Historical notes of International community psychology conferences

By Irma Serrano-García

Community psychology is a young discipline. However, as disciplines go, it has developed rapidly. This may be due to different factors including a group of very active pioneers, its widespread initiation in different parts of the globe and the availability of the internet as a means of communication and sharing. I venture to say that International Community Psychology Conferences (ICCP’s) have also played a significant role in the discipline’s growth, its values, its theories and practice.

International Community Psychology Conferences began 14 and a half years ago. Similar to the start of many community efforts, they were initiated by a group of friends that had a good idea which was picked up by a group of enthusiastic, hardworking community psychologists who gave it life in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The conferences have various characteristics which represent values and concepts of community psychology.

Participation and diversity are at the forefront. These conferences are not housed in any particular organization. This was decided purposefully. The initial organizers wanted the conferences to respond to the interest, resources and energy of community psychologist. They did not know if there would be more than one conference; so they refrained from naming it the “First” ICCP. It has been fascinating to see how the event has literally taken on a life of its own. We have had 8 conferences so far in Puerto Rico, Portugal, México, Spain, Brasil, South Africa, Chile and Melbourne (virtually). There are two confirmed sites for the next two conferences: Italy and Uruguay. An average of 611 participants, representing an average of 34 countries, have attended these conferences. Hopefully, with the possibility of hosting virtual or hybrid events the conferences can reach other corners of the world including Asia which there has not been an ICCP yet.  There has also been diversity in attendees since in addition to psychologists, students, practitioners, activists, indigenous peoples and colleagues from other disciplines attend the conferences.

Capacity building is another focus of the conferences which have contributed to it in many ways. Most conferences have had diverse and rich pre-conferences with skill building as well as practice based workshops. Chile organized pre-conferences in three cities in the North, Center and South of the country and Melbourne hosted two thought provoking webinars months ahead to the conference itself.

A recent content analysis of the first seven conferences has shown that the content of the conferences has included the historical, ethical and critical examination of multiple theories and concepts such as empowerment, violence, poverty, sense of community, and public policy (Serrano-García & Torres López, 2020). Burgeoning areas also include critical and liberation psychology, decoloniality, sustainability, racialized and gender oppression and issues related to the pandemic and climate change. The conferences have also included rich work related to diverse research efforts particularly participatory action research and qualitative methods. There have been numerous examples of creative and action-oriented interventions as well as work by community psychologists from within government organizations and non-governmental entities.  The incorporation of the arts in community psychology practice and research has been present but was highlighted in Melbourne with sessions that included film, caricatures, poetry, drawing, theatre among others.

Books and special issues of journals have been born at these events. There is already a call out for a special issue related to this conference. These publications are listed at the end of this introduction. The proliferation of publications that have started to accept articles in various languages such as the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice (https://www.gjcpp.org/en/) or entities that have translations on their websites, like the Community Tool Box (https://ctb.ku.edu/en), are influenced by contacts made in the conferences.

Various community psychology organizations around the world have been enriched as a result of ICCP’s. The Society for Community Research and Action in the U.S. has seen more participants from other countries in its Biennial meetings as a result of its participation and collaboration with ICCPs. Recently, the European Community Psychology Association and SCRA have developed the New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions, a global collaboration designed to promote community building and strengthen community life. The Community Psychology Commission of the Interamerican Society of Psychology (ISP) meets now, not only in ISP Congresses, but at the conferences. These collaborations were facilitated by links developed in ICCP’s as was the birth of the Latin American Network for Education and Training in Community Psychology.

Solidarities have also been fostered not only by our professional endeavors but by our cultural and informal exchange. The variety and richness of cultural experiences in all forms of art including dance and music, exhibits, and film are just one of the many ways in which we share who we are as nations, as a collective and as individuals.

Last but not least, conferences have contributed towards creating a community of community psychologist. Participants have common interest and needs, and many before or after attending ICCP’s feel a sense of belonging to a community. The time we spend talking at lunch, on a park bench, over a glass of wine or more recently in a Zoom session, also nurture our solidarity by creating and maintaining personal and affective links that lead to collaboration and critical examination of our beliefs and ideas. Many new friendships that have arisen in these events and continue when the conferences are over.

Finally, we are a community that takes action in the face of poverty, homelessness, violence, illness, exploitation, and oppression. We need to strengthen this further, by developing more active ways to network and develop shared projects that will persist, by developing ways to maintain our exchange alive between conferences and by finding other ways to facilitate empowering the vulnerable to promote well-being, equity and social justice in our countries and around the world.