Community Psychology: Guiding Principles and Orienting Concepts

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9780130899033: Community Psychology: Guiding Principles and Orienting Concepts

This book provides a clear organizational scheme that conveys community psychology's unique way of thinking, and engages the readers' imagination and desire to make a difference though a compelling writing style and a variety of pedagogical aids. The book is divided into two main sections: guiding principles, which anchor community psychologists to a coherent set of fundamental values, and orienting concepts, that allow us to remain open to paradigm-shaking perspectives. It explores the past, present, and future of community psychology, balancing reviews of classic work, descriptions of the current state of the field, and emerging perspectives. Not intended as a definitive attempt to cover the field, but as an invitation to readers to discover the field and make it their own, the book draws readers into a dialogue about community psychology that continues after the last word of the book is read. Community Psychology: Where It Came From and What It Is; Community Psychologists: Who We Are and What We Do; The Importance of Values; Beyond the Individual Level; Appreciating Diversity; Embracing Social Change; Strengths Perspective; Stress and Coping; Prevention; Empowerment; Resilience; Community Psychology in the 21 Century.

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From the Back Cover:

This new text provides a clear and compelling organization that conveys the unique perspective of community psychology. Written in an engaging style, and including photos, cartoons, and graphics, the text promotes students' enthusiasm and interest in creating change.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Writing a textbook in community psychology requires the resolution of two challenges. First, community psychology consists of a way of thinking more than a set of accumulated facts. Second, the field's values inform action as much as basic research and theory. Textbooks traditionally focus on received knowledge—the stable, time-tested, agreed-upon "facts" of a field. This cannot be done for community psychology, at least not in the same way. A hallmark of community psychology is the view of understanding as contextual. Knowledge develops within a sociocultural and historical setting, and science is not pure, objective, and value-free. Moreover, the goal of community psychology is not solely to increase understanding but to use our knowledge to create a more just and humane society. Community psychology's existence as a way of thinking and acting rather than a body of facts helps explain why there have been a dearth of textbooks, but it also makes the field immensely exciting.

Guiding Principles and Orienting Concepts as the Organizational Schemes

The organizing scheme of this textbook makes. clear community psychology's unique approach. The book is divided into two main sections: guiding principles, which anchor community psychologists to a coherent set of fundamental values, and orienting concepts, that allow us to remain open to paradigm-shaking perspectives.

Throughout the years, community psychologists have delineated a set of principles that define our way of thinking. These principles differentiate community psychology from other areas of psychology. They give the field its singular character, instill a sense of identity and pride in its practitioners and permit the field to exist as a stable and circumscribed entity.

Two introductory chapters ground the inquiry into community psychology. The first describes where community psychology came from and what it is. The second describes who community psychologists are and what we do. The next section consists of five chapters, each of which examines one of community psychology's guiding principle. The five principles are:

  • A view of knowledge as fluid and value based;
  • The belief that one cannot understand an individual without also understanding the many-leveled social contexts in which that individual lives;
  • Attention to the voices of diverse (and often disenfranchised) groups;
  • A commitment to improving the lives of individuals through intervention and social change;
  • An emphasis on a strengths model rather than deficit model of mental health.

While the guiding principles are the stable foundation on which the practice and research of community psychology build, orienting concepts allow the field to remain relevant in a changing world. Orienting concepts are frameworks that summarize past research and theory, give meaning to current knowledge, and guide future research and action. They put the guiding principles into action. Orienting concepts, unlike fundamental principles, are supposed to change. As our knowledge grows and Zeitgeists shift, so too do our orienting concepts. The field needs new orienting concepts to inspire new insights, bring new energy, and shake us out of our collective intellectual complacency Without new orienting concepts, community psychology's research and practice would become "one-sided" (Rappaport, 1981, p. Z1).

The third section of this book describes the field's orienting concepts. Four chapters examine each orienting concept, thereby providing a review and application of the guiding principles, and a chronological overview of the development of the field. The orienting concepts are:

  • Stress and coping
  • Prevention
  • Empowerment
  • Resilience

In keeping with community psychology's emphasis on the context of knowledge, each chapter begins with a description of the surrounding culture from which the chapter's ideas emerged and ends with a forward-looking section entitled The Promise of Community Psychology. In this section I examine an idea from the chapter that has captured my own imagination and may have implications for future community psychology. Thus, I have tried to attend to the past, present, and future of community psychology, balancing reviews of classic work, descriptions of the current state of the field, and emerging perspectives.

Textbooks frequently present information as definitive, objective summaries of a field. My goal however, is not to line up silent and obedient facts that students can march-into examination booklets. I hope readers feel invited into a dialogue about community psychology that continues after the last word of this text is read. Toward this goal, I have provided numerous references as resources for future inquiries.

Community psychology recognizes that researchers and practitioners are not disengaged observers of life, but active participants whose own beliefs and experiences influence their work. One goal of the field has been to resist the temptation to present scientific endeavors as value-free and to be candid instead about the viewpoints that inform our own understanding. In keeping with this perspective, I have adopted a personal approach to the material and relate how my experiences have influenced my thinking about community psychology. At the same time, I realize the limitations of one person's perspective (limitations that I expect will be even more apparent to readers), but I hope that my perspective provides a helpful window to the material and encourages readers to bring themselves and their varied experiences to the table as well. This book is not intended as a definitive attempt to cover the field, but as an invitation to students to discover the field and make it their own.

Action Orientation

Community psychology views knowledge as constructed and therefore focuses on ways of thinking rather than facts per se. Learning to think like a community psychologist is not, however, an end goal. Community psychology succeeds as a field only to the extent that its unique ways of thinking promote useful ways of acting in the world. The study of community psychology should result in a raised consciousness about the sorts of problems that require intervention and an increased awareness of how to intervene effectively.

Community psychology's emphasis on the practical application of knowledge is at odds with the traditional view of academia. Webster's Dictionary offers the following among its definitions of academic: "theoretical without having an immediate or practical bearing... having no practical or useful significance." This view is not compatible with community psychology. Kurt Lewin, a forefather of the field, held that generating a knowledge base and effecting social change were two equally important and highly compatible goals of community research. Similarly, teaching in community psychology can and should be socially useful as well as theoretically meaningful. Thus, the textbook encourages informed student involvement in their communities.

Students interested in community psychology have likely been attracted to the field because they have a good dose of inspiration to start with, believe that change is possible, and want to make a difference. This book succeeds if it fuels rather than stifles student creativity and activism. Photographs, cartoons, and other pedagogical devices are included to further engage the imagination. The dual interest in academics and action is also reinforced through the inclusion of Classic Research and Community Intervention boxes. The Classic Research boxes describe influential studies relevant to the chapter topic, sometimes in areas other than community psychology. The Community Intervention boxes show how the field's principles have been put into action by community psychologists and by others. (Admittedly, in a field that combines research and action, the distinction between research and intervention sometimes blurs.)

Encouragement of student action permeates the text and becomes explicit at the end of each chapter in a section entitled Action Agenda. The activities in this section allow students to use information from the chapter as a basis for: (1) seeing themselves and their communities with new eyes; (2) generating ideas for needed changes; and (3) taking initial steps toward change. Certainly not all of these activities can be completed in the span of a semester, but hopefully they present some provocative ideas for living out community psychology in the process of studying it. Attention in this section to the dynamics of the classroom and the use of cooperative learning also allows students to explore ways of creating a community in the classroom as a microcosm of the larger society.

In summary, this .textbook explores the past, present, and future of community psychology. The guiding principles and orienting concepts of the field constitute the main organizing structure. Readers are encouraged to think about the field, learn about themselves, and apply their knowledge to the world around them.

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