Tag Archives: social justice

Counseling Diversity in Context

To mark the publication of Counseling Diversity in Context, author Jason Brown explains the political context within which counselors and psychotherapists work and how his book is intended to provide useful guidelines for those who wish to take a more activist role to promote social justice, equality, and equity.

Counseling Diversity in ContextCounseling and psychotherapy are political activities. I try to convince students of this. It seems strange to many of them that I would even mention politics in a micro-skills counseling practicum course. But really, just as everything a counselor does with a client is (or should be) therapeutic for the client, it is also political, whether this is acknowledged or not. Not only do counselors and psychotherapists practice in professions that are political, each is also a citizen, a status that comes with its own responsibilities.

The point of my new book, Counseling Diversity in Context, is to talk about the contexts within which psychotherapists practice and clients live. It speaks to something that is fundamentally challenging to many of us: despite best efforts to understand, own, and act in ways that are authentically ourselves, the environment has a lot of influence on what we do. This is a great thing when there is reciprocity and the right balance of support and challenge, but that’s not usually the case when we are struggling.

Consider, for example, a young adult on social assistance and looking for work. A dejected woman who has been applying for jobs for weeks, who cannot afford minutes for her cell phone to take and return calls from prospective employers, comes for counseling. While depression may be a “problem,” the “problem” may also be an absence of schools that accommodate parents or a lack of access to affordable child care. While income support is far below many poverty lines, fear of losing it if her partner lived with them (and helped out financially as well as with caregiving) keeps them separated. Counseling could help improve her energy and motivation, and may be supplemented by connecting her with free short-term childcare and providing a card for telephone minutes. However, the “problem” is also poverty, the welfare system, and how these reflect classism, sexism, and racism.

Addressing the full situation may sound idealistic, I know. But in the big picture, each person, group, organization, community, and nation influences others. Therefore, we each participate in the creation and maintenance of our sociopolitical environment. With equality as a goal and equity as a first step, the context in which clients live can no longer be viewed as benign—it must always be seen as part of the problem for which clients seek therapy.

A major barrier to acting on notions of social justice, equality, and equity—even if a majority of stakeholders actually agree that such action needs to be taken—is how to do it. That’s the emphasis of the second half of Counseling Diversity in Context. It takes a look outside of the psychotherapist’s office and into the communities where we practice and live. It offers a way to assess that community and identify potential changes, as well as approaches and tactics to bring that change along.

Counselors and psychotherapists need not be leaders of community change. In this book, a range of possible roles are outlined with pros and cons of each, where the principles apply equally well to institutions, agencies, and programs. In each chapter, case examples illustrate the connections between social issues and personal problems. They also point to ways these can be addressed both within and outside the counseling office, and, importantly, how clients themselves may be best positioned to advocate for, lead, or support community change.

Counseling Diversity in Context is for students in counseling and psychotherapy training in psychology, social work, medicine, and other allied disciplines. It may fit well within courses on diversity and culture, as well as supplement readings in professional and reflective practice or counseling theories and methods.

There are discussion questions for each chapter that can be used to identify different perspectives and positions on issues. Internet links to various social justice organizations and initiatives are included for further reading. There are also several frameworks that students may use to explore personal experiences with oppression and liberation, how these are experienced by their peers and clients, as well as how addressing them may be promoted within professional organizations and communities.

Jason Brown is Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Faculty of Education at Western University.

Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements

To mark the publication this week of Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements, the author, Aziz Choudry, provides the following background, as well as thoughts on how the book might be used in the undergraduate or graduate classroom. The book launches this Wednesday in Montreal at the Immigrant Workers Centre, 4755 Van Horne Ave., Suite 110, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. Visit the McGill event page here.

Learning Activism

Learning Activism is primarily about the intellectual labour—the learning, knowledge production, and research—that takes place in the course of organizing and activism. Indeed, in this book I suggest that some of the most radical critiques, understandings, and theories about the world we live in, its power structures and dominant ideologies, and the fragility of the environment—and indeed the most powerful visions for social change—emerge from ordinary people coming together and working for such change.

For teaching purposes, I’m often drawn to books that incorporate, in different ways, narrations of the author’s everyday observations and experiences—to make their points as well as review and reference selective areas of scholarship. This book tries to balance insights derived from some of my own organizing and activist education practice with scholarship about activist learning, knowledge production, and research in sufficient depth to be helpful to both student and broader audiences. Drawing from a range of contexts, Learning Activism discusses the significance, dynamics, and politics of forms and processes of informal and non-formal learning, education, research, and other forms of knowledge production within social, political, and environmental activist milieus. Examples include anti-colonial currents within global justice organizing in the Asia-Pacific, activist research and education in social movements and people’s organizations in the Philippines, migrant worker struggles in Canada, and the Quebec student strike.

The book is born out of many conversations, debates, and arguments and is in dialogue with many other people, ideas, theories, and struggles. It should be of interest to people working in several disciplines concerned with learning, knowledge production, research, and social action/social movements. Besides education, this includes sociology, political science, international relations, critical anthropology, community development, social work, and international development. Learning Activism could be integrated into undergraduate courses and graduate seminars as well as serving as a reference for scholars in these and related disciplines. It may be adopted as a text in courses related to social movements, learning and adult education, organizing and non-formal learning, community development, international development, global education, and social justice, for example. It’s written in a style that should also be accessible to activists, community, trade union, and NGO practitioners and broader publics.

Throughout this book I highlight the intellectual contributions of informal and non-formal learning, knowledge production, activist research, and organizing to the academic field of education and learning, and educators in general. I also address some theoretical, analytical, and pedagogical questions in ways that should be relevant to organizers and activists. It is neither a social movement studies reader nor a traditional text on social movement learning or adult education. Along the way, it engages critically with some of the literature in the field of social movement studies as part of a broader project. It tries to break the serious analysis of social movement learning out of the particular sites where it usually takes place (like adult education programs and literature) to make it more widely accessible. It is not meant as an exhaustive text on the study of social movements, but instead, points readers to further sources that include many theoretical works as well as more popular or activist literature.

I do not believe that activism can be neatly packaged into boxes labelled “organizing,” “education/learning,” “research,” and “action.” Academic scholarship commonly demands and generates such categories, but it is not always analytically helpful to carve up and analyze people’s activities in the world, nor is it an accurate reflection of how things actually happen. For that reason, dividing the book’s content into chapters and sections reflects convenience rather than rigid categorization or narrow compartmentalization. The book can be read in the order in which it is presented, or its chapters can be read to complement themes of courses in any order.

At the heart of this book is the simple idea that people struggle, learn, educate, and theorize wherever they find themselves. The forms this takes may change, but the importance of spaces and places for collective action, learning, reflection, and intergenerational sharing is crucial to building, sustaining, and broadening resistance to injustice and exploitation. A critical eye to history is vital, together with an openness to valuing processes of informal and non-formal learning, and knowledge created from the ground up. Indeed, this lens is necessary for those who want to link critical knowledge to action and for action to be informed by deeper historical understandings of how and why we are in the state we are in. This, in turn, connects to my collaboration in this book with photojournalist Orin Langelle’s powerful photography, including the striking front cover image. In Langelle’s words, his photographic work aims to “counter the societal amnesia from which we collectively suffer—especially with regard to the history of social and ecological struggles. This is not merely a chronicling of history, but a call out to inspire new generations to participate in the making of a new history.”

The politics of documenting earlier and contemporary histories of social movements is an important thread running through the book, and one which also points to future prospects for change. I think it can be instructive and sobering to reflect on how ideas and causes once viewed radical, subversive, and even criminalized can sometimes become mainstream (and perhaps, how this can happen in reverse, sometimes). The strategies, tactics, and methods used, the dilemmas they have grappled with, and many of the people involved are often airbrushed out of dominant or ‘common sense’ accounts, affording instead dangerously sanitized and sometimes wildly inaccurate misrepresentations about the dynamics and histories of social and political change.

In conclusion, although you won’t find many neatly packaged answers in Learning Activism, the book puts forward lots of questions—and a strong sense that the struggles for social, political, economic, and ecological justice are unfinished business. In that sense, freedom may well become, as Angela Davis suggests, “not a state for which one yearns, but rather an incessant struggle to remake our lives, our relations, our communities, and our futures.”

Aziz Choudry is Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University, and Visiting Professor at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, University of Johannesburg.