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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 52   Number 4 Fall 2019

Book Review

A Book Review of Introduction to Community Psychology: Becoming an Agent of Change. Edited by Jason, Glantsman, O’Brien, and Ramian

Written by John P. Barile and Anna S. Pruitt, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa   

We are pleased to review the first Open Access (Creative Commons Attribution) community psychology textbook, Introduction to Community Psychology: Becoming an Agent of Change, edited by Leonard Jason, Olya Glantsman, Jack O’Brien and Kaitlyn Ramian. An Open Access textbook for undergraduate students is strongly aligned with the core principles and values of our field. Accessible directly through an internet browser and available as a download, such a text removes cost barriers and facilitates wide distribution to a diverse audience. In line with its goal to increase access to knowledge resources, this textbook’s overarching theme is the equitable distribution of resources as necessary for addressing social problems that affect communities and individuals. Overall, the book meets its proposed goal to provide students with the tools and theories necessary to examine and address social problems.Intro_to_Community_Psych.JPG

The textbook is comprised of 19 chapters that cover the foundational concepts and issues common to the field. The chapters are organized into five parts, including: Introduction (chapters 1-4); Theory, Research, and Practice (chapters 5-7); Understanding Communities (chapters 8-10); Intervention and Prevention Strategies (chapters 11-13); Tools for Action (chapters 14-16) and Our Future (chapters 17-19). The chapters are authored by 50 researchers and practitioners who have contributed to theory and practice in the field. The textbook also includes a comprehensive glossary and presentation slides for instructors. Each chapter ends with critical thought questions for further engagement and access to a chapter quiz. Through these features, students obtain knowledge about the field and gain practical knowledge about how to engage in community work in their daily lives.

The first chapter (“Introduction to the Field of Community Psychology”; Jason, Glantsman, O’Brien, & Ramian) gives readers their first glimpse into community psychology and covers staple concepts, such as second-order change and interdependence, using vivid examples of real-life scenarios that will likely resonate with undergraduate readers. This foundational chapter also covers key principles: respect for diversity, active citizen participation, grounding in research and evaluation, interdisciplinary collaboration, sense of community, empowerment, policy, and wellness promotion. 

Paul Toro’s second chapter (“History”) expounds on chapter one by exploring the rich history of the field in the U.S. Starting with the U.S. political climate of the 1960s and the years following the 1965 Swampscott Conference, Toro’s presentation of community psychology’s evolution in the United States provides a perfect run-up to later chapters covering current theories and issues and the field’s future. Future editions would benefit from a deeper description of how community psychology developed internationally and influenced modern perspectives in the United States as well as how U.S. developments influenced the international coalition that community psychology enjoys today. 

Chapter 4 presents the burgeoning area of international community psychology (“International Perspectives”; Harvey & Masud). In this chapter, students will learn the ways in which international community psychology is similar to but different from “domestic” community psychology “in scope, logistics, open-mindedness, power dynamics, expressiveness, and sensitivity (SLOPES)” (p. 66). The chapter further makes thoughtful connections between conducting research outside one’s home culture and imperialism. Given this connection, we would enjoy the expansion of this chapter to include contributions from indigenous psychology. 

Building on these foundations, part II outlines community psychology’s contributions to theory, research, and practice. Chapter five delineates “the main foundational theories of Community Psychology” (“Theories”; Jimenez, Hoffman, & Grant, p. 83). This chapter discusses ecological theory, sense of community, social climate theory, and liberation psychology, while other core theories such as empowerment have their own chapters. The subsequent two chapters in this unit describe how community psychologists put these theories to use. In “Research Methods,” (chapter 6) Stevens and Dropkin afford special attention to the importance of the researcher-community relationship and overall community impacts outside of traditionally defined “outcomes.” More attention could be paid to methods that capture context and research designs, a difficult but critical area of exposure for undergraduate students who may never engage in graduate-level studies. Finally, Wolfe’s “Practice Competencies” (chapter 7) shows students how to apply these theories and methods practically, providing a thorough explanation of the core competencies of the field. Taken together, part II covers the core components of the field and lays the groundwork for the rest of the textbook. 

Understanding Communities (part III) builds on previous units by examining common issues related to community work and effectively contends with the issue of power dynamics in conducting community research and practice. Chapter eight (“Respect for Diversity”; Thai & Lien) provides an important discussion on power and cultural humility, and chapter nine (“Oppression & Power”; Palmer et al.) extends this discussion, with a focus on the intersection of oppression and power. Chapter 10 is a logical next step— “Empowerment”. In this chapter, Balcazar, Keys, and Vryhof provide a helpful discussion on empowerment and the importance of examining oppression through a multilevel lens. Part III discusses intersectionality and its usefulness to community research and practice and for addressing issues of power, diversity, and oppression—a welcome inclusion to an undergraduate textbook.

Part IV, Intervention and Prevention Strategies, outlines how community psychologists rely on their theories and understandings of communities to develop community intervention and prevention strategies to improve the health and well-being of communities. Chapter 11 (“Community Interventions”; Maya-Jariego & Holgado) successfully demonstrates the interdependence of research and practice and describes multilevel interventions, importance of community readiness, and other contextual elements that emphasize intervention effectiveness. Chapter 12 (“Prevention and Promotion”; Anderson, Boddapati, & Pate) is a particularly well-written overview of prevention research. The chapter clearly defines the different types of prevention and their usage by community psychologists, accompanied by concrete examples. Chapter 13 (“Stress and Coping”; Berardi, Glantsman, & Whipple) includes an overview of coping and support-seeking strategies. While by no means unique to this text, we find that a stronger focus on creating resilient communities and attention to systematic stressors is warranted. These chapters show one of the ways community psychologists promote community change—through intervention and prevention strategies.

Part V (Tools for Action) highlights another way community psychologists can promote community change—by promoting social change through public policy and social action. “Public Policy” (chapter 14; Guerrero, Anderson, & Jason) emphasizes power dynamics in public policy work and engages students to consider the “Democracy Quiz Question” that asks who has decision-making power in their own everyday life settings. “Community Organizing, Partnerships and Coalitions” (chapter 15; McKibban & Steltenpohl) provides a helpful discussion on cycle of community organizing and assessing community readiness for change. Lastly, chapter 15, “Behavioral Community Approaches,” (Suarez-Balcazar, Francisco, & Jason) demonstrates concrete ways in which social change can be enacted using traditional behaviorist theories, including classical conditioning and behavior modification to support changing laws (Case Study 16.3) and developing community coalitions to address pressing health concerns (Case Study 16.5).

Finally, part VI, Our Future, includes insight into the growing areas of social and political change and dissemination and implementation, and then provides a discussion on where community psychology is heading. While perhaps fitting better in the previous unit, chapter 17 (“Social and Political Change”; Olson, O'Brien, & Mingo) offers a rich description of ways in which community psychologists engage in the complex process of activism. Using high profile examples, such as the Hoffman Report, the chapter examines the importance of power and explores different strategies for engaging in activism, cautioning against an “ends-justifies-the-means” approach. In “Dissemination and Implementation” (chapter 18; Zimmerman, Strompolis, Emshoff, & Mooss), students will learn about some of the key issues surrounding research-based interventions, particularly why effective interventions are rarely used. Finally, in chapter 19 (“Looking into Your Future”), Susan McMahon and Bernadette Sánchez explicate future directions for the field as well as future directions for students interested in pursuing community psychology. Given the shared content, components of chapter three might serve as a helpful appendix to this chapter.

Overall, we believe the text would benefit from including more in-text examples from community psychology’s rich cadre of research to further explain important points. Additionally, case studies examples would benefit from including examples from a more diverse group of researchers. Additionally, while chapter three provides a needed discussion on the variety of careers available to community psychologists, some of the information may be extraneous for an introduction to the field and might be better suited as a guide to employment near the end of the textbook or as an appendix. Finally, given the rise of participatory approaches in community psychology, future editions might consider devoting a chapter to understanding and implementing community-based participatory research.

Ultimately, this textbook’s unique features including an emphasis on power, oppression, and equitable distribution of resources make it invaluable to the field. We really cannot stress enough the importance of having an Open Access textbook for community psychology. The textbook’s contributors, who volunteered their time and expertise in response to an open call for authors, should be commended for helping eliminate barriers for undergraduates to become interested in the field. This textbook is possibly the best means to reach students who may aspire to become community psychologists themselves. All of the authors should be applauded for their work on this textbook.  


Reference

Jason, L. A., Glantsman, O., O’Brien, J. F. & Ramian, K. N. (Eds.) (2019). Introduction to community psychology: Becoming an agent of change. Retrieved from: https://press.rebus.community/introductiontocommunitypsychology/