reflection 5:clinical/community psychology and network

In a paper noted more for a call for community psychology’s “divorce” from clinical psychology, Sarason (1976, 1982) invokes the importance of social networks to resource acquisition and social change.  Please describe Sarason’s network argument.  Then describe and discuss three social network concepts from Burt (2000), Granovetter (1974), or Sharp and Flora (in press) that you see as especially relevant to resource acquisition or social change. Choose any network concept.

Community psychology was originally developed by a group of psychologists who were trained in traditional clinical psychology, the psychology concerned with one’s intrapsychic problems and mental health.  Nevertheless, community psychology proclaims a point of view that is drastically different from that of clinical psychology and approaches the source of problems from the standpoint of intra- and inter-systems that surround individuals.  This departure of community psychology from the field of clinical psychology was described as a
”divorce” from clinical psychology by Sarason (1976), and community psychology started seeking its own pathways for new knowledge of community mental health.

It was Sarason (1976) who first emphasized the importance of the concept of social networks in conceiving the theory of community mental health.  He contended that social networks play a key role in changing the functions of a community, and the change can be realized by enhancing the related networks as well as connecting unrelated networks nested within various dimensions (e.g., political, vocational, educational settings, etc.).  As such, Sarason’s and community psychology’s major concern is not on the individual, but on the systems external to the individual.  Although environmental factors, such as interpersonal relationships, are frequent concerns for clinical psychologists, it is important to note that the main interest of clinical psychologists involves the intrapsychic perceptions that clients hold about these factors (e.g., one’s perceived benefit from social networks).  The focus of community psychology, on the other hand, is one’s environment itself (e.g., social networks) and, hence, is located in the “ground” or environment, rather than the “figure” or individual (Sarason, 1976).

Sarason (1976) further pursued his thesis by hypothesizing that “if we were to begin to view the community in terms of networks we would begin to get a better picture of [the] interrelatedness” (p. 164).  It is this interrelatedness or networks (e.g., social capital) that can become important means to acquiring resources and can introduce a community to desirable social changes.  In other words, members of the community can be benefited through the adequate use of networks, and, thus, it becomes crucial to intervene in the networks that people are in, rather than the people themselves, as traditional psychologists including clinical psychologists do.  Sarason pointed out that it is easy to see people, yet it becomes a difficult task to see the networks that people are embedded in — the tasks that is inherent to community psychology.

Various attempts have been made to conceptualize the hard-to-see characteristics of networks (e.g., Burt, 2000; Granovetter, 1974; Sharp & Flora, in press), three of which involve closure, weak ties, and structural holes.  To begin with, the concept of closure applies to networks in which every member is densely interconnected, and no one is able to escape the eyes of the others (e.g., the relationship between a child and his/her parents) (Burt, 2000).  Closure apparently has advantages in terms of collaboration, mutual support, and resource distribution within a group (e.g., community actualization), yet it may become a disadvantage when individuals only reside within the group and do not pursue resources available through between-group interactions.  Moreover, since information only circulates and stays within the group, its members may end up possessing the same information, which Burt (2000) identified as the problem of redundancy.

By contrast, the weak ties not only bring individuals autonomy and desirable boundaries, but also opportunity for mobility (Granovetter, 1974).  It is under the condition of weak ties that individuals can actualize themselves relatively easily or at least can do so without too much interference from other individuals or groups.  However, weak ties may lead to isolation and diffusion, as well as increase the competitiveness of resource acquisition (Granovetter, 1974).

Much like the weak ties, the concept of structural holes assumes clearly defined boundaries between groups, and thus individuals are encouraged to pursue their own unique points of view, skills, or resources (e.g., self-actualization) (Burt, 2000).  While boundaries exist, this does not mean that individuals are not aware of each other; rather their focus lies exclusively in the pursuit of their own activities including resource acquisitions (Burt, 200).  On the other hand, similar disadvantages to the weak ties arise for the structural hole (e.g., isolation, alienation, and diffusion), yet they are stronger in degree.

After having discussed the three different concepts that represent the characteristics of networks, what can community psychologists do to encourage resource acquisition and promote social change?  One attempt may focus on releasing the close-ties that hinder individuals in closure from getting out and looking for the new resources.  Although it can be beneficial, as well as sometimes comfortable, for individuals to stay within closure, it becomes important for them to get out and pursue new resources.  Another attempt may involve strengthening the relationships of weak ties or establishing relationships in-between structural holes so that resource exchange will take place.  Resource exchange varies from information flow to collaboration between groups, and it is the important role of community psychologists to intervene in networks and promote resource exchange.  Furthermore, it also becomes important to encourage more within-group exchanges for the weak ties, given the limited exchange occurring within these groups.


T. Y.