Guidelines for Action: Final Feedback

Stephanie Austin

Date: Sat, 22 May 1999

From: Stephanie Austin

Subject: Re: Guidelines for Action: Final Feedback

Dear Participant,

My vision for this research project was to take a concrete step in the direction of developing a psychology that works toward emancipation. One research participant made the following comment about critical psychology's involvement in the process of social change, "since we are mostly academic types at this point, we need to get out and learn from trying to be part of the change process in much more direct ways and then share these experiences."

My thesis was intended to be a mobilizer. It was not an intervention directed at groups who have been silenced and marginalized by the inequities perpetuated by mainstream psychology and society. It was aimed at a group of people who, because inequities still exist, have the power, resources, and responsibility to be actively engaged in social change initiatives. We are all involved in the collaborative creation of justice in interpersonal relationships, community settings, and society as a whole. We all benefit from the promotion of emancipation and the elimination of oppression. My thesis was designed as an invitation to critically reflect on our roles as academics and as psychologists in the process of change. We are committed to human liberation in the work we do in critical psychology. Together, we defined some steps to explore the potential of what that commitment can mean for the practice of critical psychology in teaching, research and community work.

The following series of critical questions is the recommendation component of my thesis project. I hope that these may be helpful in our work as teachers, researchers and community workers. Based on the information you provided as well as my reading of the published literature and my own experiences in these areas, I developed these critical questions that can be differently adapted in the various contexts of our work as critical psychologists.

Critical Questions for the Promotion of Emancipation in Teaching


Theory: Do the theories I present go beyond the narrow limits of the dominant positivist paradigm in psychology?

Practice: When I am teaching, do I provide practical examples about how to do critical psychology?

Praxis: Do I create opportunities to establish a connection between the psychological material being covered and the lives of students, as one group in society that is sometimes silenced and overlooked?


Denunciation: Do I afford students the opportunity to respectfully challenge their own personal values, those of their peers and mine as the professor?

Annunciation: Do I integrate subordinated forms of knowledge such as success stories from anti-psychiatry movement in the course curriculum and encourage students to creatively articulate alternatives to the oppressive status quo in psychology?

Construction: When I am teaching, do I submit all statements, including my own, to critical scrutiny while attempting to build a critical psychology that works for the emancipation of oppressed groups?


Inside: When I am teaching, do I use my professional position to promote the interests of powerless groups?

Outside: Do I value and try to encourage students who are working to promote emancipation in community settings and when I am teaching in the University, do I share examples of my work outside the University?

Community Involvement: Do I integrate field trips to community-based initiatives in the course curriculum or invite guest speakers from these settings to attend class?


Critical Questions for the Promotion of Emancipation in Research


Theory: Do I rely solely on traditional psychological research paradigms in conceptualizing research projects, applying for research grants, and publishing research findings?

Practice: Have I tried new research paradigms in my psychological research, such as qualitative research, or participatory action research?

Praxis: Have I integrated grounded experience with theoretical knowledge in community-based action research?


Denunciation: Do I question the assumptions of empirical and quantitative research in my writing, teaching and research?

Annunciation: Do I adapt my research style and expectations to suit the specific needs of the diverse populations with whom I work?

Construction: Recognizing the limitations and potentialities of both traditional and non-traditional research in psychology, do I integrate paradigms to promote the interests of powerless groups?


Inside: When I am publishing research findings do I make a concerted effort to truthfully discuss the findings of the research even if this may reflect negatively on me or the institution with which I am affiliated?

Outside: When I am conducting research in the community, do I engage in a respectful dialogue with research participants to negotiate the parameters of the research project?

Community Involvement: Do I work to ensure that there is a climate of collaboration and collective ownership of the research findings so that the recommendations from the research will be implemented?

Critical Questions for the Promotion of Emancipation in Community Work


Theory: When I write about the work I do, can I clearly articulate who I am accountable to?

Practice: Do I work in community-based settings so that I am not always surrounded by a privileged elite population of university students and faculty?

Praxis: Do I use the knowledge I have about oppression and social movements in the actions I take to work toward emancipation?


Denunciation: Do I question sexist, racist and classist strategies that have been traditionally used in psychological community interventions?

Annunciation: Do I work to create a climate in which creative and imaginative actions can be thought of and put into practice?

Construction: Do I promote the constant process of articulation of ideas and critical evaluation of actions throughout all aspects of my involvement in community work?


Inside: Do I transgress the oppressive boundaries between the University and the community and actively seek to bridge the gap by involving community members in academic work for social change and involving myself in community work for social change?

Outside: When I am facilitating a community-based project do I bring together people with different capacities so that we may all learn from one another throughout the collective action process?

Community Involvement: Do I take time in my busy academic schedule to enter into dialogue with the people who are most oppressed by injustice to decide what kind of community work would be most valuable, meaningful and appropriate?


An Example of Critical Psychology in Action

In order to better understand what these recommended courses of action could look like when implemented, I will briefly describe how I think the Community Psychology (CP) program at Wilfrid Laurier University engages in practices that have an explicit critical orientation.

Through its teaching, research and community work, the CP program provides an excellent example of critical praxis, construction and community involvement. For the purposes of this research, I will limit this discussion to a simple overview of the key features that are characteristic of the critical approach taken in the CP program. However, I think it would be worthwhile to explore in greater depth the CP program at WLU as one example of critical psychology in action.

Some features of the CP program at WLU illustrate how the principles of critical psychology can be applied in teaching, research and community work. In the context of teaching, the graduate program in CP has been inspired by critical pedagogy, feminist and empowerment pedagogies and adult education. In CP, we learn about how the politics of racism, sexism, classism and ableism shape what we learn and how we are taught. There is an explicit emphasis on these topics and their impacts on the mental and physical health of individuals, communities, and societies. As a program, we are continually reviewing the curriculum, as well as other aspects of the learning environment, to ensure that an anti-oppression perspective is used. As active learners who are treated as such, students have the opportunity to participate in the development of the course curriculum and the structure of each course. Accountability to the groups with whom professors and students work is a central component of the classroom content and process. There is often an opportunity to have guest speakers attend our classes to share their experiences with the group. In class-related work, students may choose to work with community groups, involving them in all aspects of a project. This extends the walls of the university classroom to a broader audience and transcends the narrow boundaries of what is considered legitimate knowledge in psychology. Furthermore, this pedagogical approach diversifies and enriches the learning experience for all participants involved.

Critical thinking is highly encouraged in all aspects of our work in CP. Both professors and students are actively involved in the pedagogical process with the intention of gaining a further understanding of the world. Time is spent to establish an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in each class. We are encouraged to integrate our own experiences and knowledge to contribute to the learning. This provides students and professors with the opportunity to create more equitable and meaningful learning environments.

Community-based research is taught and modeled by professors in the CP program. The research methodology course covers a broad range of research paradigms from quantitative research methods and qualitative research methods. Many students who come to the CP program have only been exposed to quantitative research methods in their undergraduate degrees in psychology. In the CP graduate program, students have an equal opportunity to further their knowledge of quantitative methods and be introduced to the many qualitative research techniques. Students and professors engage in both qualitative and quantitative research. Many research projects in the CP program have been undertaken in collaboration with community groups or community members as both participants and co-researchers. This type of research usually relies on a participatory-action approach (PAR) in which researcher and community member play an active role in each step of the research process, from design to implementation to action-oriented outcome. Another unique approach to research that has recently been used in the CP program is a critical autobiographical approach. With this approach, it becomes possible to merge the researcher's public/academic self with his/her private/personal self. As one CP student describes,

"I have long understood how particular personal life experiences influenced my decision to study psychology but, prior to coming to Wilfrid Laurier, these experiences were rarely shared in the classroom context or in private discussions with my instructors or classmates. I always feared that to share these experiences would undermine my right to legitimacy and to authority in an academic setting. This likely largely due to being an undergraduate student in a psychology department wedded to the distanced and disinterested positivist approach to research. Objectivity was deemed possible and necessary in this setting, and I feared that by sharing my first-hand experiences I would be seen as incapable of doing "good" research by virtue of locating myself within an interested position" (Brown, 1998).


Professors and students in the CP program have a long history of involvement in community work in the Kitchener-Waterloo region. There is a full year course dedicated to a practicum designed to provide students with the chance to apply their learning in community settings. Some students choose to engage in community-based research while others get involved in grassroots activism. One student and professor this year participated in organizing a teach-in. The focus of this event was to give youth a chance to explore economic globalization and corporate rule. The objective was to bring youth from Southern Ontario together to discuss the impacts of globalization on societies, communities, and individual people. The teach-in provided a forum for young people to strategize and develop action plans to counter the effects of economic globalization and corporate rule. The teach-in had an inspiring effect on all students, youth and adults involved. Together they created a culture of hope. They discovered that through dialogue and action-oriented strategizing they could make a difference in each of their respective communities.


Thank you all for your contributions and active participation in this collaborative process. Just so you know, I successfully defended my MA thesis on May 18th. Yippee! I hope to be able to work with each of you again in the future.

In solidarity,

Stephanie Austin
York University Psychology Dept


Please do not hesitate to contact me.

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