This book, edited by Venkat Pulla and Bharath Bhushan Mamidi, addresses the narratives of community empowerment, resilience and coping mechanisms, using a fresh lens and renewed approach. It remains well-documented that the process of community empowerment stems from community engagement, lead- ing to increased participation by the community. In their first chapter, Pulla and Mamidi outline the nuanced challenges faced in modern day community empower- ment. Using the contested notions of power, empowerment and community resil- ience, they argue that while resilience entails ‘successful adaptation’, coping strategies may not. Successful adaptation is a road to build the individual’s or communities’ personal and/or environmental resources—problem-solving skills, enhancement of self-confidence and boosting of social relations.
The second chapter by Vishanthie Sewpaul, Thobeka Ntini, Zama Mkhize and Snegugu Zandamela is an attempt to reconnect community empowerment with emancipatory social work. Drawing upon the voices of students who gained emancipatory social work education and personal experiences obtained from community-based practices in a disadvantaged school at Durban, South Africa and using the Freirian-Gramscian-Althusserian theoretical analyses and praxis, they argue that radical and empowerment of social actions could serve as a key to the development of critical consciousness. For this, the community-based social work practices require to erase the legacies of colonialism. Rather the meaning of an emancipatory approach should be attached to people-centric empowerment, consciousness raising, participation and ecological development.
The third, fourth and twelfth chapters, respectively by Leisha Townson and Pulla, Deborah G. Graham and Rosemary Rae, bear conspicuous parallelism on reflexivity and positionality. Townson and Pulla revisit the concepts— reflexivity, positionality, privilege, situated knowledge and perceptions and explore the entangled connections between these concepts. In doing so, it probes the efficacy and power of positionality of the researcher(s) in conducting social work research, and identifies that these notions uniquely shape an individual researcher’s critical interpretation of a particular piece of research because the thoughts, knowledge and experiences of the researcher are intrinsically inbuilt in the self-reflective process and thereby, ‘interpretation can be four-fifths of the truth’ (Twyman, Morrison, & Sporton, 1999: 313–325).
In her article, ‘Lost to View: Resilience of Indigenous Australians in the Face of Systematic Racisim’, Graham reiterates that how one perceives and stereotypes a particular individual or a community are linked to the deeply embedded beliefs gained from socio-cultural training and social interaction within the society they live in, and adhere to the values they gain from. Using examples of racism, Graham shows how automated thinking reshapes one’s thinking about indigenous Australians and, thereby, urges upon proselytising equity and strengthening social justice but valuing their uniqueness. In a familial context, Rae addresses the highly contested notions of ‘power’ and ‘empower- ment’ in the making of ‘service user involvement in social work education in the UK’. Banking upon reflections, Rae advocates that one should not neglect
‘resilience’ because it ‘can inform… practice… [and] help in choos[ing] new social work students for training’.
The fifth chapter is a critical review by Ndungi wa Mungai where he argues that the Afrocentric paradigm based on the principles of ubuntu, meaning African values and ethics in human services and embedded in African philosophies, history, culture, values and ethics, should be applied in pursuing Afrocentric social work practices. The application of Afrocentric approaches rather than borrowed approaches would buttress human rights and attenuate the sufferings and everyday modern challenges of the people of Africa in a far better way. In the said context, he argues that in order to build a resilient future, capable of tackling African social development challenges, the foundation of their indigenous culture should be revisited to be strengthened further as the ‘past, present and future are all interconnected’.
Using the narratives of visual and performing arts, the article by Pulla and Anne Riggs (Chapter 6) displays the role of the arts in community empowerment. Visual and performing arts have always been a part of communities in promoting strengths and creativity—a road to build rich cultural capital. Ensconced in rich figures and using the individual’s and communities’ voices, the article demon- strates how the arts and the community can stimulate resilience. For example, the Figure 8 bespeaks as to how a ‘[w]oman survivor of sexual abuse and family violence expresses her loss and grief, but also finds a community who under- stands her past and with whom she can share a future’. In a similar article, Chapter 14, Antoinette Day and Kalpana Goel unfold how children, surviv- ing domestic violence, have used the dimensions of ‘hope’. While doing so, the authors emphasise the significance of ecosystems in an individual’s life in rebuilding resilience and hope and echoes that the value of an ecosystem’s frame- work could be used to burgeon research on coping, resilience and social work practice. Nonetheless, violence against women and children remains pandemic across different cultures and countries of the living planet.
In Chapter 7, Azlinda Azman argues that the concept of person-in-environment remains paramount in fostering significant transformation in an individual’s internal and external development, which in turn helps the individual to mean- ingfully cope and become resilient ‘in achieving what they hope [for] in life’. Using social work perspectives, Azman, however, argues that the three notions— coping, resilience and hope always remain intertwined when social workers try to improve and develop the conditions of the individuals, groups and (or)
Chapter 8 by Lambert K. Engelbrecht on financial illiteracy is witness to the fact that many poor households and communities around the world lack know- ledge on financial matters and are unable to understand as to how money can be earned, managed and invested. Hence, financial illiteracy remains one of the key challenges of social work organisations working on to lift people out of poverty. In the increasingly neoliberal climate, although organisations continue to train poor households and communities to develop their financial literacy skills, chal- lenges remain. Engelbrecht, therefore, provides an integrable review of a six-stage strategy embracing the ‘context of financially vulnerable households; a conceptu- alisation of financial literacy; perspectives on and approaches to financial literacy as a fundamental capability; a theoretical foundation of community education; practices of financial capability programmes; and a reflection on the significance of community education’ aimed at improving financial literacy, which in turn could empower communities.
Using case studies from South-east Asia, the Middle East and Australia, Shawn Somerset in Chapter 9 discusses how the dimensions of culture and environmental sustainability builds on resilience to food (in)security for populations in economic transitions. Using three perspectives—material hardship, nutrition transition, self-efficacy and food security resilience, Somerset unfolds how ‘food secu- rity and acquisition across three continents reveal potential pathways to change trajectories of food security inherent in nutrition transition’.
It is well known that the practices of social work embrace human rights. In Chapter 10, Mungai and Pulla probe the problems and opportunities in addressing poverty and human rights issues in 21st century Asia. In doing so, they discuss not only economic growth, development and poverty but also how the growing challenge of human trafficking exacerbates poverty, often concealing the voices and rights of the marginalised via varied forms of exploitation. Chapter 11 by Subhash Chandra Mamidi and Bharath Bhushan Mamidi sheds light on the unprecedented spurt in missing children of India—statistics unveil that a stag- gering 0.17 million children on an average go missing every year, often abducted for bonded labour, domestic help, sexual exploitation, organ trade or kidnapped for ransom.
Hence, building helplines and caring for these missing children remains para- mount. Their joint research stems from the techniques and practical ways using very limited resources by a group of volunteers at the Centre for Research and People’s Development in reuniting 370 missing children with their families. Both Mamidi and Mamidi contend that the empirical measures adopted for reuniting these children could be replicated in pursuing similar issues.
Drawing upon the narratives of 27 survivors of the Bosnia and Herzegovina war of the 1990s, Goran Basic (Chapter 13) analyses the implacable experi- ences of the war. The narratives of the interviewees suggest that reconciliation is possible if certain conditions are fulfilled. These conditions are ‘justice for the victims of the war, confession from the offender and his emotional involvement’. The narrative analysis further suggests that forgiveness is central to reconciliation and the key to forgiveness occurs only when emotions are exchanged between survivors and perpetrators.
Given its geographical location, floods are a perennial problem that Bangladesh faces. Each year, floods not only wreck properties but also wipe away human lives. Using semi-structured interviews, the article by Pulla and Tulshi Kumar Das (Chapter 15) discusses the coping strategies and resilience of 25 women- headed households, living in the haor (wet land), mired in acute poverty and affected by regular floods in four districts of Sylhet, Bangladesh.
The final chapter by Pulla and Richard Hill serves as an epilogue where the authors draw upon their personal experiences and deploy autoethnography to reflect on their understanding of resilience to recreate a road to building hope for change.
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in community empower- ment, resilience and social development across the globe—including social workers, sociologists, human geographers, development scholars and anthropologists.
Twyman, C., Morrison, J., & Sporton, D. (1999). The final fifth: autobiography, reflexi- vity and interpretation in cross-cultural research. Area, 31(4): 313–325. DOI: 10.1111/ j.1475-4762.1999.tb00098.
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