query: is organizing good for your health

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Thu Feb 19 10:29:26 CST 2004

[ed:  thanks to Doug for replying to Jennifer's query, and responding to 
Nathan's post.]

From: DougRHess at aol.com

Interesting comments by Nathan, as always. It calls to mind some 
research done on the amount of control nursing home elderly had over 
their lives and longevity that were done long ago. I believe searching 
for the term "learned helplessness" would turn these studies up. I don't 
know where that theory/research stands, but it was popular in the 
1980s. Essentially, when given a constant sense of defeat, lab animals 
would stop acting to help themselves (insert cruel lab rat and dog 
experiment data here.) Of course, lab rats don't organize (effectively at 
least). But the idea that organizing gives feelings of efficacy is very old, 
if not well tested.  

One question for the theory will be this: does the actual extent of the 
control over one's life matter, or just the perception of it?  

Doug Hess
Ph.D. Student, 
School of Public Policy & Administration,
George Washington University

Home address: 
2114 N St., NW Apt. 23
Washington, DC 20037
(cell 202-276-4807)

> From: "Nathan Henderson-James" <nathanhj7 at hotmail.com>
> Well, now, this is an interesting question. And the answer is, as
> far as I know, no.  
> Now, there are some interesting studies and literature that point
> towards a hypothesis that posits that community organizing is
> good for the health of the people involved and, by extension,
> also good for people who live near improvements won through
> organizing (though the effects are probably not as strong). Some
> of this includes the longitudinal studies of the British civil
> service by Marmot, some studies of nursing home patients by the
> Harvard School of Public Health (at least I think its them), and
> an intriguing book by Kawachi and Kennedy called The Health of
> Nations, which idicts inequality within societies as a prime
> cause of negative public health outcomes.  
> All of this led me to seek out a leader in the field of social
> epidemiology named S. Len Syme, an emeritus professo at the UC
> Berkeley School of Public Health. In fact, he helped found the
> field and when I suggested to him that CO was a potential
> intervention to increase the health of people involved in it, he
> was intrigued. Every other intervention tried in teh field had
> failed miserably and they had come to the conclusion that
> something having to do with "locus of control" or the
> loosely-defined "empowerment" had something to do with what was
> happening, espcially since there was a marked difference in the
> health outcomes of people as you climb the socio-economic
> gradient (in other words poor people get sick and die at rates
> much higher than affluent people; well it's slightly more complex
> than that, but that's the idea I was most interested in as an
> ACORN staff member).  
> So Len and I have worked with some grad students and created a
> design for a study that would look at an ACORN organizing drive
> and see what kinds of changes in people's perception of there
> mental and physical health occurred over that time. Right now
> we're starting to look around for the funding to put it into
> practice. If we can secure some and run a study with significant
> results, then we might ber at th start of an entirely new era in
> the perception of community organizing, not to mention the
> possibilities for funding.  
> We're presenting a paper on our collaboration to date at a
> conference on interdiciplinary research at Vanderbilt University
> in May. I'd be more than happy to keep people abrest of
> developments as they occur. And, of course, any ideas and
> suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Especially if you know
> people at the CDC, NIH, or Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 8-)   
> For the purposes of this particular request, I would look for the
> studies of the nursing home patients. The results were striking.
> Citations for the studies can be found in Robert Sapolsky's book
> Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers.  
> Nathan
> Nathan Henderson-James
> Performance Poet
> ACORN National Political Staff
> 510-213-1970 cell
> nathanhj7 at hotmail.com
> "I want to inject your blunt caustic observations between my toes
> so that some day my truth will kick someone's ass!" > > From:
> "Jennifer Flynn" <flynn at nycahn.org> > > Does anyone have any
> studies that say that being involved in > community organizing
> (involved in civic participation, being a > member of an
> organization, etc.) is good for your health?  > > Thanks. > >
> --Jennifer Flynn > NYC AIDS Housing Network > >
> _______________________________________________ 

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