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Volume 48 Number 3
University of South Carolina
Strategic Complacency, Embracing Risk, and Sustaining SCRA
What would it take for community psychology to disappear? … to be subsumed by other disciplines? … or to cease to be relevant? We have just completed another successful biennial conference where we reflected on the accomplishments and limitations of fifty years of community psychology and looked toward the future. There are many reasons to be optimistic. SCRA has a well-respected journal and has launched a book series. Several SCRA members edit community-psychology focused journals and have created online resources that seek to “give away” community psychology (e.g., The Community Toolbox). Increasingly, we are having dialogue with partner community psychology organizations in different regions around the world about how we can challenge social conditions that limit well-being and engage with community partners to promote action and research that can advance social justice. It could be easy to be satisfied with these accomplishments and leave aside concerns about the future. However, there are matters for concern. For example, many training programs in the U.S. and Canada have dissolved in the last 20 years. APA accreditation is becoming increasingly focused on narrow views of clinical psychology and discourages integration of clinical and community psychology. Other disciplines have become more collaborative, more focused on prevention and health promotion, or interested in addressing social inequities. For example, Colleges of Education have become more interested in community research and action. As these disciplines welcome and incorporate community psychology perspectives, however, it seems quite probable that these other disciplines would move to subsume community psychology once our collaborations are no longer novel. It would be highly ironic if we did not consider how the settings where we have developed community research and action will change and might no longer need the contributions we had previously shared. Unless we adapt as individuals and as a professional society, it is highly probable that the settings where we have worked will change without us.
During my time working on the Executive Committee of SCRA, I have observed many examples of stewardship that maintained the organization, raised awareness of the field, and supported the development of our members. These examples came from elected representatives and from members serving on interest groups, councils, and committees. I greatly appreciate these contributions and have worked to encourage them. However, I wonder whether we too often assume that community psychology as a field, and the settings where we cultivate it, will continue as we have known them. Recent generations of community psychologists encountered an established field as students. As such, younger community psychologists (e.g., trained during the last 25 years) are largely not aware of the challenges and the work it took to establish community psychology settings forty and fifty years ago. Given the many successes of community psychology, it is too easy to be complacent regarding survival of settings and the place of the field in work sites and places of learning.
While serving as SCRA President, I have begun to think that we need to flip the dialogue about promoting the organization dialogue on its head … that is, not to focus on risk management but to take strategic risks and manage our complacency. Lonnie Snowden (1979) observed the “peculiar success of community psychology” 35 years ago in that many of our innovations were picked up by larger disciplines (e.g., clinical psychology, education) without recognition of the field of community psychology. George A. Miller (1969) encouraged psychologists to “give away” psychology in his APA Presidential address. While this ethos of the 1960s remains in much of how community psychology is practiced, we have spent much less time discussing what we need to do to sustain the field in new contexts and changing socio-political environments. Paradoxically, as we have created more community psychology journals, conferences, and publications, have we become too insular? We spend more time talking with each other, debating with each other, and less time interacting with people trained in other disciplines. Community psychologists trained in the last 25 years have not had to make the same kinds of arguments or fight for recognition and resources in the same way that those who helped found the field had to do. Perhaps we have not honed the skills necessary to create new settings. Many of the foundational publications in the formation of U.S. community psychology were published in the American Psychologist, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, or social psychology journals or other social science journals. Now our most important work is published in community psychology journals with a smaller audience. Who has been making the case to social psychologists or clinical psychologists that a community perspective has something to offer? At conferences, how many of us present “community psychology” to people who have never heard of it before? Have we developed institutions to sustain community psychology that have decreased our reach and relevance?
Community psychology is almost always a minority viewpoint within a field, whether it is psychology, public health, social work, education, medicine, or public policy. How can we survive? Where do we need to cultivate a foundation and where do we need to cultivate new opportunities? I don’t ask these questions to forecast doom and gloom, rather to encourage dialogue that can help keep us dynamic, responsive, and generative.
I expect that part of what we need to do is take more strategic risks to work outside of “community psychology” settings and raise awareness of our perspectives. These might include synergies with other psychology disciplines, with related social science disciplines, with non-traditional community stakeholders, or partnerships to tackle new issues. After 50 years, it is clear that we cannot wait for others to create settings for us. We need to be social entrepreneurs. We also need to expect that some of our settings will cease to “host” community psychology. Perhaps we need strategies for ongoing creation of new community psychology settings. Finding the right balance of efforts to sustain settings and to reach out will be challenging. How can we maintain a core for the field while seeking to build new pathways and partnerships?
During the next few months, SCRA will be conducting strategic planning for the development of the organization and promotion of the field. Victoria Chien Scott, our Administrative Director, will be leading these discussions. I encourage our members to think about where SCRA can take strategic risks and to identify instances of complacency that we need to address. Perhaps there are areas where we might be “strategically complacent” and preserve what we have developed. More often we can be innovative and take risks for new development. Recent examples of risk taking include creating online resources to support members and raise awareness of the field. We are re-working our communication strategy and thinking about how we can use our publications for greater social networking. We are adding a part-time communications and outreach staff person to help with these efforts. These are relatively small risks. Where do we have other opportunities?
SCRA is changing. We need your risk-taking input to help us foster a vibrant, responsive community psychology that can be renewed and sustained.
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