4th International Conference of Social Psychology of Liberation

Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala: Guatemala City, 13-15 November, 2001.
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This was the fourth annual conference held by a network of Latin American social psychologists that focuses on psicología social de la liberación - which could be translated as both 'liberation social psychology' and 'social psychology of liberation'. This field of work has been concerned with the particular issues facing the poor and oppressed of those countries to the south of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande, and the response of social psychology to their situation, their aspirations, their struggle, although it has a much wider relevance.  It draws heavily on the works of the late Ignacio Martín-Baró, murdered in 1989 together with 5 other Jesuits and two female colleagues at the Universidad de Centro América, José Siméon Cañas, San Salvador, by the Salvadorian armed forces (trained by the US military at the School of the Americas,Galeano, 1998). Martín-Baró was concerned to develop a social psychology adequate to the situation of the poor in his adopted country, and to do so he used the rich resources of the field of social psychology, simultaneously subjecting it to a critique for its individualism, scientism, and culturally specific context of origin (but pretension to universal applicability). Martín-Baró's work, like that presented at the conference was both theoretically sophisticated and at the same time practically grounded in work with oppressed and marginalised populations. (See Martín-Baró, 1983, 1989, 1994, 1996).

The conference was held at the University of San Carlos, Guatemala City. The genocide of the 1980s and early 90s (some 70,000 indigenous Maya Guatemalans died during that US sponsored military campaign) and the disappearances of trade unionists, academics, students, human rights activists and others over a more extended period, were very much an active part of the context. The conference began and ended with a Maya fire ceremony, and the sessions started with presentations by representatives of various Guatemalan social movements, from that for widows of the disapperared, returned refugees in the Ixcan region, indigenous groups, to trade unionists and campesino co-operative organisations, as well as womens' and gay rights organisations.
There was also an impressive talk by Horacio Martins de Carvalho from the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) which covered the nature of the struggle for social justice, land occupations and the new democratic communities that have arisen, together with the cultural practices that have evloved to support the struggle. This effectively framed the conference within the problematic of what psychology can contribute, and what kind of psychological knowledge and practice is appropriate. The rest of the conference was organised with workshop sessions and plenary papers organised around three key themes:

  1. Training, organisation and social practice of liberation psychology.
  2. Citizenship, participation and the widening of democracy.
  3. Human rights, impunity and historical memory.
The conference was fascinating in many ways - to see a different model of conference organisation, to see something of a different approach to critical social psychology than that developed in Europe, and to understand something of how psychologists can work as part of a wider movement for social justice against oppression and the waste of human lives.
A psychology of liberation requires a prior liberation of psychology, and that liberation can only come from a praxis committed to the sufferings and hopes of the people. Martín-Baró, 1996 p. 32

Galeano, E. (1998) Patas Arriba: La Escuela del Mundo al Revés. Madrid: Siglo XXI. (Note an English edition has now appeared - NY:  Seven Stories)

Martín-Baró, I. (1983): Acción e Ideología: Psicología social desde Centroamérica I. San Salvador, UCA Editores.

Martín-Baró, I. (1989) Sistema, Grupo y Poder: Psicología social desde Centroamérica II. San Salvador, UCA Editores.

Martín-Baró, I. (1994) Psicología de la Liberación. Edited by A Blanco, Madrid: Trotta.  (with epilogue by N. Chomsky).

Martín-Baró, I. (1996) Readings for a Liberation Psychology. Edited by A. Aron and S. Corne, New York: Harvard University Press.

see also UCA website:  Ignacio Martín-Baró y la  Psicología de la Liberación  (Spanish - some English links)