Volume 54, Number 2 Spring 2021

From Our Members

Edited by Dominique Thomas, Independent Scholar

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Two Spirit Peoples (MMIW2S): Deconstructing Colonial Ties to Domestic and Sexual Violence

Written by Sarah María Acosta Ahmad, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Centro Multicultural La Familia

“Domination and colonization attempt to destroy our capacity to know the self, to know who we are. We oppose this violation, this dehumanization, when we seek self-recovery, when we work to reunite fragments of being, to recover our history. This process of self-recovery enables us to see ourselves as if for the first time, for our field of vision is no longer shaped and determined solely by the condition of domination.” 

- hooks (2014),p.31

Although Western medical practices often view histories of colonization as separate from public mental health and safety concerns, colonization persists as both a psychic and material wound. A wound that cuts across communities of color and serves to uphold the colonial project; to erase and eliminate marginalized bodies and force them into submission. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous feminisms have long argued that psychological healing is linked to colonization: self-healing requires healing from histories of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia (Anzaldua, 2015; Levins-Morales, 1998; Walker, 2004;). Focusing on the lineages of women of color feminisms, queer Indigenous theory and critical community inquiry, this article explores the ties between colonization and the systematization of domestic violence and sexual assault (DV/SA). Offering the coloniality of gender as an alternative framing to the history of sexual violence, this article traces how the disappearance, genocide, and cultural repression of Indigenous ways of life is central to colonization’s systematization of abuse. I uncover these histories to advance a trauma-informed, decolonial approach to anti-violence work. 

Power and Control: A Brief Historico-Theoretical Analysis of Colonial and Contemporary Sexual Violence 

Colonization and settler contact with Indigenous peoples often involved the same tactics of power and control as we see in domestic violence households and/or relationships. Coloniality creates circumstances, which, when coupled with internalized colonization, result in relational violence. Referring to the accompanying Power and Control Wheels, there are clear connections between the one I have created on colonization and the Duluth Model that DV/SA centers use to educate advocates and survivors. Whether it happens at a micro or at a macro level, the violence of colonization is pervasive and methodological. 



In Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System, Maria Lugones (2007) traces the unique gendered and sexual oppression experienced by women of color under colonization. Lugones argues that colonizers violently forced Black and Brown Indigenous bodies into the dimorphic, Western gender-binary as a method of control. The binary itself was a product of conquest. In order to complete a wholesale restructuring of Native life, colonization necessitated the implementation of the gender-sex binary, which devastated traditional matriarchal and Two-Spirit (2S) traditions. In the Colonial Modern [Cis]Gender System and Trans World Traveling, Brooklyn Leo (2020) argues that Lugones’s theory should be properly augmented with histories of 2S violence. Queer Indigenous theorists have also shown that 2S survivance and resurgence helped craft methods of resistance (Driskill 2004; Leo 2020) in the face of colonization and genocide. In Sovereign Bodies, Two Spirit Cherokee writer, Qwo-Li Driskill (2004) states, “while homophobia, transphobia, and sexism are problems in Native communities, in many of our tribal realities these forms of oppression are the result of colonization and genocide that cannot accept women as leaders, or people with extra-ordinary genders and sexualities” (p.52).

While domestic violence and assault cuts across gender, race, and class identity, my focus is on violence against Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Two Spirit bodies (MMIW2S). My claim is that we must include the legacy of coloniality into discussions of healing. When DV/SA occurs in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, they are produced as a result of internalized colonization that is systematically maintained through policing, capitalism, oppression and land theft. Indigenous women are six times more likely to be murdered in comparison to their non-Indigenous counterparts and almost three times more likely to experience violence in their lifetime (Klingsphon, 2018). “To look forward is also to look backward so as to trace lines of continuity and to harvest insights from histories of both subjugation and survivance,” notes Vizenor (cited in Gone, 2016, p.315). This, I argue, exemplifies Vizenor’s methodology of temporal ambiguity--looking both forward and back. In doing so, this methodology highlights both the multi-faceted forms of resistance to and oppression under colonization by BIPOC communities today. 

Gender Diverse Survivors of Color: The Medical Industrial Complex and Intergenerational Trauma

Settler colonial tools are insufficient to combat violence. White saviorhood (1) perpetuates harm, (2) creates situations that exacerbate the marginalization and mental health crisis of those they are attempting to serve, and (3) offers no liberatory potential. In the face of these limitations, I propose a decolonial turn toward holistic approaches to healing a broken home, heart, and the otherwise wounded psyche. This is what Reyes Cruz and Sonn (2011) would name a decolonial standpoint--an epistemological standpoint which deepens the liberatory potential of community psychology practices. 

There are many systems at play that uphold power structures that BIPOC survivors are forced to depend on despite their inadequacy. “Services were originally designed by and for the mainstream population. First Nations women who manage to access these programs often find staff with limited cultural competence and program supports that have little cultural safety or relevance for them,” notes Klingspohn (2018, p.1). This lack of support and competence has concerning implications. Denying access to a safe home for survivors in crisis can have a detrimental impact on their likelihood of successfully leaving a violent relationship or surviving the violence. This is another way that these systems unfairly ask marginalized bodies — especially gender and racial minorities — to run away from one type of harm and into the arms of another. As Lugones (2007) and Leo (2020) argue, structures of power are meant to reproduce this harm; the medical industrial complex is another legacy of colonization’s gendered violence. 

Furthermore, the lack of culturally-informed support systems perpetuate the fragmentation of the Indigenous psyche and increase the likelihood that future generations will remain stuck in the same cycle. “As a direct result of colonization, the vast majority of Indigenous people have lived, or are living, in trauma, in most cases, this trauma is multigenerational,” says Renee Linklater in Decolonizing Trauma Work (2014, p.21). The mistreatment by law enforcement is pervasive in communities of color and amongst the LGBTQ community, due to a history of racialized policing, pathologization, and criminalization (Addington, 2020). Survivors often cite previous negative experiences or the knowledge that police intervention will only escalate the situation and be ineffective as the main reasons why they do not call the police (Lorenz, Kirkner, & Ullman, 2019). In Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2018) speaks to the barriers in place for survivors and their stories, saying “it’s the way the colonial prison-industrial complex invades our ways of thinking about abuse, survivorhood, and what counts as “‘real.’” When marginalized identities intersect, what institutions are set up to fully care for the individual who has been harmed? How do we (advocates and community psychologists) make sure to not re-traumatize these individuals? Where do we go from here?

Decolonizing Trauma Work: Towards an Indigenous Critical Community Psychology 

Current trauma informed praxis still utilizes colonial tools that perpetuate violence against  survivors and victims. DV/SA emerge through colonization; our work cannot be ‘trauma-informed’ or ‘culturally-competent’ without understanding this weaving together. 

Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) must include a critique of colonization and a perspective on healing from historical trauma. A decolonial approach can help us break down positivist research paradigms that uphold coloniality and maintain the White/Western patriarchal gaze. White supremacy culture has created a sense of urgency that causes us to bypass accountability and intentionality in creating procedures, training, or infrastructure that actually benefit the people we try to serve (Okun, 2011). It is time to move past only hearing and seeing survivors through a personal protection order, a victim’s impact statement, in a police report or an obituary. 

We must work towards buen vivir, a bottom up approach that takes the time to sit with communities and meet them where they are at, rather than attempting to save them (Ruttenberg, 2013, p.70). This starts with the way we approach healing and recovery. The main tenets of TIC are trust, choice, co-creation, empowerment, consciousness, and competence (Profitt, 2010). We build trust by separating ourselves from harmful institutions; we create choice by taking the lead of the survivors we work with; we empower by listening; we must let go of the Western logics we have been taught in our profession and schooling that do a disservice to survivors of color of all genders. We must recognize the power we hold in our field in recognizing that the systems set up to address violence are the very same that create the cycle of abuse in which we are wrapped up in. We cannot truly be trauma-informed if we do not work towards dismantling these systems of oppression and the ways they show up in our work.

I write this as a Two Spirit mixed-Indigenous person who works in DV/SA prevention. If you would like to connect, please email me at


Addington, L. (2020). Police response to same-sex intimate partner violence in the marriage equality era. Criminal Justice Studies, 33:3, 213-230, DOI: 10.1080/1478601X.2020.1786277

Anzaldúa, G., & Cantú, N. E. (2015). Borderlands/La frontera: La nueva mestiza (en español. ed.). México. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Programa Universitario de Estudios de Género.

Driskill, Q. (2004). Stolen from our bodies: First nations two-Spirits/Queers and the journey to a sovereign erotic. Studies in American Indian Literatures, 16(2), 50-64.

Gone, J.P. (2016). Alternative Knowledges and the Future of Community Psychology: Provocations from an American Indian Healing Tradition. American Journal of Psychology, 58:314-321. DOI 10.1002/ajcp.12046.

hooks, b. (2015). Talking back: Thinking feminist, thinking black (New ed.). New York: Routledge.

Klingspohn D. M. (2018). The Importance of Culture in Addressing Domestic Violence for First Nations Women. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 872.

Leo, B. (2020). The Colonial/Modern [cis]gender system and trans world traveling. Hypatia, 35(3), 454-474.

Levins Morales, A. (1998). Medicine stories: History, culture and the politics of integrity. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Linklater, R. (2014). Decolonizing Trauma Work: Indigenous Stories and Strategies. United States: Fernwood Publishing.

Lorenz, K., Kirkner, A., & Ullman, S. E. (2019). A Qualitative Study Of Sexual Assault Survivors' Post-Assault Legal System Experiences. Journal of trauma & dissociation : the official journal of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD), 20(3), 263–287.

Lugones, M. (2007). Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern gender system. Hypatia, 22(1), 186-219. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2007.tb01156.x

Okun, Tema. (2011). White supremacy culture. Dismantling Racism Organization

Piepzna-Samarasinha, L. L. (2018). Care work: Dreaming disability justice. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.

Proffitt, B. (2010). Delivering trauma-informed services. Healing Hands, 14(6). Retrieved from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council: http://www.nhchc. org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/DecHealingHandsWeb.pdf 

Reyes Cruz, M., & Sonn, C. C. (2011). (de)colonizing culture in community psychology: Reflections from critical social science. American Journal of Community Psychology, 47(1-2), 203-214.

Ruttenberg, T. (2013). Wellbeing economics and buen vivir: Development alternatives for inclusive human security. Wellbeing Economics and Buen Vivir, Vol. XXVIII, 68-93. berg_BuenVivir.pdf 

Walker, A. (2004). In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist prose. Orlando Harcourt.

Figure 1: Colonization Power and Control Wheel (made by author)

Figure 2: Duluth Model Power and Control Wheel (2008).

Peer Support for Young Women with Scoliosis

Written by Olivia Barbieri, Harvard University & Belle Liang, Boston College

Scoliosis, the three-dimensional curvature of the spine, is the most common deformity of the spine. The likelihood of progression is higher in girls and in patients who are still physically developing and who have a large curve (Hresko, 2013). The main treatment options include observation of the curve, bracing, and surgery (Choudhry et al., 2015). During the adolescent years, scoliosis is associated with low self-esteem, body image issues, feelings of embarrassment, and a lower quality of life for patients (Beka et al., 2006; Glowacki et al., 2012; Konieczny et al., 2017). 

Although there is scant research on the impact of peer support for youth with scoliosis, a related study demonstrated the importance of such support among older women with disabilities in general (Mejias et al., 2014). Many reported a history of being bullied, but supportive peers buffered the negative effects of such social challenges and enabled them to become confident and proud of their membership in the disability community. They reported feeling less alone and a greater sense of acceptance and belonging due to peer support (Mejias et al., 2014). 

The present study aimed to extend the literature on this understudied population by examining how young women view their scoliosis, with a specific focus on the role of peer support, and whether and how peer support buffered negative experiences such as bullying.

All participants of this study were part of Curvy Girls Scoliosis Support Groups--an international teen-run peer support group. The first group originated in Long Island, New York in 2006, and has since expanded to include over 100 locally run groups across 22 countries (Curvy Girls Scoliosis, 2021). All 14 participants in the current study self-identified as young women, ranging in age from 18 to 24 years old, living in eight states in the United States (New York, Massachusetts, California, Georgia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Kansas), as well as in Canada, Ireland, Sweden, and Guyana. Their treatments ranged from physical therapy to bracing to surgery to hybrid treatments, with varying combinations of these solutions. Participants volunteered for this study by responding to an invitation posted on two Curvy Girls Scoliosis Support Groups social media pages. 

Once the study was approved by the Institutional Review Board, and interested respondents consented, an open-ended questionnaire was conducted among them. The questionnaire queried participants about their general experiences with scoliosis, bullying, the peer support program, and treatment. All participants were given pseudonyms to ensure that their responses remained anonymous.

An approach adapted from grounded theory was used to analyze the data (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). This entailed several rounds of open and axial coding to organize the data into themes. From this qualitative data analysis, several themes emerged. Specifically, many respondents described the salience of bullying and the positive influence of the peer support program on their outlook on bullying and scoliosis in general. The majority of participants reported a more positive outlook of their scoliosis then they did upon diagnosis, and attributed this to their receipt of peer support. Even when participants currently held a negative view of their scoliosis, they recognized that peer support from the program improved their outlook to some degree. Additionally, respondents stated that peer support was the most influential aspect of their scoliosis journey.

More specifically, many of the participants reported that they were upset, sad, confused, and had a negative view of scoliosis when they were first diagnosed. Due to peer support through the program, however, they described feeling increasingly confident, proud of, and even positively towards their condition. Daisy, one participant, explained that when first diagnosed with scoliosis, she felt “scared and definitely had a negative view.” As a direct result of encouragement received from peers in the program, she described reframing scoliosis into something positive. She and other respondents expressed gratitude to peers in the program, describing them as role models (“just so grateful to have met these amazing and strong girls”). She described a journey from despair to hopefulness, and attributed this shift in perspective to the friendships and inspiration she received from peers over the course of her two years in the program.       

Alice also expressed how she initially felt “confused” by her scoliosis diagnosis, but that Curvy Girls “has helped me to see the power of peer support and the impact it can have on the confidence and happiness of a person.” She added that “without the support, I wouldn’t be as confident as I am today.” Peer support was linked to promoting self-confidence and a more optimistic view of scoliosis. Aurora expressed a similar shift from confusion to positivity as a result of peer support: “so glad to be a part of an organization that changes girls’ lives for the better.” Cindy explained that, “the Curvy Girls strengthened me mentally and prepared me for handling the physical aspects that had already occurred and were to come. They were with me every step of the way.” For these young women, peer support provided role modeling, friendship, and encouragement in the face of adversity. 

Even among the few participants who still held a negative view of their scoliosis and their bodies, there was a clear recognition of the importance of peer support in their lives. For example, Violet explained that she currently has a mix of positive and negative emotions toward her scoliosis. However, she explained that the other girls in the program have “made me see my scoliosis as a beautiful opportunity rather than an ugly condition.” Anna shared similar sentiments when she remarked that, “my emotions never completely ceased however they did become easier to deal with once I became regularly involved with the Curvy Girls.”

About half of the participants reported having experienced bullying due to their scoliosis that led to questioning their personal value, feeling like a “freak,” and feeling that their scoliosis was a “curse.” They described initially perceiving themselves as different from others in a negative way, until peer support enabled them to overcome hardships and negative emotions caused by bullying.

For example, Anna said, “I just embraced the loneliness and searched within myself and the Curvy Girls to find the confidence I needed to be able to ignore the stares and ignorant questions about my condition.” Anna drew on the encouragement and wisdom of peers in the program to bolster her self-confidence and overcome judgmental, mean comments directed towards her from peers at school. This access to peer support, coupled with her inner strength, provided just the strength Anna needed to overcome the effects of bullying on her sense of self.

Another salient theme that emerged from the data was that young women shifted from a negative or ambivalent view of their scoliosis to feeling positively and even proud of their membership in the scoliosis community, largely due to peer relationships in the support program. The young women referred to peer support in the program with words such as grateful, love, growth, confidence, happiness, encouragement, and strength. Peer support helped them cultivate a positive mindset and enabled them to grow psychologically self-aware. Moreover, these relationships had an overwhelmingly positive effect on how they viewed their scoliosis, and on a larger scale, how they viewed themselves. These findings are consistent with the limited research that has suggested the importance of peer support among scoliosis patients (Brigham & Armstrong, 2016; Hinrichsen et al., 1985).

Our findings suggest that bullying is a salient theme among women with scoliosis. However, while Horner et al. (2015) explain that bullying can often lead to negative emotions, the current study highlights how peer support groups can have a buffering effect, giving these young women renewed self-confidence. For example, peer support enabled participants to reframe experiences of adversity in a way that led to a sense of purpose, such as a desire to raise scoliosis awareness and provide healing support to others.

In sum, findings from the current study are consistent with existing limited research that suggests that peer support for women with scoliosis can play a key role in self-image and mental health (Brigham & Armstrong, 2016; Hinrichsen et al., 1985). Moreover, this study suggests that peer support for young women with scoliosis may help them cultivate a more positive outlook toward their scoliosis, and can even help them overcome the effects of bullying. Thus, an important implication of these findings is that the treatment of scoliosis among young women should include helping them connect to support groups and other sources of peer support that may play a vital role in their mental health and sense of purpose. In particular, supportive peer relationships would do well to engage participants in sharing freely about bullying experiences, and in the reframing of scoliosis such that a positive outlook may be cultivated over time. 

The authors of this study would like to thank the 14 young women who volunteered to participate in this study, as well as the organization Curvy Girls Scoliosis Support Groups for allowing participant recruitment via their social media pages. We invite readers to contact the authors with any questions, comments, or concerns. Olivia Barbieri can be reached via, and Dr. Belle Liang can be reached via


Beka, A., Dermitzaki, I., Christodoulou, A., Kapetanos, G., Markovitis, M., & Pournaras, J. (2006). Children and adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis: Emotional reactions, coping mechanisms, and self-esteem. Psychological Reports, 98, 477-485. doi:10.2466/PRO.98.2.477-485.

Brigham, E.M., & Armstrong, D.G. (2016). Motivations for compliance with bracing in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Spine Deformity, 5, 46-51.

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Glowacki, M., Misterska, E., Adamczyk, K., & Latuszewska, J. (2012). Prospective assessment of scoliosis-related anxiety and impression of trunk deformity in female adolescents under brace treatment. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities 25, 203-220. doi:10.1007/s10882-012-9296-y.

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Hresko, M.T. (2013). Idiopathic scoliosis in adolescents. The New England Journal of Medicine, 368(9), 834-841. doi: 10.1056/NEJMcp1209063.

Konieczny, M., Hieronymus, P., & Krauspe, R. (2017). Time in brace: Where are the limits and how can we improve compliance and reduce negative psychosocial impact in patients with scoliosis? A retrospective analysis. The Spine Journal, 17, 1658-1664.

Mejias, N.J., Gill, C.J., & Shpigelman, C-N. (2014). Influence of a support group for young women with disabilities on sense of belonging. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 61(2), 208-220. doi: 10.1037/a0035462.

Decolonial Approaches to Prevention and Promotion 

Written by Nuria Ciofalo, Pacifica Graduate Institute

In the United States (US), the complicity of Community Psychology (CP) with modernity explains why in the analysis of social ailments there is rarely mention of racism which originated in colonialism and slavery and continues to exist in modern times as coloniality (Quijano, 2000). To dismantle coloniality, I will revisit selected historical and current applications of prevention and promotion and conclude envisioning decolonial possibilities to co-create a world where many worlds fit, and it is easier to love (EZLN, 2016; Freire, 1972). 

Traditional models of health promotion and illness prevention in US-centric community psychology have focused on addressing health problems, particularly, related to mental health. In spite of the claims that CP in the US has made a commitment to move away from individualizing psychological issues, the prevention and health promotion models have taken an individual orientation (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010; Reimer et al., 2020). In large scale, these strategies and interventions were learned from public health to move away from individual toward population health, including community competencies and institutions as systems change. Modeling public health approaches, mental health prevention is designed and implemented by assessing incidents, prevalence of social issues, and number of cases. Primary prevention has been associated with US-CP’s ideology of systems change and education. Secondary prevention has targeted specific populations that are determined to be “at-risk” based on norms of adjustment and fit as well as race, given that Black, Latinx, and Native American populations are disproportionately most frequently assigned to this category compared to Whites. Tertiary prevention strategies are designed to lock these populations in hospitals, prisons, or to receive diagnosis and treatment. Programs, strategies, and initiatives to reduce poverty and its associated social determinants of health, emerged from a range of disciplines and have been implemented and evaluated in multiple sites to validate the effectiveness of universal practices for replication everywhere. This is an evidence-based practice of coloniality.

Using a predominantly bellicose language, prevention programs in the 1960s such as Head Start were designed and implemented to respond to the so-called “war on poverty” declared by the Johnson administration. Interventions focused on remediating income, educational, and health disparities between the well-off and the poor populations.  However, deeper causes of inequality caused by entrenched racism that originated in colonization have not yet been sufficiently addressed. To date, Head Start continues to target school readiness in marginalized preschoolers by enhancing language acquisition resembling White middle-class standards and linguistic competencies. Intelligence tests continue to assess skills, cognitive competencies, and abilities praised as superior by a white supremacist culture. For instance, the Wechsler Intelligence Test for Children (WISC-IV) and the Wechsler Preschool & Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-IV) continues to be applied everywhere in the world to assess the increase in intellectual ability of the Head Start children who are mostly Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Native American, (Gibbons & Warne, 2019). Such strategies are exported across the US and abroad as if these were universal solutions to the ongoing coloniality existing around the globe (Marsella, 2009). It is not relevant if these were colonized or colonizing countries. What was and continues to be relevant is that populations and societies exhibit competencies and intellectual ability determined by white supremacy to achieve global capitalism in the name of progress and civilization. For this reason, the effectiveness of prevention and promotion programs continues to be assessed by means of economic return calculations. For instance, positive outcomes are expected to be evidenced in higher incomes and reduced incarceration rates of disenfranchised populations (Bailey et al., 2020; Garces et al., 2000). However, incarceration is a colonial strategy used to exclude and seclude the undesirables who do not abide by the rules of the capitalist state prescriptions and become confined, cheap, and superfluous labor force (Davis, 2003). Here again, the incarcerated population is in its majority Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Native American. 

Large scale drug use prevention also included war as the pivotal strategy that continues to be carried on nationally and internationally. This is one of the most powerful tools the imperial power of a country can apply to control neighborhoods of undesirable races and entire countries to promote population health applying military might for the sake of democracy and the global economy (Marsella, 2011; McGuire, 2020; Valenzuela, 2010). Furthermore, science has played a key role in the well-functioning of the capitalist machinery (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018; Santos, 2016).  National and globally exported research selects populations at random under experimental and control group designs to create and archive so-called evidenced-based (best) practices emerging from positivist paradigms that are deeply rooted in coloniality. In this way, prevention and intervention programming is destined to correct early signs of capitalist maladjustment or to cure its late symptoms under secondary and tertiary prevention approaches. 

Another violent example is what we are experiencing in current pandemic times. The number of COVID-19 cases causing serious illness and death is dramatically the highest among Black and Native Americans and higher among Latinx compared to Whites (CDC, 2021). This same pattern is replicated in the multiple consequences of the pandemic effects on the economy causing a rapid and exponential increase in unemployment and poverty rates in these communities compared to the White population.  A microscopic virus amplified the existing racial disparities into such higher proportions that it is no longer possible to deny them.  Likewise, it is no longer possible to deny the entrenched pandemic of racism manifested in police brutality—among many others—that has existed for centuries since the Native American genocide, the slave patrols, and the immigration persecutions against Latinx and Asians. Actions are performed as if it were now that racism miraculously raised into national consciousness, whereas it has been deeply entrenched in the collective unconscious maintaining the white supremacist empire for centuries. What kind of preventive measures need to be applied to stop this kind of violence? One aspect appears to be clear, pandemic prevention measures can no longer be universal assuming equal outreach to an entire population and expecting equal outcomes.

So, what needs to be done? Let’s begin by naming the main root cause of human suffering as coloniality (Reyes & Sonn, 2011; Serrano-Garcia, 2020). The focus needs to be on dismantling its still existing structures that cause the very issues we want to address under decolonial prevention and promotion approaches that have also been proposed in recent public health scholarship (Chandanabhumma & Narasinahm, 2019). Solidarizing with communities requires the promotion of reciprocal critical awareness—in Freire’s terms, conscientization—on how health, educational, economic, social, cultural, and ecological issues have been and continue to be caused by coloniality manifesting in racism and its resulting inequities and disparities.  The actions that communities decide to take would not target individuals but governments, institutions, and their mechanisms for just resource distribution promoting social, economic, political, epistemic, racial, and ecological justice. Policies would dismantle coloniality and promote community sovereignty to apply locally proposed strategies, in contrast to the expectation that the individual case be managed by providing governmental assistance such as temporary income, housing, and job skills (Ortiz-Torres, 2020). These are ameliorative interventions to adjust the individual to what the Zapatistas in Mexico call the “capitalist hydra” (Sixth Commission of the EZLN, 2016). We need to learn from Indigenous knowledge and health systems that have been erased and silenced within hegemonic scholarship to crack this aggressive catastrophe with multiple heads (Almeida, 2019; Ciofalo et al., 2019; Dudgeon, 2017; Duran et al., 2008; Dutta, 2016; 2018; Gone, 2016; Sonn, 2016; Tuck & Young, 2012). 

As scholars of the Global South have asserted, the prevention of social and ecological ailments and promotion of transformative wellbeing—in Spanish buen vivir and Quechua sumac kawsay—is about centering local knowledges and praxes that embrace non-Western, non-hegemonic conceptions based on Indigenous cosmovisions that include the rights of the Earth and go beyond ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism (Gudynas, 2014). US-CP needs to dismantle its entrenched, westernized, and supremacist ethnocentrism to prevent its complicity with coloniality and learn from epistemologies, ontologies, and praxes that radically promote international solidarity for decolonial systems change.

Note: Please send inquiries and/or comments to


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Catalytic Framework: Intersectional Analysis for Community Engagement 

Written by Maryam Khan1, Mehek Ali1, Global Health Directorate – Indus Health Network, Pakistan; Kausar S. Khan, Interactive Research and Development, Pakistan

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Maryam Khan, Global Health Directorate – Indus Health Network; Woodcraft Building, Plot 3 & 3A, Korangi Creek Road, Karachi, Pakistan. Email:

The Community Engagement Centre (CEC) – a joint-venture of Interactive Research and Development (IRD), Pakistan and the Indus Hospital and Health Network’s Global Health Directorate (GHD-IHHN) – works closely with communities in Pakistan to create the bridge necessary for public health programmes to understand the contexts and existing resources of their target population, which helps inform strategies for implementation, innovation, and meaningful engagement. The CEC enables this through local agents for change, such as Community Health Workers or Mental Health Lay-Counsellors. As part of this work, community workers and researchers at the CEC collect stories that amplify community voices, and therein recognised a need for a unique framework that could explain the role of a ‘catalyst’ in the intersecting identities of a collective experience. This concept came about after CEC practitioners made observations that communities and individuals are often catalysed into action, by either other community members, Community Health Workers, or by themselves through self-realization or circumstantial shift. We hypothesize that these catalysts begin actions that may take place across one, multiple, or all layers of their ecological environment.

One of the greatest challenges faced by CEC, that is relevant to most development work, lies in gaining an intrinsic understanding of the target populations, their unique perspectives and contexts, and the specific situations that foster or stifle change, agency, and action. By attempting to construct the reality of these groups through basic demographics and limited statistics, programmes risk ‘symptomizing’ them, i.e., over-simplifying their situation, stereotyping, and minimizing their traits onto a negative or hopeless spectrum; for example, symptomizing the poor as ‘non-agentic,’ ‘lazy,’ and ‘un-resourceful’ (Toro & Yoshikawa, 2016). The norm is often to organise findings from communities into digestible statistics, reducing rich and valuable information into a number that does not expand upon the contexts or the circumstances it represents. Such statistics, although valuable, do not answer fundamental questions about communities’ experiences or dynamics which inform development work.

This may also contribute to the illusion of organizations ‘saving’ communities by providing an intervention or product that is ‘much needed,’ though that may not be the case. CEC has aimed to counter this by building equitable partnerships between themselves and local communities to facilitate shared goals and collaboration. It does so by adapting the values of community psychology, which takes a multi-level ecological perspective and recognizes the need to concentrate on individuals, their communities, and their relationships (Fox, Prilleltensky, & Austin, 2009). 

Regarding research in the community, a potent criticism of community psychology is that it operates under a positivist epistemology, wherein quantitative research and experimental designs are privileged over other forms of enquiry. This can be amended by utilising research approaches that are critical in their epistemic, ontological, and methodological underpinning that can oppose the enduring hegemony of positivism (Prilleltensky, 2001; Breen & Darlaston-Jones, 2010). These values are what CEC attempts to bring into practice; community engagement has transformative potential - attention to context and transcending of positivist epistemologies can provide us a pathway to understand how social injustice is manifested and how systems, including that of research, perpetuate inequality. This can be utilized to engage in second-order change: change of the system’s values, structures, power arrangements, and allocation of resources.

We posit that one way to identify and understand existing inequalities is by incorporating an intersectional methodology into qualitative analysis. This would help arrive at a contextualized understanding of collective experiences, rather than viewing differing experiences as deviating from norms based on dominant groups.

Applying intersectionality to community engagement

Intersectionality was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, who described it using the metaphor of ‘intersecting roads’ (Dhamoon, 2010). Originally, it considered the meaning and consequences of multiple categories of social group membership (Cole, 2009). It was characterized as a “matrix of domination” which explored intersecting patterns pertaining to structures of power and position (Christensen & Jensen, 2012). Early articulations focused on the experiences of groups holding multiple disadvantaged statuses and highlighted the ways that analyses considering categories independently (such as race, gender) may be limited because in reality, power positions associated with these categories are experienced simultaneously.

The concept of intersectionality goes beyond reducing group experiences to a single dimension. It can also dispel misconceptions about marginalised populations perpetuated by quantitative measures originally developed with mainstream samples and narrow research focuses, with the potential for misrepresentation that this brings (Stein & Makowski, 2004). It can inform strategies for engagement and service provision by recognizing the multiple identity categories occupied by every individual (Cole, 2009) and how intersecting identities shape relationships and outcomes (Warner, Settles, & Shields, 2016). Congruent with the interests of community engagement, intersectionality can help us arrive at a contextualized understanding of social representations; how people live and work in organic social groups. This enables researchers and other professionals to adapt approaches to innovate with communities based on their specific dynamics.

In this light, the CEC is developing a framework for intersectional analysis that can assist in tracking the actions of a catalyst and understanding the evolution of change within communities. It considers: (i) the existence and interdependence of social categories, (ii) their ecological value and influence, (iii) the existence of injustices and inequalities in said ecology, and (iv) presence of an acting force (catalyst) across multiple identities (Simpson, 2009). 


Figure 1. The catalyst amidst intersecting roads of collective experience; adapted from ICRAW’s intersectionality wheel (2009)

The foundations of this framework lie in the observations that agency and actions observed within communities have a catalysing force - this could be a health worker, a purposeful community member, or a collective acting together. We expect to see that the intersections of identity, circumstances, structures of power and discrimination play a fundamental role in the success or failure of catalysts. If we picture communities’ stories, narratives, and case studies as where the people ‘play lead roles and write the script’, then the catalyst is the fundamental ‘plot-twist’ (Bruner, 1990). Being able to develop a deeper and intrinsic understanding of the role of the catalyst within and without communities’ intersecting identities can bring into fruition the development of appropriately targeted innovations and collaborative interventions in the public health, education, and other development sectors, such as via newer participatory community engagement strategies, effective programmatic design, and integrated service delivery.


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Seeding Change: Overcoming Economic Dependency and Social Stigma Within the Food System

Written by Lukas Loggins, Pacifica Graduate Institute

Modern industrial agriculture has come to view the traditional practices of Indigenous subsistence farmers as non-productive, and their epistemologies as invalid. In India, Indigenous female farmers are subject to stigma within contexts of caste, ethnicity, race, and gender, all of which are compounded by poverty. A critical intersectional approach to the issue of stigma must then reflect on these various identities in their relation to power. Multinational corporations send thousands of Indigenous farmers into financial debt by monopolizing the seed market, as activist Vandana Shiva claims that “150,000 farmers in India have committed suicide in areas where seed has been destroyed” (Shiva, 2008, 1:10). A critical and decolonial praxis in this context should work towards revaluing Indigenous knowledge, re-centering the voices of female land stewards, and conserving culturally diverse subjectivities that are intimately connected to the land. In doing so, critical community psychology may support efforts striving to overcome the stigma faced by these communities.  

Public policies hoping to resolve global food system problems are currently limited in scope, and focus solely on symptomatic issues such as malnutrition. Proposed solutions to these issues are short-term fixes and further the industrial-capitalist standard of increased production. This is an intentional maintenance of the hegemonic status quo by ignoring the complexities of issues such as land displacement, which reflect the colonial roots of rural poverty in the global South. Backed by neoliberal policies that subsidize genetically engineered cash-crops, large monoculture farms diminish soil fertility and remove biodiversity. By engineering, patenting, and marketing seeds as intellectual property, multinational agribusiness corporations make it illegal to plant unlicensed varieties (Shiva, 2005). Farmers then enter into economic dependency, as they are forced by poverty to go under contract with these corporations. 

Centralized power in a global food system devalues Indigenous knowledge and prohibits Indigenous ways of being such as participation in local subsistence economies. By imposing a capitalist narrative of scarcity and crisis onto the natural world, fear then gets projected onto marginalized out-groups in order to distance oneself from any threat (Campbell & Deacon, 2006). Monocultures of colonial knowledge then propagate neoliberal narratives and patriarchal assumptions that stigmatize female farmers as non-valuable economic actors. Hetero-normative stigmas reject the agency of Indigenous female farmers, effectively “othering” them. This exclusionary othering is then compounded through an association with other marginalized, socially-constructed identities such as race. When the projected stigma is internalized, “the social becomes sedimented in the individual psyche,” which can adversely affect self-esteem, and decrease groups’ ability to resist the devalued status and socially mobilize (Campbell & Deacon, 2006, p.413). Even within stigmatized groups themselves there exists complex status hierarchies based on the intersections of ethnicity, skin color, class, and gender. 

Despite the “blaming the victim” narrative that has been widely critiqued by the field, US-centric community psychology still tends to pathologize and further silence the voices of those facing social stigma by describing their experiences under “damaged-based narratives” (Tuck, 2009). This misrepresentation and stigmatization of the victim’s experience is a product of the history of colonization and continues to occur by a refusal to turn towards present-day coloniality. In an effort to move away from this rhetoric and other individualistic analyses, a shift towards socio-structural change has made its way into community psychology discourse, albeit consciously pursuing the opposite (i.e. blaming the system of coloniality rather than the individual). This situates an analysis of power at the core of critical community psychology praxis, and inherently addresses coloniality as a root cause of globalization and its numerous oppressive forces. This is a notable difference from hegemonic community psychology where power dynamics within global systems and within the culture of the field itself are barely addressed.

Numerous scholars within the discipline have already critiqued anti-stigma interventions that focus solely on coping with social stressors through methods of adaptation, which are only ameliorative responses to an unchallenged status quo (Philips, 2015). It is thus necessary to contextualize stigma in the neoliberal-colonial system that leads to exclusion, othering, and inequity. In their critical analysis of wealth disparities in India, Jayshree Mangbhai and Chiara Capraro (2018) claim that current legislation “fails to respond to the intersectional nature of inequalities faced by single Dalit women in India” (p. 263). This shows that policies that address systemic racism and serve to decrease poverty are necessary for the reduction of social stigma. Because of the intersectional and multi-dimensional nature of discriminatory “othering,” community psychologists should engage in “multi-level stigma-reduction interventions” that allow for individual “renegotiation of previously stigmatizing representations in a more positive light” (Campbell & Deacon, 2006, p. 415). In other words, we must also bridge larger systems to the individual level of analysis when attempting to understand the internalization of social stigma and its impacts. 

Within the margins of society lives powerful resistance forces promoting collective action and changes to the identity of devalued citizens. Justice for Dalit Women, a transnational campaign organized by Dalit women activists to resist caste-based violence in India, has successfully done just that (Dutta, 2016). Miya activists in Northeast India have demonstrated an ability to reclaim their Muslim identity through protest poetry that fights against exclusion from the National Registry of Citizens (Karwan E Mohabbat, 2019). The Sonagachi Project is yet another anti-stigma movement that addresses ways in which poverty and gender discrimination intersect to be particularly harmful against Indian sex workers. Because stigma partly exists in a symbolic context, creating alternative representations of women's rights has proven to be a catalyst for redefining a specific stigmatized occupation (Cornish, 2006; Campbell & Beacon, 2016). It is evident that when met with real-world change, altering the symbolic meaning a socially-constructed identity is a strong force against oppression. Whereas colonial narratives create an egoic understanding of the self as different or even superior to the Other, a critical discourse holds the potential to deconstruct the power dynamics held up by the dominant culture.

Along with these anti-stigma projects is Vandana Shiva’s Earth Democracy, which promotes sustainable agroecology and seed saving practices that are the foundation of the reclamation of the commons, biological diversity, and food sovereignty. This work intentionally includes those stigmatized groups in bio-cultural revitalization within the context of the local food system. These movements illustrate how collective modes of resistance can arise from bottom-up interventions outside the hegemony. They also illustrate “the important role a well-networked NGO can play in challenging stigma in conditions of poverty and exclusion” (Cornish, 2006; Campbell & Beacon, 2016, p. 414). Diverse networks of organization between groups of artists, community organizers, environmental activists, and policy makers offer new open spaces where bottom-up change can emerge from the margins. These open spaces or “structural holes” are gaps in social networks that are potential boundary-spanning opportunities (Hughey & Speer, 2002; Fisher, 2013, p. 74). Structural holes shift the focus beyond internal social support as a coping mechanism to stress, which creates dense or homogenous social networks, and towards building diverse networks across social borders. 

Increasing diversity between social networks will help to reduce epistemic homogeneity and remove top-down relationship hierarchies between academy and community. Urmitapa Dutta (2016) believes that we can begin to decentralize the hegemonic system of knowledge-production and meaning-making by recognizing the agency already existing within marginalized spaces, or “cartographies of contemporary struggle” (Dutta, 2016, p. 335). Indigenous peoples’ cosmologies, epistemologies, and ontologies have all bio-culturally co-evolved with the flora and fauna of the land to exist within an autopoietic ecological-niche unity (Maturana, 2016). Alternative to the mechanistic systems of modernity that depend on external inputs such as fossil fuels, autopoietic systems are self-sustaining and self-regulating. Agroecological systems do not require external controls, and instead draw energy from the diverse networks of interconnection between human and more-than-human agents. In the Earth Democracy paradigm, division is alchemized into diversity. Nature is abundant through its biological diversity which is in itself manifested from unity. This unified symbiotic, intersubjective human-nature relationship “requires the understanding that the Other is also an autopoietic system” (Shiva, 2018, 1:33). With an understanding of our autopoietic, mutually-nurturing nature, shared meanings born from shared experiences have important implications for reframing dominant cultural narratives around stigma and its effects on Indigenous subjectivities. 

The South American political-economic movement of Buen Vivir similarly has the potential to actualize these paradigmatic shifts. In this Indigenous-led political movement for social-ecological wellbeing, nature is no longer objectified because when “intrinsic values are recognized...Nature becomes a subject” (Gudynas, 2011, p.445). Eco-centric movements such as this transition away from individualism and towards interconnectedness, deconstructing capitalist assumptions of what human wellbeing means, and the notion of humans as inherently competitive individuals within mechanistic systems. In both the Earth Democracy and Buen Vivir projects, the inherent rights of nature and the vastness of ancient wisdom is recognized. This may allow for a disillusionment to take place in the dualistic modern mind which affirms the false separation between nature and society.

The shift towards a relational ontology is critical for the decolonial turn because of the ethical implications it holds for academia, public policy, and human (and more-than-human) beings. It is here that dualisms between body, mind, and soul are resolved via the critical eco-feminist work of rematriation; a spiritual and experiential reconnection to Mother Earth through conscientious land stewardship. The field of community psychology may, through a methodology of diffraction and well-networked interventions, oppose the harmful narratives of crisis and stigma that global capitalism imposes on Indigenous peoples, women, and nature. Furthermore, by privileging Indigenous cosmologies, epistemologies, and ontologies, community psychologists can serve to increase bio-cultural diversity, oppose the utilitarian exploitation of nature, and defend leaders such as Vandana Shiva who head this ever important rematriation movement.


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