Power, Liberation, and Well-Being

Ceci and Papierno (2005) state that multiple disciplines feel that the motivation behind targeted interventions is the Matthew effect. Originally a bible reference, it refers to the intensification of already existing advantages. This leads to the widening of preexisting gaps. Should community psychology just focus on eliminating gaps or should it focus on the aid of all people who can benefit from it?

Community psychology has as goals social activism and the closing of gaps between the “haves” and the “have not,” but is this good enough? Is it the correct route? Some would argue that anything that can help people should be given to everyone and not to just one particular group. Ceci and Papierno state that the enhancement of high achieving students could have a positive effect on everyone. The economic growth resulting from their growth could trickle down to their less achieving counterparts. They also make the point that one can argue that any intervention that can enhance the performance of any student should be made available, regardless of what other characteristics may be in play. There are several problems with this article and the point of view that it takes. When the point is made that anything that can benefit students should be given to them regardless of their situation, it seems to not consider the fact that the reason that there is a gap in the first place is because resources and adequate education were not given to these lower achieving students due to various factors.

Prilleltensky refers to power as “a combination of ability and opportunity to influence a course of events” and that it comes in three forms: power to strive to wellness, power to oppress, and power to resist oppression and pursue liberation. He asserts that power is both psychological and political, a point of view that is not often seen. This is a broader view of power dynamics and it illustrates the interactive relationship between psychology and politics. Such a view of power also shows how oppression is both psychological and political. He also maintains that even community psychologists are not immune to certain conservative influences. Is it possible that using these kinds of intervention with the goal in mind of enhancing everyone is just another way of helping those who already have power to increase their power, specifically the power to oppress?

Ceci and Papierno’s article also states that assessing the history of power differentials, racism and other forms of institutional discrimination is outside the scope of their research. This is a very limiting way of approaching the issue. How can an issue be solved if there is no assessment of how the issue came about in the first place? Watts and Serrano-Garcia (2003) state that historical context is not adequately articulated in the person-environment fit perspective. This makes perfect sense because people do not exist in vacuums and their behavior is determined by environment and historical factors. There is little or no mention in Ceci and Papierno’s article of the socio-historical factors that influenced the direction of the work or the interventions described in the article. The article also does not offer a way to change or modify the social structures that act upon individuals. What could be a framework as to how to approach this issue of widening gaps?

Ryan (1994) offers two views of equality: the Fair Play and Fair Shares perspectives. The Fair Play perspective contends that all participants should be under the same set of conditions. No one should have to face any handicap and no one should have an unfair advantage. As a result of this, the person who succeeds the most does so because of their own ability and no other reason. The Fair Share perspective contends that the lack of disproportionate differences between two groups is a basic component in the idea of equality. The rationale of doing the intervention for all students seems to be based on the Fair Play perspective. It seems as if this methods is a way for all the students to given the same consideration and that their performances would be due mostly to their own ability. Giving targeted interventions to certain demographics that may be oppressed or marginalized could be as coming from a Fair Shares perspective. The intervention would be aimed at evening out the playing field in terms of resources. What this article does not seem to mention is how these two perspectives could be misused or misinterpreted. For example, the Fair Play says that no one should be given any unfair advantage. This point of view can be applied to affirmative action. What tends to be lacking from this point of view is the impact of preexisting handicaps or disadvantages suffered by another group. One would feel that it makes no sense to give an intervention to both the advantaged and disadvantaged groups because one of the groups already possesses an unfair example. This point is exacerbated when the intervention is structured in such a way that the advantaged group has an unfair advantage in utilizing the intervention, leading a widening of the preexisting gap.

A question that community psychology as a field has to ask itself in this kind of situation is: does providing an intervention to all groups benefit everyone in the same way? Does the intervention actually harm another group? Does the intervention actually help to reinforce the status quo that community psychology so wishes to dismantle? Only after answering questions such as these will the field be able to formulate the proper solution to this issue.

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