Learning From Critical Collective Spaces: Reflections on the Community-Diversity Dialectic in Safe Spaces


  • Jennifer Wallin-Ruschman
  • Mazna Patka


Safe spaces have the potential to become prefigurative groups that aim to create social change. The idea of a safe space as a place separate and sheltered from dominant culture to mobilize for social change has gained traction in a number of academic and practical areas. However, safe spaces have the ability to be both progressive and regressive. To guide our discussion we utilize the concept of community-diversity dialectic to address the tension between these forces within two settings. First we discuss research in an upper level college course rooted in feminist praxis. Then we discuss a faith community’s use of adaptive liturgy with parishioners with intellectual disabilities. Following this discussion, we offer a new term, “critical collective spaces”, to better capture the work done in these spaces. We offer this alternative label to move popular and academic discourse away from debating about how “safe” these spaces are (or are not) and toward a more nuanced discussion of the community-diversity dialectic and other tensions within these spaces. Our overall intention is to generate dialogue on the regressive and progressive aspects of these locations and to inform the activism and community building process within prefigurative politics more broadly.