Uwe C. Fischer (Germany)

What attracted you to community psychology?

I was already fascinated by the systemic approach and its philosophical background when I started to study psychology. Switching the focus from the individual to a meta-level perspective on the interaction and its dynamic process gave me new insights. The content of psychology at the university was already on the road to mainstream psychology, but there were also teachers with an attitude and association to community and health psychology. For instance, Prof. Lothar R. Schmidt was focusing on the empowerment and social context of psychiatric patients and was supporting the political process to bring back the psychiatric individuals from an institution to the community. I was also interested in courses for environmental psychology and the salutogenetic approach of health psychology at the university.

With this mind set, I started as a scientific employee in practice-oriented health promotion and prevention projects. A European and interdisciplinary project on community based addiction prevention with the ideas of community development and bottom-up strategies with a systemic focus on the responsible adults (and not on the drugs and kids) was the beginning process to come closer to the practical and theoretical concepts of community psychology. Curiously, I participated in the conference of the German Association of Research and Practice of Community Psychology (GGFP) and found a warm-hearted group with interesting discussions and different approaches to run a conference. All along, I was involved further on in and initiated new community-oriented projects and I participated more often in the conferences of the GGFP, which strengthened my identity as a community psychologist over the time.

What makes community psychology attractive for you?

Community psychology (CP) presents concepts going further than looking only on the individual behaviour. It focuses on the social, political and cultural context in which the different people and groups are interacting. CP reflects the different perspectives and needs of involved community groups, and also the contextual situation within they are acting and thinking (culture, implicit and explicit rules and structures, distribution of power and resources etc.). CP is target-oriented in enhancing the well-being of the individuals of a community in consistency with the well-being of the whole community.

CP especially focuses on socially disadvantaged or powerless groups and enables their empowerment and participation in the community. The main questions are mostly: “who is (or has the power of) defining a problem and who has the power to decide for a possible solution?”. If the concerning persons are not involved in the two questions, the so-called solutions will mostly fail in the end.

CP supports diversity and the salutogenetic approach (with an important influence on the WHO concept of health promotion and mental health).

CP had an important and sustainable influence on the psychiatric reform process. It is still supporting improvements together with psychiatric patients.

CP focuses on contextual structures, which enables (Sen, 1999) even persons with disadvantages to realize their aims in a self-determined way and degrades care structures, which makes them helpless, powerless and passive.

CP uses the ‘local’ knowledge of the persons concerned. Generalized expert knowledge has not the absolute power. In consequence, CP supports also self-help groups.

CP uses proactive communication and discussions between different groups to clarify contradictions, to enable understanding of the others, and sometimes to find acceptable solutions. Furthermore, CP stimulates social networking.

CP favours bottom-up (or grassroots) instead of top-down strategies.

CP uses the power of community development and civic engagement for changing situations in the sense of the concerned persons.

CP is multidisciplinary oriented, as it is relevant in all disciplines concerning human communities and their institutional contexts or environments (health, education, social life, municipalities, architecture, environment).

CP uses research to realize social solutions for a better life, mostly involving the concerned persons in the research or evaluation process (action and participative research).

Please tell us about an event or experience that was formative for your engagement with CP.

As you can see in the answer for the first question, it was rather a continuous identity-formation process on the way to the harbour of CP than a single event. The process intensified during my scientific work in the project for community-based addiction prevention. In dealing with useful concepts for community development, involving community members for engagement and prevention, the concepts of CP were fitting this need very well.

In your assessment, what is the potential power of CP to respond to the wave of anti-immigration, or xenophobic tendencies in Germany and/or Europe?

That’s a difficult question. The conservation of resources theory (Hobfoll, 1989) tells us that people have more fear and stressful emotions for losing resources than to have no access to new resources. This happens already if they are expecting to lose resources in the future. In dividing people in established and outsider groups (Elias, & Scotson, 1994) the groups (especially the established group) generate their own repetitive narratives about the others and how the others threat their identity, culture, health, material resources and power. These narratives of status quo and expectations are produced and distributed from people in the community, reinforced by political groups and are mostly fare away from direct experience.

CP has the concepts to reinforce the empowerment, integration and participation of migrants and minorities (mostly defined as outsiders from established groups) on the level of local communities and on the political level. The process of separating and defining groups as ‘outsiders’ can be reduced in suspending separation structures and camps (e.g. for migrants and asylum seekers). The stereotype narratives are a great challenge in the digital media society with the self-selection and algorithm controlled information access in a bubble. Other and positive narratives have to be distributed and direct experience and communication possibilities between the groups are needed to build up new narratives.

What are the main challenges community psychologists in Germany are facing today?

The presence of CP in the professional community and in public: Acting in a way of community psychology, but not referring on it and telling about it, seems to be a problem to recognize community psychology. The more CP concepts are seemed to being integrated in other disciplines (but not sustainable), the more it seems to disappear as a ‘brand’ in the conscious mind. With the new “Handbook of Community Psychology in Germany”, we try to bring the brand ‘CP’ back to consciousness.

Defend human rights for migrants and minorities: Human rights are in danger international, in Europe and also in Germany, regarding the tendency of political opinions and the growing parties on the far right wing. Besides the challenge to achieve new enabling chances, it seems that we have to defend already gained rights and resources for minorities.

CP confronted with the digital age: The rapid development of the digital technology with its consequences for the working situation and mental health, but also for the social work itself, brings up questions, how to deal with it. Challenges of social networking and risks of alienation have to be discussed and will be a topic of the next issue of the German journal of CP “Forum Gemeindepsychologie”.

Is there a painting (or mural) that symbolizes what CP is about?

Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos upon Río Pinturas, near the town of Perito Moreno in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The art in the cave dates between 13,000–9,000 BP.