Reflections on Rappaport’s The art of social change – Community narratives as resources for individual and collective identity
Rappaport (1998) reinforces a previous written critique I had in another course. Researchers in community psychology as well as humanistic psychology are not there for themselves or to dictate a narrative, whether it is finding a means to evolve through a series of community problems or not. Rappaport explains it as being, “useful to people who have limited access to resources” where researchers serve as amplifiers to those voices. While I have thought about this at length, I hadn’t considered it as a subject of academic research. I have considered it as something that is necessary to do within the context of research to help people help themselves and empower them as individuals and groups in their own communities.
Rappaport (1998) also emphasizes what I may not have considered until now, at least academically, but have considered in my activist nature: the intersection of individual and collective expression as resources for individual and collective identities, especially through artistic and other forms of creative expression. While I lived in Austin, I was able to attend many creative events. Most of them were musical, but some of them were fine art events. Those fine art events frequently included street art or graffiti-themed events in a city that encouraged artistic expression more so than the city I am currently living.
For many years, I have argued that everyone has a need to create, whether it is children or houses, furniture, parts on an assembly line, or fine art or music of one sort or another. People starve for such things if they deny themselves the outlet to do so. Here Rappaport (1998) studies this phenomenon from a community psychological viewpoint through the mirror of activism that facilitates empowerment for disenfranchised populations. Rappaport calls these stories, and in a way they are. Creative expression can be a traditional written or oral story or history, and it can be something considered traditionally much more artistic. To me it is all of these forms of expression. To Rappaport, these are artistic expressions of the everyday. They are, in a fashion, the beauty, the poetry, of the everyday.
This is another aspect of community psychology I am extremely interested in pursuing where community activism and artistic expression are joined naturally. Rappaport contrasts the plight of Black Americans under institutional racism with Black South Africans. In the case of the former, Black Americans whose history in the United States “does not belong to them” and the latter who always owned their own history and their own land, even if they lived in physically worse conditions and in official apartheid and Black Americans continue to live in an unofficial apartheid. For me, this is a major discovery and realization. This is something that I must incorporate into my activism and research in the future.
Rappaport, J. (1998). The art of social change: Community narratives as resources for individual and collective identity. In X. B. Arriage & S. Oskamp (Eds.), Addressing community problems (pp 225-246). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage