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Let’s Not be Stuck in The Myth of Sisyphus: Gravity, Feedback Loops, & Social Work

Gravity is “invisible” but not removed from sensation; we can feel the effects of gravity daily, for example dropping something on your foot. In short gravity relates to mass, “People have mass too, and while our physical bodies might not exert gravity the way the Sun affects the Earth, our interests, experiences, appearance, ethics, morals, values, and life choices combine to create a peculiar gravitational pull” (Frono, 2019) on those around us. 

As social workers we go to great lengths to understand how our; values, ethics, morals, values, and life, affect our practice. Through this individual introspection we cultivate the type of practitioner we will be. 

For me, it seems relevant to analyze the physical environment as a variable which holds tremendous “gravitational pull” on each aspect of ourselves and client population we work with or advocate for.  So, to analyze my thoughts I turn to research.

Since most environmental systems are open and interconnected, the changes in any process-response system have effects on many, these effects are known as feedback loops. The term ‘feedback’ refers to the effect that occurs when the output of a system becomes an input to the same system (Smithson et al 2008 p. 12). 

Feedback loops may be positive or negative: positive feedback occurs when the effects of an original change are amplified or accelerated to produce a ‘snowballing’ effect, in other words a positive feedback loop… in contrast, a negative feedback loop in the environment occurs as a result of the interaction between predators and their prey (The Earth Systems and its Components). 

Let’s think of the metaphor of a tree. A Tree gives us shade: when were hot we might seek it out. However, whither were consciously aware of it or not, medical science tell us that there are feedback loop within our body to regulate body temperature. 

This tree is then cut down, we no longer have access to the consciously seeking out shade when we’re feeling hot. In terms of human environment interactions, I purpose that the removal of the tree disrupts a feedback loop that we established with this element of our natural environment. 

The lesson is that feedback loops may be interconnected. One action acting as a variable to more than one “loop.” 

If humans are understood as predators of the environment, that is preying on the natural earth through destructive actions then the result becomes a negative feedback loop. 

The who, where, where, when why, how, questions have large answers that are interconnected. Blaming the cause of the occurrence of Environmental Injustice on one system working within a feedback loop (say an oil company or builders who deforest for the means of a new shopping mall) doesn’t work. This is because the systems are interconnected. It seems the best way to advocate for the progression of environmental consciousness is to understand the variables and impacts of each system and begin to make links. 

Thus, the Person-In-Environment theory that the practice of social work uses becomes a valuable tool. As I have promoted before, the practice of social work must engage heavy with research to back links with statistical significance. Without empirical research, we are study is a version of, The Myth of Sisyphus, because no large-scale change will occur, in other word, policy change. 

It seems pertinent that social work professionals begin or continue to integrate themselves into all professional fields. This integration will allow for elevated pressure on the individual worker as other schooled professionals can provide their theory/research. 

From the context of analyzing my personal philosophy on social work I arrived at activism that serves to dismantle the negative feedback loop. I hope that as I continue to learn my “educational mass” increases; thus, exerting a larger gravitational pull. However, I believe that my effectiveness will come from working with other professionals who have a deep understanding of their profession. 

What I mean is that my explanation of gravity, feedback loops, environmental science, ecx, would be more valuable if I were working with individuals who dedicated their lives to these practices. With the current state of the environment, now more than ever, it seems so pressing to finally collaborate and leave the typical built environments which we typically preform our professions. 

The researcher in a lab has a lot to say but is anyone giving them a platform? Sure, published papers are a platform is only as effective as the amount of professionals it reaches who are going to apply the academia to real world interactions. 

To be Continued…… on the topic of – Professional “Romantic Gravity” 

OnPrisons

Built environments can also produce negative health risks when developers are not thinking about the effects of built spaces. In particular, urban layouts are designed to maximize living space. The way in which prisons are built in America is another example of how population growth results in building structures to house the influx of humans, often with inadequate built infrastructure such as the lack of windows limiting one’s access to natural light. Consequently, the population has been exposed the potential for limited healthy food options and environmental toxins such as noise pollution and water pollution. The categories described above do not occur in an isolated form but are layered throughout the structure of a community, making it a multifaceted problem. Deducing personhood to common variables, or quantifiable ones, suggests that low income and minority groups face larger negative implications of the structural environment. Through this knowledge, urbanization becomes a variable which can cause health risks, if not designed properly. Overall, health through the environment depends on a range of social, economic, and environmental factors.

Resources for Prospective Social Workers — The Political Social Worker

Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW The Political Social Worker A couple of days ago a Tumblr follower asked me for some advice about applying to an MSW program. This gave me the idea to put together a small list of resources for perspective (and current) social work students. socialworkhelper.com A social networking site for helping […]

Resources for Prospective Social Workers — The Political Social Worker

Economic Globalization, Sleep-Wake Rhythms & COVID-19

Macro/Policy Environmental Social Work Perspective

Economic globalization become a worldwide trend (Han, 2019). With globalization comes technology. Technology and the environment should be of growing concern. Now more than ever. Given COVID-19, are legislators and enforcers thinking of the stimulus and social welfare in terms physiological rhythms in humans? 

Studies show that relevant to the environment (the built environment that is, the once we are all confined to… if heavily impacted by environmental cues; light, noise, and temperature are synchronizing to Sleep-wake rhythms in humans. 

            As the current state of our lives will have it, much of work is being done in the same spaces we often strive, or should strive to keep sacred. This is because our rhythms are extremely effected by noise pollution, night work, social media, blue light. Thanks to open data it has been found that  

“Extensive open-access databases now focus on these disturbing environmental and societal cues”

Damien Legerab &  Christian Guilleminaultc

The fields associated with sleep are: noise, light, radio frequencies, transportation, and internet”

Damien Legerab &  Christian Guilleminaultc

These environmental open data may help us in understanding better sleep rhythms globally”

Damien Legerab &  Christian Guilleminaultc
  • Insight of the day: “the development index of Digital Economy and Society (DESI), an instrument that can detect a data system in order to quantify the level of technological development at the macro level and the micro level” (Vanessa Russo : Qualitative and Quantitative Models in Socio-Economic Systems and Social Work pp 427-442| Cite as Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). European Guidelines and Empirical Applications on the Territory)

The Nature of Silent-Welfare

Never have I ever ☝️👉 not found silence to be the most resourceful tool when met with disorder. Silence is an action & a weapon when not used appropriately as it likely causes an influx of unbalanced power dynamics. “The increase of disorder or entropy with time is one example of what is called an arrow of time, something that distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time” (Stephen Hawking) •


Silence is #selfcare

silence is #introspection

silence is #tactful

silence is #mindful


At times some will go silent but they are not invisible • each of us has a way of coping & that wayward style is intrinsically comorbid with time & place (#natural & #built)


Scale silence to many bodies and it’s heard loudly • now scale it down & somehow I find that society has juxtaposed varying stereotypes or archetypal #preconceptions on the scaled down version. Why didn’t you speak up? Why didn’t you reach out? Why didn’t you….? #silence now becomes a result of an unmet #expectation

Full Circle. Feedback Loops

I was in the sculpture and instillation program. A dual degree in psychology before I transferred to begin my path in Social Work. However for a brief moment my artistic self was at bay while I studied. It recently has come back through engaging with STEM research and environmental justice work in the form of infographics. The ability to conceptualize is critical but following my artistic intuition has led me further than I knew it would.

It seems I have inadvertently followed a path that led back to the one I started on, but I come back to the arts with a new intellectual knowledge base. Thank you for seeing that. In many ways what’s why I left, I needed more theory and grounding. I felt it strongly my first year at SMFA and it seems that the decision to leave and investigate into the scientific process Comes full circle as I Transcend back into my artist self. There is a newfound respect for my personal and professional self and with that I interject that Social Work is and will continue to be a professional path that brings about deep growth. We and our clients are impacted by the environment- the smallest shifts in the physical are variables to internal mental states. We support the environments of those around us.

Social Work and Environmental Justice

SOCIAL JUSTICE SPOTLIGHT

October 2019

Environmental Racism and Systems of Oppression

Gabrielle Conrad-Amlicke | Policy 2020

Frederick Olmsted, an American Landscape designer best known for Central Park (New York, NY) and The Emerald Necklace (Boston, MA), also designed Keney Park (Hartford, CT). Keney Park runs vertically up and down the west half of Hartford’s Northeast neighborhood. The northern areas of this city are where the highest rates of crime and vacancy are reported among a predominately Black population. The decaying aspects of the physical environment contextualize an aspect of loss, both for the community members and potentially for the general public. Despite powerful community-led efforts to reduce violence in the area, ongoing oppression and political marginalization undermine these activities.  Fear pushes even those who live in the Northeast neighborhood to seek out other community parks. Thirty-years of activities aimed at improving park conditions have been disrupted by the larger political failures to protect and nourish this neighborhood.

Famous natural spaces have the potential to stimulate individual and economic growth. Why then is Keney Park, which sits almost directly between NYC’s “Central Park” to the south and Boston’s “Emerald Necklace Conservancy” park system to the north, less renowned than its Olmsted siblings?

The answer: environmental racism.  Anytime environmental decisions are shaped by the intersectional identities of those benefiting from, or occupying, a particular environment—racism is at work. Social workers must identify and amplify these instances. We must advocate for investment in these environments or else the historic systems of oppression that harm our clients and our profession will never be dismantled.

Social Worker’s : MSW & BSW – How I became an Advocate for Environmental Justice as an MSW Graduate Student. Field placements, course work, and developing your professional identity.

The first skills you develop as any student but especially a social work academic are ones that involve learning to think critically.  

At the start of my social work engagement is artistic engagement. In 2012 was accepted into a Fine Art’s School in Boston. My artistic thesis was always rooted in nature; through my clay work and I always found inspiration in themes of my own relationship with nature. As I continued my education, I transferred schools into a Human Services program and I fell into coursework which sparked my interest in ecopsychology. As a result, I developed critical thinking and skills towards understanding empirical research, which allowed me to recognize that there were scientific findings towards Human-Environment relationships. I have come to understand that natural spaces are actually, immensely beneficial for mental and psychological wellbeing. 

In my eyes, individual experience is what guides the social worker to seek out our practice professionally. The community I grew up in is rural and facilitated a way for me to engage with friends in natural environments, for example, in the deep woods, by lakes, hiking trails, and various nature preserves. Through these experiences, I came to value nature because it allowed me to find solitude and creative inspiration. Hoefer (2005) describes how a social worker values and education lead to a sense of responsibility. 

Environmental Justice serves to lessen negative outcomes that are a direct result of the environment. As modernization and urbanization have occurred over human evolution; vulnerable populations who are mainly low income and minority groups typically experience disproportionately negative health outcomes as a result of their environment. 

I understand that social problems occur for vulnerable populations when the presence of nature is limited and resources are abused, each one of us, social workers, and clients play a part in contributing to this social problem. Jewett & Garavan (2019) eloquently describe that “for us to seek healing we need to recognize who we are and the system of which we are a part” (p. 45). 

As I began to work and live in urban settings I felt that my experience with nature was actually a privilege and my interest in advocacy for Environmental Justice soon followed suit. 

At first I felt frustrated when I recognized that none of my MSW coursework (the readings, theory’s, and frameworks) focused Social Welfare in terms of the way the environment affects human health. I stayed positive and found ways to think critically about how I could utilize what I was learning to organize my advocacy, for example, I one author I read) explained how higher education produces more political involvement and “feelings of unfairness are precipitating factors for involvement” (Hoefer, 2005). I agreed with this because I never saw myself working from a policy standpoint until I arrived at my “higher education”. One thing I know to be true that feelings discouraged can be transformed into a powerful tool; as my professional self, my “social worker self” seemingly moved further away from being an actively creating artist; figuratively it never did. 

I began crafting my own path for seeking a way to integrate Environmental Justice within my MSW coursework even through it wasn’t my major. Below outline creative ways I utilize to cultivate this new use of the social work practice: 

  • I began assorting all the Environmental Justice related research onto one document. I thought critically about how vulnerable population don’t have access to the information I was accumulating. 
  • I constantly though critically which brought about questions… I wrote these questions down both inside and outside of class. (for example, if I read an article that outlines a positive health outcome as a result of an intervention to the environment I would wonder if this was actually being used in day to day life. If not, why?) 
  • Any assignment I get I try my best to tie back to my personal lens and critical thinking of environmental justice.
  • I truly embodied what the practice of social work stands for and this led me to “practice what I preach” the best tool that I have as a millennial to spread awareness for my concerns was social media. 
    • Driven by the research I accumulated I created an Instagram account that is themed around Environmental Justice and social work. 
  • Finding a field placement that aligned with my mission was difficult as there were no direct connections which led me to create an excel sheet of agencies that promoted Environmental Justice. 
    • My list was limited and many did not have MSW staff to provide supervision.
    • I reached out to my local NASW section and sought out resources or connections. 
    • I worked with my educational institution and scheduled meetings with various departments to present my passions (I believe this made a context for being taken seriously and not wanting to settle) 
  • When I found organizations that were doing Environmental Justice or Ecopsychology work I reached out through email- this led to some individual research projects that establish professional connections to the topic I am so passionate about. 

I had to utilize my critical thinking skills and creative skills which I attribute to my experience in nature. I continue to think critically about the privilege that came from my access to nature; things like the intersection of my own socioeconomic status in relation to my ability to access all that I can. I become an advocate for Environmental Justice by using that steps I outlined above and continue to seek and/or create new innovations that bring together Environmental Psychology and the practice of social work while staying true to personal goals and philosophies. 

At the end of the day as social workers we know that our own story is often the best way to reach people and get them to listen, there is a power in personal experience. I propose that at this moment the best thing any social worker can do to benefit their practice is to to pull from what you know best and work with it- if there’s not a direct path “social work” yourself and think of creative solutions!

Broken Windows Theory & Social Work Practice

The “broken windows” theory gives social workers insight into the way the physical environment both directly and indirectly affect (Abdullah et. al, 2015) the populations we work with. 

Physical environments that display; broken windows, trash, litter, a lack of maintenance to green space or architecture are thought to produce actions that resemble the environment; higher rates of crime, vandalism, & “delinquent” behaviors to name a few. 

It’s interesting to dig into the theory of human-behavior as a direct result of the infrastructures a person navigates.

I guess my question to social workers is how do we engage in our practice knowing this information: 

  1. Do we take on roles in micro practice and support a client towards understanding that their action may be a result of the environment (supporting self actualization)?  
  • Do we find ways to advocate for this seriousness of the “broken windows” hypothesis through policy?  
  • Who do we hold accountable? The child that gets a ticket for spray painting an already abandoned building OR the structures that led to the “abandoned” landscape?  

How do we come together as social work professionals to integrate the physical environment into our practice? The best approach I see is investigating new theory that can be applied to our Person-In-Environment framework. 

When we fail to understand the human-behavior theory in terms of intersecting layers that come as a result of the mistreatment of the physical environment – we fail the services provided. We are then limited. 

For the micro social workers reading… I’m sure you can see the layers of self-empowerment that would come when; reflecting to a mother that her child in not acting delinquent because she is a “bad” mother but suggesting that the child is simply acting in a way that is symbolic of their environment. 

Environmental Justice Framed Through the 5 Senses

Structural developments have the ability to influence community engagement and overall lower stress, which in return can have positive effects on reducing mental and physical ailments. Even short exposures to natural settings can support individuals in overall health. Stress can be viewed as one of the most influential causes of health problems: anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease among the most common (Grinde, 2009). The study of nature and health has historically been examined through nature as a stress reduction tool and intervention. Broken windows theory is used to explore how neighborhood disorder (the evidence of structures and natural elements which are not kept up with) impacts health and behavior (O’Brien, Farrell, & Welsh, 2018). Behavior, in this review, is a term which describes the interventions that can be made to environments to achieve better health outcomes.

I.          Hearing:  

One of the most common issues within urban areas (that often goes unnoticed) is noise pollution (Nemes, 2018). Noise pollution is something that gets layered, as construction, traffic and highway, airplanes, and typical urban hustle and bustle create a constant hum that the body eventually tunes out in order to stay alert to obscurities or potential danger. New research has influenced the way in which sound is used to combat crime. For example, one city in California saw a drop in crime rates when they began playing recordings of songbirds in the streets.  

II.         Sight: 

Built space has shown to affect actual rates of healing in human subjects.  Data taken from 23 patients who were recovering after cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) concluded that patients who were in hospital rooms with windows allowing for natural light had shorter hospital stays, fewer negative evaluations from nurses, and ingested less pain medication than patients whose hospital room window faced a brick wall (Ulright, 1984). When windows are left broken and abandoned there is a rise in crime and the overall perception of safety is diminished (O’Brien, Farrell, & Welsh, 2018). Morning light has shown to improve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (Lewey, 1998). Artificial light exposure has negative health implications—artificial light exposure at night can lead to breast cancer, circadian phase disruption, and sleep disorders (Cho et al, 2015). 

III.        Taste: 

            Due to the characteristics of the world’s water cycle, nonpoint pollution effects all water supplies. However, the main problem (for the human species) arises from drinking water contamination. Nonpoint pollution is one of the main sources of pollution urban areas; the more urban the area (increase in infrastructure) results in high-risk contamination (State of Connecticut Department of Public Health Drinking Water Division, 2016). Contamination in water has been reported to have a disproportionate effect on children. For infants under 6 months, even “short-term exposure to drinking water with a nitrate level at or just above the health standard of 10 mg/l nitrate-N is a potential health problem” which can cause digestive tract issues leading to a disease called methemoglobinemia, which can result in death (McCasland, 2012). 

Infrastructure can also produce positive outcomes for health when they limit access to things like fast food restaurants resulting in lower obesity rates. However, urban areas also experience poor access to supermarkets, which can be correlated to poor nutritional intake (Larson, 2009). Likewise, reduced access to fast food restaurants is positively correlated with a lower risk in cardiovascular disease (Chum, 2015). An overall negative association to health in regard to food intake is seen through the fact that low-income and minority grounds around the US have more fast food restaurants within their geographic, and are also influenced by lack of access to healthy options that one would find in a supermarket (Larson, 2009). 

IV.        Smell or Breath: 

Similarly, to water pollution, air pollution is largely associated with car traffic, high industrial landscapes. Living in close proximity to these things can put a person at a greater risk for toxins. Andersson (2018) found that traffic-related air pollution is correlated to dementia. Smell also has the potential to benefit health, Natural plan odors have shown to influence calmness, alertness, and promote stress reduction (Weber, 2008). 

V.         Touch: 

Gardening is a common practice that can be engaged within in both private and community settings. Due to the fact that gardening is an activity that all age groups can participate in public gardens can improve public health (Soga, 2016) especially within urban landscapes when designed properly into the environment. Studies on gardening-related activates have shown to change brain wave activity, reduction in pain and sensitivity to pain, and benefits to immune system functioning. Additionally, this type of direct exposure to nature improves both mental and physical health, gardening can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and promote physical activity (Soga, 2016).

EcoFeminism

Language can be used as a tool for social influence. In reference to my own beliefs about the world, Nature is often viewed as feminine “Mother Nature” and the content of the language often used when speaking about Nature is more often than not negative; we mainly hear of historical and present references to the trauma and destruction which Mother Nature inflicts upon “Mankind”. Therefore, in regards to my personal practice I can use language to strengthen my ability to understand the meaning behind labels and dig deeper to gain sociocultural context of the words we use in day to day life. 

From Artist to Social Worker

The only thing which have changed are the tools held in my hand and the means by which my artistic “thesis-theme-message” (whatever we may call it in the both the high-class art scene and the street art scene) each artist has a message… how we convey that message varies. 

Policy practice is a realistic role for all social workers and all people; I advocate for connections between the creator and the analyzer- the academic and the artist. However, we will only be able to bridge the gaps and be prepared for such activities and challenges to come if “professionally” specific skills are utilized in both fields. Artists voices cannot stay in the walls of the gallery. What if artists learned to take action? I want to support this action in the same way I want to cultivate it in micro social workers and their clients- getting up and testifying on the policy at the state capitol is scary for anyone… but deep down, as artists we know what makes people have a shift in consciousness… It’s emotions, what evokes emotion? You already know, vibrant language, truth, color, a statement conveyed in a brief poetic justice… We must find our voices, our collaborative voices, the tools which comfort and sooth the creator in each of us, that persistent internal dialogue is something we must listen to. I ask what will it take to makes each of us take action?