moved quite far from Aronson’s textbooks (if it ever were there anyway). This discouraging situation turned for the better when the Commission hooked me up with Ron Harvey, a US student who was doing Fulbright research in Bulgaria. He happened to be a PhD student in community psychology (CP).

When we met his first words were: “I read your statement. What you are talking about is community psychology, not social psychology.” And then he told me about action research, community change, context, prevention and all the other ideas we like so much about the CP approach to social issues. It all seemed to fit great with my interests, my experiences and my goals. Eventually I went to DePaul University in Chicago, Ron’s home program in CP, on a Fulbright scholarship for one year as a non-degree student. From there I was able to obtain first-hand knowledge of our field, get the connections and the experience to apply to a full-time Ph.D. program. The gap between the Bulgarian academia and the US PhD programs is really big and I had to be both lucky and strategic to jump it.

What makes community psychology special for you?

The most important thing about CP for me would be that it is a set of social technologies that can be used by ordinary people, “the” people. Most knowledge, most technologies are capitalized on by those who already have power – corporations and state power. Knowledge is (more) power to them. If we looked at social psychology, for example, we would see that almost all its research and the knowledge it produced are being used by big business to control its workforce and its consumers (and to some extent by the corporate-owned state as well). And there is some “trickle-down science” for the self-help-oriented upper middle class. CP, on the other hand, is designed to work with and involve people in research that they can use for their own good, often against that control from above.

Other features of CP complement or make possible this liberatory potential. CP is action oriented, which is very motivating for both the researchers and the community participants – the interactive process of research is stimulating, and the practical, grounded goals are constant positive feedback to our efforts. CP is also relatively cheap and easy to apply in terms of money and materials. No labs, no sophisticated equipment is necessary. That was one of my personal reasons to enroll in a CP Ph.D. program – I could transfer my knowledge back to Bulgaria even as a psychologist-errant. A CP training also allows for very versatile jobs in and out of academia. On a personal level CP is also attractive in giving practitioners the option to work by their avowed values, self-express through their work, which is rare in a positivist science paradigm.

Please tell us about an event that was formative for your engagement with community psychology.

There was no single event – it was rather a gradual journey and realization. A very important experience was my engagement in student activism in my first years of the university. I felt the exhilaration of making your voice heard and changing reality through collective action; I also experienced solidarity and camaraderie; and I also encountered the frustrations and dilemmas of trying to make other people become active, or “free”. One important book I read at that time was Saul Alinsky’s biography (Let Them Call Me a Rebel) – it gave me a framework to think about collective action and empowerment – community organizing. The final step for me was to figure out how to engage with social change. Being a person of analytics and words, with some knack for personal interaction, I decided to go for the research route. And that led me to the application for US Ph.D. programs.

How can community psychology contribute to the debates/work regarding environmental justice and climate change?

First of all, with its participatory community-based action research approach, CP can help communities living at the fringes of world capitalism engage in the global debate about climate change and nature destruction. Even the green transition is in reality based on further exploitation of local communities in the resource bowels and dumping grounds of the world economy. CP produces and publicizes research that can make the extraction activities, the climate change effects and the local resistance visible. As CP involves communities as equals (ideally), the voices of these communities can partake in the debate around environmental justice directly, often circumventing the oppressive development-bent local corporate state. Now, the problem here would be getting those voices and experience out of our journals (where they do get published) into the public sphere and politics.

CP is also well-equipped to facilitate the production of local knowledge, which is always crucial for the particular implementation of an exploitative technology. In other words, if local people can produce evidence on the side effects, harms and risks from the local application of a “modern” technology, they are in a much better position to oppose it. Who else is more knowledgeable of the local context than the people who inhabit it? With its pragmatic approach to research – mixed-methods, goal-driven, participatory – CP can be very helpful in making that knowledge explicit and applicable in policy-making debates.

Community psychologists as experts can also contribute to the expertise conflicts around development. Most environmental issues have some complex technology-nature interaction at their heart. This makes the participation of experts in the conflict about development very likely. Usually, experts are paid to explain away the risks and certify the benefits of techno-industrial development. They act as a shield for political-economical decisions and close off the debates by limiting them to an expert discourse. It is very difficult for lay people to defend their interests in legitimate, expert knowledge terms. Community psychologists can help local people demystify expert knowledge, use research competently and even become experts themselves.

A significant question remains about the generalization of local knowledge and lessons from resistance: How can local efforts cross-pollinate and even grow to something global? Do we bring knowledge in when we go into a community? Do we facilitate direct local-to-local exchange? Do we write books on local organizing? What else?

What are some challenges associated with being a community psychologist in Bulgaria?

The greatest challenges come from the fact that CP is unknown in Bulgaria and there are very few (probably almost none) community psychologists. Sciences in Bulgaria are very compartmentalized and formalized, so not having a clear identity or definition of the field creates extra issues. When I came back to Bulgaria with my Ph.D., I had to go through a process of certification of my credentials by a public (state-run) agency. I was officially pronounced a sociologist because this was the box where my multidisciplinary dissertation seemed to fit best. From this follows that I can develop my career in universities as a sociologist – either in Sociology or in some more multi-disciplinary department such as Public Health. Funding, hiring, grants depend on that box you are put in.

Another issue with the outlandishness of CP is that it is difficult to find colleagues to work and partner with. The academia here is very conservative in the sense that university scholars avoid value-driven research and politically controversial topics. This is partly a remnant from positivism, but also the public universities are strongly dependent on subsidies from the national government so critical research or research-based advocacy is awkward. Even conclusions from research that is by design focused on public policies (like in public health) is coached in abstract and cautious terms and is not widely publicized.

One interesting thing I have encountered is how activists regard experts (see my previous response). When I studied the anti-fracking movement in Bulgaria, I was also a fringe participant in the actions. Nobody from the activists would regard me as an authority on organizing, and ask me about organizing techniques, tools. Everyone must prove themselves as an activist and that would be the only authority recognized. This was due to the activists’ meanings around organizing – that it should be “natural” and spontaneous, not formalized and institution-like. And there was an interesting discrimination among experts in the movement. To believe experts, you need to be sure they are autonomous – not mouthpieces. Therefore, the trustworthy expert is the one who speaks spontaneously as a citizen, and not the one that speaks as a professional when they are hired to speak on an issue. Only the citizen-expert was considered autonomous. You need to participate in the action to prove you are speaking “the truth”.

A song that, for you, symbolizes what CP is about.

That would be El Pueblo Unido and/or We Shall Overcome. The hope that when we unite we will create the good life.

Dora Rebelo (Portugal)

How were you attracted to community psychology?

I started my career as a systemic psychologist, but already looking into community-based projects as my main target of attention. I was attracted by the possibility to build collective projects, particularly with communities that were oppressed by the state. I started working as a field psychologist in peripheral neighborhoods in the outskirts of Lisbon, Portugal, where a majority of migrants and ethnic minorities lived, withdrawn from the privileges of the city center. I worked at a project that aimed at breaking the social barriers for youth that were living in these neighborhoods, finding new opportunities for social inclusion and the promotion of diversity. These were mainly young people racialized as migrants (although the vast majority were in fact Portuguese, of either African or Roma descendance). I was impressed with the effects of their spatial segregation from the urban areas, and how the cycle of exclusion perpetuated a series of stereotypes and mistrust between these communities and the so called “Portuguese community”, which was mainly self-perceived as white. I thought of community psychology as a means to innovate and co-create projects of inclusion that made sense for the people we aimed at “including”.

Any formative experiences for your engagement with community psychology?

I had two highly formative engagements. First, my time at the Federation of Roma Associations in Catalunya (FAGIC- Federació de Associacions Gitanes de Catalunya). I was employed by the Federation as a project coordinator, and supported Roma communities to apply for European funding that could suit their needs and support their projects. The Federation was totally run by Roma people, advised by a committee of elders, and they held relevant positions in municipalities, to forward the access of Roma people to basic services (education, transportation, health, etc). My time at FAGIC was highly formative in what involves witnessing the effects of the decision-making powers in marginalized communities. Having a “space at the table” promoted FAGIC as a stakeholder in relevant decisions usually taken without the advice of the communities, which facilitated city services, like healthcare centers, to receive relevant training to better serve Roma people and reduce the initial obstacles identified by community members themselves.

 The second highly formative engagement was at the Roberto Clemente Center, in New York, a community-based clinic initially created by Puerto-Rican psychologists, to better serve the mental health needs and social inclusion of Caribbean communities. During this engagement I was supervised and trained by highly-skilled community psychologists from the region, who helped me to develop intercultural dialogue and more thoughtful clinical skills. I was rendered convinced that communities are the best catalyzers of scientific advancements in psychology, working with their own expertise and self-awareness.

What is special about community psychology?

 I believe community psychology can be useful in bringing awareness to new knowledges, built from grassroots participatory action-research. It can bridge the gap between communities and mainstream academia/mainstream psychology, by simplifying well-being tools and language. When truly democratic, community psychology can be particularly relevant in raising the political participation and the struggles for equity and human rights. Furthermore, the focus on prevention and on social justice, combined with the openness to interdisciplinary collaborations, can go a long way in promoting and designing policy change, civic participation and solidarity.

How might community psychology be more influential at policy level in Europe?

 I have been inspired, in the last years, while my doctorate research lasted, by european solidarians. I met many common people, during my fieldwork in Europe, who were transformed by what researchers refer to as “the event of the encounter”. By “the encounter” I mean the solidarity actions with people on the move, usually people racialized as migrants. Motivated by moral or political positionalities (e.g. “lives are more important than borders”), these solidarians have been engaged in an intentional resistance to the political orientations taken by EU governments around migration. The perception of structural inequalities has intensified the flow of struggles and social movements, producing these community solidarity dynamics between people, alongside the new hostilities and animosities that have been shaping EU’s reactions to migrants. I think community psychology can be determinant in amplifying these natural and informal solidarity systems, arranged around the needs and injustices faced by people on the move. The harshening of the European border regime has forced asylum seekers to endure precarious living circumstances and limited their ability to use their agency and regain control over their lives. By legitimizing and supporting the solidarity networks that offer safety and resistance to people on the move, community psychology can become a voice of resistance and a partner for migrant communities that want to impact policy change.

A piece of advice for aspiring community psychologists?

I recommend that the engagements with the communities are made in the spirit of the liberation theories, recognizing the flaws of mainstream psychology and daring to go one step further in taking action for social injustices, as true allies, rather than “experts”. An interplay between community psychologists and the communities they work with needs to involve a lot of unthinking, engaging and renovating knowledge. One needs to be prepared to also question (and even “diagnose”) the institutions, rather than focusing on the “issues” presented as dysfunctional or pathological. Displaced communities in the world are giving us a chance to improve our discipline, and we should take it, by getting more deeply involved in their social struggles.

Finally, a song? One that symbolizes what community psychology is about for you?

Patti Smith, “People Have The Power”, 1988

Call for papers: Climate change and environmental activism 

Special Issue Call for Papers, JSSE-Journal of Social Sciences Education

Environmental activism about climate change has been at the core of social movements. Across the globe, activists engaged in demonstrations, organised strikes, occupied buildings of corporations and, more recently, performed targeted civil disobedience actions. Some of these activists are engaged in transnational organisations that share, not only slogans (‘there is no planet B’) and information, but also educate one another on the use of online and offline strategies. More notably than before, many of these movements involve and are led by children and young people, in a clear demonstration of their political agency – and their concerns about the future.

While this raises important questions about the role of schools and education in this existential crisis, the complexity of the situation is enhanced by other factors. The actions of governments and politicians have been erratic. For some, climate change is still debatable, ideological and ‘fake news’. For others, promoting community resilience in the face of climate change is a new priority, but one that coexists with the maintenance of a carbon-based economy. As there are growing signs of the severe consequences of the rise in the planet’s warming, there are also signs of the lack of serious policy regarding climate change. Furthermore, it seems that the climate challenge is one of these new issues that drive political polarisation and structure the culture wars about the curriculum and the role of (socio-)scientific knowledge in school and society in general.

On the other hand, the intensity of environmental injustice is immense and works across other layers of inequality: intergenerational, as many of these changes will dramatically affect future generations; geographical since the countries most troubled by climate change are not those who are contributing the most to global warming; colonialism, given the historical continuity of patterns of exploitation, displacement and extractivism; as well as the intersection with existing economic, gender, race and disability inequalities.

This special issue welcomes papers that address climate change and environmental activism from this broad perspective, focusing on political, social and economic education, its policies, goals, institutions, practices and challenges. This includes discussions of the civic and political identities and experiences of climate change activists, but also on the political controversies and debates around climate change. It also welcomes papers that address how formal and non-formal education for climate change can play a role in generating relevant knowledge, dispositions and actions, or in creating community resilience towards climate change. 

  • How does engagement with climate change activism influence participants’ civic and political agency and empowerment?
  • How are climate change controversies approached in educational settings and social and traditional media?
  • In what ways does climate change anxiety interfere with individual and community resilience about climate change regarding forms of dealing with it in diverse educational contexts?
  • In what forms are transnational and global activism taken up in educational contexts?
  • What are the effects of climate change formal and non-formal education in participants and communities? How are the knowledge and rationalities that have so far been deemed relevant in socio-scientific education being challenged, contested and changed?
  • Which transformative approaches to social science education are being further developed and how are these linked to the global education agenda setting, for example of UNESCO?
  • How does environmental injustice intersect with other layers of inequality and how is this interplay addressed in education?
  • How are minoritized groups and communities engaging in climate activism? How are links with capitalism, colonialism and globalisation explored in educational approaches to climate change?

Deadline for manuscript submission: March 15, 2023.

Editors: Maria Fernandes-Jesus, Andrea Szukala, Isabel Menezes.

More info HERE.