Introduction: Epistemology and Ontology of Community Psychology
Community psychology has emerged internationally over the past fifty or more years, for varying purposes and in unique social, political, and cultural circumstances. Community psychology may be defined most simply as the applied study of the relationship between social systems and individual wellbeing in the community context1. Like many subdisciplines, community psychology is concerned with understanding and promoting factors that affect health and wellness. It is an applied social science, a vocation, and an analytical perspective (Levine et al., 2005). The common thread in its emergence has been the recognition of inequity and injustice within social systems and the resulting negative impact on individual and community wellbeing (Kloos et al., 2012). Alongside this thread has been the realization that traditional psychology has played a significant role in maintaining
damaging social relations and structures (Prilleltensky, 1994; Kloos et al., 2012). Community psychology has emerged, then, as a psychology seeking to enhance wellbeing via social change and social justice (Levine et al., 2005; Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010). Where
community psychology becomes distinct from other fields of psychology is in its focus on: adoption of ecological and historical perspectives; recognition of social power differentials; preference for ‘praxis’ over theory, research, or practice alone; and values-based practice (Levine et al., 2005; Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010). These distinguishing foci represent core tenets of the field, and are expanded upon below.
Ecology and History
This tenet comes from the ‘ecological analogy’, in which the principles of ecology (or environmental biology) are applied to human behavior. The ecological principles of interaction between plant and animal populations and habitat, ecosystem, and biosphere are analogized to the interaction of individuals with their community, environment, society, and world. These spheres of influence or ecological levels are like a Russian nesting doll, organized around the individual (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) and include political, cultural, environmental, institutional, and organizational spheres. An additional component of such a contextual approach is the temporal, or historical realm (Suarez-Balcazar et al., 1992). This ecological understanding informs the understanding that multiple levels of environments influence human behavior (Sarason, 1967; Wandersman & Nation, 1998), and that it is social contexts, rather than psychological or biological deficits, which are the fundamental cause of major social problems (Maton, 2000; Levine et al., 2005).