Transforming Circum/Stances in Foster Care: Connecting affect and agency through activist research with and for marginalized youth Eduardo Vianna (The Graduate Center, The City University of New York)
This presentation explores the ethico-political grounding and implications of affective dynamics within a collaborative qualitative research project with a transformative social justice agenda in a child welfare institution. Rooted in the expansive reconstruction of Vygotsky’s project by Transformative Activist Stance, this project was centrally concerned with joining in with struggles on-the-ground of vulnerable and marginalized youth for egalitarian community practices while fighting discrimination and righting injustices. Drawing on contemporary affect theory (the affective turn), influenced by Spinoza’s philosophical theory of affective bodies, and feminist scholarship and Vygotsky’s works on emotions, this paper focuses on the collective and individual dynamics of rage in the group home as the boys resisted the double oppression in their engagement with intersecting community and institutional practices through which (a) their agency was constantly restricted including (b) being labelled emotionally disturbed by mental health referrals and diagnosis. Contrary to mainstream clinical approaches that aim at suppressing strong emotional expression, such as heightened displays of anger, as though they were purely negative and dysfunctional reactions, this paper foregrounds the ethico-political embeddedness of affective dynamics underpinning conflicts and contradictions in communal and institutional practices while also revealing the potential of the researcher’s activist role not only to unsettle relationships and community practices but also to intensely affect and be affected by participants, eliciting strong feelings and emotions, including among researchers themselves. The analysis of the long-term arc of the research project described focuses on how anger, the dominant affect within community practices in the group home was transformed into joyful collaborative endeavors as the project evolved toward democratic relationships and practices wherein mutual vulnerability and trust grew. This presentation will conclude with a discussion of how the expansion of collective and individual agency in collaborative transformative inquiry projects can transform affective dynamics and socio-emotional development.
Eduardo Vianna earned a Ph.D. in developmental psychology at the CUNY-Graduate Center
in 2007. Drawing on Vygotskian cultural-historical activity theory, his research and
publications focus on connecting teaching-learning and development to promote social justice
and development among underprivileged groups. He received an M.D. in 1991 from the
Federal Fluminense University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1995, he completed his residency
in Child Psychiatry, during which he became interested in studying and promoting human
development from a cultural-historical perspective. In 2009 his book Collaborative
Transformations in Foster Care: Teaching-learning as a developmental tool in a residential
program was published.
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