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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 53   Number 3 Summer 2020

Critical Community Psychology Interest Group

Written by Natalie Kivell, Chris Sonn, Scot Evans 

Hello SCRA Community! 

We are excited to launch our Critical Community Psychology (CCP) Interest Group Column in this edition of the TCP! The CCP Interest Group, launched in early 2019, came to be after the meeting of global Critical CP minds; led by our beloved Tod Sloan. As a precursor to creating our group, we - Natalie Kivell, Christopher Sonn, Scot Evans, and Louis-Phillipe Côté - joined Tod for many intellectually stimulating and generally earth shaking video conversations, and we started to articulate the benefits of bringing together globally situated and critically oriented scholars in CP to connect and grow our collective critical scholarship and practice. It is our hope that as we collectively nurture and develop this network of scholar-activists, that we will be positioned to build a strong and connected foundation of critical scholarship within the field of Community Psychology. Our use of the term “critical” is intentionally broad and inclusive of liberation psychology as well as decolonial, queer, radical, feminist, antiracist, and intersectional approaches in our research, teaching, and practice. 

Overview of CCP Interest Group (adapted from the SCRA website) 

The Critical Community Psychology interest group seeks to build a community of scholars who are involved in various forms of CCP with the purpose of engaging in collective knowledge building, knowledge translation, and critical praxis. Our goal as an interest group is to create the conditions and collective capacity to move our research and action towards more actionable social transformation projects and a deeper engagement with progressive social movements and activists.

What is Critical Community Psychology? (published on the SCRA website)

Critical community psychology can be thought of as an umbrella term that covers a number of politically radical responses to, and differences from, traditional CP. It is a particular kind of orientation to community psychological theory and practice. Critical CP—as with other forms of critical scholarship—takes as its starting point a commitment to “bring about a radically better society” (D. Fox, 2000, p. 21). It demands that we be acutely aware of the pervasive influence of power in creating and maintaining unjust social conditions (Teo, 2015). In solidarity and close partnership with groups—oppressed through violence, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, or cultural imperialism—critical community psychology seeks to draw attention to the socially divisive and ecologically destructive broader patterns and structures—such as capitalism, neoliberal globalization, patriarchy, colonialism, hegemony, and white supremacy—that condition the scope of social problems, and to engage in collective action to dismantle oppressive social arrangements. (Evans, Duckett, Lawthom, & Kivell, 2017). 

History of the Critical Community Psychology interest group

The conversations that led us to the development of a SCRA Interest Group have been ongoing for many years, however, we caught some energy after coming together for a presentation at the SCRA Biennial in Ottawa in 2017 and so many rich discussions throughout the conference. Our presentation was entitled - Community Psychologists and the Public Sphere: Articulating the Politics behind Community Psychology Practice pulled together by Louis-Phillipe Côté and Tod Sloan with panelists Thomas Saias and Natalie Kivell, (with Monique Guishard and Ignacio Dobles who helped to co-create the panel but who were not able to attend). It was an active session with participation from SCRA members from around the world discussing the question “What political roles should community psychologists play in the public sphere?” where we interrogated the role of power and our critical orientation in Community Psychology. We left feeling energized about the need and importance of building connections between folks who are actively engaging in this type of research and practice in the field. So, at the beginning of 2019, we invited SCRA members with passions, interests, curiosities, and practical experiences with critical theory, critical methodologies, and critical community practice to join us. To start an interest group in SCRA, you require 25 members of SCRA to indicate their interest in actively participating in the group. Within a week of sharing our proposal with the SCRA listserve we had 67 interested members and our interest group was born! 

What we did in our first year 

In our first year, we established our group within SCRA, developed a list of resources in our Google Drive, and held our first face-to-face meeting at the 2019 Biennial in Chicago. We created a basic Critical CP landing page for the SCRA website and we organized three Zoom gatherings where we discussed our identity and goals. During these ‘gatherings’, we worked to disrupt normative institutional introductions, so rather than beginning with simply naming where we work and/or our research/practice focus, we created space to engage in a dialogue about our passions; what drives us. Each person shared what drives them in their life and work, and they shared what brought them to this space. We created a thematic overview of this dialogue and identified the following themes as the driving force towards our interest group: 

  • Lived Experience Drives Me: Many people discussed their own lived experience as colonized, displaced, and racialized groups as driving their passion, connection, and participation in critical (and decolonial) Community Psychology. 

  • Decolonization and the Fight for justice: People identified the need to fight for a better world, and to think about the ways in which power is used, distributed and limited.

  • Thirsting for knowledge. Some shared that they are interested in learning more about CCP as what they had learned so far is in line with their values. Others identified that they had previously had to go outside of CP (political science, etc.,) to gain mastery over critical theory and theories of power

  • Wanting to move from theoretical musings to concrete actions: People also kept coming back to the idea that much of CCP has so far been theoretical - we have much to learn about adapting critical CP into everyday action. We want to better understand how Critical CP research is applied and effective

  • Centering the need to unsettle assumptions about what is “normal, good, healthy, and valuable”: People discussed the idea that CCP is about unsettling the assumptions of normative or taken for granted phenomena and structures in our communities/society. 

  • Importance of a safe (and a brave) space - This space allows for us to feel comfortable not knowing everything. We are creating space to ask questions, admit we don’t know a concept, author, or theorist. And that we are learning together. Creating an inclusive, transparent space where we can hold each other accountable and nurture our collective learning process.  

  • Creating space to question what it is we are trying to do in Community Psychology. People had many questions on their mind: Why is it that we do what we do as CP’s? What is it that we are really trying to do? What is our end goal? Do our practices align with our values? Are we just using the language of agents of social change and appropriating the work of people doing the work? Are we centering the experience, knowledge(s), and needs of racialized folks in CP and communities? Are we engaging in the work to address structures of oppression? How does this Interest Group fit into these big questions/critiques about the field?

Future Plans: What is over the Horizon for CCP? 

We have big dreams as we continue to develop this network of critical scholars in CP. We also have tangible short-term and long-term plans that we hope will contribute meaningfully to the development of a globally connected and theoretically and empirically rich critical dimension of Community Psychology. 

Short-term Plans:

  • Continue to hold zoom gatherings to build our global connections and relationships; 

  • Develop our theoretical and action-oriented praxis by sharing and building knowledge together; 

  • Continue to populate the Critical CP page on the SCRA website with information and resources to engage the broader field; 

  • Submit regular interest group columns here to share our work and remain connected to our members; 

  • And finally - we had big plans to connect in person at the International Community Psychology Conference in Melbourne this June - we plan to redirect that energy to exploring how CCP can help shape the future of our field during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Long(er)-term Plans:

  • Plan a Critical CP special issue in an open access journal.

  • Develop Critical CP teaching materials for availability on SCRA website.

  • Promote critically-oriented graduate CP programs.

  • Continue to build and engage the interest group membership as we navigate the development of CCP together 

Conclusion 

Through our work we continue to reflect on the teachings and values that Tod Sloan sparked in each of us, and we are forever grateful for the intention that he took with nurturing our critical spirits and our activist orientations. Looking forward, with each meeting and each new step we take, we continue to build our network of globally situated and critically oriented scholars and grow our collective critical scholarship and methods for action. We continue to channel Tod with our commitment to dialogue and a deep relationality. We thank and honour Tod for helping to get us to where we are. It is now up to us to keep this vision alive. 

If you are interested in joining us, or would like to know more about who we are and what we are doing, please reach out to Natalie Kivell at nkivell@wlu.ca. We look forward to continuing to connect with our members as we nurture and develop this network of scholar-activists. In solidarity. 

References

Teo, T. (2015). Critical psychology: A geography of intellectual engagement and resistance. American Psychologist, 70, 243-254

Evans, S. D., Duckett. P., Lawthom, R. & Kivell, N. (2017). Positioning the critical in community psychology. In M. A. Bond, I. Serrano-Garcia & C. B. Keys (Eds.). APA Handbook of community psychology, volume 1, Theoretical foundations, core concepts and emerging challenges (p. 107-128). Washington, DC: American Psychological Foundation.