Oppression

How can we as community psychologists work to ameliorate the conditions caused by oppression, while making sure at the same time that we do not fall prey to maintaining the status quo? Prilleltensky defines oppression as “a state of asymmetric power relations characterized by domination, subordination, and resistance, whereby the controlling person or group exercise its power by processes of political exclusion and violence and by psychological dynamics of deprecation.” He goes on to say that the collective experience of oppression is characterized by a contempt for local culture, exploitation, insecurity, and a denial of rights. He offers a psychopolitical validity as a way to meet the challenge of integrating what we know about oppression and liberation into research and action.

Levine states that effective prevention changes more than individuals; it also changes the social norms. In this instance, the social norms that would need to be changed are the ones that allow one or multiple groups to be oppressed by the group that is in power. Two ways that Levine says that community psychologists can aid in this change are to structure prevention programs that impact complex structures and to examine institutional arrangements in addition to individual factors. The latter area is where mainstream psychology has tended to lag behind, focusing mostly on the individual without considering social contexts. This has often led psychology into reinforcing the oppressive status quo that we as community psychologists want to fight against.

Maton proposed four goals for social change: capacity-building, group empowerment, relational community-building, and culture-challenge. Each of these goals could be seen as a way that oppressed groups could be liberated and also be able to sustain themselves without the help of a community psychologist or other social scientists. The troublesome part for some community psychologists would be the act of giving up their own power to meet these goals. In our quest for liberation and working against oppression we should take care to not get rid one type of oppression only to replace it with another type.

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