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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 52   Number 1 Winter 2019

Special Feature:  The 7th International Conference of Community Psychology (ICCP) – Santiago, Chile, 2018

Edited by Susan Wolfe

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the International Conference of Community Psychology in Barcelona, Spain in 2012. It was an unforgettable, positive professional and personal experience that was valuable in expanding my learning and perspective. I am excited to offer this special feature section of TCP with a set of articles from conference attendees at the 7th ICCP held in Santiago, Chile in October 2018. The feature begins with an article by Jaime Alfaro Inzunza, Irma Serrano-Garcia, and Christopher Sonn, who share the history of the ICCP’s. Jaime Alfaro Inzunza presided over the 7th ICCP; Irma Serrano-Garcia participated on the organizing committee of the 1st ICCP, and Christopher Sonn will preside over the 8th ICCP which will take place in Australia in 2020.

The remaining articles in this special feature present a variety of perspectives, from seasoned international conference attendees to graduate students and first-time attendees. Susan McMahon shares her reflections on the conference and the opportunity to engage with Chilean history and culture. Sam Keast reflects on the voyeuristic nature of international conference attendance, and tourism in general. Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar and Fabricio Balcazar share their reflections via a political viewpoint. Chris Keys writes about the importance of international conferences (this one included) to “put him in touch with community psychology as a global discipline.” Joselyn Rosado-Martinez shares her experience as a graduate student attending her first international conference and presenting a paper for the first time.

Hopefully, you will enjoy this special feature and it will entice you to begin saving and planning to attend the next International Conference of Community Psychology to be held June 26-28, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.

The International Conferences of Community Psychology: Next Step Australia!

Written by Jaime Alfaro Inzunza, Universidad del Desarrollo; Irma Serrano-Garcia, University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras (retired); and Christopher Sonn, Victoria University

The 7th International Conference of Community Psychology (ICCP) was held in Santiago, Chile on October 4-7, 2018. It continued an effort which was initiated in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2006. This article means to recognize the challenges and questions that have led to the development of these events. Each conference has been fundamental for the advancement of reflections, theory, research and practice of community psychology.

Historical Background

The conference in San Juan was launched by a group of colleagues motivated by international friends. It was important to initiate a conference that was sui generis – not linked to any organization – which would continue as long or as briefly as community psychologists decided it would last.  The main theme in 2006 was “shared agendas in diversity”. Consolidating these shared agendas is important to reaffirm the values of our discipline. We recognize the colleagues who had the vision, lucidity, will and capacity to initiate and provide support for the transformation and growth that has followed.

A challenging route was continued in Lisbon (2008) interested in “building participative, empowering, and diverse communities”. Organizers promoted transnational and transdisciplinary research framed by varied perspectives of community psychology worldwide. They focused on the international integration of the discipline and on demonstrating its relevance beyond disciplinary borders. Collaboration with other social sciences and with multiple developments of contemporary thought was fostered. We are convinced that if every day we are more inter and transdisciplinary our discipline will be that much stronger. Thus, Lisbon’s emphasis on paradigmatic diversity was essential to increase our strength and capacities.

From Lisbon, the conference moved to Puebla, Mexico in 2010 where the focus was on community action. The conference theme emphasized the need to activate exchanges and debates about the theories, practice, research, and ethical dilemmas faced when working with communities. Our Mexican colleagues placed community action at the forefront of our discussions as a theoretically and ethically based pursuit. They believed that if we do not integrate the political options and societal concerns to which we are committed, our search for equity and respect would diminish and community psychology would be less than it is today. Our contributions to social life and to psychology were strengthened by these reflections.

Europe again received us, this time in Barcelona (2012), six years after the original conference. In this event we discussed the context of current crises and social exclusion in different local and national realities and examined the possibilities and conditions necessary for empowerment and community development. Considering the context of people’s needs and social problems was essential to reflect about our professional and scientific roles as well as to the theoretical, methodological, and applied development of community psychology. Participants were forced to look beyond internal debates to ways by which to empower and strengthen community capacities and actions. In this manner, disciplinary possibilities and impact increase.

In 2014, the conference moved to Fortaleza in Brasil to continue examining our global contributions faced with new challenges and demands. Our limits within a globalized world were critically appraised. Looking inward is also necessary and provided balance to the contextual perspective emphasized previously. This allowed us to develop more profound analysis and grounded practice.

Durban in 2016 focused on critical thought, liberation and community. The conference theme called for the conscious decolonization of knowledge creation, methodologies and processes largely fixed in colonial discourses, and for the recognition of the plurality of people and their many geographical, psychological and sociological locations.

In Chile, the conference promoted exchange and debate regarding community mobilization and participation in the construction of diverse and changing spaces.  Focus was placed on the strength and centrality of community work as a means to the integration of diversities, with change and healthy coexistence. Participants celebrated the anniversary of Chileans rejection of the Pinochet regime which coincided with the start of the conference. Chileans consider that community psychology has not only been their object of study but their strategy to continue transforming their society. In Chile, they have contributed to broadening psychology as a whole, to increase its critical stances, to further its plurality and to expand its possibilities for responding to more complex and stressed societies.

 

Table 1. Participants in International Community Psychology Conferences

Conference

Number of participants

Number of countries

I. San Juan, Puerto Rico

360

34

II. Lisbon, Portugal

564

39

III. Puebla, Mexico

695

34

IV. Barcelona, Spain

720

34

V. Fortaleza, Brasil

946

24

VI. Durban, South Africa

463

46

VII. Santiago, Chile

780

33

 

If you have not been to any of the conferences, you may be wondering who attends these events. It is important that you know that participants reflect the diversity and values that the conferences promote. You can see in Table 1 that not only has the conference moved to various continents but that participants from many and varied countries have made these truly international events.

Australia, June 26-28, 2020 ‒ Fostering and Sustaining Solidarities: Communities, Activism, Knowledges, and Environments 

The 8th conference - ICCP2020 - will be held in Melbourne’s western suburbs within Australia and the broader Asia-Pacific region, home to many Aboriginal communities. The area also has distinctive cultural, economic, and socio-political histories, weaved from successive waves of migration. These histories are continually transformed through processes related to globalisation, migration, and dynamics of community and place making. Often celebrated for its cultural diversity, the location is also marked by high levels of inequality exacerbated by de-industrialisation, urban renewal and gentrification and its attendant consequences for health and wellbeing. Within this context, there are extraordinary examples of creativity, communality, survival and solidarity.  

ICCP 2020 will celebrate and interrogate how solidarities are fostered and sustained within community contexts, across borders and boundaries, and through processes of knowledge production. The conference will provide a critical platform to the ideas and work emerging from coalitions with practitioners, artists, educators, activists, and communities in the pursuit of community and wellbeing. We will explore and showcase scholarship, practice, and scholar activism from around the world that seeks to bring about sustainability, inclusivity, and wellbeing for all.  Key themes for the conference are: 

Knowledges for sustainable futures — Promoting theories and approaches from the global south including indigenous knowledge for inclusion and wellbeing.

Creating inclusive cultures and healthy communities — Critically examining practice across different levels of analysis to create inclusive cultures and healthy communities. 

Working the boundaries — Engaging with the politics of knowledge production and translation at the interface of different communities of practice.

Global dynamics in local expressions – Encouraging conversations that address the unique localised impacts of broader, socio-political, economic and migration dynamics and ideologies that give rise to new and renewed local expressions of inequality and privilege.

Conclusion

The International Conferences of Community Psychology have provided the discipline with mutual knowledges, exchanges, and collaborative efforts that contribute to vigorous growth and collective reciprocities. Participants of various continents have contributed to a diverse community psychology, rooted in multiple contexts and histories with the potential to create more integral and plural knowledge. In this process we question dependencies and verticalities in our relationships, and create more synergistic encounters between north and south, east and west through the exchange of theories, research and social action. We also overcome the idea that social life occurs only between the polarities of states and markets. Between these polarities we must stress the importance of communities which are essential to determine our future development, our limits and possibilities. We can also foster the inclusion of new political actors who contribute to different ways of governing and social mobilization; opening spaces for deliberation, co-construction of policies, and social priorities that stem from collective knowledge.  These efforts are guided by our interest in generating well-being and eliminating inequities. 

Community psychology has shown that committing itself to change has not weakened its disciplinary growth. That disavowing neutrality has not meant deposing the robustness of its research, theory and practice. Being critical and multidimensional, rigorous, deconstructive, and suspicious of certainties only contributes to our commitment to justice, participation and transformation. That is our greatest strength.

So, we invite you to continue dialoguing, reflecting, collaborating and participating in Melbourne, Australia where community psychology will again find a home for its development. Participants in Australia will continue this historical trajectory by further transforming the discipline that has transformed us all.

Conference Reflections

Written by Susan McMahon, DePaul University

The Conferencia Internacional de Psicologia Comunitaria in Santiago Chile was another fantastic international conference. Here are a few brief reflections from my experience. First, a heartfelt thank you to the conference planners for their collaborative effort, time, and dedication to hosting this landmark event – Jaime Alfaro, Alba Zambrano, the Organizing Committee, International Scientific Committee, and National Scientific Committee. Ansuk_Jeona_Chris_Keys_Susan_McMahon_and_Thoshiaki_Sasao.jpgThere were several innovative aspects of the conference that I especially appreciated, including the diverse representation of international speakers, the extensive collaboration and participation of Chilean Universities, use of brief videos to promote the conference, principal dialogue sessions, excellent translation, and ample opportunities to connect with people around the world. The principal dialogue sessions involved having only 4 concurrent sessions during three time slots during the conference to accommodate larger audiences, feature specific talks that were central to the conference theme, yet still provide choice for participants. Connecting with old friends and making new friends in this international arena is rewarding and allows us to share our perspectives and approaches to addressing social issues.

I have several favorite experiences that were connected with my travel to Santiago. One highlight was having the opportunity to visit a new friend and colleague Jorge Varela and his family and graduate student in their home, along with Marc Zimmerman. It was wonderful to have a traditional homemade meal, learn more about local culture from native people with shared interests, and enjoy pisco sours and Chilean wine!Lauren_Reed_Marc_Zimmerman_Susan_McMahon_and_Jorge_Javier.jpg Other favorite travel experiences included a visit to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, where I learned in great depth the experience of Chilean people between 1973 and 1990 and the rise and fall of Pinochet. Another meaningful experience was visiting La Chascona Casa Museo, a home of Pablo Neruda, and learning more about the life of this Nobel Prize winning poet-diplomat and politician. Other amazing Chilean highlights include the street art in Valparaiso and the national parks in the Lake District and Patagonia region. Experiences with Chilean people, food, history, and culture were extraordinary, and I hope you will have a chance to visit our Chilean colleagues and their beautiful country.  

Voyeurism and Distance from Necessity: Reflections from ICCP 2018, Santiago, Chile

Written by Sam Keast, Victoria University

Sam_Keast.jpgAs a white male from a wealthy western liberal democracy with the necessary support and resources to travel internationally, there is always a tinge of fly-in-fly-out voyeurism about attending a conference. Although I am a PhD student, and travel fairly meagerly, I am always aware that I will return to the privilege and comfort of my own position back in Australia once the conference is over. Of course, this is not exclusively the domain of academic conferences, as international tourism in general smacks of privileged consumption. At times, it feels as though in visiting overseas I borrow some of the surface of a place for my benefit. I visit things that interest me, I take photos of places that appeal to me and share them on social media. I can ‘objectively' observe the history, tragedy and politics of a place because I am afforded the privileged position of voyeur; a position which gives me a distance. Bourdieu described middle class taste as “the product of material conditions of existence defined by the distance from necessity itself" (Deeming, 2014, p. 440). Voyeurism is almost synonymous with being a tourist and it can be hard to avoid with a short stay in a country such as my one in Chile. I preface my reflection with these ideas as a caveat to the observations I make, and to acknowledge that I am borrowing from a place I visited. And that I am making observations which are buffered by a certain distance from necessity itself.

For me, it is always a combination of the people I see only every two years at each International Conference on Community Psychology (ICCP), the new ones I meet each year, and the culture and host country that stays with me long after the sessions have faded from my memory. Conversations over lunch during the conference, discussions held afterwards during a visit to a local place of interest play an important part in what makes an international conference a valuable experience. Voyeurism_and_Distance_1.jpgSo too does the specific context in which a conference is held play a part in how it is experienced, remembered. Whether it is situated in a conference center in the middle of a city, or on a university campus out of town, this will inevitably color how I recall it. The ICCP 2018 was held at the Juan Gómez Millas campus of The University of Chile, and it provided a unique context that offered a snapshot into the way in which the students use their campus, and in this case the way in which they had politicised their campus. This made me reflect about the politics of a place, its connection to histories, and creating of distance from it.

What struck me most about being on this campus, as is evident by the images, was the political art and graffiti that adorned many of the structures throughout the campus. It struck me for a few reasons; firstly, that in my country this would be considered defacing property, which would most likely be illegal, and certainly not endorsed or encouraged. Whereas here, at the Juan Gómez Millas campus, on a warm Friday afternoon a multitude of students could be found making banners, decorating their university, dancing, singing, attending to small fundraising food stalls, engaging with their campus. The clearly present graffiti on many parts of the campus suggested an institution which relished the idea of students having a public political voice, and that maybe this kind of engagement was seen as important to the interaction between students and institution. Allowing students to mark the institution with their words, meant that this place seemed to be very much a home of students. It also meant that politics was not sanitised from view during our time as delegates there.

I and a number of colleagues commented to each other how wonderful it was to weave through all this colour Voyeurism_and_Distance_2.jpgand activity in between our sessions, but also noted the stark difference between our university campuses back in Australia. We reminisced about a past when student lead politics was more visible and an integral party of university life. A past that is now long gone, and the visibility of student politics along with it. 

Universities have changed in Australia, they have depoliticised campus spaces, and the student experience. A continuing neoliberalisation of higher education (and the corporatisation of campuses) now positions students as consumers. Campuses reflect a kind of shiny aspirational modernism appropriate for current and prospective student-consumers. They are disciplined spaces that seek to project a professional, middle class, corporate image. In addition, there has been an active dismantling and defunding of student unions over the decades which has seen the virtual disappearance of student activism.    

But I think this also speaks of a larger issue of capitalist democracy in the global north, and that is, politics canVoyeurism_and_Distance_3.jpg be conceived as an option, a choice. Because of our wealth, our privileges, our capitalism, we consume politics like a product. We can take it or leave it. Because for most, livelihood does not really depend on engagement with it, or the interpretive labor of it. Of course, this is not the case for indigenous Australians, or other groups outside the dominant white middle class. Politics for them is much closer to the necessity of daily life. And whether you want it or not, some of the choice about its proximity is made for you by dominant classes. This may also mean that if political violence has been a part of the history, its proximity is also possibly closer to the histories of neighborhoods, communities, and campuses.

I want to celebrate the way in which politics was clearly present in colourful, hands-on ways at the Juan Gómez Millas campus. The problem with this is that it fetishizes a political history that I am able to have distance from. I am able to observe it as an artefact. Obviously, this is a dilemma for all international travel and raises the question, what are the ethics of being a tourist? While this is not perhaps on the same level as ‘dark tourism’ whereby people specifically travel to places with macabre histories, but still there is something about being afforded the privilege of distance that unsettles me. It makes me question my part in conference-tourism and what this means not only in terms of increasing concerns about carbon footprints, but also of the cultural borrowing from places for academic purposes. What was my business being here from the global north, being a voyeur to their histories? 

Never was this made more obvious to me than when I visited Villa Grimaldi, originally an estate on the outskirts of Santiago that was a gathering place for progressive intellectuals, artists, political and cultural figures throughout the 19th and 20th century. During the 1973 coup the estate was seized and became a site of Pinochet’s secret police, and a place of hideous torture, interrogation and imprisonment. What is left today has been reclaimed as a memorial park open to the public. I visited here one sunny afternoon with some conference colleagues, one of whom was from Brazil. When we met up after having spent some time at the park, he seemed unusually quiet. He had found the memorial too much, too upsetting. This was compounded by the pending election of a far-right populist politician as president of Brazil. His told me of his deep worry about this election and how it was an ominous reminder of the history of political violence in his country. This was a very real and necessary worry about the future of his homeland. While Villa Grimaldi had indeed been troubling for me, I was only a voyeur to the horrific history. I would return to my hotel and be able to create a distance from it.

It was not a total distancing as in denial, for each moment like this left a residue that followed me back each day to the conference so that when I listened to presentations from around the globe such as: Beyond ‘at risk’ individuals: Contextualised and politicised understandings of Māori precarity in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I was more able to feel the ways in which politics was not simply academic, nor simply a choice. But that politics, in its broadest sense, is often done to people, mostly people of lower social class, and so making it visible can be a critical part of reclaiming spaces, and histories. This was echoed by Brinton Lyke’s in her keynote, Contesting the Global North’s Priorities: Transforming Psychosocial Well-being through Critical Community Psychology, Feminist Anti-racist Participatory Action Research, and Grassroots and Grasstops Activism, which brilliantly highlighted the need for well-being to be conceived through the reality of politics and activism. The reality and necessity of politics and activism made its way right through until the closing ceremony of the conference where a group of young Brazilians rose defiantly during the speeches to chant in protest at the coming election of a right-wing president. This was such a fitting conclusion. 


Editor’s Note: Sam Keast is a PhD student at Victoria University in Melbourne Australia. His email address is Samuel.keast@live.vu.edu.au.
I do not doubt for second it is the ability for us to gather at these conferences to foster solidarities across our cultural and class divides, to hear and see histories that unnerve and unsettle us that makes them amazing learning experiences, and so useful to our work in community psychologies. As mentioned from the outset, it is often the experiences surrounding ICCP conferences that leave me more reflective than the academic content per se. Perhaps it is the intersection of the two and being amongst the very visible political history of a place forces me to think about a conference differently. Even though my inevitable role as a voyeur, a tourist, leaves me uncomfortable, I relish the opportunity as it reminds me of the questions that I need to continue to ask about the unearned privileges I am afforded ‒ not not only in a local sense, but in a global one as well.

References

Deeming, C. (2014). The choice of the necessary: class, tastes and lifestyles: A Bourdieusian analysis in contemporary Britain. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy34(7/8), 438–454. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSSP-03-2013-0039

Reflections on the International Conference of Community Psychology in Chile ‒ A Political Viewpoint

Written by Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar and Fabricio E. Balcazar, University of Illinois at Chicago

Seated at an outdoor café in front of a plaza in Santiago de Chile, engaged in a deep heated discussion about critical psychology and the current social order of our times, in the company of an international group of colleagues, we had one of the best conversations at the International Conference of Community Psychology in Chile. Fabricio_Balcazar_Yolanda_Suarez-Balcazar_Christopher_Sonn.jpg Under the influence of sips of local famously known Chilean wine, seven of us representing 5 countries—Australia, Mexico, Spain, and the US--were enthusiastically brainstorming solutions to the challenges of the world. Our conversation was all of a sudden interrupted by a march of a few dozen individuals, who came out of the plaza holding large signs calling attention to the violation of human rights and advocating for social justice. In October, the month of the conference, Chile commemorates Columbus Day, and although Chileans celebrate their Spanish heritage, they also remember that this day represents the beginning of the conquest and mistreatment of the local indigenous people by the Spanish conquests and the oppression that followed.

After watching the marchers and applauding their efforts, our conversation continued, an extension of the sessions we had participated in that afternoon at the conference. Our deeply political conversation was by all means a reflection of the spirit of the conference. Community psychology in Chile, like it is in many Latin American countries, is heavily political. Our conversation closely reflected the themes of social justice, human rights and the meaning of a social-democratic society. Collectively, we moved from profound thoughts to laughter as we shared our worries of the widely fast spread of conservative values and nationalism across the globe, including Latin America.

Like our Chilean colleagues, our other Latin American community psychologists at the conference, also shared Rocio_Garrida.jpgconcern with the state of affairs of our respective countries and the world in general. The implications of Chile’s history of militarization and violation of human rights from the military coup in 1973 were also analyzed and critically appraised at one of the sessions at the conference. The extended period of social unrest and political tension, in which thousands of young people disappeared, was unfortunately backed by the United States CIA, which sabotaged the economy from the onset of Allende’s election and eventually supported the coup and his overthrow. Intentional efforts were seen throughout Santiago, including at the conference, to educate people about the cold war and the dark times of Chile’s military dictatorship. Even at our brief visit to the local Memory Museum and wandering around downtown Santiago, we saw signs of young people being educated about their country’s past and troubled history. Chatting with a Chilean educator after a conference session, he shared how the society as a whole, including the government and the educational institutions want to ensure that the oppression and horrific violation of human rights that took place under Pinochet, is not repeated ever again. They intentionally teach their young people about that history, instead of obliterating it from their history books. This became very evident to us during the week at the conference in Santiago. 

At several sessions and conversations that linger thereafter, we listened to stories of resiliency, group efficacy and empowerment with low-income communities, empowerment efforts with rural peasants exposed to oppression, migrant women and other vulnerable populations. Krause Jacob (1991) indicated that Chilean community psychology developed under the exceptional conditions of the military dictatorship, making the work very challenging, while constructed in the social and political realities of the times.

The strong presence of Latin American community psychologists at the conference, helped us appreciate how International_Conference_of_Community_Psychology_Chile_2018.pngvibrant and active is our field there, which was invigorating. For instance, many of the Colombian community psychologists are heavily engaged in the peace process there and working in collaboration with other disciplines and institutions in creating safe communities for families displaced by violence. The Latin America Network (Red Latino Americana de Psicologos Comunitarios, see photo below) has many active members and several countries have their own network (e.g., Brazil, Chile, Colombian, Mexico, etc.).  The picture below includes the members who attended the meeting of the Latin American Network of Community Psychology Programs at the conference in Chile. 

Many of the attendees and presenters were proud to share the growing demand for community psychology training in Latin America. Issues related to peace and reconciliation, social inclusion, human rights and social justice, and emergency preparedness are, in part, behind the interest.  Several countries are also beginning to recognize the important role that community psychologists can play engaging community members in the process of social service delivery, health and wellbeing promotion and disease prevention, among many others. While there is excitement with the growing interest in community psychology in Latin America, the network members are also concerned about the quality of the training of community psychology programs, lack of common set of competencies—similar discussions are taking place here in the United States—and the wide spread of new psychology training programs graduating young people who may not necessarily have jobs waiting them. This is indeed a challenge, as the number of psychology programs in Latin America has skyrocketed. Another challenge relates to identifying common ground to establish academic competencies and standards of quality that could be implemented by all of the programs. There are significant disagreements for instance, in the amount of practice that may be required for students to graduate and the specific unique competencies that distinguish community psychologists from other psychologists and other related disciplines.

The growth of community psychology training programs in Latino America reflects the increased recognition Maritza_Montero.jpgof the many pivotal roles that community psychologists play in understanding and addressing social issues of our times; empowering individuals and communities; and promoting wellbeing and social change. From what we learned at the conference, many programs across Latin America are making commitments to addressing the above challenges while at the same time are energized by the fact that community psychology in Latin America is thriving and growing. Another concern relates to the resurgence of web-based training programs that are designed to meet the needs of students living in remote areas and/or with limited resources. This is indeed and important and often forgotten population of potential professionals, but the issue of practice and direct supervised experience can be challenging for many of these programs.

Reference

Krause Jacob, M (1991). The Practice of Community Psychology in Chile. Applied Psychology, 40. 111-236. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14640597/1991/40/2

Yes to Plebiscites, No to Torture: Human Rights in Santiago, Chicago, and Beyond

Written by Chris Keys, DePaul University

The Seventh International Conference of Community Psychology in Santiago in early October was memorable. This brief account will focus on one aspect of the conference that had a strong impact for me regarding the valuing of human rights. In general, I enjoy attending these meetings because they put me in touch with community psychology as a global discipline. My basic values resonate to a significant extent with those of other community psychologists around the planet. However, as Reich et al.’s wonderful chapter on the history of community psychology in the Handbook of Community Psychology (Reich et al., 2017) makes clear, in each country the ecologies of politics, culture, history and academe have helped shape different forms of our discipline. For example, community psychology in some other countries is less empirical and more philosophical than in the United States. It also can be less liberal and more critical and liberatory, that is, more to the left politically than in the U.S. Sometimes this more radical approach seems largely rhetorical as little action seems to follow and what does is similar to what we do in the U.S. For example, one speaker noted that the term, “neoliberal” has come to be associated with so many phenomena in rhetorical commentary that it now may be a catch all for the negative and thus a “catch nothing”. Other times this more progressive stance of others is forged by prior oppression and hard-won progress against that oppression which merits attention. Some of the most meaningful events I experienced in Santiago fell into this second category of oppression and recovery. These events included learning more about the negative impact of Pinochet and his government on Chileans and the positive steps taken by Chileans, especially by one torture victim who subsequently became a human rights activist in Chicago.

Augusto Pinochet took power in September of 1973 through a coup backed by the U.S. that overthrew the democratically elected government of socialist president Salvador Allende. Pinochet’s regime killed more than a thousand and tortured tens of thousands of those who disagreed with his dictatorship. In an early October 1988 plebiscite, 56% of the Chilean voters opposed his continuing as President which led to democratic elections for the president and congress. During the time of the 7th ICCP, on Friday October 5th Chileans celebrated the 30th anniversary of this liberating plebiscite that was central to ending Pinochet’s reign and returning Chile to democratic governance. The celebratory spirit was manifest in the crowd of 30,000 that came to the city center in Santiago to applaud and remember the plebiscite and the return to freedom and the rule of law. At the conference Domingo Asún was honored in an emotional tribute. Asún was a Chilean founder of community psychology who worked creatively to oppose Pinochet from without and within the ruling system.

In this context a session on recovery from torture and political oppression was most sobering and meaningful. Nancy Bothne of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology organized the symposium and gave a useful conceptual overview. Mario Venegas was a compelling speaker. Mario is a chemical engineer from Chile via London who has lived in Chicago for several decades. He opposed Pinochet along with many other students in 1973. For his opposition he was captured, locked up in the main stadium in Santiago and tortured for three years. He has lived in Chicago for many years, and from time to time after Pinochet was removed from power, he returned to Chile to visit friends and family.

Mario has been active in speaking and organizing against torture in the U.S. At the ICCPs was the first time in Chile that he had spoken of his torture experience more than four decades ago, a profound moment for him and for all who heard him. With strong feeling in his voice, he told of the physical and psychological torture he experienced, psychological being worse and more difficult from which to recover. “It is in your mind for the rest of your life,” said Mario. The PTSD symptoms are just a part of the effect. Mario related how his torturers said they tortured his son who was less than two years old and played an audiotape of his son crying. It was not true but to this day he cannot hear a child cry. They played loud music to cover up the sounds of torture victims like Mario screaming. Even today he cannot listen to loud music even though two of his sons are musicians. He saw people dying from torture in front of him.

Transfixed by Mario’s first-person account, the audience listened intently as Mario then turned to broader issues of public response and the U.S. context. He said that in the United States people in general do not want to talk about torture. They deny it happens here and that the U.S. perpetrates it elsewhere. Yet the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia still trains Latin American military in torture techniques as it has for decades. Like Mario’s experience in Chile, at Guantanamo the U.S. has incarcerated captives without any criminal charges now for well over a decade. In Chicago, police detective and commander Jon Burge oversaw the torture of more than 200 criminal suspects, mostly African-American men, to force confessions that were often proven to be false. In partial response he noted that some torture treatment programs, like the Kovler Center in Chicago, help survivors talk about their torture, but there are all too few of them in the U.S.

For some time now, Mario has been an activist for human rights and against torture in the United States and to a lesser extent in Chile. In Chile, the first civilian government following Pinochet publicly apologized for the torture, killing and other violations of human rights. In response to the horror inflicted by Burge and his detectives, Chicago has become the first city to approve reparation payments to victims of police torture. Moreover, the living survivors, their immediate families and the families of decreased victims were given services including psychological counseling and tuition to the City Colleges of Chicago. The mayor issued a public apology for Burge’s acts, and the city approved a public memorial to the deceased victims. The city also mandated that all students in the 8th and 9th grades of the Chicago Public Schools be taught about the Burge chilling chapter of Chicago history. Taken together, these actions constitute a huge step forward in coming to terms with the Burge torture.

 Mario is proud of his contribution to this effort in seeking justice. Yet he urged us all to take action for human rights, especially stopping torture. Too many perpetrators of torture have avoided full, sometimes any accountability. Burge was in jail less than four years for his crimes due to the statute of limitations. Pinochet only experienced a limited period of house arrest. Many Chilean perpetrators of torture have not been brought to justice. Industry and the military still shoot people in Chile. Today 150 countries still engage in torture throughout the world.

The audience arose to give Mario a standing ovation in support of his challenging experience, his recovery and significant contributions and his wonderful presentation! Overall, this ICCP included a most powerful context, conference, symposium and talk, all of which strengthened my commitment to human rights. Thank you, Santiago conference organizers ‒ Mario, Hugo and Nancy!

References

Reich, S., Bishop, B., Carolissen, R., Dzidic, P., Portillo, N., Sasao, T., & Stark, W. (2017).         Catalysts and connections: The (brief) history of community psychology throughout the         world. In M. Bond, I. Serrano-García, & C. Keys (Eds.) Handbook of community psychology. (pp.21-66) Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

The Transforming Potential of the International Conference of Community Psychology: A Student’s Perspective

Written by Joselyn Rosado-Martínez, University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus

Joselyn_Rosado-Martinez.jpgThe International Conference of Community Psychology held in Santiago, Chile in October 2018 was my first experience at an international conference and my first opportunity to present a paper. The privilege of presenting my work before so many influential community psychologists and the possibility of sharing knowledge of the discipline from other countries was indeed an honor and a source of pride. The Conference provided me with an opportunity to socialize knowledge generated in the practice of community psychology (CP) which is necessary to improve our interventions and guide our work to promote the development of a better world. The fact that this space was open to people like me, with less experience and exposure, allowing us to contribute to the exchange of knowledge, was especially meaningful. However, this opportunity is not available to many people. Although a conference of this magnitude requires many resources and effort, it is also true that only those with more resources or those willing to make significant financial sacrifices, can participate. Despite this limitation, those that could attend engaged in many fruitful discussions at a key historic time for both our professions and the world we live in.

Our current social, economic, and political circumstances are both delicate and decisive. Although it seems incredible, in 2018 after so many struggles and sacrifices of previous generations so that human rights that lead to equity are respected, these rights are in jeopardy. In many countries, governments and their representatives are working towards eliminating our rights using repression and oppression backed by crude neoliberal policies. The result is strengthening the divide between the rich and the poor; small groups control most of the countries’ riches and poverty becomes ever more extreme. In this manner, vulnerable sectors of society increase every day and their resources to facilitate change are diminished. In this context, spaces where we can share and learn of new ways to combat these policies becomes an imperative. Community psychology is responsible for strengthening these opportunities so that we can contribute to the liberating social change that the world needs. The Conference was a prototype of the dialogues we should generate and the possibilities for sharing that we should maintain. However, we must also move beyond academic conferences to other spaces accessible to all. 

One of the nefarious consequences of neoliberalism and its governmental policies is global warming. The increase of “natural” disasters is a clear symptom of this phenomenon which is both natural and political, as are its consequences. Thus, every day there are more communities that require diverse interventions to recover and rebuild post-disaster, particularly given the lack and inefficiency of governmental response. Community psychologists must intervene in these settings guided by values of change, social justice, eradication of social inequity, promoting community building and empowerment of the most vulnerable.

Puerto Rico survived two natural-political disasters in a period of two weeks in September 2017. These disasters left a canvas upon which to draw the reconstruction of an historically oppressed country. A month after the second hurricane, a group of practicum students and their professor (Dr. Blanca Ortiz-Torres) began to work with a community in the town of Canóvanas, named Valle Hill (VH). This community arose from the illegal appropriation of land in a wetland where people have built 1,600 irregular houses without title of land ownership. These titles are necessary for most of the governmental aid that is available. VH was devastated by both hurricanes and left with scarce resources to recover. The government responded late, deficiently and with multiple excuses for their inability to fulfill residents’ needs. Thus, our intervention, which we presented at the Conference, was aimed toward empowering the community and emancipating it from the government. We tried to focus on residents’ resources and capacities, promoting less dependence on the State but simultaneously creating the strengths to demand the services they needed and deserved.

As in Puerto Rico, in other countries such as Chile, the need for community psychologists’ intervention in an empowering and liberating effort is recognized. Its difficulties in a context characterized by urgency and need are also evident. After such a disastrous event, people are in dire need of basic shelter, food and water so it would be very easy to limit our work to assistance. However, given our historic moment, it is incumbent upon us to promote transforming interventions generating within our communities the base for the kind of country and world we aspire.

As I attended various presentations, I was able to confirm how globalization has led many countries to experiment similar phenomena, interventions and challenges. This allowed me to productively compare efforts from different contexts. The experience made me realize how sharing knowledge and experience is necessary and urgent, as well as the importance of our responsibility in facilitating these exchanges. It was very enriching to share time and space with people whose work I have read such as: Maritza Montero, Esther Wiesenfeld, Pierre Dardot, M. Brinton Lykes, Irma Serrano-García and Blanca Ortiz-Torres, among others. It was equally gratifying to become part of the new wave of professionals and students that are trying to keep community psychology’s values and concepts actualized and new. Meeting so many people from all over the world in a safe and open space for dialogue was motivating and refreshing.

These encounters generated continuous questioning, unceasing reflection and new areas of research and action. Presentations I attended made me think about our next steps to combat neoliberalism and oppression, and whether our current efforts are enough. The presentation by Pierre Dardot, Jorge Sharp, and Francisco Jeannerett, “The communal, politics and the political” focused on how to overcome neoliberalism. Sharp provided some ideas regarding work with communities to promote different lifestyles. Although this may not seem particularly innovative, I was captivated by his ideas, since after the hurricanes in Puerto Rico I am convinced that communities on our Island need to be transformed so as to lead to the development of empowered lives. This has to be a part of community psychologists’ work.

Just as I attended this and other presentations, I would have liked to attend many more. There were many of very pertinent and interesting subjects however, since many were simultaneous, I missed a lot. On the other hand, the numerous presentations are a reflection of the many contributions that community psychologists are making to research and action.

Presentations and discussions also made me reflect on community psychology in Puerto Rico. In my opinion, our practice is moving in the right direction but there is still much to be done. After presenting our paper, two other groups presented regarding their interventions in post-disaster settings. The following discussion demonstrated the need for us to examine the role of decolonization in our interventions. In spite of the difficulties this may entail and the challenges we must face, it well seems worth the effort.

Decolonization was a theme very present during the Conference. It is a subject that merits more study and research so that we can include it in our interventions. It is important that we take advantage of each intervention to promote political spaces that foster liberty and the development of critical thinking citizens, even within post-disaster settings. These interventions are opportunities to create better groups, communities, organizations and countries; a better, just and equitable world.

The dialogues and discussions during the conference were framed within a climate of diversity and cultural exchange which generated experiences, anecdotes, and life learnings. This exchange was fertile ground for varied themes as well as a space to share and receive support regarding the oppressive and precarious conditions of life in many of our countries.

The Conference was definitively a revitalizing and motivating encounter. It contributed to my professional development as well as providing me with a pause from tiring routines, a source of new energy, new experiences and opportunities, and multicultural, multi and interdisciplinary learning from diverse perspectives. This experience will definitively stand out as an important milestone in both my professional and personal life.

 

Joselyn Rosado-Martínez thanks Dr. Irma Serrano-García for review and translation of this article.