Theories in the Field of Community Psychology

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Publication Date


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Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice


Theory, Science, Community Psychology, Framework


In this article, we review some of the key attributes of useful theories and assess whether these attributes are present in several prominent Community Psychology theories. The field of Community Psychology often deals with complex systems and attempts to create change through the use of multiple mechanisms. It has provided researchers new ways of thinking about contextual factors and how participants could be more involved in research efforts. However, this field has encountered significant challenges in testing and evaluating theories that involve system-level environmental change. It has struggled to establish consensus when operationally defining criteria and when creating reliable instruments for measuring theoretical constructs. We conclude that Community Psychology theories have tended to function as frameworks, which indicate important elements to examine, but do not specify relationships that can be used for explanation and are, therefore, too broad to make the types of predictions characteristic of science. Because Community Psychology theories have often served as orienting frameworks, there needs to be more discussion about their usefulness, and whether community psychologists can develop more rigorous and specific theories. This has implications for formulating various practices and for discussions about how future research can better inform theory.


Our thanks to John Light, David Glenwick, Richard Boyd, Diana Ohanian for their helpful comments and suggestions. We appreciate support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Grant R01AA022763), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant R01HD072208), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Grant R01A1105781).