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Recent article published on 4capoeirathoughts.com

The below article was something I wrote for publication on the 4capoeirathoughts.com site (site also listed on my blogroll).  It is based on the ideas I explore in my project plan and I thought I’d also share them here.

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The more I learn about capoeira the more I discover how its philosophies can apply to the field of community development. For me, a cornerstone of community development work involves creating a more socially inclusive society – one where individuals are able to participate fully in social and economic life. In Australia, it’s encouraging to see this vision being supported by the federal government’s Social Inclusion Agenda. What’s even more exciting though, are the possibilities I see for us at the individual level to use the principles that capoeira give us to actually live out this vision of a more socially inclusive society. I’m not sure how well I can actually explain what I mean by this, but I’ll give it a go!

Sometimes I find it helpful to flip things around the other way (a bit like seeing the world upside-down when we’re doing ‘bananeiras’). Instead of focusing on inclusion, we can examine the concept of social exclusion. In broad terms, social exclusion is often associated with economic deprivation, identity differentiation, or physical, cultural, sociological, or other barriers to full participation within society (Geddes, 1998). It can impact an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being and exacerbate the state of fragmentation within society. I’ve tried to depict this below in the form of a ‘problem tree’ (concept adapted from Veneklasen & Miller, 2008, p. 155), that shows possible root causes and consequences of social exclusion.

By using elements of music, rhythm, dance and martial arts, and also with a focus on mutuality over the win/lose mentality common to many sports, the art of capoeira can be used as a tool for fostering stronger inter-relationships and greater understanding between individuals. Pictorially, this might look a bit like the below ‘solution tree’ which depicts how I see the root elements of capoeira are combined to generate positive social outcomes.

Moreover, capoeira was forged through deep inter-cultural interactions between African descendants (from diverse Nations), Brazilian Indians, and exiled Europeans. It has, since its inception, been used by these marginalised slave populations as an instrument against oppression. As an art-form, it has equipped its participants with strong values of social cohesion and resistance against colonial exploitation.

Having withstood centuries of oppression, capoeira now enjoys formal recognition by the Brazilian government1 and is practised globally2. I believe that this in itself is testimony to the strength of capoeira as a mechanism for social integration. These historical foundations demonstrate to me the value of using capoeira today as a recreational activity that can empower individuals falling outside of the mainstream to engage more deeply with their immediate and surrounding communities. Vice versa, capoeira also creates opportunities for greater social and cultural diversity and fosters a deeper sense of connectedness within ‘mainstream’ society itself.

So…what all of this suggests to me is that there is an element of commonality between community development practitioners and capoeira practitioners as each engage in activities that can build stronger communities. For community development practitioners, this involves a subset of activities that use art and recreation to improve the quality of life of individuals experiencing disadvantage or exclusion. For capoeira practitioners, I believe this involves the use of capoeira to foster stronger community cohesion rather than (or in addition to) practicing capoeira as an end in itself.

Applying this to the field of community development, I think it’d be wonderful if we can foster greater collaboration between community organisations and the capoeira community. I envisage that, by forming and nurturing these connections and continuing the work we already do, we can create more opportunities for disadvantaged or marginalised communities to access Capoeira-based recreational programs. This can ultimately enhance the impact of the work we each do while also enabling each of us to live out, in a very personal and practical way, our vision for a more socially inclusive society right here in Brisbane.

Notes:

1 – The official recognition came first in the 1950s during the government of President Getúlio Vargas. The first federal policy, however, was developed under the folder of the Ministry of Culture and came only in 2004. The federal government continues to develop this programme and today it is called Capoeira Viva.

2 – In 1998, According to Assunção (2005) ‘conservative estimates suggested that already 3 million people around the world were practicing Capoeira, a number that has been growing ever since’ (pp. 1-2).

4CapoeiraThoughts Note:

Along the lines of Janelle’s post I suggest you read the following posts:

1 – Project Learning from Brazilian Culture: A Brief History, Profile and Guidelines

2 – The Social Role of Capoeira: An invitation to make local sense of a cultural practice in global spreading

If you would like to share similar initiatives and/or successful social endeavours with Capoeira, contact me and we will post it. Sharing material and experiences through the blog will network like-minded people, helping people to establish their programmes and/or supporting ongoing initiatives.

References:

Assunção, M. 2005. Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art. NY. EUA: Taylor & Francis Inc.

Geddes, M. 1998. Local Partnership: A successful strategy for social cohesion?European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin.

Veneklasen, L. & Miller, V. (eds.). 2008. A New weave of power, people and politics: the action guide for advocacy and citizen participation, Burton on Dunsmore, UK: Practical Action Publishing, pp.147-162.

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