Community and Power
Nelson, G. & Prilleltensky, J (2005).
Community and Power
We would like you to think about the four following situations:
1. A situation in which you experienced a sense of community through bonding, close relationships and attachment.
2. A time when you felt excluded and isolated.
3. A situation in which you felt empowered to do something or achieve something.
4. An occasion in which you felt powerless and without a sense of control.
Write down how you felt in each one of these situations.
In this chapter you will learn about community and power. The specific aims of the chapter are to:
■ define and critique the concepts
■ study their value-base
■ identify their implications for the promotion of well-being and liberation and for the perpetuation of oppression.
Have you done the warm up exercise? How did you feel when you experienced a sense of community? Did you feel supported, appreciated? Did you feel constrained?
What about power? Did you feel good when you were in control of a situation? Did power ever get to your head? Most people experience both sides of community and power: positive aspects and negative aspects.
Positive aspects of community include social support, cohesion and working together to achieve common aims. Negative aspects of community include rigid norms, conformity, exclusion, segregation and disrespect for diversity. Positive aspects of power include the ability to achieve goals in life, a sense of mastery and a feeling of control. Negative aspects of power include the capacity to inflict damage or to perpetuate inequality. Our challenge as community psychologists is to promote the growth-enhancing aspects of community and power and to diminish their negative potential. We want to use community and power io promote social justice and not to stifle creativity or perpetuate the status quo.
Our work is difficult because it is highly contextual. It's hard to make rules that apply to all contexts. On one hand, we know intuitively that sharing happy and sad moments with friends and others is beneficial for personal well-being. On the other hand, groups can e %vertu! norms of conformity that suppress the creativity individuality of their meml similarly, we know that disempowered people conk use more htical power to advance eir legitimate aims, hut that doesn't mean that more is always a good thing, neither for disempowered nor for over-empowered people.- • 4fisempowered does not make a person into a right-eous individ ese potential scenano 4.. us that the outcomes of community and power are highly contextual. We need to know the specific circumstances and dynamics of community and power belOre we endorse either of them. Who will benefit from a set of community norms? Who will gain and who will lose from giving a certain group of people more power? What is the impact of community and power for well-being and liberation? These are the key questions that we want to address in this chapter.
Community and Power
Community psychology (CP) has traditionally emphasized the role of community over power in promoting well-being. The sense of community metaphor discussed in Chapter 2 dominated the field's narrative for its first decade or so. In a corrective move, Rappaport (1981,1987) introduced the concept of empowerment to indicate that power and control over community resources would be just as important as a feeling of communion. As we will see in this chapter, the concept of empowerment has li mitations of its own, but at the time it was introduced it served an important fimction: it drew attention to power dynamics affecting well-being. Feminist critics of empowerment like Stephanie Riger (1993) pointed out some risks inherent in the concept. First, she reminded us of the danger of swinging the pendulum too much towards individual power and forgetting the need for sense of community. Second, she recognized that empowerment may become another psychological variable that would lead to individual changes instead of social changes. Riger's critique is reminiscent of Bakan's (1966) distinction between agency and communion. Agency is the power to assert ourselves, whereas communion is the need to belong to something larger than ourselves. The conflict between these two complementary tendencies is played out in the field of CP through the tension between empowerment and community.
In this book, we wish to avoid dichotomies such as community or power. We wish to push the CP agenda further and claim that psychological empowerment and empowering processes are not enough without social justice and a redistribution of resources (Speer, 2002). At the same time, achieving power without a sense of community, within and across groups, may lead to untoward effects (Nisbet,1953).
Without empowerment we risk maintaining the status quo and without community we risk treating people as objects. Let's explore this thesis and the ways in which these two concepts complement each other.
What Are Community and Power?
At its most basic level, the word community implies a group or groups of citizens who have something in rommot. We can think of a geographical community such as your neighbourhood or country or we can think of a relational community such as a group of friends or your religious congregation (Bess, Fietv-i, Sonn & t3;11:01.1, 2002). Members of a relational group may share a culture or a corniTdon interrcr
There are countless forces and dynamics that bring people together. Some of us feel quite close to the community of community psychologists, while other feel close to the fans of a sport team or to members religious grow- -'‘-'mt
-1-zs can feel close to these three groups at. the same tin:
-can belong to multiple communi- ties concurrently-Of meanings of the word 'community' we have chosen to concentrate on two that are important to the work of community psychologists: sense of community and social capital.
Sense of community. Seymour Sarason (1974), one of the founders of the field of CP, identified sense of community as central to the endeavour of the field.
In his view, sense of community captured something very basic about being human: our need for affiliation in times of sorrow, our need for sharing in times of joy; and our need to be with people at all other times. He defined sense of community as:
the sense that one belongs in and is meaningfully a part of a larger collectivity; the sense that although there may be conflict between the needs of the individual and the collectivity, or among different groups in the collectivity, these conflicts must be resolved in a way that does not destroy the psychological sense of community; the sense that there is a network of and structure of relationships that strengthens rather than dilutes feelings of loneliness. (Sarason, 1988, p. 41 )
Since Sarason's (1974) coinage of the term, others have tried to operationalize and distil the meaning of sense of community, all in an effort to understand-the positive or negative effects of this phenomenon. McMillan and Chavis (1986) are credited with formulating an enduring conceptualization of sense of community.
According to them, the concept consists of four domains: (a) membership, (b) influence, (c) integration and fulfillment of needs, and (d) shared emotional connection.
These four domains of sense of community sparked a great deal of interest and research in the field of CP. A special issue of the Journal of Community Psychology in 1996 (volume 4) and a recent book on the subject summarize very well progress in the area (Fisher, Sonn & Bishop, 2002).
The interest in communities is justified in a world where groups intersect and experience conflict over resources. We live in a world where communities of various identities share space, time, work, past, present and future. Each community has to value its own diversity as well as the diversity present in other groups.
What, on the surface, may look similar may hide vast differences. Not all aboriginal people share the same culture (Dudgeon, Mallard, Oxenham & Fielder, 2002), nor do all immigrants experience the same challenges (see Chapter 17). We can talk about a community of women, within which there are obviously multiple communities of chicanes, aboriginal, African-American, privileged, poor, disabled and able bodied women. Every time we invoke a group of people, there are going to be multiple identities within it (Arellano & Ayala-Alcantar, 2002; Serrano-Garcia & Bond, 1994). Communities may define themselves in exclusive terms reminiscent of apartheid or in inclusive terms reminiscent of solidarity.
Social Capital. While sense of community attracted a lot of attention within CP, allied terms such as 'community cohesion' and 'social capital' gained currency in other disciplines such as sociology, community development and political science.
We find much in common between these two concepts and CP (Perkins, Hughey & Speer, 2002). In essence, they speak about the potential of communities to improve the well-being of their members through the synergy of associations, mutual trust, sense of community and collective action (Kawachi, Kennedy & Wilkinson, 1999; Veenstra, 2001). In short, they deal with the intersection of people, well-being and community. The main difference between sense of community and social capital lies in the level of analysis. Whereas sense of community is typically measured and discussed at the group or neighborhoods level, social capital research has looked at the results of cohesion at state and national levels. Community psychologists Douglas Perkins and Adam Long (2002) maintain that sense of community is only a part of social capital. They suggest that social capital consists of four dimensions: (a) sense of community, (b) neighboring, (c) collective efficacy and (d) citizen participation.
In his widely popular book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam (2000) distinguished between physical, human and social capital:
Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals — social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. (p. 19)
In our view, social capital refers to collective resources consisting of civic participation, networks, norms of reciprocity and organizations that foster (a) trust among citizens and (b) actions to improve the common good. Figure 5.1 shows the various dimensions of social capital identified by Stone and Hughes (2002) in their study of social capital in Australian families. As may be seen, social capital entails networks of trust and reciprocity that lead to positive outcomes at multiple levels of analysis, including individual, family, community, civic, political and economic well-being. Figure 5.1 summarizes the types and characteristics of networks. Density, size and diversity are key factors in the quality of community connections. Another important feature of this figure is that the hypothesized outcomes influence the very determinants of social capital. Some of the outcomes, such as civic participation, may generate more social capital. Accordingly, we should see determinants and outcomes of social capital as exerting reciprocal and not unidirectional influence on each other.
Social capital, in the form of connections of trust and participation in public affairs, enhances community capacity to create structures of cohesion and support that benefit the population and produce positive health, welfare, educational and social outcomes. Vast research indicates that cohesive communities and civic particI ipation in public affairs enhance the well-being of the population. Communities with higher participation in volunteer organizations, political parties, local and professional associations fare much better in terms of health, education, crime and well-being than communities with low rates of participation. This finding has been replicated at different times across various states, provinces and countries (Putnam, 2000; Schuller,2001; Stone & Hughes,2002; Wilkinson, 1996).
The following are partial sample items taken frorn the Social Capital Community Benchmark Study sponsored by the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University. The complete tool is available at http://www.cfsv.org/ communitysurvey/docs/survey_instrument pdf.
5. This study is about community, so we'd like to start by asking what gives you a sense of community or a sense of belonging. I'm going to read a list. For each one say 'yes' if it gives you a sense of community or a sense of belonging and 'no' if it does not.
Your old or new friends
The people in your neighbourhood
Your place of worship
The people you work with or go to school with
6. Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?
16. Overall, how much impact do you think people like you can have In making your community a better place to live?
26. Which of the following things have you done in the past twelve months;
Signed a petition?
Attended a political meeting or ray?
Worked on a community project?
Participated in any demonstrations, protests, boycotts Of marches?
33. I' m going to read a list. Just answer 'yes' If you have been involved in the past 12 months with this kind of group: •
An adult sports club or league, or an outdoor activity club?
A youth organization like a youth sports league, the scouts, 4-H clubs, and boys and girls clubs?
A parents' association, like the PTA or PTO, or other school support or service clubs?
A neighborhood association, like a block association?
A labor union?
A support group Of self-help program?
34. Did any of the groups that you are involved with take any local action for social or political reform in the past 12 months?
Since the 1980s, community psychologists have discussed empowerment more often than power per se (Speer,2002; Zimmerman,2000). For that reason, we begin with a brief review of the former.
Empowerment. Empowerment refers to both processes and outcomes occurring at various levels of analyses (Prilleltensky, 1994a; Zimmerman, 2000). Empowerment is about obtaining, producing or enabling power. This can happen at the individual, group or community and social levels. Rappaport claimed that empowerment is 'a process: the mechanism by which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over their lives' (1981, p. 3); whereas the Cornell Empowerment
Group defined it as 'an intentional ongoing process centered in the local community, involving mutual respect, critical reflection, caring, and group participation, through which people lacking an equal share of valued resources gain greater access to and control over those resources' (1989, p. 2). The latter definition starts talking about the process but ends with an emphasis on outcomes: control over resources. We agree with Speer (2002) that a balance must be reached between research and action on empowering processes and empowered outcomes. Otherwise, we risk sacrificing one for the other. Not only are the two components equally important, but they are mutually reinforcing as well. Based on the work of Zimmerman (2000) and Speer and colleagues (Speer & Hughey, 1995; Speer, Hughey, Gensheimer & Adams-Leavitt,1995), we represent in Table 5.1 the various domains
Table 5.1 Empowerment processes and outcomes at multiple levels of analysis
Levels of Analysis Processes Outcomes
training in critical thinking
participation in action groups
connecting with people in similar situations
training in value-based practice
participation in social action
expanded options in life
sense of control
training in group facilitation
participation in decision making
sense of common purpose
participation in social action
solidarity with other groups
influences public opinion
access to government
participation in civic organizations
target local issues
improved quality of life
enhanced health and well-being
improved access to services
coalitions for well-being
tolerance of diversity
struggles for democracy
struggles for liberation
solidarity across social groups
political and economic literacy
support for disadvantaged people
control of resources by poor
progressive social policies
resists economic neo-liberalism
Expanded from Lord and Hutchison (1993), Speer and Hughey (1995) and Zimmerman (2000) and dynamics of empowerment at four levels of analysis. Similar to Figure 5.1 on social capital, some of the outcomes are reinforcing of the processes. Better empowerment outcomes should generate more empowerment processes and vice versa.
The concept of empowerment stimulated much discussion in CP, with two special issues of the American Journal of Community Psychology dedicated to it in 1994 (Serrano-Garcia & Bond, 1994) and 1995 (Perkins & Zimmerman, 1995).
Yet, despite much progress in the field, some key issues remain underexplored. In our view, these issues pertain to the multifaceted and dynamic nature of power.
Empowerment is not a stable or global state of affairs. Some people feel empowered in some settings but not in others, whereas some people work to empower one group while oppressing others along the way. A more refined concept of power is needed to understand better the concept of empowerment and its nuances.
From Empowerment to Power. Power is everywhere; it's in interpersonal relationships, families, organizations, corporations, neighbourhoods, sports and countries. Power can be used for ethical or unethical purposes. It can promote well-being but it can also perpetuate suffering.
A more dynamic conceptualization of power is needed, one that takes into account the multifaceted nature of identities and the changing nature of social settings. Moreover, we need a definition of power that takes into account subjective and objective forces influencing our actions as community psychologists.
In the light of the need for a comprehensive conceptualization of power, we offer a few parameters for clarification of the concept. Based on previous work, we present them as a series of ten complementary postulates (Prilleltensky, in press).
1. Power refers to the capacity and opportunity to fulfil or obstruct personal, relational or collective needs.
2. Power has psychological and political sources, manifestations and consequences.
3. We can distinguish between power to strive for well-being, power to oppress and power to resist oppression and strive for liberation.
4. Power can be overt or covert, subtle or blatant, hidden or exposed.
5. The exercise of power can apply to self, others and collectives.
6. Power affords people multiple identities as individuals seeking well-being, engaging in ppression or resisting domination.
7. Whereas people may be oppressed in one context, at a particular time and place, they may act as oppressors at another time and place.
8. Because of structural factors such as social class, gender, ability and race, people may enjoy differential levels of power.
9. Degrees of power are also affected by personal and social constructs such as beauty, intelligence and assertiveness; constructs that enjoy variable status within different cultures.
10.The exercise of power can reflect varying degrees of awareness with respect to the impact of one's actions.
We expand here on the first and main postulate of our conceptualization of power. We claim that power is a combination of ability and opportunity to influence a course of events. This definition merges elements of agency or self-determination on the one hand, with structure or external determinants on the other. Agency refers to ability whereas structure refers to opportunity. The exercise of power is based on the juxtaposition of wishing to change something and having the opportunity, afforded by social and historical circumstances, to do so. Ultimately, the outcome of power is based on the constant interaction and reciprocal determinism of agency and contextual dynamics (Bourdieu, 1990; Martin & Sugarman, 1999, 2000).
People who are born into privilege may be afforded educational and employment opportunities that people on the other side of town could never dream of. Privilege can lead to a good education, to better job prospects and to life satisfaction. These, in turn, can increase self-confidence and personal empowerment. Lack of structural opportunities, such as the absence of good schools or economic resources, undermines children's capacities for the development of talents, control and personal empowerment (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; Prilleltensky, Laurendeau, et al., 2001).
Another defining feature of power is its evasive nature. You can't always tell it's there. Nor can you tell how it's operating. Power is not tantamount to coercion, for it can operate in very subtle and concealed ways (Bourdieu, 1986, 1990; Foucault, 1979a). According to social critics such as Bourdieu, Foucault and Rose, people come to regulate themselves through the internalization of cultural prescriptions. Hence, what may seem on the surface to be freedom may be questioned as a form of acquiescence whereby citizens restrict their life choices to coincide with a narrow range of socially sanctioned options? In his book Powers of Freedom, Rose (1999) claimed that:
Disciplinary techniques and moralizing injunctions as to health, hygiene and civility are no longer required; the project of responsible citizenship has been fused with individuals' projects for themselves. What began as a social norm here ends as a personal desire.
Individuals act upon themselves and their families in terms of the languages, values and techniques made available to them by professions, disseminated through the apparatuses of the mass media or sought out by the troubled through the market. Thus, in a very significant sense, it has become possible to govern without governing society— to govern through the `responsibilized' and 'educated' anxieties and aspirations of individuals and their families. (p. 88) (original emphasis)
The point is that if governments or rulers want to exert power over their dominion, they don't have to police people because people police themselves through the internalization of norms and regulations (Chomsky, 2002). The problem with this is that many groups absorb rules and regulations that are not necessarily in their best interests, as can be seen in Box 5.2.
The Power to Delude Ourselves?
In April 2002, I, Isaac, travelled to California to teach a course at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria. I took a shuttle from the LA Airport to Carpinteria. The driver, a congenial young man, started talking with passengers about the economy, the cost of living in California, housing and traffic. He shared with us that he had a BA in chemistry and that he worked full time In a laboratory. In order to afford the cost of living in California, he also drove a shuttle bus from the Los Angeles Airport several times a week, on weekends and after work. He had two demanding jobs. While talking about the economy tie said that he is 41 favour of a flat tax, because 'the rich should not be punished for being rich'. I thought to myself, here is this guy who is working probably 80 or more hours a week arid cannot
afford the cost of living In California, and he is favouring a most regressive tax system that benefits the rich arid disadvantages people like him because there are fewer public resources, little public housing, arid poor social services. I then arrived at the hotel and went to the gym.
As I was cycling or the exercise bike I ferried on the TV which was tuned in to the Suzie Orman show. Suzie gives financial advice over the phone. One of her stock phrases was that your net worth was a reflection of your self-worth. She told people that if they did not achieve financial wealth It was because they did not think they deserved it! Here I was, a community psychologist trained in thinking that people's problems have to do with contexts arid circumstances arid opportunities In life, and in less than 30 minutes I encountered two cultural discourses completely undermining my message. Is culture so powerful that it can delude people into thinking that if they have problems it's their own fault? Was the driver - deluding hirriself? What type of social power was at play in the case of the driver and in the case of Suzie Orman?
Power, then, emanates from the confluence of personal motives and cultural injunctions. But, as we have seen, personal motives are embedded in the very cultural injunctions with which they interact. Hence, it is not just a matter of people acting on the environment, but of individuals coming into contact with external forces that, to some extent, they have already internalized. The implication is that we cannot just take at face value that individual actions evolve from innate desires.
Desires are embedded in norms and regulations (Bourdieu, 1990; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). This is not to adopt a socially deterministic position however; for even though a person's experience is greatly shaped by the prescriptions of the day, agency and personal power are not completely erased (Bourdieu, 1998; Martin & Sugarman, 2000).
Think, for example, about eating disorders. It is pretty clear that this psychological problem cannot be dissociated from a culture that exalts thinness. Whereas many women may wish to lose weight for health reasons, many others pursue thinness because it is culturally and socially prescribed. We cannot simply say that women have the power to lose weight or be healthy if they want to. We cannot claim that they have the power to decide what is good for them, for that would be a simplification. When many of us internalize norms that may be counterproductive to our own well-being, this process restricts our choices. Seemingly, we can do whatever we want. We can exercise or we can binge and vomit, but our choices are highly circumscribed by norms of conformity we have made our own, not necessarily because they are good for us, but because we are subjected to social influences all the time. Instead of rebelling against societal practices that feed us junk food and junk images, we censor ourselves. No need for physical chains, many of us wear psychological chains.
Why Are Community and Power So Important?
Sense of community, social support and social capital can produce beneficial results at the individual, communal and societal levels. Different kinds of social support may be given and received. Instrumental support refers to the provision of resources, such as lending money, helping a neighbour with babysitting or sharing notes with a student who couldn't make a class. These are concrete actions that people take to help each other. Emotional support, in turn, refers to the act of listening and showing empathy towards others. When a friend shares a problem with you, you show emotional support by being there, listening non-judgementally and making yourself available. Bonding, sharing and building relationships through common experiences can activate either type of support.
Social support can increase or restore health and well-being in two ways (Cohen & Wills, 1985). First, social support can enhance well-being through bonding, affirming experiences, sharing of special moments, attachment and contributions to one's self-esteem. The more support I have the better I feel and the more likely I am to develop well-being and resilience in the face of adversity (Prilleltensky, Laurendeau, et al., 2001). There is an accumulated positive effect of having had good interpersonal experiences. According to our model of well-being, relational wellbeing leads to personal well-being. The second mechanism through which social support enhances well-being is by providing emotional and instrumental support in ti mes of crises. As we noted in the previous chapter, the stressful reactions associated with divorce, moves, transitions or death may be buffered by the protective influences of helpful, supportive relatives and friends.
Cohen and Wills (1985) posited the buffering hypothesis to indicate that social support may serve to enhance coping and to mitigate the negative effects of stress.
In their view, social support may prevent the perception of events as stressful because people have sufficient instrumental and/or emotional resources to cope with untoward situations. A person with sufficient supports may not experience a situation as stressful, whereas others, without supports, may perceive the situation as very threatening. A father who suddenly becomes unemployed but who has a partner with a stable job and parents with economic resources may not experience the loss of a job as does a father with no parents, no back-ups and several kids to feed. The very phenomenon of unemployment is experienced differently by the two men.
But social support can buffer the effects of stress even when situations are perceived as stressful. In the case of the man with supports, he will not worry as much about his children because others will come through. In the second case, the father has good grounds to worry about feeding his family. In effect, Cohen and Wills (1985) postulate that supports can help in reducing the very perception of a threat and in increasing the act of coping with the threat.
Various channels lead to the positive effects of social support (Barrera, 2000). We can think of agents and recipients of support, where the former is the one providing the help and the latter is the one benefiting from it. Relational well-being is characterized by relationships in which people assume the dual roles of agents and recipients. Support may be given and received from a single agent to a single recipient (friends talking to each other), from a single agent to multiple recipients (grandmother helping her daughter and grandchildren with shopping and cooking), from multiple agents to a single recipient (a self-help group where various participants encourage and support a person going through a hard time) and from multiple agents to multiple recipients (a group of women raising funds and lobbying the government to help refugee women). In some cases, the recipients are single individuals, whereas in others they are small or large groups. Let's explore the significance of social support for the various recipients.
At the individual level, compared with people with lower supports, those who enjoy more support from relatives or friends live longer, recover faster from illnesses, report better health and well-being and cope better with adversities (Cohen et al., 2000; Ornish, 1997). At the group level, studies have shown that women with metastatic breast cancer have better chances of survival if they participate in support groups. After a follow up of 48 months, Spiegel and colleagues (1989) found that all the women in the control group had died, whereas a third of those who received group support were still alive. The average survival for the women in the support group was 36 months, compared to 19 months in the control group. Richardson and colleagues made similar claims of a sample of patients with hematologic malignancies. They claimed that 'the use of special educational and supportive programs designed to improve patient compliance are associated with significant prolongation of patient survival' (Richardson, Sheldon, Krailo & Levine, 1990, p. 356). Finally, Fawzy and colleagues (Fawzy et al., 1993) found that patients with malignant melanoma were more likely to die or experience recurrence of the disease if they did not receive the group intervention that the experimental group received. Out of 34 patients in each group, of those who received group support, only 7 had experienced recurrence and 3 had died at the five-year follow-up, compared with 13 and 10, respectively, in the control group. Altogether, these three teams of researchers found that social support can enhance health and longevity in the face of deadly diseases.
In the psychological realm, self-help groups provide support for people experiencing addictions, psychiatric conditions, weight problems and bereavement. In addition, support groups are also available for relatives and friends caring for others with physical or emotional problems. Estimates of participation in self-help groups in the United States range from 7.5 million in 1992 to 10 million in 1999 (Levy, 2000). Moreover, self-help/mutual aid groups can be found in many countries throughout the world (Lavoie, Borkman & Gidron, 1994a, 1994b).
Keith Humphreys is one of the leading researchers in the field of self-help groups. In a study of people with substance abuse problems, Humphreys and colleagues found positive results for African-American participants attending Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. The sample of 253 participants showed significant improvements in employment, alcohol and drug use, legal complications and psychological and family well-being (Humphreys, Mavis & Stoffelmayr, 1994). In another study Humphreys and Moos (1996) compared the outcomes of self-help groups versus professional help on people who abused alcohol. The outcomes were positive for both groups, but the cost of the self-help option was considerably lower. As in these two examples, there is a vast amount of research documenting the positive effects of self-help groups. The research provides evidence that lay people can be very helpful to each other, even in the absence of professionals leading the groups.
The helper—therapy principle, according to which the provider of help benefits from assisting others, has been documented in a variety of groups and settings.
Roberts, Salem et al., (1999) showed that providing help to others predicted improvements in psychosocial adjustment of people with serious mental illness.
Kingree and Thompson (2000), in turn, demonstrated that mutual help groups helped adult children of alcoholics to reduce depression and substance abuse.
Kingree (2000) also found a positive correlation between levels of participation in the group and increases in self-esteem. Borkman (1999) theorizes that members of mutual help groups nurture each other through circles of sharing. Members normalize each other's experiences and provide non-stigmatizing meaning to their struggles in life. These hypotheses have been confirmed by, among others, the case of GROW, a self-help group for people with psychiatric disabilities that originated in Australia (Yip, 2002 ).
But the benefits of participating in mutual help groups extend beyond the participants themselves. Caregivers who attend these groups are better able to assist family members and others in need of help. Positive effects were reflected on children and elderly family members who require the attention of the middle generation (Gottlieb, 2000; O'Connor, 2002; Tebes & Irish, 2000). Children whose parents participated in mutual help groups, for example, exhibited fewer depressive symptoms and better social functioning than children whose parents did not attend such groups. The results were sustained at the six-month follow up (Tebes & Irish, 2000).
At the community level, the research demonstrates that communities with high levels of social cohesion experience better health, safety, well-being, education and welfare than societies with low levels of cohesion. Based on US research, Figure 5.2 shows the positive effects of social capital on a number of well-being indicators. Putnam created a measure of social capital based on 'the degree to which a given state is either high or low in the number of meetings citizens go to, the level of social trust its citizens have, the degree to which they spend time visiting one another at home, the frequency with which they vote, the frequency with which they do volunteering and so on' (Putnam,2001, p. 48). He then compared how states with different levels of social capital fare on a number of indicators. Putnam compared states on measures of educational performance, child welfare, TV watching, violent crime, health, tax evasion, tolerance for equality, civic equality and economic equality. The trends in Figure 5.2 are representative of the results overall. States with high levels of social capital and social cohesion enjoy better rates of health, safety, welfare, education and tolerance. As can be seen in the graph, there is a clear gradient: the higher the level of social capital, the better the outcomes.
Figure 5.2 The effects of social capital in different states of the USA
Of particular interest to us is whether social capital and social cohesion can increase health and well-being. There is evidence to support this claim. In a survey of 167,259 people in 39 US states, Kawachi and Kennedy (1999) lent strong support to Putnam's claim that social capital reinforces the health of the population.
Convincing evidence making the link between social cohesion and health is also presented by Berkman (1995), Kawachi et al. (1999), Veenstra (2001) and Wilkinson (1996). Whereas the previous sets of studies investigated the effects of social support on individuals, researchers like Putnam, Berkman, Kawachi and Wilkinson assessed the aggregated effect of social cohesion on entire populations, demonstrating that a sense of community and cohesion can lead to population health.
Recent research in economics demonstrates that fluctuations in gross domestic product (GDP), inflation, unemployment and unemployment benefit levels influence the overall well-being of entire countries. Using data from hundreds of thousands of Europeans from twelve different countries, researchers found that when unemployment and inflation go up, well-being goes down, and when unemployment benefits and GDP go up, so does well-being (DiTella, MacCulloch & Oswald, 2001). In Switzerland, Frey and Stutzer (2002) found that levels of well-being are not affected only by economic measures, but also by democratic participation in referenda. Cantons with higher degrees of referenda and citizen participation report higher degrees of happiness than those with lesser citizen involvement. Taken together, the European research shows that circumstances do matter. Indeed, the average level of subjective well-being is affected by economic and political conditions and not only for those in extreme conditions, for the studies showed effects for the population as a whole.
In a recent and comprehensive review of the literature, Shinn and Toohey (2003) catalogued the effects of community characteristics on their members. Neighbourhoods with high socioeconomic status (SES) are predictive of academic achievement, whereas communities low in SES and high in residential instability are predictive of negative behavioural and emotional outcomes such as conduct disorders and substance abuse. In these poor neighbourhoods, residents also tend to have poor health outcomes, as measured by cardiovascular disease, poor birth weight and premature births. Not surprisingly, exposure to violence tends to be associated with poorer mental-health outcomes, depression, stress and externalizing disorders.
In addition to these correlational studies, Shinn and Toohey report the outcomes of a longitudinal experimental study called 'Moving to Opportunity'. In this study, families living in poor communities in Chicago were given the opportunity to move to other parts of the city or to more affluent suburbs. Children who moved to the suburbs did much better than those who moved within the city, on a number of outcomes. Compared with children who moved within the city, children who moved to the suburbs were much more likely to graduate from high school (86% vs 33%), attend college (54% vs 21%), attend 4-year university/college (27% vs 4%), be employed if not in school (75% vs 41%) and receive higher salaries and benefits. In a similar project in Boston, children who moved to more affluent parts of the city experienced dramatic decreases in the prevalence of injury and asthma (74% and 65%, respectively) compared with controls. In New York, behavior problems for boys who moved to low-poverty areas were reduced by 30-43% relative to controls.
It is interesting to note that people adapt to contextual conditions in order to enhance the resiliency of their children. In low-risk neighbourhoods, low level of parental restrictive control was associated with high academic achievements, whereas in high-risk conditions, high level of parental control predicted academic success.
High-risk situations require high levels of parental intervention for optimal outcomes (Shinn & Toohey, 2003). This finding shows that individuals are not mere victims of adverse conditions, but many of them adjust and adapt their behavior to the context of their lives.
People can use power to promote social cohesion or social fragmentation. But power does not inhabit humans alone. Power is vested in institutions such as the church, business corporations, schools and governments (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977).
Power is important because it is central to the promotion or prevention of the goals of CP: well-being and liberation. Without it, the disempowered cannot demand their human rights. With too much of it, the over-empowered are not going to relinquish privilege. With just about enough of it, it is possible that people may satisfy their own needs and share power with others in a synergic form (Craig & Craig, 1979).
Power to Promote Well-being. Well-being is achieved by the simultaneous, balanced and contextually sensitive satisfaction of personal, relational and collective needs. In the absence of capacity and opportunity — central features of power —individuals cannot strive to meet their own needs and the needs of others.
Personal and collective needs represent two faces of well-being (Keating & Hertzman, 1999a; Marmot & Wilkinson, 1999). The third side of well-being concerns relational needs. Individual and group agendas are often in conflict. Power and conflict are intrinsic parts of relationships. To achieve well-being, then, we have to attend to relationality. Two sets of needs are primordial in pursuing healthy relationships between individuals and groups: respect for diversity and collaboration and democratic participation. Respect for diversity ensures that people's unique identities are affirmed by others, while democratic participation enables community members to have a say in decisions affecting their lives (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 1997). Without power to exercise democratic rights, the chances of promoting the three dimensions of well-being are diminished.
Power to Oppress. Power can be used for ethical or unethical purposes. This is not just a risk of power, but part of its very essence. For French social scientist Pierre Bourdieu, social capital is power. It is power because it encompasses networks and resources available to serve personal and class interests (Bourdieu,1986, 1990; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). Unlike authors such as Putnam who tend to emphasize the positive in social capital, Bourdieu is concerned with some of its negative effects. Like Bourdieu, we are concerned with the possibility of social capital and power being used to oppress others.
Oppression can be regarded as a state or process (Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996).
With respect to the former, oppression is described as a state of domination where the oppressed suffer the consequences of deprivation, exclusion, discrimination, exploitation, control of culture and sometimes even violence (for example, Bartky, 1990; Moane, 1999; Mullaly, 2002; Sidanius, 1993). A useful definition of oppression as process is given by Mar'i (1988): 'Oppression involves institutionalized, collective and individual modes of behavior through which one group attempts to dominate and control another in order to secure political, economic and/or socialpsychological advantage' (p. 6).
Another important distinction in the definition of oppression concerns its political and psychological dimensions. We cannot speak of one without the other (Bulhan, 1985; Moane, 1999; Walkerdine, 1996, 1997). Psychological and political oppressions co-exist and are mutually determined. Following Prilleltensky and Gonick (1996), we integrate here the elements of state and process, with the psychological and political dimensions of oppression. Oppression entails a state of asymmetric power relations characterized by domination, subordination and resistance, where the dominating persons or groups exercise their power by the process of restricting access to material resources and imparting in the subordinated persons or groups self-deprecating views about themselves. It is only when the latter can attain a certain degree of conscientization that resistance can begin (Bartky, 1990; Fanon, 1963; Freire, 1972; Memzni, 1968).
The dynamics of oppression are internal as well as external. External or political forces deprive individuals or groups of the benefit of personal (for example, selfdetermination), collective (for example, distributive justice) and relational (for example, democratic participation) well-being. Often, these restrictions are internalized and operate at a psychological level as well, where the person acts as his or her personal censor (Moane,1999; Mullaly,2002; Prilleltensky & Gonick,1996). Some political mechanisms of oppression and repression include actual or potential use of force, restricted life opportunities, degradation of indigenous culture, economic sanctions and inability to challenge authority. Psychological dynamics of oppression entail surplus powerlessness, belief in a just world, learned helplessness, conformity, obedience to authority, fear, verbal and emotional abuse (for reviews see Moane, 1999; Mullaly, 2002; Prilleltensky, 2003b; Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996).
What Is the Value-base of Community and Power?
We have already established the complementarily of values for personal, relational and collective well-being in Chapter 3. In a similar vein, Newbrough (1992a,1995) has argued that CP should try to reach an equilibrium among the principal values of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity. In our view, however, the desired equilibrium has not been reached because the field has paid more attention to fraternity than to the other two values. Unlike the value of solidarity, which has been enacted through the concept of community, the values of liberty and equality have not found similar expression in concepts such as power and justice (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 1997). To achieve personal liberty and collective equality, which are closely intertwined, we sometimes need to resort to conflict. If collaborative means failure to produce a more equal distribution of resources, then conflict may be necessary. The absence of conflict rewards those who benefit from the current state of affairs, for the status quo is to their advantage. Hence, for as long as they produce the desired results, we would prefer conflict-free and fraternal means of promoting well-being. But if they don't, we have to consider more assertive means (Hughey & Speer, 2002). We could try to persuade companies to provide better conditions for their workers or we could create support groups for workers experiencing stress. Furthermore, we could negotiate with factory owners to put in place better working conditions such as ventilation, proper lighting and more breaks. But if the owners deny all requests, workers may consider a strike or more confrontational means of action.
The erosion of social cohesion since the 1960s, at least in the US, has been amply documented by Putnam (2000). This is a reminder that it is not enough to reflect on the virtues of community structures; somebody has to support them! In the age of economic neoliberal’s and globalization, governments are under great pressure to reduce community and social services either to cope with lower taxes or to reduce them. This has been the trend since the 1980s. As a result, we see less investment in communities and more tax cuts that benefit the rich (Gershman & Irwin, 2000; Sen, 1999b). In the light of these developments, now more than ever we need social movements to fight for the restoration of community services and for social investments (Bourdieu, 1998; Kim et al.,2000).
How Can Community and Power Be Promoted Simultaneously?
The literature is quite abundant in examples that promote either a sense of community (for example, Fisher, Sonn, & Bishop, 2002) or empowerment (for example Perkins & Zimmerman, 1995; Serrano-Garcia & Bond,1994), but not so vast in cases that promote both simultaneously. Based on their research with community mental health groups, Nelson, Lord and Ochocka (2001b) proposed the empowerment-community integration paradigm. With input from various stakeholder groups they identified values, elements and ideal indicators for the promotion of the new paradigm. The key values for this paradigm are psychiatric consumer/survivor empowerment, community integration and holistic health care and access to resources. The principles, which correspond respectively to liberty, fraternity and equality, seek an integration of empowerment and community interventions. (See we bsite.)
As found by Nelson and colleagues, the three values are needed for the well-being of psychiatric consumer/survivors. In our view, this integration is really imperative for the promotion of individual, group, community and societal well-being (see also Table 5.1). Social support by itself promotes a sense of community but it does not rectify power imbalances, whereas combative social action addresses power inequalities but doesn't necessarily promote cohesion.
Power and community may be invoked to promote well-being, engage in oppression or, finally, strive for liberation. Liberation refers to the process of resisting oppressive forces. As a state, liberation is a condition in which oppressive forces no longer exert their dominion over a person or a group. Liberation may be from psychological and/or political influences. Building on Fromm's dual conception of 'freedom from' and 'freedom to' (1965), liberation is the process of overcoming internal and external sources of oppression (freedom from) and pursuing well-being (freedom to). Liberation from social oppression entails, for example, emancipation from class exploitation, gender domination and ethnic discrimination. Freedom from internal and psychological sources includes overcoming fears, obsessions or other psychological phenomena that interfere with a person's subjective experience of well-being. Liberation to pursue well-being, in turn, refers to the process of meeting personal, relational and collective needs.
The process of liberation is analogous to Freire's concept of conscientization, according to which marginalized populations begin to gain awareness of oppressive forces in their lives and of their own ability to overcome domination (Freire,1972). This awareness is likely to develop in stages (Watts, Griffith & Abdul-Adil, 1999). Through various processes, people begin to realize that they are the subject of oppressive regulations. The first realization may happen as a result of therapy, participation in a social movement or readings. Next, people may connect with others experiencing similar circumstances and gain an appreciation for the external forces pressing down on them. Some individuals will go on to liberate themselves from oppressive relationships or psychological dynamics such as fears and phobias, whereas others will join social movements to fight for political justice (Bourdieu, 1998). While a fuller exploration of interventions will be given in Chapters 8,9 and 10, we offer below some parameters for intervention at different levels of analysis.
Individual and Group Interventions
Research on the process of empowerment shows that individuals rarely engage in emancipator actions until they have gained considerable awareness of their own oppression and have enjoyed support from other community members (Kieffer, 1984; Lord & Hutchinson, 1993). Consequently, the task of overcoming oppression should start with a process of interpersonal support, mentoring and psycho political education. It is through this kind of support and education that people experience consciousness-raising (Hollander, 1997; Watts et al., 1999).
The preferred way to contribute to the liberation of oppressed people is through partnerships and solidarity. This means that we approach others in an attempt to work with them and learn from them at the same time as we contribute to their cause (Nelson, Ochocka, Griffin & Lord, 1998; Nelson, Prilleltensky & MacGillivary, 2001). The three community mental health organizations studied by Nelson et al. (2001b) dedicated themselves to empowering people with psychiatric problems.
At their best, these organizations provided support and empowerment to their members, affording them voice and choice in the selection of treatment, caring and compassion, and access to valued services and resources. Similarly, action groups studied by Speer and colleagues offered citizens better resources such as services and housing, but connectedness at the same time (Speer & Hughey, 1995; Speer et al., 1995). In both sets of studies, the groups acted as communities of support and communities of power.
Community and Societal Interventions
Joining strategic social movements is perhaps the most powerful step that citizens can take to transform unacceptable social conditions. In some cases these will be global movements, in others they may be regional or community-based coalitions. In North America community-building efforts have proved useful in bringing people together to fight poverty. Snow (1995) claims that 'community-building can enable the underprivileged to create power through collective action' (p. 185), while McNeely (1999) reports that 'community building strategies can make a significant difference. There is now evidence of many cases where the residents of poor communities have dramatically changed their circumstances by organizing to assume responsibility for their own destiny' (p. 742). McNeely lists community participation, strategic planning, and focused and local interventions as being central to success. Similar initiatives have taken place in Europe to address the multifaceted problems faced by residents in large public housing estates. Community organizing helped many poor neighborhoods throughout the UK to demand and receive improved social services such as health, policing and welfare (Power, 1996).
In their research of block booster projects in New York, Perkins and Long (2002) found that sense of community and conununitarianism predicted collective efficacy, which is encouraging because collective efficacy may be a precursor of social action. A similar and encouraging result was reported by Saegert and Winkel (1996) who found that social capital increased empowerment and voting behavior at the group level.
These interventions work at the personal, relational and collective levels at the same time. By participating in social-action groups, citizens feel empowered while they develop bonds of solidarity, a phenomenon that is particularly prominent in women-led organizations (Gittell, Ortega-Bustamante & Steffy, 2000; hooks, 2002). The feelings of empowerment and connection contribute to personal and relational well-being; whereas the tangible outcomes in the form of enhanced services and quality of life contribute to collective well-being. In comparing two social action groups, Speer and colleagues found that members of the organization that invested more in interpersonal connections reported their group to be 'more intimate and less controlling. They also reported more frequent overall interpersonal contact and more frequent interaction outside organizing events. Members of the community based organization also reported greater levels of psychological empowerment' (Speer et al.,1995, p. 70). Their research illustrates how an organization can promote empowerment and community at the same time.
What Are Some of the Risks and Limitations of Community and Power?
Social capital may be used to increase bonding or bridging. Whereas the former refers to exclusive ties within a group, the latter refers to connections across groups.
Country clubs, ethnic associations, farmers' associations and men's groups increase bonding. Coalitions, interfaith organizations and service groups enhance bridging (Agnitsch, Flora & Ryan, 2001). There is a risk of bonding overshadowing the need for bridging. If every group in society was interested only in what is good for its own members, there would be little or no cooperation across groups. Bridging is a necessity of every society. It is a basic requirement of a respectful and inclusive society. However, there are examples of groups investing in bonding to prevent bridging. Classic examples include the Ku Klux Klan and movements that support ethnic cleansing.
If bonding leads to preoccupation with one's own well-being and the neglect of others', we see a problem. The problem is even greater if social capital is used to promote unjust policies or discrimination. 'Networks and the associated norms of reciprocity are generally good for those inside the network, but the external effects of social capital are by no means always positive' (Putnam, 2000, p. 21). Proponents of mindsets such as NIMBY (not in my backyard) and coalitions of elite businesses exploit their power and connections to achieve goals that are in direct opposition to the values of CP. 'Social capital, in short, can be directed toward malevolent, antisocial purposes, just like any other form of social capital .... Therefore it is important to ask how the positive consequences of social capital — mutual support, cooperation, trust, institutional effectiveness — can be maximized and the negative manifestations — sectarianism, ethnocentrism, corruption — minimized' (Putnam, 2000, p. 22).
Another serious risk of the current discourse on social capital is its potential deflection of systemic sources of oppression, inequality and domination. There is a distinct possibility that social capital may become the preferred tool of governments to work on social problems because it puts the burden of responsibility back onto the community (Blakeley, 2002; Perkins, Hughey & Speer, 2002). We believe that communities should become involved in solving their own problems. But that is part of the solution, not the whole solution. No amount of talk about social support can negate the fact that inequality exists and that it is a major source of suffering for vulnerable populations. Social support can buffer some of the effects of inequality, but it would be ironic if it was used to support the same system that creates so much social fragmentation and isolation. Hence, we caution against social capital becoming the new slogan of governments. Furthermore, we call on people to create bonds of solidarity to enhance, not diminish, political action against injustice. We concur with Perkins et al. who claim that 'excessive concern for social cohesion undermines the ability to confront or engage in necessary conflict and thus disempowers.' (2002, p. 33).
Too much power in the wrong hands and too little power in the right hands are two problems associated with power. Of course, we don't always know which are the `wrong hands' and which are the 'right hands.' But, in principle, we know that certain groups are clearly over-empowered. In 2002, newspapers and magazines worldwide were decrying the unrestrained power of corporate executives. The collapse of corporations such as Enron and Worldcom, due in part to the unrestrained power of chief executive officers and their ability to doctor the books, left thousands of people with no pension plans and thousands of others with no life savings (for example, Gibbs,2002). We don't want to give more power to corrupted corporate leaders, nor, for that matter, to racist demagogues or unreformed sexists.
Far too often, not enough power gets into the hands of the marginalized. A number of barriers stand in the way of the disempowered (Gaventa & Cornwall, 2001; Serrano-Garcia & Lopez Sanchez,1994; Speer & Hughey,1995; Speer et al., 1995). Superior bargaining resources are the first instrument of power in the hands of the powerful. Those with resources to pay lawyers and send their children to elite schools have more access to power than those with fewer resources. In the case of a dispute, those with the lawyers, the money and the connections can outweigh the position of the disadvantaged.
By setting agendas and defining issues in a particular way, power is also exercised by excluding issues such as inequality, privilege, oppression, corruption and power differentials from discussions and public debate. The third barrier to power and participation is defining issues in such a way that people do not realize that power is being taken away from them. Callers to the Suzie Orman show (see Box 5.2) are being robbed of power when they believe that their 'net-worth is a reflection of their self-worth'. They are buying into myths and cultural messages that prevent them from fighting injustice. Instead, they are told to go to therapy to improve their selfesteem. This is a forceful way to deny people the power of political and economic literacy (Bourdieu, 1990, 1998; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977).
Finally, we caution against covering the whole human experience with a blanket of power. Power is vitally important in fostering well-being and liberation. Moreover, it is ever present in relationships, organizations and communities. But we want to think that there are spaces in human relations where power differentials are minimized, where people feel solidarity with others, where empathy outweighs personal interests and where love and communion are more important than narcissism (Craig & Craig, 1979; Dokecki, Newbrough, & O'Gorman, 2001; hooks, 2000, 2002). The complementary risk is that we fail to see power where power is present, for masking power is perhaps one of the gravest risks in the pursuit of wellbeing and liberation.
In this chapter we explored the concepts of community and power. These two concepts are the root of sense of community and empowerment, both of which have been hailed as defining metaphors for CP. We considered geographical and relational communities and explored sense of community and social capital. The research demonstrates that cohesive communities achieve better rates of health, education, tolerance and safety than fragmented ones.
The benefits of social support extend beyond the individual. Social networks improve outcomes for children, adults and for the community as a whole. While the positive outcomes of cohesion and social capital are many, it's important to remember that group unity can be used to exclude 'others'. It is equally important to keep in mind that social capital and the call for community may be used to excuse governments from investing in public resources (Blakeley,2002). In other words, community and social capital may be used to deflect responsibility from governments.
Whereas bridging and bonding are desirable qualities of healthy communities, they can restrict opportunities for challenging power structures and for engaging in productive conflict. Although social capital can contribute to health and welfare, it can also depoliticize issues of well-being and oppression (Perkins et al., 2002).
The ability of communities to promote well-being and liberation is linked to the power of the group to demand rights, services and resources. We explored the concept of power and noted its multifaceted nature and applications. For us, power is a combination of ability and opportunity. In other words, power is not just a psychological state of mind, but a reflection of the opportunities presented to individuals by the psychosocial and material environment in which they live. Of particular interest to us is the potential of power to promote well-being, to cause or perpetuate oppression and to pursue liberation. Personal empowerment has to be complemented by collective actions (Cooke, 2002). We identified three main barriers to power, based on the ability of the powerful to (a) use resources to reward and punish behaviour in line with their interests, (b) set agendas, and (c) create cultural myths and ideologies that perpetuate the status quo. We noted that our work is challenged by the fact that it is not always clear who needs more power and who needs to be disempowered. Knowledge of the values, the context and the various interests at play is the best antidote to dogmatism. We can see too much power in certain places and not enough of it in others. Both are serious risks, for we don't want to be oblivious to power, nor do we want to project it where it doesn't belong.
COMMENTARY: Parents Involved in Schools: A Story of Community and Power Paul Speer.
Several years ago my wife Bettie became an active participant in the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) of our children's school. One of the tasks she undertook was to develop a school handbook that provided important information for school families: school rules and procedures, parking at the school, procedures for snow days, where to go with questions and so on. In preparing the handbook, Bettie drafted a mission or role statement of the PTO vis-à-vis the school. The statement asserted that the role of the PTO was to support and enhance the educational opportunities in the school, to facilitate exchange of information between parents and teachers and to serve as a parents' liaison with the school administration when parents raised concerns. At a meeting of PTO officers and the school principal, the group balked at the point in the mission statement asserting that the organization could serve as a mechanism for addressing parental concerns about the school.
The principal felt this was not the role of the PTO, some officers voiced the view that the PTO's role was exclusively as a 'support' organization and other officers complained that a statement regarding 'parental concerns' was 'too controversial'.
Bettie urged that the PTO served as a mechanism by which parents could raise concerns, particularly to the administration, as no such mechanism existed for the school. She was corrected by other parents who, with the nodding approval of the principal, revealed that if a parent had a concern about school policies or procedures, he or she should bring it up with the principal.
Power is Pervasive
Betties experience reveals many of the power dynamics discussed in this chapter. For me, some of the most important are how unconscious forces and ideologies operate to reinforce the status quo - to the detriment of our values for justice and equality. When the idea that there should be a mechanism for addressing concerns gets defined by parents - not the principal - as controversial, it not only contradicts the very nature of a democratic process but reveals a form of self-imposed
regulation that represents the hallmark of power (Haugaard, 1997). A common myth is that individuals susceptible to power, persuasion and manipulation are generally not well educated.
Interestingly, the parents involved in the PTO were mostly very well educated - I believe all had college degrees and several had post-graduate degrees. But, as this chapter points out, one of the most important aspects of power is the ability to distort knowledge - to shape what people know or how they view the world. This mechanism is not bound by education, race, class or gender. How do we come to 'know' that PTOs are for fundraising and not for participating in school governance?
How did this understanding come about for the well-educated group of parents in this organizati on? M important contribution of this chapter is the explicit attention it provides to the unconscious mechanisms through which power is exercised.
These mechanisms are under-appreciated and largely ignored by psychologists, but nevertheless pervasive in community contexts.
Blending Power and Community
Perhaps the greatest insight of this chapter is the blending of the concepts of power and community.
In my experience with community organizing, the development of social power comes only through gathering the strength of many individuals into a unified collective. To build a unified collective requires tremendous effort and time, but more fundamentally, it requires (in a non-economic context) building a sense of community that can operate within and across groups, in what the field of social capital calls both 'bridging' and 'bonding' forms of social capital. The conscious development of a collective with a strong sense of community will not always be successful - it depends on the context of that community and the experiences, interests and values of the individuals within that community. Organizing is about learning and understanding the experiences and interests of a group of individuals. To develop such knowledge and understanding requires building relationships with numerous individuals. In community organizing, one of the key organizing principles is: power flows through relationships (Speer & Hughey, 1995).
This process does not seem too difficult, but putting this principle into practice requires skill, commitment, time and a passion for justice. I've witnessed many failed attempts to organize communities and the reasons for these failures are many. Often, organizing efforts identify the issue to be organized a priori - organizers attempt to form groups working on substance abuse or housing or education. Organizing in such a way undermines the process of listening, thus limiting an understanding of the interests and values of individuals in a community. When outsiders, be they organizers, experts or funders, define in advance the issues for a community, the result is a weakened organization and an organizing process that resembles an exercise in manipulation. Most importantly, the activity produced in 'issue-defined' organizing efforts generally has little sustainability - and thus little power.
Mother common shortcoming to community work when issues of community and power are not viewed together is that participation is encouraged as an end in itself. In many contexts, we view citizen participation as essential for democracy and a key method of building community and developing empowerment. But what of Bettie's experience in the PTO? Did participation there build power or cultivate community? These questions are not easily answered - they are very complex. A particular strength of this chapter is that it communicates some of the complexity and nuances involved in community work and issues of power. Too often community psychologists oversimplify these issues.
Citizen participation, for example, is generally held to be a 'good thing'. I am not disputing this, but I would suggest that powerful interests have shaped many of the settings and niches in which we can participate and, as a result, our participation has been defined in very narrow, limited ways. At the PTO, Bettie participated in fundraising to bring educational opportunities to the school (dancers, rappers, puppeteers and so on) but the educated, involved and resourced parents kept participation focused on fundraising and away from deeper issues of equity and justice in that school (tensions in our school existed around 'well-connected' parents selecting their children's teacher thus producing 'designer classrooms' and segregated seating in the school lunch room due to seating assignments based on whether kids were part of the free or reduced lunch program). In that school setting, parent participation served to keep the 'system' intact, not to address issues of fairness.
Power and Conflict
The irony is that community and power, which are so often considered as separate or even dichotomous constructs, are so intimately linked. I've witnessed many efforts to develop one without the other, but successful organizing efforts usually attend to both relationship and cohesion within the organization as well as a strategic use of power beyond the group. However, there is one final observation to make about a noteworthy contributi on in this chapter. The issue of conflict is presented as important to consider in the development of power. This perspective is not often shared, but it is critical to the development of power. While conflict is never desirable, efforts to change the status quo will eventually confront those with interests served by the status quo. In my children's school, PTO officers had the ability to influence what they wanted in the school so they felt no need to provide a mechanism for others.
Those benefiting from existing relationships will not acquiesce based on reason, morality or justice. If these conditions are to change, conflict is inevitable. How that conflict is played out, however, has numerous options. Unfortunately, many believe that conflict is to be avoided — suppressed even — regardless of the conditions around which it arises. Such a perspective serves to maintain the status quo. There are many types of conflict; for example, conflict between fathers over a call in little league sports is all too common and a form of conflict that I would argue should be avoided. In contrast, there is rarely conflict about capital outlays within city budgets, but for neighbourhoods with no public investment (which exacerbates private disinvestment) strategies to pressure for change are needed.
In my experience, and in the presentation of this chapter, conflict is a fact of life in community work. When working to make change, conflict is inevitable. Attention to the role of conflict, knowledge of the unconscious mechanisms of power and development of the relationships between power and community are critically important for community psychologists.
Websites in Community Psychology
1. For an interesting project on community capacity (headed at the time of writing by community psychologist David Chavis), visit the Association for the Study and Development of Community on www.capablecommunity.com .
2. For information on the role of social capital in international community development, you can visit a site operated by the University of Sussex in collaboration with the UK government department of International Development. Go to wwwic121.org/insightsfinsights34/insights-iss34-art02.html.
3. ISUMA — The Canadian Journal of Policy Research has devoted its second volume to social capital. You may read online state-of-the-art articles by leading authors in this field. Visit http://isuma.net/v02n01/ index_e.shtml.
4. The Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University is interested in promoting social capital. Visit at www.bettertogether.org .
5. Robert 'Putnam has an interesting website on his book Bowling Alone, You can read an overview of the book on www.bowfingalone.com .
6. The Poverty and Race Research Action Council offers resources on how to promote community development and community organizing. The Council aims to use social research to reduce poverty and racism. You can visit them at www.prrac.org .