For the role of the university in working with marginalised communities:
Clennon, O.D. (2020) Scholar activism as a nexus between research, community activism and civil rights via the use of participatory arts, The International Journal of Human Rights Vol 24, No. 1, 46 – 61, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2019.1624535 Available here.
Alci Matos Community
UFAM (LABINS) Master’s student Bruno Mestrado took me to the Alci Matos occupation[i] of an office tower block in the city centre of Manaus. Bruno is currently researching how he can help the residents deal with the trauma of their violent displacement by providing free psychoanalysis sessions to the residents. On our visit to the tower block, we met a young lady who sold food supplies from her modest apartment. We met another lady with whom Bruno is working, who was living with cancer. We also met a young man who ran a catering business from his apartment. We also met a pastor who wanted to establish a church in the Alci Matos community.
Our food vendor
However it was meeting a gentleman whose son was in a vegetative state with no chance of recovery, that really hit home to me the desperate living conditions for the residents of Alci Matos. The gentleman and his family had moved to the tower block to specifically look after his son who had suffered a catastrophic accident falling down the stairs (in the tower block). I asked about the support he was getting from anywhere (the community, the state?) He said that he was getting very little, just some minimal food and medical supplies. He said that the residents in Alci Matos did not help him on a regular basis, either. As I looked at his son laying in bed, I really thought that he could do with some decent palliative care.
Our caterer (in green)
So, it got me wondering if there were any nursing students at UFAM who could assist in providing palliative care as part of their work experience in their degree training.[ii] Bruno is making a census of the residents as part of his research. I also suggested that he in collaboration with the community’s leaders included an inventory of services that might be needed in the block. So that perhaps UFAM students with the appropriate skills could volunteer a service as part of their studies (and perhaps also mentor residents’ volunteering). I note that Bruno has already started this with his therapy sessions, which are designed to help the residents make sense of the trauma that they are experiencing and I also know Simone Campelo (another UFAM Master’s student) has done some similar work with the children. This could be an excellent “project” that LABINS could coordinate in terms of collaborating with students from different departments (e.g. art and social psychology students could lead painting and song workshops for the children to help them process their trauma).[iii]
So, for the Alci Matos community, the question then becomes; how can we assist the residents to build ‘community’ outside of the fragile unifying factor of trauma?[iv] Over the course of various discussions with researchers, students and scholars at UFAM (from LABINS in particular), three suggestions emerged:
- Short-term: processing trauma (using community arts[v] and community/liberation psychology etc)
- Medium-term: providing services they need (getting insurance for students via business sponsorship/setting up a near-by public venue/mobile service).
- Long-term: using education and supported volunteering as tools of direct capacity building (in terms of both individual wellbeing outcomes and social capital networks).
For the long-term objective, this made me think about how LABINS could create an accredited course for community leaders. Leading on from my talk and workshop I was thinking how a LABINS course could be about how we use community arts to explore LP/CP principles in creative ways but designed for the public i.e. community leaders who would be able to apply this directly to their own settings (groups, villages, streets etc.). On this last point, I think that we could pursue some potentially interesting theorising about the ecotone or edge between LP/CP (Freire, Martin-Baro, etc.) and cultural sociology (Bourdieu, Foucault, etc.) with (community arts) education (Higgins, Clennon, etc.) acting as a bridge between the two disciplines. (I believe Claudia is planning a similar programme, already!)
Interdisciplinary Research: Integrating Psychoanalytical theory
In talking to Bruno Mestrado about my interest in the use of psychoanalytical theory to pathologise structures of whiteness using Fanon, Lacan, Butler and others,[vi] Bruno outlined his challenges in forming a methodology that integrated psychoanalytical theory and social (LP/CP) psychology. At the end of our discussions, we arrived at a possible interdisciplinary methodological framework:
- Use social (LP/CP) psychology to identify (clarify) the nature of the trauma suffered by the Alci Matos residents.
- Use wellbeing models[vii] to examine the effects of chronic trauma.
- Use cultural sociology (Bourdieu, Foucault, etc.) to outline the existing anatomy of Power/social relations to form a conceptual bridge between LP/CP (wellbeing models) and more formal psychoanalytical theory (Lacan, Butler, etc.) that attempts to trace the underlying pathological structures of the Power (social relations) responsible for their chronic trauma.
[i] According to ALEAM, Cidade das Luzes, December 15, 2015. Viewed on March 15th, 2018, http://www.ale.am.gov.br/tag/cidade-das-luzes/ the residents consisting of 3000 families of the western area of Manaus called Tarumã, popularly known as the City of Lights, were forcibly evicted by the state from an area that had been designated an environmentally protected zone. The land was owned by Helio Carlos de Carli before being bought under a Municipal government compulsory purchase order for the purpose of creating an architectural project to house environmental studies. State Representative, Luiz Castro from the Legislative Assembly of Amazonas said that he sympathised with the displaced residents because he argues that measures should have been taken earlier to have prevented the initial occupation of the environmentally protected area, implying that for the genuinely homeless, steps should have been taken to provide homes for them in the first place. This is a poignant point because André Júnior de Oliveira Vasconcelos, a resident of the estate died from burns gained from a fire he and others had created to halt or delay the eviction of his and others’ families. The feeling of betrayal of the residents is also heightened by an alleged assurance that was given to them by Governor Jose Melo during the second round of the 2014 election campaign that they would not be removed from the area after the elections. The residents have since begun a squat in an office tower block in the city centre of Manaus called the Alci Matos Occupation. Leandra, a resident of the occupation outlines the struggles and discriminations faced by the Alci Matos residents, as well explaining some of the legal issues relating to the occupation in a video by G. Moreira. ‘Occupation Alci Matos, in a building in the center of Manaus, AM, in the XIV Intereclesial of the CEBs, in Londrina, PR’, January 21st, 2018. Viewed on March 15th, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grmsa14LIsU
[ii] See D.D. Blouin & E.M. Perry, ‘Whom Does Service Learning Really Serve? Community-Based Organizations’ Perspectives on Service Learning’. Teaching Sociology, 37(2 April), 2009, pp. 120-135 for a good account of how programmes need to be well structured in order to deliver service learning effectively.
[iii] In our staff and student research meeting later in the week, we did discuss the real institutional challenges that Claudia is facing in trying to organise this. Claudia said that she has tried to involve other departments in this project but with very little success, so far. However, the biggest institutional challenge has come from the university in terms of perceived risk for the students. Understandably, without adequate public liability insurance, the university would be loathed to allow the students to work in the tower block. We discussed three options that we could explore to overcome this challenge with insurance. First option, form a partnership with a company interested in boosting their image and brand of corporate social responsibility to pay for the insurance for the students to work in the building. This would be a good option in terms of also developing university partnerships with enterprise and business. The second option was delivering the services in an university-approved public space near to the tower block, perhaps in the form of a ‘pop up’ clinic of services. The third option we discussed was delivering the services in a specially adapted van, so that the clinic of services would be mobile and be able to be temporarily located directly in front of the tower block. The discussion about providing local community services also reminded me of my work with the Nello James Campaign in Manchester that sought to save a local community heritage centre and to locate much needed local services to the African and Caribbean community (see https://critracemmu.wordpress.com/keeping-it-real-applied-critical-theory-research-and-community-arts-activism/) Also see C. Kagan, R. Lawthom, O.D. Clennon, J. Fisher, J. Diamond, & K. Goldstraw, ‘Sustainable Communities: University/Community Partnership Research on Social Dimensions of Sustainable Development’ In W. Leal (Ed.). Sustainable Development Research at Universities in the United Kingdom. 2017, pp. 245-262. New York: Springer and C. Kagan & K. Duggan, Breaking Down Barriers: universities and communities working together. Community Cohesion Thematic Evaluation Report. Manchester: RIHSC. 2009 for discussions about some of the wider challenges UK universities can face when attempting to balance power-sharing with the community, especially within a neoliberal context of research. Also See O.D. Clennon, ’Anyone, for a delicious slice of pineapple upside-down cake?’ National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) [blog] December 18, 2013. Available at https://nccpe.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/pineapple-upside-down-cake/ for a discussion about a “new academic practice where public and community engagement actually form the embedded backbone of […] teaching and research”.
[iv] We noticed that the Alci Matos residents were forced to make a living only for themselves in ways that did not include the service needs of the tower block (e.g. neither the caterer nor the young lady selling food supplies provided regular direct services to their fellow residents, with the exception of the occasional promissory note of an IOU). The reality of their precarious existence made me wonder to what extent the community was brought together by shared values and interests outside of their traumatic experiences. I was also wondering if they had formed the sort of ‘community of practice’ that E. Wenger, ‘Communities of practice: A brief introduction’ October, 2011. Available from https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/11736 writes about. This led me to reflect on a wellbeing research project that I co-led with the Making Education a Priority (MEaP) community enterprise and an MMU Master’s research student that looked at wellbeing in the context of community employability skills training and volunteering (see https://meapsite.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/meap-delivers-mental-health-wellbeing-as-part-of-its-lifelong-learning-education-activities/) In our research, we found that structured and well-supported volunteering had a positive impact on the self-efficacy, health and wellbeing and a feeling of belonging of the service users. However, our research also found that getting the balance right in providing appropriate volunteer-support in a complex and dynamic community setting was not always easy to achieve but when the balance was struck, we reported that service users did have an enhanced sense of “belonging” to a ‘community of practice’ that gave them the self-confidence to pursue other ambitions.
Although we were unable to fully integrate the data into our findings, we did find that the spirituality of some of the service users seemed to play a positive part in developing their self-efficacy (very much reflecting the mind, body, spirit model of health and wellbeing discussed in our visit to the indigenous medical centre). Interestingly on this last point, could the pastor at Alci Matos we met be pivotal in helping to create this sense of belonging for the community there?
However, all of these acts can be (and should be) viewed as ‘community self-care’ but borrowing from Audre Lorde, could this be seen as a radical (dangerous to the system) political act? See O.D. Clennon, ‘Community resistance in a neoliberal post-truth era: Is self-care becoming a radical political act?’ The Political Anthropologist [website] April 5th, 2017. Available at: http://www.politicalanthropologist.com/2017/04/05/community-resistance-neoliberal-post-truth-era-self-care-becoming-radical-political-act/ for a discussion about this point.
[v] Such as UFAM graduate, Larissa Albertino (after numerous conversations about her future as a researcher) possibly studying a Master’s with LABINS where she could use photography to help the Alci Matos children gain a sense of pride in their location that could help to transform the traumatic psychic nature of the location into something more positive and resilience-building!
I also had a talk with Samir Torres from the Teatro Amazonas about the potential participation of the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra (APO) and the Experimental Orchestra in some community composition projects. Further talks with Bruno Nascimento a conductor from UFAM’s music department, seem very promising. Claudia is also in contact with Rosemara Staub (UFAM music department) and Marcelo de Jesus (APO orchestra director) about this. Claudia is also in talks with Maestro Hermes Coelho, the conductor of UFAM’s orchestra.
[vi] See O.D. Clennon, ‘The Black Face of Eurocentrism: Uncovering Globalisation’. In O. D. Clennon (ed), International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges. Nova Science Publishers, New York, 2016, pp. 91 – 128
[vii] See R. Swindells, R. Lawthom, K. Rowley, A. Siddiquee, A. Kilroy and K. Kagan, ‘Eudaimonic Well-being and Community Arts Participation.’ Perspectives in Public Health 33 (1), 2013, pp. 60 – 65.