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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 54, Number 2 Spring 2021

Prevention and Promotion Interest Group

Edited by Susana Helm, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

Prevention & Promotion IG Co-Chairs:  Toshi Sasao, Kayla DeCant, Susana Helm.

The Prevention & Promotion IG column of The Community Psychologist highlights P&P resources as well as the P&P work of community psychologists and allied professionals. Please email me if you would like to submit a brief report or if you have resources we may list. 

This quarter, Professor Toshi Sasao has provided an overview of recent work from the Peace Research Institute of International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan where he serves as the current Director of the Institute, as well as Chair in the Department of Education and Language Education. In addition to a brief report, Toshi has added this memoriam: 

As I was writing this [brief report that follows], the news of Brian Flay's passing came in my inbox. It was Brian who introduced me to the field of prevention in my graduate and postdoctoral years in California, providing mentoring even after he moved to UIC in the 80s. I remember his research staff was sending him electronic files via a phone modem [at the dawn] of the internet age. I appreciated his research caliber and acumen with my own dissertation, and later at the USC Institute for Prevention Research. I thank him for sticking to the rigor in methodology and conceptualization, and his sense of humor with a wry smile.

Brief Report: Prevention & Promotion in Global Scene

In response to the viral COVID-19 worldwide, much of our daily living has been unwillingly compromised regardless of geographical location. Despite its biomedical nature, the spreading appears to be largely a function of social distancing, i.e., the extent to which individuals maintain physical distance from others in everyday contexts. Hence, it is assumed that limiting social connections through temporary school and business closure and infrequent visits to friends and restaurants should lead to the eventual (if not medical) resolution of the pandemic. Concurrently, preventive efforts have been expended in promoting healthy social ties or support by use of internet technology so as to deter unhealthy behaviors (e.g., excessive alcohol use, gambling) and to encourage wellbeing at the individual or organizational level. It can be argued, however, that community psychologists’ responsibility to promote wellbeing during the global crisis is not necessarily to restore what it used to be, but to look for alternative designs and avenues to optimize people’s level of social connectedness that balances externally-imposed social distancing. 

Peace and COVID-19 Symposium. Started under the zeitgeist for the past year, I initiated a series of events including this Symposium Series at the Peace Research Institute through which the three main themes listed below were addressed. The overall goal of the series was to shed light on the impact of COVID-19 in Japan and beyond from interdisciplinary perspectives with an eye toward developing interventions. 

Foreign Residents and Migrants. Three panelists addressed the extent of the pandemic in three different foreign communities. First, Dr. Miloš Debnár (Ryukoku University, Kyoto) identified various ways in which middle-class European migrants responded to the pandemic and the strict travel restrictions adopted by the Japanese government and how they incorporated these factors in their future plans. Second, Dr. Ramesh Sunam (Waseda University) examined the precariousness faced by Nepali migrant workers in Japan during the pandemic and their coping mechanisms. Last, in an ethnographic work, Dr. Megha Wadhwa (Sophia University) reflected on the impact of COVID-19 on the cooks who, having lost work hours and income, hardly have any opportunities outside of Indian restaurant industry in Japan due to limited education and language skills. Consensus among panelists was that the pandemic indeed has constrained short-term mobility and daily routines for many foreign residents and migrant workers with some short-lived optimism. 

Digital Human Rights. Three anthropologists argued that the COVID pandemic has amplified the structural inequalities that contribute to inequality in society, by examining their ethnographic fieldwork through the lens of digital activism. The changes to travel and global communication have brought into relief the need for analysis of activism and digital platforms. Drawing from research in Bolivia, Dr. Amy Kennemore (University of California, San Diego), discussed how ethnographic fieldwork provided localized counter-narratives that enter into conversation with different sites of intervention (human rights practitioners, NGOs, general public) through digital platforms. Dr. Eli Elinoff (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) explored the relationship between digital and urban activism. Sharing examples from groups engaged in urban forestry, infrastructural critique, and pro-democracy organizing, Dr. Elinoff considered how these different groups generate relationships between cyberspace and urban space, mobilizing new publics online and on the street. Revisiting his work on the peace process in Northern Ireland, Dr. Candler Hallman (The University of Tokyo and International Christian University) described local discourses of reconciliation to motivate and shape digital networking among reactionary populists as they developed solidarity networks and sought sympathy for ethno-nationalist demands. 

Human Rights and Peacebuilding. Theoretical and critical analyses on recent peacebuilding studies and initiatives conducted in Rwanda, Nepal, and Bosnia-Herzegovina were presented, while providing deeper insights into the connection between the state of global crises, behavior, and nationalism. Drawing on research on women impacted by war in Rwanda, Bosnia, Nepal, Dr. Marie E. Berry argued that in moments of such crises, including pandemics, the possibilities for upending inequitable and unjust systems of the past clearly exist alongside a profound risk that such inequities can become even more entrenched. It was further noted what moments of crisis could offer for building more gender equitable and peaceful societies. Next, political scientist Dr. Dirk Moses (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), maintained that to the extent that the Holocaust functions as genocide’s archetype, a challenge for humanitarian agencies and activists has been to shock public conscience in cases of non-genocidal mass atrocity or catastrophe as in COVID-19 pandemics, natural disasters, and conventional armed conflict. How this challenge arose and has been confronted since World War II was examined, while focusing on the construction of the “exemplary” victim as innocent and apolitical. Finally, social psychologist Ms. Alma Jeftić (University of Belgrade and International Christian University) noted the collective narrative of a society provides a basis for common understanding, good communication, interdependence, and coordination of social activities, all of which widely contribute to the functioning of the social system. These also contribute to forming and maintaining conflict, especially in divided societies such as Bosnia-Herzegovina. Two studies were presented - the impact of bias in memories on peacebuilding in contemporary Bosnia-Herzegovina; and the connection between war trauma reminders and behavior during pandemics.

More Opportunities at Peace Research Institute. What I have shared above is only a fraction of Institute activities. With generous support through a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (2020-2023), our Institute, together with the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, initiated joint research to formulate and implement peace and disarmament education, as well as evaluate evidence-based program evaluation in collaboration with Japanese and South Korean universities and research institutes. The Japan-Korea Collaborative for Peace and Disarmament Education & Research is planned by a diverse team of experts assembled from several countries - in the fields of international relations, international politics, social & community psychology, education, educational sociology, and educational engineering. 

Given the current pandemic with unpredictable future even in the next few months, the tasks of community psychologists are loud and clear since COVID-19 is a function of social connectedness as noted earlier, and as such, that the field needs to develop multidisciplinary perspectives on the prevention of disorders and promotion of well-being in diverse sectors across the world.