Ignacio Martín-Baró was the father of liberation psychology. This scholar founded a new movement that changed the way of understanding social psychology. Starting from other movements based on liberation, Ignacio Martín-Baró used social psychology to study the contexts and problems of the inhabitants of these contexts.
He was not well known beyond American borders, but he was a crucial landmark in the countries of the New World. It is from his ideas that schools such as community psychology have arisen, aimed at emancipating the communities with which one works, fighting poverty, defending democracy and mental health.
The life of Ignacio Martín-Baró
Ignacio Martín-Baró was born in Spain, in Valladolid, and joined the Jesuit Company. On his way as a Jesuit he was sent to Central America. He studied philosophy, theology and psychology and eventually settled in San Salvador, in the republic of El Salvador. His doctoral thesis focused on the attitudes and social conflicts present in El Salvador, in particular Martin-Barò wrote about the demographic density of the low social classes in that area.
Ignacio Martín-Baró was a visiting professor at various universities in different countries, but the one where he stayed the longest was the José Simeon Cañas Central American University of San Salvador.
On November 16, 1989, he was killed, along with other priests, by a platoon of the Atlacatl battalion of the Armed Forces of El Salvador, on the orders of Colonel René Emilio Ponce. This crime went down in history as the “Martyrdom of the UCA (José Simeon Cañas Central American University of San Salvador)”.
The theology and philosophy of liberation
The psychology of liberation arises from three previous movements. Namely: the theology of liberation, the philosophy of liberation and the pedagogy of liberation. Liberation theology intends to dedicate itself to the most needy, that is, the poor. From Christianity it recognizes the oppression and injustices perpetrated against this sector of society and promotes the use of the human and social sciences.
In turn, the philosophy of liberation focuses on the creation of knowledge. It is a school of thought that disputes the idea that most of the notions studied and handed down come from middle-class Western men; this implies that knowledge from other people is not trusted.
According to the philosophy of liberation, it would be necessary to pass on through dialogue the knowledge coming from these “different” that are not taken into consideration by the masses.
Pedagogy of liberation
Another pillar at the base of the psychology of liberation is the thought of Paulo Freire, who founded an educational movement known as the “pedagogy of liberation”. It was a movement based on the belief that liberating education was a process of renewal of the individual’s social condition, where the subject is understood as a thinking being with a critical sense and reflecting on the reality in which he lives.
The pedagogy of liberation attempted to “educate” in critical as well as utilitarian thinking, that is, to educate in values such as equality without resorting to indoctrination. Educate, not on the basis of the interests of the economy, but on the basis of personal interests.
This school of thought recognizes the importance of teaching to understand the world from one’s personal experience and critical reflection. These fundamental principles were also adopted by liberation psychology.
The psychology of liberation
Starting from these foundations, Ignacio Martín-Baró shaped what we know today as the psychology of liberation. According to Martín-Baró, psychology should start from the study of a context and focus on the problems presented by people belonging to that context.
It pushes towards a psychology focused on specific contexts rather than on “artificial” ones. He also believed that psychology was not impartial, so he fought for a more critical and aligned psychology.
Suffering from these ideas, Martín-Baró founded the University Institute of Public Opinion. Through this institute he conducted surveys to the population and then shared the data obtained. In this way, he was able to demystify many popular beliefs among the people; this phenomenon is also known as de-ideologicalization. However, the political power did not agree with his ideas, and this was the cause of his assassination.