Review of the Literature
In Latin America a socio-economic structure exists which is out of balance and unequal in regards to income and wealth, where persistently high levels of poverty exist. Subjugation of populations to a struggle between authoritarianism and democracy have left many citizens depleted in numerous ways because of the tyranny of totalitarian and militarized regimes which began to take root in the 1950’s, increasing into the late 70’s and early 80’s, and influenced by Cold War impacts as well as early effects of globalization. The resulting conflicts, accompanied by political torture and other atrocities, have created a massive loss of human life, destroying assets and property (Montero, 2007; Solimano, 2004).
This review of the literature presents models of influence that have developed as a result of the political strife. Their objective is to find solutions to liberate the conditions and repressive environments of the oppressed populations in Latin America.
One of the main influences on liberation theologies, liberation psychologies, and Latin American community social psychology is the work of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. Much of what Freire developed was adopted into Latin American social and community psychology by Ignacio Martín-Baró and other social psychologists and scientists. Freire introduced his idea of popular education in 1964 as a form of education for adults. Introduced to develop literacy, the goal was to also promote the expansion of individual consciousness with the intent of enhancing perceptions about social conditions. It is the act of knowing where education creates the practice of freedom (Tonsing, 2010). The goal is transformation with an emphasis on the rights and duties of the individual within a societal context so that the individual becomes consciously aware of living in an oppressive environment while subjected to the imposition of decisions made by the oppressors. Terms and concepts introduced by Freire include liberation, de-alienation, de-ideologization, problematization, praxis, and conscientization. Influenced by Marxist theory and responding to Franz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” . . . his concerns are about problems with education and social issues. (Montero, 2007; Tonsing, 2010).
Cognitively and emotionally conscientization is about attaining awareness of situations that influence people’s living conditions. It is about the development of the individual’s ability to become aware of and denounce oppressive relationships. It is critical consciousness coming about through the process of praxis (Montero, 2007). It requires awareness of alienation and promotes that action must be taken to change the situation (Tonsing, 2010).
Praxis is a process of reflection and action that must occur in order to create social change. Without it the oppressed cannot achieve independence from those that oppress. Praxis leads to conscientization and the expansion of critical consciousness. It is the development of critical consciousness that leads to the process of liberation and is a first step allowing people to manifest as free human beings who are able to take action against their oppressors (Todd, 2011).
Problematization is the doubting and rejection of institutionalized truth that has been taught and presented as an essential aspect of the world. It puts into question notions and beliefs that have been naturalized as acceptable. Denaturalizing these beliefs is a starting point for liberation. The eventual creation of new notions and explanations comes as a result of the processes of de-ideologization and de-alienation where de-ideologization is the conduit for making naturalized social truths transparent. It is the breaking down of the dominant ideology that confines the oppressed to an unjust sociopolitical environment. Related to alienation and ideology, de-alienation is about the process of seeing the influences between historic and social conditions that people live in and then seeing how roles are acted out and constructed (Montero, 2007).
In the larger context liberation theology encompasses multiple theologies of liberation whose commonality reflects the experience of oppression. The most notable of these theologies of liberation revolves around poverty and class conflict in Latin America. Additional theologies of liberation that have emerged exist as a result of marginalization and oppression attributed to social group membership and include Black Theology (racism), Feminist Theology (sexism), Womanist Theology (race, class, and sex experienced by Black women), Palestinian Liberation Theology (based on Palestinian Christian oppression) and more. The common theme of these theologies is taken from a reflection on oppression as seen through the lens of religious faith, practice, and experience with the primary purpose being that of liberation and social transformation (Todd, 2011).
Liberation theology coming out of Latin America is complex in origin, influenced as far back as the Church Fathers (Roman Catholic), it includes aspects of Vatican II, political theology based in Europe, Paulo Freire’s educational philosophy, and Christian-Marxist dialogue occurring in the 1960s. Historically, Catholic Social Teaching is known to have condemned social injustices occurring in the 1890’s in Europe as a response to the abysmal living conditions experienced by the urban poor. This was followed by successive Roman Catholic Popes denouncing European liberal capitalism who were looking to improve the conditions of the poor and disadvantaged (Kuruvilla, 2010).
The Vatican II and then the 1968 Latin American Bishops Conference in Columbia influenced a number of theologians to criticize the inequality and oppression in Latin America. Among these are Leonardo Boff, Gustave Gutierrez, and Oscar Romero who saw the political and economic systems as being the cause of poverty and violence in Latin America. Much of this was seen as coming about due to colonialism and neo-colonialism. Latin America’s integration into global capitalism led to unfair trade practices and greater inequalities accompanied by the rise of militarized right wing governments (Kim, 2013; Kuruvilla, 2010) . Liberation theology comes about due to these events as Latin American theologians witnessed the reality of social oppression and the resulting misery that was occurring around them. In response they constructed goals to eliminate this misery and create a liberation for the oppressed . . . espoused as a preferential option for the poor (Kuruvilla, 2010). Liberation theology critiques the structures and institutions responsible for creating the poor where it is apparent that poverty will not be temporary but instead is and will be systematic and structural (Kuruvilla, 2010). It is not simply poverty that exists but an ongoing condition of oppression that includes violence and the possibility of death (Kim, 2013).
Liberation theology sees working for justice and practical activity as a Christian responsibility (Todd, 2011). Liberation is the first step that includes the priority of praxis and a commitment to the poor. Theology is seen as secondary (Kim, 2013). The act of praxis and the subsequent reflection on action is to occur through what is viewed as the indisputable Word of God and the Holy Scriptures of Christian faith. Christian commitment is considered as the act of listening, identifying, and living with the poor. It is also about working not just for the poor but also with the poor against injustice (Kim, 2013). For liberation theologians full liberation is indicative of salvation in Jesus Christ (Kuruvilla, 2010).
Liberation theology questions how religious institutions can also be a cause of oppression through Christian identification with the rich (Todd, 2011). To try and understand why development programs failed liberation theologists began looking at Marxian postulates. Though all Popes since Leo XIII have been seen as strictly conservative and adamantly anti-Communist they were supportive of more moderate socialist efforts (Kuruvilla, 2010). In the mid 1980’s attempts by the Holy See were made to stop liberation theology. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) criticized many of the ideas of liberation theology and viewed it as a form of Marxism. He considered it threatening to the faith of the Catholic Church, where he saw the idea of the biblical poor being re-characterized as a Marxist proletariat (Kim, 2013). The response for clergy who in engaged in liberation theology and related political activities was to be chastised or censured by the Vatican (Kim, 2013). It has also been the case that clergy who have been seen by the those in power as endorsing communities to resist authority resulted in priests being jailed, tortured, and often murdered.
Due to a shortage of priests in Latin America and a need to have laity as active members in the Church small groups were often set up that combined Bible study with participation for change. Known as Christian Base Communities (CBCs) they were grassroots communities that were considered a key representation of liberation theology. With no involvement from the Vatican these groups were created by priests, nuns, and laity mostly in poor communities of peasants and workers for the purpose of addressing a range of issues concerning such problems as poor working conditions, attacks against unions, and struggles for land rights. Discussions would be centered around the gospels with the goal of interpretation and action as the primary task. In some cases it was extremely dangerous to be involved with a CBC. If found out it could lead to incarceration and death. Eventually with the end of military rule in 1985, CBCs began to evolve and include resistance to environmental and racial justice (Kim, 2013; Kuruvilla, 2010).
Alongside the idea of asking what the causes of poverty are liberation theology also asks how it can be eliminated and questions how power is utilized in the local and global environments. In addition to the church providing a place for sacramental living, liberation theology acts as a place for the oppressed to organize for liberation (Todd, 2011).
Ignacio Martín-Baró and Liberation Psychology
Ignacio Martín-Baró, the pioneer of Liberation Theology in Latin America, was a radical psychologist and academic scholar. Born in Spain in 1942 he joined the Society of Jesus at age 17 and was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1970 after being assigned to El Salvador by the Church. Following ordination he studied social psychology at the University of Chicago, completing doctoral studies nine years later. His studies took him to different parts of Europe, the United States and South America, while always returning to El Salvador (Montero, 2007; Goodman, Walling, & Ghali, 2010). He was a member of the American Psychological Association and later head of the psychology department at the University of Central America in San Salvador (Goodman et al., 2010). Trained as a social psychologist he considered himself a priest and also a Marxist by virtue of the fact that he considered Marxism basically a methodology for social and historical analysis (Rosenberg, 2013).
Having written eleven books and more than one hundred articles his work and career exemplified a justice oriented research model geared towards promoting social change and the empowerment of a population of citizens who lived in destitute poverty working on farms and in factories where the subsequent and resulting profit was intended to create wealth only for the powerful elite. Due to corrupt elections, economic destruction, and military takeovers the resulting civil war displaced 30% of the population and decimated the lives of 70,000 people during the years from 1980 to 1992 (Goodman et al., 2010).
Based on the tenets of Liberation Theology and influenced by intellectual and social movements occurring in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, including the works of Paulo Freire, Martín-Baró developed his ideas for a psychology of liberation in order to take up the cause of the oppressed poor and marginalized (Montero, 2007; Goodman et al., 2010). Consequently, at the age of 47, he was viewed as an enemy of the military government for his political stance and support of the preferential option for the poor. After six attempts on his life he became the victim of a state-sanctioned assassination carried out in November of 1989 by 30 members of the U.S. trained Atlactl Battalion. Dressed in military fatigues they murdered Martín-Baró and five other priests at his campus living quarters.
Changing perceptions about psychology in Latin America were on the rise during Martín-Baró’s time. Taking on a more psychosocial mode, traditional concepts of psychological practice and theory were being criticized, deconstructed, and reconstructed. Along with movements concerning anti-psychiatry and community organization . . . political psychology raised issues about social identity, developing new explanations about nationalism, ethnicity and culture (Montero, 2007). Martín-Baró put forth the idea that psychology must promote social change and empowerment and saw psychology as a moral project. In order to make significant change to what he saw as the real problem he actively promoted that psychologists must engage with the dynamics of oppression and that of liberation in order to confront the problems that distort mental health in contemporary society. This was about changing the structure of society such that “the welfare of the few is not built on the wretchedness of the many” (Goodman et al., 2010, p. 598).
Martín-Baró was concerned about the potential role of psychology acting as a conduit that endorses rather than negates oppression. For Martín-Baró psychology generated a fictional image of what it means to be a human being because of the dominant historical development of psychology in Europe and North America (Barratt, 2011). In response he promoted a liberation of psychology independent of “western-centric, power-laden theories that served to uphold structures of enslavement and marginalization” (Goodman et al., 2010, p. 597). He sought a new object of study, a new epistemology and a new praxis (Barratt, 2011). Included was a concept of a new social identity obtained through the recovery of historic memory that opposed a negative self image internalized by oppression within the spirit of the individual (Montero, 2007; Barratt, 2011) .
Martín-Baró advocated for psychosocial transformation through empowerment of the people which included development of and reinforcement of the positive qualities of citizenship, adding to the construction of a social identity. Based on the qualities of being assertive, self assuring, and taking pride in work and achievement on the individual level this transformation was intended to effectively empower civil society and strengthen democracy (Montero, 2007).
In order to carry out the goal of liberation through transformation he endeavored to create new ways of using psychology. Liberation was to occur internally as well as externally in order for the transformation to be successful and it was assumed that this was not something that was received passively. For this the liberation process required the development of consciousness as developed by Paulo Freire (concientizacion) and it’s intent was to inspire the qualities of “solidarity, practical intelligence, resistance, and resilience” (Montero, 2007, p. 522) allowing the people to acquire control and power.
To bring about the process of concientizacion in the Salvadorian people he attempted to overcome the pervasive propaganda established by those in power. This distortion, often occurring through the manipulation of mass media, deflects critical consciousness resulting in a population that is unaware of its own oppression (Barratt, 2011; Goodman et al., 2010) ). He sought the truth by acquiring verifiable forms of information to overcome disinformation. Mass media was being used to distort public opinion causing Salvadorenos to feel isolated from one another and systematically hiding the most serious problems occurring in El Salvador. Salvadorenos were afraid to share there opinions and felt alone in being disagreeable about actions by the government. Being disempowered to share opinions with others led to confusion and oppression. Due to this social lie they could not see themselves clearly and the ability to transform became diffused.
Martín-Baró’s psychological tool to reveal misinformation was the use of public opinion polls. As a research psychologist he asked questions that targeted solutions and in a series of five studies he collected data that created information which was counter to what the government’s position on the war in El Salvador was. Through his publications this information was made available to the Salvadorian people and to the international media, putting the government in a position of being unable to justify the distorted public opinion they had created. Findings showed that the people were not in support of a prolonged conflict caused by U.S. intervention and they were aware of a corrupt electoral system as well. Theses positions were contrary to what was disseminated by the media. The simple process of asking and reflecting presented concientizacion to the Salvadorian people (Goodman et al., 2010).
For Martín-Baró research offered a mechanism to reveal the truth and establish the process of concientizacion, allowing for social change. His concepts influenced social psychology throughout Latin America as well as many other parts of the world. Asking questions to raise awareness of injustice and distortion creates a social psychology that helps to build a just society and imposes upon psychology professionals a moral imperative promoting human life to thrive (Goodman et al., 2010).
Community Social Psychology and Participatory Action Research
Traditional psychology, as put forth by Wiesenfeld, is based on an ideology of authority and has little or no faith in the people. By this reckoning people are assigned to social ranks with unequal access to psychological and material resources. Contrary to this notion is the emergence of Community Social Psychology which is a psychological discipline that has developed autonomously in Latin America (Wiesenfeld, 2012). It surfaced in response to political strife, originally growing “from the efforts of community organizers, activists, and community members” (Gokani, 2010, p. 113), in turn creating a need for academics to address the social justice issues affecting communities in Latin America. Contributions to theoretical aspects of the discipline have originated from the works of Paulo Freire, Orlando Fals Borda, and Kurt Lewin.
Community Social Psychology opposes the paternalistic tendencies of the traditional models of community psychology which approach community mental health by utilizing a top-down approach to providing assistance where the governmental and non-governmental institution “commands lowering the head before the demands of external agencies” (Montero, 2008, p. 666). In response Community Social Psychology seeks a down-up approach where the grassroots organizations and communities work towards state institutions to a point where “dialogue and negotiation lead the relationship” (Montero, 2008, p. 666). Both traditional and transformational models of community psychology exist together in Latin America.
Latin American CSP puts forth a “theoretical, methodological and applied production” that derives from the multiplistic and complex issues that exist within the context of Latin America. This has allowed for the development of both academic and non-academic practices which is exhibited by numerous university courses at all levels. Approaches and concepts of CSP are utilized and applied throughout the larger context including “health, environment, education, slums, disasters, public policies” (Wiesenfeld, 2012, p. 27) as well as the processes of “organization, , participation, critical reflection, consciousness raising, leadership, empowerment, feeling of belonging and identity” (Wiesenfeld, 2012, p. 27). Activities include “research, intervention, evaluation, training, negotiation, and prevention” (Wiesenfeld, 2012, p. 27). Populations of concern are those that are socially vulnerable and disadvantage economically. Actions take place within governmental and nongovernmental organizations as well as health centers, educational institutions, community organizations and residential communities. It puts in place a commitment to reduce poverty, inequality and exclusion (Wiesenfeld, 2012).
The seriousness of the situation at hand is highlighted by the data that shows in the Report on the Social Panorama of Latin America (CEPAL 2010), the number of poor in the region at that point amounted to 180 million people of which 72 million experience destitute poverty. This makes up 32% and 12%, respectively, of the population of Latin America who live in inadequate living conditions in population dense environments (Wiesenfeld, 2012). Key to overcoming this poverty is empowerment through community organization and participation which is a primary principle of CSP. Community Social Psychology looks to make psychosocial change of various types. These changes include macro-social processes intended to reduce the “state of dependency, inequality, exclusion, injustice, and oppression” (Wiesenfeld, 2012, p. 29) and micro-social processes that address building awareness and enhancing community identity, creating shared emotional bonding, and democratizing leadership to promote transformation (Wiesenfeld, 2012). It also looks to affect institutional bodies that perform community services; building a socially relevant discipline; generating knowledge that combines and creates meaning; developing methodologies and appropriate strategies for addressing the issues; democratizing access to knowledge and information to enhance and strengthen the disadvantaged; and to promote community psychosocial work as a lifelong experience “through training, reflection and exchange of knowledge and experiences” (Wiesenfeld, 2012, p. 29).
Because of it’s characteristics Participatory Action Research (PAR) has become a key component of CSP. By incorporating participation within the community social change occurs through work done by the affected people in regards to the circumstances in need of change (Montero, 1998). It allows for co-research to occur with researchers and community members acting together. This is a consciousness raising action that seeks solutions to problems through collaboration. It is community intervention seeking social change. The result gives meaning and provides a conduit to other emerging and evolving processes that enhance the sense of community and empowerment (Wiesenfeld, 2012).
Participatory Action Research (PAR) brings together community members who are most effected by an issue, joining them together with people who have experienced research skills in order to initiate effective research and evaluate the results. The goal is to create a strategy to resolve negative issues. PAR allows for research to originate from the people most effected and then return directly back to them where they can decide what best use the information can be put to. It can supplement, add to, or replace academic research (Rabinowitz, 2013).
Much of the basis for PAR comes from the influence of both Paulo Freire’s critical education processes and from the ideas of Columbian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda, both of whom believed that the researcher must be committed and engaged with the problem, the oppressed people, and the transformation of social goals. This model was created as a new psychosocial practice “oriented towards social problem solving with the participation of the people involved in those problems” (Montero, 2008, p. 665).
There are a number of reasons for supporting this approach and why it can be successful. People in affected communities are more likely to talk openly and give straight answers to researchers they are familiar with rather than with people from outside of the community for whom they do not know. Community members who take part in collecting research data are often more familiar with the issues. It is more likely that they will perceive and comprehend a wider range of views on the topics of concern. Because of direct exposure to the issues they may intuit more important aspects of the research. It is more likely that while obtaining qualitative research they will understand what might be considered as insignificant, such as offhanded remarks, more clearly than outside researchers would. Community members as action researchers experience the issues regularly. They are constantly exposed to the same issues as the population they are researching and will more likely find information while not openly engaged in research as well. It is also very likely that the findings from the research will receive more support from the community since the research is actually coming from the community, from people exposed to the same circumstances as they are. Additionally by involving community members there is much more visibility reflecting back into the community about the issues of concern and need (Rabinowitz, 2013). Adherence to the guidelines and principles of participation is a primary condition for accomplishing the goals set forth by Community Social Psychology (Wiesenfeld, 2012).
The work of Community Social Psychology through Participatory Action Research seeks to reduce oppression and improve the quality of life. It looks to increase the level of awareness of social problems by members of the community. Intervention is facilitated through research where the resulting information can be used to help mobilize and organize for political purposes. Reflecting upon the research allows for action to become more efficient (Wiesenfeld,1998). In this way the work of Community Social Psychology can be seen as a form of political psychology. It makes conscious that citizenship is a right and a duty, bonded to the fact that as social beings we all live within a society.
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