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Vol 2 Issue 2 2011
Vincent T Francisco, PhD
Creating and Sharing Critical Community Psychology Curriculum for the 21st Century: An Invitation
Creating and Sharing Critical Community Psychology Curriculum for the 21st Century: An Invitation
Mary Watkins and Nuria Ciofalo (Pacifica Graduate Institute)
Authors invite dialogue on critical community psychology graduate curriculum, sharing an approach that draws from depth psychologies, liberation psychologies, ecopsychology, and indigenous psychologies. Grounded in a participatory action model of research and ethics, students, alumni, and faculty pursue collaborative community and ecological fieldwork and research, crafting a postmodern critical community psychology for the 21st century. Authors call for reflection on the issues that mitigate against individual and community well-being that must be addressed in community psychology programs, and the concomitant theories, capabilities, and sensibilities to address them that need to be nurtured in students and educators. They call for us to engage students through transformative learning approaches and critical pedagogy in emancipatory community and ecological fieldwork and research.
Download the PDF version of the article, including tables and figures.
To enter this dialogue, and to invite others to contribute, we will begin by sharing the learning and reflections that went into creating a specialization in community psychology, liberation psychology, and ecopsychology within a depth psychology masters and doctoral program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. This specialization is a bold attempt to forge interdisciplinary transformative approaches to personal, community, cultural, and ecological challenges of our time (see table for curriculum). While grounding students in psychoanalytic, Jungian, archetypal, and phenomenological lineages of depth psychology, Euro-American depth psychological theories and practices are placed in dynamic dialogue with ecopsychology, cultural studies, critical community psychology, and indigenous and liberation psychologies from diverse cultural settings.
Our hope is that this sharing can initiate deepened reflection on programs in community psychology, helping us to meet the challenge advanced by Ignacio Martín-Baró (1994) to turn a critical eye toward our own efforts in psychology. Psychology as a discipline has shown itself to be quite susceptible to reflecting rather than interrogating and contesting cultural ideologies. To the degree that these ideologies contribute to psychological and community suffering, psychology has too often worked at cross-purposes to its aims of understanding and healing.
As faculty, critical pedagogues, popular educators, and cultural workers (Freire, 1985), we have asked ourselves, students, and community members what are the issues that mitigate against individual and community well-being that must be addressed in our program? What are the frameworks we need to draw upon? What are the goals of our work? How do our assessments of the difficulties to be faced and the goals to be aimed at determine the capabilities and sensibilities that need to be nurtured in our students and in us as educators? How are we to engage students through transformative learning approaches and critical pedagogy in emancipatory community and ecological fieldwork and research that prepare them for transformative individual and cultural work? Where do we start? From what do we suffer?
As we craft psychology curricula for the 21st century, we need to step back and enunciate the key issues upon which psychological and community well-being depend. Paulo Freire (1989) taught us to ask what shapes the epoch in which we live, and to inquire into the generative themes that lead us to formulate work in our communities. He proposed that domination characterized his epoch. Sadly, it still needs to be at the top of our list. While colonialism has morphed into pernicious forms of globalization, the erosion of life’s potentialities through domination and excessive greed persist, resulting in widespread violence and gross social, cultural, political, and economic inequities. Community psychologies must address the causes and the effects of collective traumas as diverse as racism, sexism, homophobia, forced migration, severe economic, cultural, political, and health/well-being disparities, environmental pollution and degradation, natural disasters, violence (including domestic violence, torture, war, and genocide), and assaults on human rights. It must learn to nourish the sources of community restoration through participatory praxis, empowerment, and libratory arts.
What Theoretical Frameworks Do We Need to Draw From?
Critical community psychologies. We believe community psychology needs to be approached critically and to be imagined in the plural—critical community psychologies—because varying approaches are needed by communities and groups that comprise differing social, cultural, and geographical locations at different historical moments. Critical community psychologies embrace values of social justice, emancipatory praxis, empowerment, and inclusion of people who have been marginalized by hegemonic structures in society. It challenges epistemologies, ideologies, and worldviews—including those of mainstream psychology--to reflect on how these perpetuate conditions of injustice and oppression (Nelson and Prilleltensky, 2010; Prilleltensky, 1997). Critical community psychologists work with communities to legitimize popular knowledge, generate new, inclusive knowledge, develop innovative paradigms, and envision and undertake radical transformative praxis. In authentic collaboration with local people and the places they inhabit, critical community psychologists co-construct knowledge, imagine new possibilities, and work to implement and evaluate transformations to promote social change, policy development, and individual and community health. Critical community psychology is, of necessity, multi-disciplinary. Its practice is based on critical reflection and action that transforms the structures and policies that reproduce inequity, rather than purely ameliorative actions.
Liberation psychologies. Martín-Baró, a Spanish born Jesuit and social psychologist working in El Salvador, first articulated liberation psychology as such in the 1980’s. Martín-Baró envisioned a psychology that would acknowledge the psychological and community wounding caused by war, racism, poverty, and violence; a psychology that would support historical memory and critical reflection; and a psychology that would aid the emergence of the sorts of subjectivity through which people felt they could creatively make sense of and respond to the world. Martín-Baró argued that by considering psychological problems as primarily individual, “psychology has often contributed to obscuring the relationship between personal estrangement and social oppression, presenting the pathology of persons as if it were something removed from history and society, and behavioral disorders as if they played themselves out entirely in the individual plane” (p. 27). Instead, liberation psychology should illuminate the links between an individual’s psychological suffering and well-being and the social, cultural, economic, political, and ecological contexts in which he or she lives. While liberation psychology is most strongly established in Latin America, Martín-Baró’s work has become a rallying call to psychologists and cultural workers on all continents to place into conversation their theories and libratory practices. To study community and ecopsychology in the light of liberation psychology is to commit to the exploration of the profound effects of injustice, violence, and the exploitation of others and nature on psychological, communal, and ecological well-being. It is a commitment to create paths to dynamic peace and reconciliation, justice, and sustainability.
Ecopsychology. In 1992 Theodore Roszak coined the term “ecopsychology” in his book The Voice of the Earth. Two of ecopsychology’s central goals are to heal the alienation of people from the natural environment and to examine and transform human modes of thinking and behaving that lead to the imperilment of ecosystems. Ecopsychology has also served as a corrective to psychology’s relative neglect of the impact of built and natural environments on the human psyche and on communities. It strives to understand the interdependence between humans and built and natural environments. Since the well-being of humans and the natural world are inextricably connected, ecopsychologists are critically needed to heal human/nature divides, creating pathways for human/nature/animal relations, as well as working to create the increased awareness that is a necessary step to the restoration of habitats and the creation of built and natural environments that are sustainable.
Depth psychologies. While community psychology often works at the group level, it must continually rely on subtle and nuanced understandings of intrapsychic dynamics. Depth psychologies provide a language to describe the psychological dynamics of oppression and liberation. The dedication of some schools of depth psychology, such as Jungian and archetypal, to valuing the imaginal–as it appears through image, dream, symbol, story, myth, and ritual—reminds us of our potential as human beings to create in the face of the limitations that are imposed on us. Transformative change toward restorative justice, embodied democracy, peacebuilding, and environmental sustainability requires engagement with a range of understandings that extend from intrapsychic dynamics to policy creation and implementation. When depth psychology is put into the service of critical community psychology, its individualistic bias is seen through, while its nuanced articulation of intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics can be useful. Many depth psychological concepts--such as projection, shadow, projective identification, counterprojective identification, cultural unconscious, percepticide, psychic numbing—can help to illumine individual and community dynamics.
Indigenous psychologies. Psychological knowledge with scientific ambitions has primarily emerged in the western world. New movements around the world are seeking to create ownership and legitimacy of psychological and cultural knowledge in diverse cultural settings as a means of liberation from centuries of intellectual imposition. Rather than teach only euroamerican psychologies in places such as the Philippines, Mexico, or Australia, some have attempted to bracket the Westernized training they have received to learn from indigenous approaches to education, healing, and forms of communal life that foster well-being for individuals, group, and ecosystem (Deloria, 2009; Denzin, Lincoln & Smith, 2008; Enriquez, 1992; Esteva & Prakash, 1998; Kim et al, 2006; Smith, 1999). As a result, indigenous knowledge is contributing to critical community psychology, as well as raising our awareness of the cultural invasion into indigenous communities by euroamerican psychological theories and methods, and the often tragic undermining of indigenous approaches to healing and resilience that occurs in the wake of these intrusions. Indigenous psychologies have integrated diverse disciplines, perspectives and voices, and have developed ethno-cultural methodologies, ethno-semantics, and ethno-epistemologies that address cultural transformation to heal globally, through unity in diversity. Indigenous psychologies have been applied in diverse cultural settings, integrating disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, political science, environmental sciences, cultural studies, religion, mythology, and philosophy (Kim et al., 2006; Marsella, 1998). Because indigenous psychologies embrace knowledge generated in diverse cultures, this term is used in the plural, emphasizing interdependence and interdisciplinary interactions that are necessary to meaningfully address the psychological, social, cultural, economical, political, and ecological challenges we face.
We need a paradigm where the Other (human and other-than-human) is as important a term as the Self, where the liberation of self is co-dependent on the liberation of others. Once we begin to understand that psychological well-being and suffering are intimately related to familial, community, intercommunity, cultural, and ecological well-being and suffering, we can begin to forge interdisciplinary efforts of inclusive and creative restoration at multiple levels of analysis.
What are our goals?
Martín-Baró (1994) proposes that the goals of a liberation psychology be “healthy, free, and creative minds” in a “free, dynamic, and just social body,” where “people have sown enough seeds of life to be able to trust in the possibility of a tomorrow” (p. 121). He sees the construction of a more just society as a “mental health problem,” requiring us to “work hard to find theoretical models and methods of intervention that allow us, as a community and as individuals, to break with the culture of vitiated social relations and put other, more humanizing relations in their place” (p. 20).
Such praxis requires the creating and supporting of social spaces, what Mary Belenky (Belenky, Bond, Weinstock, 1997; Belenky, 1996) calls public homeplaces, that nurture the recovery of historical memory, critical insight into present suffering, visioning the world we most deeply desire, and pursuing action together to birth communities that are more just, more engaged in peace building, increasingly sustainable, and supportive of all that is life affirming and enhancing. We want to create together what Freire described as “a world in which it will be easier to love” (Freire, 1989, p. 24). Our hope is that by linking depth psychology, indigenous psychologies, critical community psychology, ecopsychology, and liberation psychology that we will be able to develop the insights, competencies, and skills to help create such a world.
How do the teaching, research, and practice of critical community and liberation psychologies position us in our work differently from mainstream psychologies?
We are aware that psychology can be used in culturally invasive and disrespectful manners, reducing others’ experiences to terms derived from our own cultural location and theoretical perspectives. Instead, we want to learn alongside others and through dialogue. While we share what we know that potentially could be of use, we are interested in and respect what others know, their own popular knowledge, the kind of knowledge and wisdom that allows for individual and collective transformative learning; mutually trusting the process of conscientization or awareness raising that occurs when sharing and exchanging diverse sources of information. We desire our scholarship and research to be accomplished with others and to be used first for the benefit of the community we are working with. A study of indigenous approaches to psychological issues and research cautions us about the harm that has been perpetrated when we are not as open to our models being questioned and critiqued as we should be (Smith, 1999).
Radical critics of education have provided a variety of tools to challenge traditional educational ideology (Giroux & McLaren, 1989; McLaren, 2001). Critical pedagogy has emphasized the importance of raising awareness to uncover the hidden curriculum under which academic knowledge is a representation of hegemonic culture. Teachers as cultural mentors, critical pedagogues, and popular educators can develop and implement empowering pedagogical practices. Central to this view is the need to look at how teachers, students, and community members give meaning to their own lives through the complex historical, cultural, economic, and political forms they both embody and produce. Academia needs to build community partnerships that invite community members to become participants in the transformative learning process. A pedagogy of student and community participant experience must also be linked to the notion of emancipatory learning and acting. Curriculum practices must be developed that draw upon the students’ and community participants’ experiences as both narrative for agency and a referent for critique. Curriculum policies and modes of pedagogy need to critically engage the knowledge and experiences through which students and community participants authorize and legitimize their voices and identities. If the purpose of education is liberation (i.e., knowledge generation and application of knowledge into the psychosocial realm), educators need to select methods, tools, and strategies that promote critical popular knowledge-as a counter-pedagogy to eliminate hegemonic narratives- and to implement transformative actions for social change (Ciofalo, 1996).
The role of the community psychologist may be that of a convener, a witness, a co-participant, a mirror, and a holder of faith for a process through which those who have unlistened to may build upon their own capacities for historical memory, critical analysis, utopian imagination, and transformative social action. The community psychologist may bring to the table theories and histories that have been developed in the past, but they will be relativized and critiqued in each local arena where they may or may not apply. They need to bring indigenous knowledge at the center, legitimizing diverse epistemologies and methodologies as a means of transformative praxis. Truth in this new epistemology is democratized, and science is de-mystified. Each participant evolves a sense of meaningful voice; a way of making sense of the world that is both valued and provisional within the larger context of multicultural community listening and discernment. The psychologically-minded relinquish their role as authorities and experts who have the final word, and develop instead new capacities for listening, questioning, and facilitation of collaborative group processes. (Watkins & Shulman, 2008).
The research portion of our program is based on the foundation of participatory action research (PAR) and the careful attention to relational ethics that this approach requires. From the first class on research students negotiate how to put the theory and method of participatory research into use, serving the interests of various community groups in further understanding issues that are important to them. PAR is a process that simultaneously includes adult education, scientific research, and political action. This process of mutual learning encompasses critical analysis of the social reality and collaborative actions between researchers and community members to address social change. Following Fals-Borda and Rahman (1991), the application of the PAR approach to inquiry requires that the researchers interact with community members to create transformative, social change. A fundamental attitude of PAR researchers is the rupture of subordinate forms of human relations. Knowledge has to be created in a reciprocal relationship between the community and the researcher, continuously forging academic-community partnerships in the transformative learning process (Ciofalo, 1992).
Indigenous critiques of mainstream psychological research, as well as their re-visioning of the kinds of inquiry and praxis that are useful for their communities are carefully considered. Community-based evaluation skills are taught to increase program effectiveness in collaborative, reflexive, and culturally compatible ways. Students and faculty in the program cycle between classroom learning and engaged community and ecological fieldwork and research. The idea of vocation, of being called to do particular work, has been central to the design of the community and ecological fieldwork and research portion of our program.
Each of the issues a student takes on has a history, approaches that have already been tried, scholarship and praxis surrounding it, and the need for creative and informed approaches in the present. The student uses his or her intimate connection to the issue to fuel their exploration of these facets, to liaison with others who have common interest, to find groups or communities that are working around the issue, or to begin what we have called a convened community to do so. From the beginning we have sought to see through and reject “missionary-like” approaches, approaches that determine the problem and the answer in advance of immersion in a community and dialogue with those who constitute it.
Each quarter students are introduced to a way of working with small and large groups. Building from council and circle practice, to appreciative inquiry, and then to methods that help groups navigate deep differences, such as public conversations, and complex and contested histories. From these experiential-didactic immersions, students build a repertoire of approaches. Expressive and creative modalities flowing from community dreamwork and visioning to Augusto Boal’s theater of the oppressed enable students to work with a broad range of issues and groups. These approaches help participants bring forward their knowledge, understandings, desires, and creative imaginations, and then to place them into dialogue with each other.
The curriculum of this specialization is based on an interdisciplinary, participatory, community-action research curriculum. These critical pedagogical approaches allow for curriculum integration, acquiring critical knowledge through the investigation of a specific, vocational theme that is described, designed, and planned in the fieldwork proposal during the first two years, and in the dissertation proposal in the last years of education. In addition, this integrative and inter-disciplinary curriculum highlights the importance of social learning that is primarily based on Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory. For Vygotsky (1978) social interaction is a critical component of learning. Vygotsky called attention to the reciprocal learning process that is ignited in the interaction between mentors and apprentices. The former are those learners who have mastered a specific theme and who are able to move the latter--the apprentice-- to a “zone of proximal development,” or to the space where the apprentice becomes the mentor by means of working with more capable peers. In this way, opportunities for teaching and learning from others are equally distributed. This process helps to promote the building of an empowered and sustainable learning community (Ciofalo, 1997).
Our students come with diverse backgrounds–i.e., in hospice and healthcare, restorative justice, arts-based community work, education, creative aging, spiritual direction, peacebuilding and reconciliation, community agriculture, environmental conservation, and urban planning. Entrance requirements focus on previous academic success, commitment to community and/or ecological work, capacity for scholarly writing, and interest and exposure to varied psychological approaches to community and ecological work. Our unusual residential format of three residential days a month, with classes throughout each of these days, allows students to maintain their work and family commitments in their hometowns and cities, traveling to Pacifica once a month. This is not an online program. Between residential sessions students are involved in intense reading preparation and scholarly writing, community work, and collaborative reflection. Our new student cohort each year ranges between 18 to 25 students. This larger group is broken down into smaller pods for reflection on community and ecological fieldwork and research, as well as for dissertation concept development prior to the initiation of the dissertation. These smaller groupings allow for more intense reciprocal learning processes based on mentor-apprentice exchanges and interactions. In this way, students learn to value diverse ways of learning and become more adept at co-constructing knowledge through inclusive dialogue and praxis.
This specialization developed out of fifteen years of experience with the umbrella M.A./Ph.D. Depth Psychology Program that included many of the same features of the specialization: community and ecological fieldwork and research, liberation psychology, indigenous psychology, participatory action research and ethics, ecopsychology, and social psychoanalytic, Jungian, and archetypal psychology approaches. During this fifteen year period, we have celebrated approximately 150 doctoral. Increasing financial aid is one of our top priorities. Although it is presently limited, we are pleased to have initiated the Herman Warsh Community-Based Scholarship Fund that gives needs-based support to students working in the areas of education, social justice, reconciliation, ecology, and diversity who are from groups historically under-represented in the study of depth psychology.
More psychologists need to embrace our vocation as “negative workers” (Scheper-Hughes, 1995). The radical Italian psychiatrist, Franco Basaglia, described “negative workers” as professionals who give their allegiance not to bourgeois institutions but to those who most need their help. Conceiving of ourselves as negative workers entails committed work with those suffering economic disadvantage and devoted partnerships with cultural workers (Freire, 1985). It means a focus on cascading models of training where participants gain the knowledge and skills to teach what they have learned in their own communities, eliminating the need for outsiders to do so. These shifts will require embracing more collaborative forms of practice with lay people, and dis-identification with expertism. They require an acute awareness of the disempowerment to others that can flow from our identification with being the expert. It also requires increased mindfulness about professional psychology’s relations to affluence, an affluence that has often been cultivated and preserved in a world that is sickened by sharp income divides. Lastly, a curriculum based on critical pedagogy requires confrontation and awareness raising of the meaning and impact of white privilege on maintaining the status quo, and of the ways in which alternative, inclusive, and polyvocal scenarios may contribute to transformative social, economical, political, cultural, and psychological change.
Coda and Challenges
Our first move was to differentiate from clinical psychology training models that are largely dyadic in focus and based in individualistically oriented paradigms of psychopathology. At the same time, we have sought to discern the key ideas, practices, and sensibilities from depth psychologies that could be useful in community based approaches. We were committed to teaching the foundations and history of depth psychology in historical and cultural context. Rather than extend the reach of individual therapy, we sought models and examples of community and group based work that was transformative. Such a social constructionist approach to depth psychologies has helped us to track those aspects of theory and practice that collude with dominant cultural forces, helping us to conceive alternate possibilities. It has also helped us to see theories and practices as arising in response to local conditions, not as universally applicable.
We have oriented toward, acknowledged, and continue to learn from the libratory community work that is happening throughout the world. Students and teachers of critical community psychology can learn from cultural workers about community and individual empowerment and healing. From sustained attention to the varieties of this work—from Freirean influenced base communities in Latin America, to Sarvodaya self-help groups in Sri Lanka, to restorative justice traditions in parts of Africa—we have been tutored in how to shift our research approaches to participatory action research models. We are heartened that many of our students and alumni now teach themselves in formal and informal learning environments. The approach we have outlined above has sprouted curriculum in high schools, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, universities, retreat centers, prisons, alternative learning centers, youth programs, medical and nursing education, workshops, adult education centers, in organizational trainings, and in a graduate liberation arts program. Many of our alumni and students have successfully published their writing in a wide variety of venues. They are involved in diversity training, prison reform and restorative justice initiatives, arts-based community building, trauma healing, advocacy and grassroots coalitions, housing access issues, projects around the restoration of cultural memory, organizational development and transformation, peacebuilding and community dialogue, health services (including hospice), spiritual direction, NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations), human rights work, evaluation and envisioning, urban planning, land preservation, peak oil planning and sustainability issues, local food initiatives, community gardens, permaculture, intentional communities, philanthropy, microlending and alternative economics.
We understand that it is necessary to continuously struggle with how our presence as highly educated professionals can be disempowering to others even when we see ourselves with humility. We also know that our students have been granted opportunities to do transformative work by virtue of their education, training, and graduate degrees. Some of the work students are drawn to is –in Prilleltensky’s (1997) words—“ameliorative” rather than transformative of the causes of the various miseries they confront. Through mentorship we challenge students and ourselves with this distinction so that we can continually aim for work that radically shifts the causes of suffering. The roots of our program specialization draw from the springs of approaches to life that deem it sacred, from the psychic energy of the symbolic and the imaginal, from dialogue, myth, story, ritual, and art as they give form to memory and desire for transformative praxis. We study these through the taproots of depth psychologies, indigenous psychologies, community psychology, liberation psychology, and ecopsychology. We are challenged to appreciate and nourish diversity of life in each person and community, ensuring that a focus on transformative learning will help to create a new cadre of students who will feel empowered to contribute to the creation of a socially just, peaceful sustainable, creative, and inclusive world.
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Mary Watkins and Nuria Ciofalo, Pacifica Graduate Institute
Drs. Mary Watkins and Nuria Ciofalo are community psychologists and faculty at the Pacifica Graduate Institute.