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Volume 55, Number 2 Spring 2022
Edited by Dominique Thomas, Morehouse College
Written by Sophia Banegas, Pacifica Graduate Institute
Having lived in low-income Los Angeles communities for the past twenty-eight years, I have witnessed the detrimental effects of colonization, capitalism, white supremacy, and the patriarchy. My insider perspective is that of a working class Xicana, a mother, and a community member. I have experienced living in food deserts and witnessing police brutality on community members for a lifetime. Neighborhoods like the one I live in have a better chance at obtaining alcohol than having access to fresh produce; there is far more concrete than untouched land. The trauma that communities endure together continues to persist as the conditions which we all live in continue to worsen. Perhaps one of the most draconian oppressors we face is capitalism which terrorizes communities by continuously valuing profit over people, and by perpetuating the classism that separates us all.
In order to form solidarity across communities, we must address our oppressors face on. Through the struggle of resistance to the hegemonic ways of living via capitalism and colonization we can move towards building a better world by focusing locally in our own communities. As a community psychology student, I recognize my responsibility to my community, and the urgent need for autogestion; the autonomous organizing of communities to work towards liberation and economy from an oppressive state (Ortiz Torres 2020). Rather than work from a “neutral” or “objective” psychological standpoint as a “researcher”, I make the conscious decision to reject the normalization of disconnection from my work due to my focus on community liberation. The tool of community psychology is key in organizing communities towards liberation and autonomy; and our roles as community psychologists are to take a stance and collaborate within our communities to work towards radical change. In Ortiz-Torres’ (2020) study of decoloniality they write:
“Autonomous organising does not imply removing the state’s responsibility to guarantee the basic rights of all citizens. In fact, it implies the opposite, to promote the empowerment/strengthening of citizens and communities to demand what they deserve, when they need it” (p.6). Working towards autonomy is not to move away from a system with resources and the ability to care for its people, but actually moving towards building a caring system.
Capitalism was made possible by first establishing hierarchies through colonization and implementing violent structures to keep these hierarchies in place (Dutta, 2018). Through the industrious implementation of capitalism, the exploitation of people and communities began to benefit only a select few of so-called “elite” (oppressive) groups and due to its success for this small group capitalism continues to run our society into the ground and our Earth is teetering on the brink of Extinction. Capitalism and colonization have disconnected us from our ancestral roots, from the land we depend on, as well as from one another. Urban gardening offers a way of working towards liberation and reconnection within our own communities. The anti-capitalist resistance of urban gardening also creates the opportunity for conversation that can eventually reach a place of connection building within communities, specifically here in Los Angeles. The disconnection between communities and land is reversible and can be reestablished through thoughtful acts of reclamation. Reclaiming the land on a larger scale can look like the concept of “Land Back”.
The Land Back movement is a necessary step towards decolonization. By giving the land back to Indigenous people we could begin to move towards autonomy and liberation by stepping away from the reliance on a capitalist system that continuously works to degrade the Earth in the name of profits like we saw in Standing Rock where water protectors (Indigenous people and allies) risked their lives to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline. Returning the land to its Indigenous caretakers could be a step towards ending the degradation and disrespect of our Earth like we saw in Standing rock, and in many other instances throughout history. The work that must be done is to prioritize the value of all living things over profits or wealth.
The concept of buen vivir (living well) is centered in Indigenous thought processes, values, and ways of life. Ruttenberg’s (2013) study on buen vivir expands on the concept and its function in South America:
“In both Ecuador and Bolivia, the buen vivir experience offers a hopeful example of local values and wellbeing needs being articulated by indigenous populations and incorporated into government policies, effectively establishing a two-way policy relationship between bottom-up and top-down approaches to development” (p. 84).
Integrating the concept of buen vivir into our society as more than a concept but a way of life would bring radical transformation towards community empowerment and liberation. Reclamation of land and buen vivir can be reached through community gardening and transformation of urban land into spaces of environmental resistance. A major aspect of this work involves reimaging what our current landscape, or rather cityscape, looks like and how we function in connection to the land.
The process of urban gardening is an opportunity to focus on our reclamation efforts on a local level, and in the place that affects our lives the most: in our communities. “Thus, the particular conceptual frameworks adopted by community psychology are not merely academic discourses but are intimately linked to larger social justice agendas” (Dutta 2016). Community psychology cannot remain in the classroom, but it must be applied towards actions of liberation and autonomy.
Centering my reclamation efforts in Los Angeles I will be focusing on my own neighborhood of City Terrace; a neighborhood that has been built on Indigenous Tongva land. Like many cities in America, my city struggles to survive under the oppression of capitalism. This city is no stranger to organizational efforts, to resistance, and resilience not only in recent years but throughout its history. Both the land and people have survived colonization but continue to endure the trauma. Urban gardening is the taking back of land and sense of community in order to transform it through healing processes, and to guide the community members towards healing through their work with the land.
By choosing specific grass areas along public sidewalks, and patches of land in between and sparsely placed throughout a largely concrete urban landscape we are choosing to take land back from capitalism and colonization. In these accessible spaces we can recycle materials, and use space to grow produce, or to reclaim land with plants that are Indigenous to their environments and benefit land and life. The rate of houseless individuals (formerly referred to as homeless) in Los Angeles is shockingly high and continuously increasing. What could our communities look like if we used sidewalks to grow produce? These transformations are steps to building a new world as a collective community.
Moving away from the perpetual let down of the State that is meant to protect us by learning to rely on each other, our communities can learn self-reliance in an effort to work towards liberation and autonomy. Though urban gardening may seem like a small act, its effects ripple waves throughout our communities. At their simplest forms, these urban gardens will serve as conversation starters that will lead towards change. In the city of Los Angeles where communities have witnessed the constant value of profit over lives, liberation is key to autonomy. Placing our focus and efforts at our local community level is an anti-capitalist act of love and bravery. Reclamation of land through urban gardening is Liberatory work in praxis, it is revolutionary, and it is radical transformation.
Dutta, U. 2016. Prioritizing the local in an era of globalization: A proposal for decentering community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 58(3-4), 329-338.
Dutta, U. (2018). Decolonizing “community” in community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 62(3-4), 272-282.
Ortiz Torres, B. (2020). Decoloniality and community-psychology practice in Puerto Rico: Autonomous organising (autogestión) and self-determination. International review of psychiatry, 32(4), 359-364.
Ruttenberg, T. (2013). Wellbeing economics and Buen Vivir: Development alternatives for inclusive human security. PRAXIS The Fletcher Journal of Human Security, 28, 68-93.
Written by Justin Bell, DePaul University Center for Community Research
When an opinion writer at the New York Times suggested churches should toss away their virtual services, log off, and embrace the winds of risk as an act of love, a fire started. More than a week after the piece first appeared, NYT published a collection of responses; some supportive, a majority calling the opinion “dangerous,” “bizarre,” and downright “antithetical to the Gospel” (New York Times, 2022). What has kept my interest in this piece is not the author's stance on how harmful she feels COVID is or is not, but her fundamental argument: a virtual medium can never sustain a proper sense of community. As community psychologists, we should pay attention when we encounter an opinion like this. "Going back to normal" is back on the table (of course, only for some, not all), and if we don't understand the tensions between those clinging to their online communities and those ready to unplug, we may lose touch with a conflict poised to plague us for years to come.
The author of the aforementioned editorial and priest of the Anglican church, Tish Harrison Warren, is decidedly on the side of defining community by its corporality: “Whether or not one attends religious services, people need embodied community,” writes Warren. To be embodied is not some lofty metaphor for Warren, but quite literal here, “the cost of being apart from one another is steep. People need physical touch and interaction.” And the split-nature or hybrid model that some churches adopt doesn’t seem like a proper option to Warren either, as continuing to offer streaming alongside in-person worship, “implicitly makes embodiment elective…something we can opt in or out of with little consequence.” Those who stay online (and are not especially vulnerable) are painted as apathetic and maybe lazy. But at her most compelling, Warren invokes a recent essay by author Collin Hansen, “Christians need to hear the babies crying in church. They need to see the reddened eyes of a friend across the aisle,” (Hansen, 2021).
If we are self-searching, we, as psychologists, can find some sympathy in Warren’s frustration. Yes, we stand firmly with those most vulnerable to the pandemic; our official statements and resource lists demonstrate this clearly (e.g., Maldonado et al., 2020; Twose, 2020). But, we also understand the power of being physically present, and the pitfalls of living on Zoom. There are immense benefits of physical touch on relationship health (e.g., Holt-Lunstad et al., 2008; Wagner et al., 2020), and enormous negative impacts to quality of life associated with isolation (Negi, 2012). We know developing a sense of community is a challenge in online environments. In comparisons between online and face-to-face students, those attending in person tend to report a greater sense of community (Drouin & Vartanian, 2010; Ritter & Polnick, 2008; Wighting et al., 2008). And as a result of the COVID transition, students and faculty frequently describe a new sense of alienation from their peers (Leal Fihlo et al., 2021; Moore et al., 2021). If the goal is creating a sense of belongingness online that matches the physical experience, we have a long way to go.
If it is possible, psychologists can help lead that effort. To make our virtual spaces more human is necessary - we know the comfort we have gained with seeking community through virtual experiences will stay with us. Despite Warren’s position, there is no great logging off event to look forward to, save for a massive solar flare. Great lessons are to be learned by shifting some attention to how virtual platforms have thrived during the pandemic, and how they reduced inequity in ways never thought possible before.
At the start of the pandemic, 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) made a massive transition to hosting their fellowships primarily online, with virtual meeting directories becoming a vital resource for thousands of those struggling around the world (Krentzmen, 2021). But despite this miracle of human ingenuity, there has been the ever-present discontent of members who feel it difficult to properly engage with an online platform (Bergman et al., 2021). I do not believe anyone has been arguing for crying babies, but what about the taste of real, burnt coffee? Or the "meeting after the meeting", where people once connected over breakfast? What about the embrace of a fellow addict?
At the DePaul University Center of Community Research, my colleagues and I have been lucky enough to investigate the virtual transition of addiction recovery groups. Our decades-long partnership with Oxford House (self-governed recovery communities for individuals seeking affordable, drug-free housing) is allowing us to measure the success of this effort. Lead researcher Dane Wilson and several of my colleagues at the Center are currently analyzing the responses of current and former Oxford House residents who attend 12 step groups online. This investigation will allow us to understand how convenient this new platform has been, how members' social network has been strengthened by virtual meetings, and how these members perceive the quality of social support they experience online. These results we hope to publish in the near future.
Already, the work of psychologists is revealing a powerful strength of online communities: these spaces provide a sense of belonging for those who might otherwise feel unrepresented in the group at large. In an investigation of over two thousand members of NA who attended online meetings, these meetings were found to be at least as effective as in-person meetings in promoting abstinence, for both long-term members and newcomers alike. Additionally, comparisons by ethnicity revealed Black members of the fellowship were more likely than White members to attend virtual meetings and viewed these meetings more positively than White members. Respondents reported this virtual structure allowed for a great amount of flexibility and access to members they may have never met before, with nearly half of the sample reporting they attended virtual meetings outside of their time zone, and others reporting they visited meetings hosted in another country (Galanter et al., 2021).
Speaking with my colleague and lead researcher on our current investigation, Dane Wilson, he shared some of his interpretations of these findings. For him, these findings reflect the ability for online meetings to open up an entire world of new connections in recovery. He imagined the case of an individual in a rural area, possessing a minority identity and finding no one around them who could truly relate to their unique experience. Rather than book the expensive plane ticket to the nearest big city or 12-step convention, they could now hop online to find thousands around the world in recovery. And I think he is quite right here. A quick glance at the online 12-step meeting directory for Virtual NA reveals Zoom listings for almost every state in the U.S.; special directories for meetings in Spanish, French, Russian, and Arabic; and 24/7 marathon meetings inviting international participation. Getting even more specific, there are specialty format meetings for men or women’s issues, or those that focus specifically on meeting the needs of those new in recovery (Virtual NA, 2022).
When we wish to reconcile the competing interests of those in conflict, we need to look for shared values. I have heard both sides of the online versus in-person debate accuse the other of being selfish. For the many recovering people who help build their 12-step fellowships into a virtual network, their concern was keeping people alive. Staying in person and risking infection was not an option, but neither was leaving the struggling addict isolated during the other great crisis, the opioid epidemic. For church members like Tish Warren and Collin Hansen, they also emphatically express their desire to keep the vulnerable safe, but their fear leads them to believe virtual options are tearing away what they find fundamental about worship, the ability to earnestly connect with the ones they love. Ultimately, both are guided by a care for their fellow human beings, and both possess a sense of uncertainty that has become the quintessential feeling of this age. We are all stumbling around in the dark, afraid of what lies ahead.
We cannot fall into the trap of clinging onto the familiar. Warren remains painfully attached to the specter of an older communal style as numbers continue to decline in the Christian church, year after year since 2007 (Smith, 2021). But, Christianity globally is growing rapidly, especially in the global South, where a region like Africa boasts a 2.77 percent growth rate (Johnson & Zurlo, 2022). If 12-step groups can create spaces where members are in dialogue across the globe, what could the Christian church do to bring together the West and the South online? Maybe Marshall McCluhan’s “global village” is not so much of a pipe dream after all.
Already, community psychologists are beginning to understand these lessons. Recognizing the impending lack of bereavement support when COVID measures barring visits to elderly care facilities were put into place in Canada, two members of our field launched their own online support community with several local-level and national-level partners. Their effort bloomed into an educational platform, a Facebook group of over 600 members, a story-telling and artistic sharing space, a source of love, strength, and resilience for many who previously felt alienated (Ummel et al., 2021). I get no sense this project is a cheapened version of real, human interaction. Instead, it demonstrates the power of virtual communities: to bring together those who would have never reached each other before.
Please reach out to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Andrew Camilleri, Dane Wilson, Joe Connors, and Nikki Menis for their gracious input on this piece.
Bergman, B. G., Kelly, J. F., Fava, M., & Eden Evins, A. (2021). Online recovery support meetings can help mitigate the public health consequences of COVID-19 for individuals with substance use disorder. Addictive Behaviors, 113, 106661. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106661
Drouin, M. & Vartanian, L.R. (2010). Students' feelings of and desire for sense of community in face-to-face and online courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11(3), 147-159. Retrieved February 13, 2022 from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/53216/.
Galanter, M., White, W. L., & Hunter, B. (2021). Virtual twelve step meeting attendance during the COVID-19 period. Journal of Addiction Medicine, Publish Ahead of Print, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1097/adm.0000000000000852
Hansen, C. (2021, August 8). What we lose when we livestream church. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/08/opinion/covid-church-livestream.html
Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W. A., & Light, K. C. (2008). Influence of a “warm touch” support enhancement intervention among married couples on ambulatory blood pressure, oxytocin, alpha amylase, and Cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(9), 976–985. https://doi.org/10.1097/psy.0b013e318187aef7
Johnson, T. M., & Zurlo, G. A. (2022). Status of Global Christianity, 2022. World Christian Database. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from https://www.gordonconwell.edu/center-for-global-christianity/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2022/01/Status-of-Global-Christianity-2022.pdf
Leal Filho, W., Wall, T., Rayman-Bacchus, L. et al. Impacts of COVID-19 and social isolation on academic staff and students at universities: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health 21, 1213 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11040-z
Krentzman, A. R. (2021). Helping clients engage with remote mutual aid for addiction recovery during COVID-19 and beyond. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 39(3), 348–365. https://doi.org/10.1080/07347324.2021.1917324
Maldonado, A., Ramirez, R., & Rodriguez, C. (2020, March 23). How to Protect Yourself from the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Society for Community Research and Action. Retrieved February 11, 2022, from https://www.scra27.org/files/6915/8515/8281/COVID-19_English_03-23-2020.pdf
Moore, R., Purvis, R., Bogulski, C., Maddox, T., Haggard-Duff, L., Schulz, T., Warmack, S., & McElfish, P. (2021). Learning during COVID-19: Rapid e-learning transition at a regional medical school campus. Journal of Regional Medical Campuses, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.24926/jrmc.v4i2.3645
Negi, N. J. (2012). Battling discrimination and social isolation: Psychological distress among Latino Day Laborers. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51(1-2), 164–174. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-012-9548-0
New York Times. (2022, February 6). Should we continue online religious services? The New York Times. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/06/opinion/letters/online-religion-services.html
Smith, G. A. (2021, December 14). About three-in-ten U.S. adults are now religiously unaffiliated. Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from https://www.pewforum.org/2021/12/14/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-are-now-religiously-unaffiliated/
Twose, G. (2020, April 13). APA's response to COVID-19. American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 11, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/international/global-insights/resources-covid-19
Ummel, D., Vachon, M., & Guité‐Verret, A. (2021). Acknowledging bereavement, strengthening communities: Introducing an online compassionate community initiative for the recognition of pandemic grief. American Journal of Community Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12576
Virtual NA. (2022). Retrieved February 13, 2022, from https://virtual-na.org/
Warren, T. H. (2022, January 30). Why churches should drop their online services. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/30/opinion/church-online-services-covid.html
Wagner, S. A., Mattson, R. E., Davila, J., Johnson, M. D., & Cameron, N. M. (2020). Touch me just enough: The intersection of adult attachment, intimate touch, and marital satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(6), 1945–1967. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407520910791
Wighting, M.J., Liu, J. & Rovai, A.P. (2008). Distinguishing sense of community and motivation characteristics between online and traditional college students. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(3), 285-295. Retrieved February 13, 2022 from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/106743/.
Written by J.J. Fiore, Pacifica Graduate Institute
American society is undergoing a cultural zeitgeist connected to ritual, ceremony, and spirituality as part of community building and healing. The global pandemic has intensified a collective recognition of the increased need for community activism, healing, and inward reflection like soul and shadow work. After the racist murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 and the rise of anti-Asian violence during COVID-19, communities have been gathering physically and virtually at workplaces, yoga studios, places of worship, and beyond to support each other through shared trauma. Many White Americans are experiencing a consciousness shift to engage more deeply in understanding their roles and responsibilities in a broken, racist system. We can also observe the increasing popularity of Women’s Circles that mirror Indigenous ways of gathering to honor the sacredness of their whole selves, a contrast to parts of previous feminist movements that, even in consciousness raising circles, often centered in finding a place within patriarchal systems. The pandemic has brought on the “Great Resignation” in corporate America; folks have realized that their work in the capitalist machine is not fulfilling or sustainable and are quitting to build something better in their lives. Browsing social media, we can see the rising popularity of spiritual retreats, simple rituals like daily morning routines, and renewed interest in Pagan and Indigenous rituals aligned with the moon cycles and change of seasons. Medicinal mushrooms are gaining attention as folks explore ceremony influenced by and in relationship with nature. These examples support my paper’s practice-based theory around community healing in this cultural moment, much of it spiritual in nature and reflective of Indigenous values of kinship and community with each other and our environment.
True to a capitalist society, we can also witness the commodification of spirituality. We see reverence of social media influencers who promise to have answers to other people’s individual problems, acquiring large followings and promoting products for financial gain while selling superficial, overnight life “transformations.” There is a very real danger that these trends become part of capitalist appropriation that caters to egos and fixates on profits, and yet they have the potential to fuel a paradigm shift that recognizes Indigenous contributions and honors Indigenous practices. We are coming to remember the integration of the mind, body, and spirit, the power of healing together in community, and our genuine connection with the environment.
In his article, “Alternative Knowledges and the Future of Community Psychology,” Gone (2016) prompted us to consider the risk of “further hegemonic marginalization of long-subjugated knowledges” (p. 320) if community psychologists epistemologically dismiss knowledge that does not fit Western methods of evidence-based practice. While acknowledging “truly stunning contributions” made by biomedicine, Gone (2016) emphasized the role that “alternative knowledges” (p.320) serve in supporting healing around the world. It is simply not possible for many Indigenous methods to be scientifically evaluated in the same way as biomedical treatments. Nonetheless, alternative knowledges have an important purpose in community healing despite the modernist colonial attempts to dismiss and eradicate them. We need to change Western psychology’s skepticism of the periphery and instead embrace knowledge that comes from beyond the hegemonic requirements of modernism.
Without perpetuating science’s and medicine’s shortcomings and complicity in coloniality, the Western world needs to say “yes, and” to Indigenous and “alternative” ways of healing. Spirituality as part of community healing creates potential for a shift to a new way of being that respects Indigenous knowledge. This paper philosophically recognizes all Indigenous ways of healing as truths, as they always should have been, without requirements of evidence-based practice. I aim to discuss the importance of spirituality, ritual, and ceremony in community healing beyond Western preconceptions of validity, including: (a) how Indigenous groups have traditionally created community healing spaces involving spirituality, ceremony, and ritual; (b) the role of the individual in community healing spaces; (c) the function, importance, and positive potential of including spirituality in community psychology.
Ritual, ceremony, and spirituality have long been a part of healing practices in Indigenous communities around the world. In The Healing Wisdom of Africa, Somé (1998) gifted readers with insight into the Dagara people of West Africa, for whom ritual, ceremony, and spirituality intersect with community life in moments of conflict, death, grief, coming of age with purpose and meaning, and more. Relationships with ancestors and the roles of elders reflect elements of spirituality, ritual, and ceremony that are key for community healing. According to Somé (1998), when wrongdoing takes place in a village, the transgression is disrespectful of the ancestors; the wrongdoer and their descendants experience consequences until the situation is rectified. Responsible for mediating the situation, elders ensure that the acknowledgment of wrongdoing does not alienate or cause further psychological harm to anyone within the community. Elders and communities engage in ritual ceremony rather than shameful, alienating punishment: “Shame is seen in Dagara culture as a collapsing emotional force that paralyzes the self, and therefore, like grief, shame should be experienced only in a sacred, ceremonial context” (Somé, 1998, p.128). Moments to right wrongs are sacred and connected to the spiritual and physical healing of the community. The wrongdoer is not isolated and left to deal with the consequences of their actions on their own. Rather, everyone in the community is involved in and responsible for the well-being of the whole, including the ancestors.
This concept of community healing offers an opportunity to examine the Western focus on individualism that has pervaded clinical psychology. While options like group therapy exist, clinical psychology is often rooted in the practice of one-on-one sessions between a therapist and client in a hierarchical relationship where the therapist is the expert, and the client is the subject. While this certainly is a helpful and supportive practice for many people, the focus on the individual reflects Western modernism’s values around individualism. In fact, this approach risks placing the responsibility for healing squarely on the individual, without taking into consideration the circumstances, history, culture, and context surrounding a person’s lived experience. Intellectual leaders like Seymour Sarason set an example for challenging this emphasis on individualism by suggesting that psychologists should always add “in our culture” and “at this time and place” to any statement about human behavior (Trickett, 2015, p.100). Western community psychology has an opportunity to learn from Indigenous knowledge and recontextualize notions of individuality within community-centered healing, ritual, and ceremony. The West has misconceptions around people losing their individuality when in community, but this is not actually the case:
Individuality, not individualism, is the cornerstone of community. Individuality is synonymous with uniqueness. This means that a person and his or her unique gifts are irreplaceable… a community can flourish and survive only when each member flourishes, living in the full potential of his or her purpose. To honor and support its members is in the self-interest of any community. (Somé, 1998, p. 91)
Rather than place all responsibility for healing on the individual, Indigenous healing practices rooted in spirituality, ceremony, and ritual create opportunities for recovery within the safety of the community. This shared responsibility is vastly different from the individualistic approach offered by modernist approaches to psychology.
Spirituality can be a powerful and influential force in community life, thus is an important consideration for psychologists. Spirituality has “positive potential” to contribute to individual well-being, community-building, and collective action for the common good (Maton, 2001, p. 607; Dalton et al., 2007). However, alongside this positive potential, spirituality’s power carries risk of contributing to violence and exclusion when organized religion uses its influence as a tool to harm and systemically oppress those who are othered by the group (Maton, 2001). Spiritual communities can be compelling forces for healing and decolonization if they resist patriarchal, problematic power dynamics historically found in Christianity, Catholicism, and other groups that use religion and spirituality as a means of control and conformity. Indigenous spiritual traditions show us that hierarchy does not have to exist among humans or between humans and nature. If all of humankind and nature is understood and treated as divine, we can exist in kinship.
This shift toward spiritual community healing in the American zeitgeist is informed by Indigenous legacies that we have neglected all along, due to the influence of the White supremacist, patriarchal, colonial regime of knowledge that has discredited ways of being and knowing that did not fit into the violent exclusivity of modernism. Coloniality has isolated the individual from others and created separation within one’s own mind, body, and spirit; sentiments of loneliness, emptiness, and dissatisfaction have been replaced with capitalist materialism and human production. In this time of global crisis, spirituality, ritual, and ceremony as part of community healing offer the field of community psychology possibilities for reshaping the way we connect to ourselves, each other, and the Earth.
Dalton, J., Elias, M., & Wandersman, A. (2007). Community psychology: Linking individuals and communities. (pp 171-199; 264-269; 280-283). Australia: Wadsworth.
Gone, G.P. (2016). Alternative knowledges and the future of community psychology: Provocations from an American Indian healing traditions. American Journal in Community Psychology, 58 (3-4), 314–321.
Maton, K. I. (2001). Spirituality, religion, and community psychology: Historical perspective, positive potential, and challenges. Journal of Community Psychology, 29(5), 605-613.
Somé, M.P. (1998). The healing wisdom of Africa: Finding life purpose through nature, ritual, and community. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam.
Trickett, E. (2015). Seymour Sarason remembered: “Plus ça change...”, “Psychology Misdirected”, and “Community Psychology and the Anarchist Insight.” American Journal of Community Psychology, 56 (3-4), 197-204.
J.J. Fiore is a student at Pacifica Graduate Institute and can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Written by Carrie-Anne Thomas, Pacifica Graduate Institute
In Buddhist cosmology, hungry ghosts or “pretas” are sisyphean beings that characterize one of the six realms of cyclic existence. They are tormented by the insatiability of their desires suffering in perpetual starvation. For the pretas, the world is a defiled, miserable place, defined by death and disease. They drink water and taste urine; they eat fruit, and it rots in their mouths. The preta condition is characterized by two qualities: a vacuous hunger and an internalized lens that negatively skews all phenomena.
At this juncture in the history of the United States, the preta archetype roams our streets as freely as the gun-toting lone ranger and the Hollywood starlet, albeit it in a phantasmagoric fashion; it represents a capacity for greed and self-delusion that exists in all humans, exacerbated by the conditions of late capitalism. In “Narcissism and the Empty Self: To Have or To Be”, Frank Gruba-McCallister (2007) hypothesized that affluenza, an excess-oriented, socially transmitted condition that arises from the desire to be relentlessly wealthier and more successful, acted as a bridge between habits of overconsumption and the narcissistic personality. He used Philip Cushman’s historically situated psychological theory of the empty self to explore the origins of this style of being-in-the-world, Eric Fromm’s homo consumens (p. 187). According to Cushmann, the empty self-emerged from a post-World War II growth economy in which traumas incurred by alienation and loss were soothed by fast food, luxury items and endless outlets for entertainment and escapism (1990). Through propaganda and advertising, consumption quickly became affiliated with the assumption of moral duty and a virtue of national identity. While free-market capitalism seduced consumers with the promise of ubiquitous upward economic mobility and comfortable, easy lives, the competitive individualism intrinsic in this system instilled in its subjects an existential sense of inferiority. Even as generation after generation dispel capitalism’s effectiveness and rail against its ecological impacts, the mythologies disseminated by the system have inculcated within us the unconscious belief that there is no alternative to capitalism, a sociopolitical affect that Mark Fisher (2009) named “capitalist realism” (p. 2). Capitalist realism is not strictly an ideology– it constitutes a pervasive atmosphere that influences all aspects of social life including modes of cultural production, political and economic activity and the reification of selective values and trends. It operates on the level of emotion and desire by motivating the “why” behind our actions; for instance, why do we remain attached to unattainable fantasies in the vein of the “American Dream” despite evidence that neoliberal capitalist structures and the “opportunities” they provide have failed to infuse our lives with meaning and purpose? What do we do when the thing that we desire is actually an obstacle to our wellbeing? Why do these dilemmas continue to replicate themselves in leftist circles and organizing spaces, dampening the creative capacities of individuals that profess to “know better”? How do we foster life-affirming attachments and strengthen our transspecies relational networks by cultivating an emancipatory, liberated affect? We can begin by considering what “satisfaction” and “fulfillment” mean in our current contextualized moment, what Jason Moore (2016) has referred to as the “Capitalocene”.
Todd McGowan’s Capitalism and Desire (2016) departs from earlier critiques of capitalism and offers an analysis of the illusory/ elusory pleasure that capitalism provides. In reality, the satisfaction of desire can be quite painful, as the object of our desire is always a representation of an ideal, a map of a territory and never the territory itself. Under this system, we are perpetually suspended in a strange purgatory where the ultimate pharmacon, commodified, sparkles just out of reach. The whole ordeal has the effect of producing a kind of unconscious satisfaction that we cannot identify as such because we experience it as dissatisfying. This illusion allows us to hold the tension of simultaneously enjoying ourselves and indulging the belief that something better is waiting just around the corner, manifested in a newer, glossier addition. Articulated by McGowan (2016),
“The capitalist regime produces subjects who cling feverishly to the image of their own dissatisfaction and thus to the promise, constantly made explicit in capitalist society, of a way to escape this dissatisfaction through either the accumulation of capital or the acquisition of the commodity.” (p. 11)
Correspondingly, the teleological, progress-oriented utopianism that pervades North American leftist politics and the affect of despair that engulfs organizing spaces when desired results are not immediately achieved is an obscured demonstration of the capitalist system in top form. Why is it that we consistently couch our political projects in terms of “success” and “failure”? Why is the art of resistance, the struggle for collective liberation, consistently assaulted by the same dualisms that colonized us (in varying degrees) in the first place?
About affect, Sara Ahmed (2004) has theorized that emotions are relational in that they invoke response-ability, whether that be a moving-towards or moving-away-from. In the affective economies that Ahmed wrote about, feelings do not reside in subjects or objects but are produced as effects of circulation. Emotions produce the “surfaces” or boundaries that allow the individual and the collective to be delineated as if they were discrete, static objects and not dynamic, processual entanglements. At the same time, the “I” is already cast within the context of a broader “We”. Emotions move sideways when affects are distributed horizontally amongst bodies and backwards as subjects/objects are affected through various histories. Kerry Gibson and Leslie Swartz (2008) touched on this phenomenon in “Putting the Heart Back In Community Psychology” when they discussed how past relationships are internalized and are “imbued with emotionality that continues to color people’s relationships in the present”, rippling outwards through the social networks in which one is situated (p. 63). Emotions like shame can be emphasized or generated by how we imagine a perceived other will react to us and can manifest as psychological projections against groups of social “others”. These can become ‘shared’ emotional experiences, and as Gibson and Swartz have articulated, a community can begin to develop an ‘emotional atmosphere’ that possesses its own kind of vitality and influence (p. 63). Within leftist communities, it seems easy to generate affective hate, as we have learned from the attitudes and behaviors exemplified by our oppressors, and we do have a lot to fight against. In this context, an affect of us vs. them creates both an illusion of sameness as a prerequisite for solidarity and an ignorance regarding the qualities that we do have in common with “the enemy”.
In “This is Not a History Lesson; This is Agitation”, Regina Day Langhout (2016) has demonstrated that reflexivity is a research methodology motivated by the search for sameness and the fiction of a concrete, universal truth. The Western philosopher/scientist attempts to keep the world at a distance like a spectator on the other side of a glass facade, interpreting the theatrics and follies of objectified others. One of the drawbacks of a psychology/politics nursed by theory alone is that in the pursuit of a faultless explanation, we replicate and reify ideas that may not actually apply in various contexts. To embody diffraction requires that we embody the nuances of our unique positionalities and challenge the habituated compulsion to replicate familiar-yet-damaging affective currents (see capitalist realism, ironic nihilism, etc.). This requires resilience, adaptability, and a willingness to think/feel/move strategically and advantageously in ways that benefit all of our relations. Langhout proposed that we use diffraction as a model to understand how entangled relationships create change and how they can constructively and destructively interfere with each other (p. 325). Citing the work of Gloria Anzaldua, Langhout proposed that we can use diffractive methodologies to dissolve the kinds of “us” vs. “them” dualisms that I referenced earlier. I believe that liberal and leftist milieus that seek to advance “wokeness” politics within a mainstream context could benefit affectively from engaging with this concept.
My hope is by considering the connective tissues between affect theory and community psychology (Gibon & Swartz, 2008, Gruba-Mccallister, 2007, Langhout, 2016), we may continue to deepen and expand our strategies for sustaining resilient activist communities. I also want to uplift the idea that shared joy as a praxis compliments what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney (2013) meant by “study”— that all communal activities are implicated in a common, irreversibly intellectual practice, and when we create joy with our comrades, we are directly disobeying the mandates of oppressive forces that want to keep us spiritually neutered and miserable. Perhaps we can learn how to collectively alchemize dissatisfaction with the status quo with vibrant, unsettled joie de vivre, creating networks of resistance through the ripeness of our love.
Ahmed, S. (2004). Affective economies. Social Text, 22(2), 117–139. https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-22-2_79-117
Fisher, M. (2009). Capitalist realism: Is there no alternative? Zero Books.
Gibson, K., & Swartz, L. (2008). Putting the “heart” back into community psychology: Some South African examples. Psychodynamic Practice, 14(1), 59–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/14753630701769006
Gruba-Mccallister, F. (2007). Narcissism and the empty self: To have or to be. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 63(2).
Harney, S., & Moten, F. (2013). The undercommons: Fugitive planning & black study. Minor Compositions.
Langhout, R. D. (2016). This is not a history lesson; this is agitation: A call for a methodology of diffraction in US-based community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 58(3-4), 322–328. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12039
McGowan, T. (2016). Capitalism and desire: The psychic cost of free markets. Columbia University Press.
Moore, J. & Parenti, C. (2016). Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism. Oakland, CA, PM Press.