ArticlePDF Available


In recent times there has been a proliferation of community service learning projects within universities. The aim of this paper is not to refute community service learning initiatives within higher education, but rather to draw attention to the ways in which power relations might be concealed within them, ultimately subjecting them to the very same forces they claim to be resisting. We urge for the need to go beyond rhetoric and to examine the underlying assumptions that inform current practices -explicitly or implicitly. Foucault's work on power and empowerment has been found to be useful in understanding the relationships between service, power, participation and learning. We conclude by pointing out that all is not lost and propose reflexivity as a strategy that may assist to more critically interrogate the ways in which we recruit service learning and community participation into higher education in South Africa.
Power and participation in and through service learning
Ruksana Osman
University of the Witwatersrand
Gillian Attwood
University of the Witwatersrand
Ruksana Osman is Associate Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her teaching and
research falls broadly in the areas of learning and access to learning in higher education. Her
research work in the last five years has focused on the epistemological and philosophical challenges
associated with service learning and prior experiential learning in higher education. She has been
the recipient of fellowships from the Spencer and Carnegie Foundations.
Dr Gillian Attwood works in the field of adult education and participatory community development.
She is a research associate at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and also works
as an independent consultant. Dr Attwood has worked extensively in Lesotho, initiating and
implementing a range of community development and ecotourism projects. These include
environmental, health, education, and small business projects.
In recent times there has been a proliferation of community service learning projects within
universities. The aim of this paper is not to refute community service learning initiatives within
higher education, but rather to draw attention to the ways in which power relations might be
concealed within them, ultimately subjecting them to the very same forces they claim to be
resisting. We urge for the need to go beyond rhetoric and to examine the underlying assumptions
that inform current practices –explicitly or implicitly. Foucault’s work on power and empowerment
has been found to be useful in understanding the relationships between service, power, participation
and learning. We conclude by pointing out that all is not lost and propose reflexivity as a strategy
that may assist to more critically interrogate the ways in which we recruit service learning and
community participation into higher education in South Africa.
Key words: Community Service Learning, Power relations, reflexivity, community participation
People know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t
know is what what they do does. (Foucault, quoted in Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1982: 187)
‘Service learning’ is essentially an experiential education approach in which students receive
academic credit for performing community service. It is closely related to volunteer service and
internships, but may be distinguished from these practices because it is designed to benefit the
provider and the recipient of the service equally. In service learning, as Furco (1996: 5) points out,
service must be provided and learning must occur.
Growing local interest in service learning reflects international trends in higher education. In
North America, particularly, service learning has been employed as a strategy for educational
reform. It is viewed as an avenue for universities to promote social engagement, responsibility and
democratic awareness. In South Africa, the uptake of service learning is a response to the
government’s insistence that universities be more responsive to local and national developmental
needs and that they engage in partnerships with other agencies to address social problems of
poverty, unemployment and crime in surrounding communities and regions (see National
Department of Education, 1997a; 1997b; 2001). In more recent time the preference for the term
“civic engagement” has signaled a departure from the concept of service” (with its connotations
of a reactive and one-way process) to notions of mutuality, partnership reciprocity, accountability
and impact (Burnet, Hamel and Long, 2004) and to a two way “inter-penetration” between a
university and the broader society (Mthembu, 2006, 8-9). Yet as Dhillon points out the transformative
potential of civic engagement is rarely achieved, partly because of the “methodological anarchy
and definitional chaos” (2005:212) surrounding partnerships. Billig (2000: 659) points out that
the field of service learning is messy: service learning itself may be seen as a philosophy, a model
or a pedagogical tool, and disagreements arise not only about how it should be defined and
implemented, but also about what “best practice” looks like and the criteria to be used to assess
its effects and impact. There is, however, a degree of consensus around the major components of
service learning: “active participation, thoughtfully-organized experiences, focus on community
needs and school/community coordination, academic curriculum integration, structured time for
reflection, opportunities for application of skills and knowledge, extended learning opportunities,
and development of a sense of caring for others” (Bhaerman et al, 1998: 4).
While there is ample talk of components such as development, participation and caring for others
in the discourse of service learning, there is little talk of the power relations implied when such
components come together in a relationship or even about power embedded in the discourse as
a whole. Yet power is embedded in all educational, political and economic systems, the discourses
and the practices that we take for granted.
As service learning becomes more entrenched in institutional practices within universities it is
clear that an area that needs our rigorous attention is the power relations implied when the
components of service learning come together in a relationship between communities and
universities. Service learning when brought into the university is in an essentially asymmetrical
relationship with academic ways of learning and doing. The discourses associated with university
have different origins, sites of practice and outcomes to the more experiential discourses associated
with service learning. However, it is important to recognise that the discourses that characterise
universities and communities are not as monolithic as sometimes assumed, and do provide spaces
for negotiating alternative practices and responses to power relations.
In this paper we argue that one of the ways in which we can begin to move towards a more
symmetrical relationship between service and learning and between community and university
is when we explicitly explore the power relations that underpin this relationship, name the practices
in this relationship and explore their workings. Accordingly, questions about power and participation
need to be confronted.
Education as Change, Volume 11 Number 3, Dec 2007, Special Issue: CSL
Understandings of power
Power has been defined in a host of different ways by a range of people in divergent fields. However,
for the purpose of this paper we draw on a Foucauldian perspective because this work is helpful
in understanding the relationship between service, power, participation and learning – key elements
in service learning initiatives.
Foucault does not see power as monolithic but rather as “fluid, and existing as a multiplicity of
institutional and psychological forces” (ibid). Foucault argued that the workings of power are
much more subtle than previously acknowledged and that rather than seeing power as a bipolar
phenomenon, as either repressive or liberatory, we should see power as circuitous, as constantly
circulating with no fixed end point. For example, teacher education students entering a fieldwork
context (like a crèche or toy library) are reliant on the contextual knowledge of members of the
community in which they undertake their service learning projects. Should this knowledge not
be shared with students the service learning enterprise may be compromised and students may
be denied the opportunity to learn. Likewise, if students do not share the pedagogical and theoretical
perspectives which they bring, an opportunity to learn is denied yet again.
According to Foucault, power is continually shifting. It does not have a fixed source that can be
tapped by some for use on others. It is not exercised at the will of an autonomous individual, it is
not something that can be possessed, something which one person has and can exercise, while
another cannot. Power is omnipresent, it is etched into the everyday actions of every person’s life,
exercised continually by everyone, not only by the dominant elite, or in the case of this paper the
academy and the academics.
As subjects, we are constituted by the system of power that surrounds us. This is the source from
which power and control originates, rather than from a dominant group wishing to shape the
world in a particular way. Actors (academics and communities) may certainly have intentions
concerning outcomes, and may mobilise resources or engage in the management of meaning but
the desired outcomes are not guaranteed.
So are all individuals merely casualties of the workings of this inescapable omnipresent force of
power, or is it possible to hold onto a sense of hope, of human agency? What this suggests for
educators concerned with the potential of service learning to promote development, education
and participation, is that it is essential to accept that every one, at all times, is implicated in the
workings of power. Rather than just accepting the practices associated with service learning as
well intentioned, open, democratic processes, defined, directed and controlled by the participants
themselves, it is important to examine how power plays out through everyday practices within
these practices. Foucault helps us to see that even practices that supposedly equalise power relations
are subject to those very power relations. As educators, it is important to name these practices and
expose their workings. It means asking questions (of ourselves, our students our institutions and
even our community partners) about the epistemologies and methodologies submerged in our
everyday practices. It means excavating and critiquing the values, beliefs, relationships, histories
and processes which underpin service learning – aspects taken for granted in the name of social
responsibility and participation. It means asking what is being done to facilitate non-hierarchical,
non-hegemonic power relations when we participate in joint initiatives. It is in this way that we
Osman, R & Attwood, G Power and participation in and through service learning
will come to better understand the site at which power is exercised and the site at which resistance
and participation is possible.
Understandings about participation
Participation … is too serious and ambivalent a matter to be taken lightly, or reduced to an amoeba
word lacking in any precise meaning, or a slogan, or a fetish or, for that matter, only an instrument
or methodology (Rahnema, 1992:126).
Like ‘power’, the notion of ‘participation’ has been understood in various ways. There are a host
of definitions and interpretations, with varying explanations of how participation happens and
what it does for people. This section maps out the assumptions underlying the notion of participation
since the notion of ‘participation’ is an integral aspect of the service learning discourse. Participation
has indeed become not only a widely accepted concept, but also a politically attractive slogan, and
a broadly espoused objective in the fields of both education and service learning.
It is assumed that if people themselves shape their development, it is likely to be both more relevant
and more sustainable. If people themselves choose to participate, they will be able to take charge
of the process and craft it according to their knowledge and needs.
There is a cluster of assumptions embedded in these beliefs about the virtues of participation and
exposing these assumptions allows one to gain a more critical perspective on participatory practices
in service learning projects.
Inherent assumptions about freedom of choice and community interests
Within service learning discourse, an assumption is made that the choice to participate is open
and free and people in a given community choose for themselves whether or not to take part in
an initiative or programme. It is also assumed that those who do choose to participate, will freely
and responsibly express their ideas, their desires, and their objectives, ultimately reaching a peaceful
consensus that represents the best interests of the general whole-you give service and you receive
The assumption embedded in the above notion is that communities are homogenous, static,
consensual and harmonious, and also authentically motivated (Mohan, 2001; Cooke and Kothari,
2001). It is assumed that communities share common needs and interests, and want the best for
everyone. Heterogeneity within groups is downplayed as differences are smoothed out (Mashinini,
2002). This kind of representation conceals power relations within communities, and masks
competing interests at the intra-community level. In reality, power dynamics within communities
constrain participation, and define who gets to participate. Often, contrary to expectations, it is
not the most marginalised who participate, but those already in a position to access what the
university has to offer.
Access to participation can also be influenced and manipulated from outside of the group, by the
discourse itself. Particular expectations and requirements are subtly inscribed in the participatory
discourse that frames participatory practices. Those ‘participants’ that ‘get in’ are those who agree
to conform to the process and its requirements (at the cost of being reinscribed into the discourse).
Rahnema (1992:116) calls this ‘manipulated’ participation: “… participants do not feel they are
Education as Change, Volume 11 Number 3, Dec 2007, Special Issue: CSL
being forced into doing something, but are actually led to take actions which are inspired or
directed by centres outside their control”. Here one needs to only think of the schools we choose
to engage with and those we leave out of service learning initiatives; the communities we allow
our students to have access to and those we exclude; the issues we choose to service and those we
see as less important.
Co-option can also happen at the level of the discourse itself as participants are drawn into colluding
with the terms of the discourse. For example, by agreeing to participate in service learning,
participants concur that they need development and service (and by implication that they are
‘underdeveloped’). They also subtly agree that that they will pursue the goals of the other (in this
case university learning, university curricula and university notions of what constitutes knowledge)
in the name of their own development or empowerment. By owning the development intention,
the subjects of development collude in disguising the more covert agenda of the university,
academic, course or programme. While this position may not be a just reflection of the intentions
of all who promote service learning and its participatory agenda, it does draw attention to the way
in which the notion of ‘participation’ can be co-opted by well meaning academics, who convert it
into one of the many activities needed to keep the social responsibility agenda alive in the university.
There is thus a naivety about the complexities of power and power relations that characterise
understandings of participation in and through service learning. In agreement with Petersen’s
(2007) concerns with care and Noffke, et al’s (1996: 171) position on multicultural education, we
believe that service learning has “the capacity to be cooptive rather than transformational” when
power, purpose and participation are not engaged with in theory and in our practices.
The way forward
Is there a way forward? What are the possibilities that universities and communities can genuinely
participate in service learning initiatives?
The argument presented here does not deny that there are acts and processes of genuine participation.
These might be seen in the sharing of knowledge and the negotiating of power relations within
communities. The aim of the paper has not been to refute such practices, but rather to draw
attention to the ways in which power relations might be concealed within them, ultimately
subjecting them to the very same forces they claim to be resisting. There are several strategies
that may help to more critically interrogate the ways in which power and participation operate.
Firstly, it is important to review the essentialist (‘some have it - some don’t’) conception of power
that dominates some of the discourse of service learning and community engagement. Such a view
of power promotes a misunderstanding of where and how power is expressed, directing us to look
for it in political structures and oppressive acts, rather than in everyday practices. We need instead
a more nuanced understanding of power as a hybrid phenomenon that finds expression in multiple
and diverse ways, many of which are invisibly embedded in educational practices (Cooke and
Kothari, 2001; Mohan, 2001).
A revised understanding of power will inevitably also mean that the notion of ‘empowerment’ needs
to be reconsidered and its claims re-evaluated. Rather than seeing the recipients of service learning
initiatives as passive and power-less participants who need to be em-powered (often according to
a course or university agenda), we need to examine how people are already exercising power, and
look carefully at how such power operates.
Osman, R & Attwood, G Power and participation in and through service learning
As university educators who are espousing the merits of service learning for our students together
with our students we need to develop a broader analytical focus. Rather than looking simply at
the learning that has occurred for the students, or the actions taken by a community organisation
(which might be taken to indicate ‘empowerment’), it is essential to look at the everyday practices
that occur within service learning initiatives in the community in the name of service and
participation. Looking closely at how knowledge is constructed and where power is expressed
within everyday patterns of participation may provide the university and the community with more
insight into the operations of power and ‘empowerment’ than will merely observing the outcomes.
In the final analysis we need to ensure that service learning initiatives within the university are
not “low maintenance showcases” (Harper, Donnelli and Farmer, 2002: 24) of social responsibility
but rather complex ever changing and dynamic pedagogies of learning which require constant
engagement and reflection from the university and the community.
The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their useful suggestions. The first
author would like to acknowledge that the writing of this paper was made possible by a ‘Time-Out’
Grant from the Carnegie Foundation and an ‘Ad Hoc Research’ Grant from the Faculty of Humanities
at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Baerman, R, Cordell, K & Gomez, B (1998). The role of service learning in educational reform.
Raleigh, N. C: National Society for Experiential Education.
Billig, S H (2000). Research on K-12 school-based service learning: The evidence builds. Phi Delta
Kappan, May, 658-664.
Burnet JA, Hamel, D and Long, LL (2004). Service learning in graduate counsellor education:
Developing multicultural counselling competency. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and
Development, 32, 180-192.
Cooke, B. and Kothari, U. (2001). The case for participation as tyranny. In B. Cooke and U. Kothari
(Eds), Participation: The new tyranny? London: Zed Books
Dhillon, JK (2005). The rhetoric and reality of partnership working. Journal of Further and Higher
Education, 29 (3), 211-219.
Dreyfus, H.L. & Rabinow, P. (1982). Michel Foucault: Beyond structuralism and hermeneutics.
Brighton: Harvester.
Furco, A (1996). Service learning: A balanced approach to experiential education. In Taylor B (ed).
Expanding Boundaries: Serving and Learning. Washington: Corporation for National Service.
Hardy, C. and Leiba-O’Sullivan, S. (1998). The power behind empowerment: Implications for
research and practice, Human Relations, 51 (4): 451-483.
Harper, T, Donnelli, E and Farmer, F (2002). Theorizing the ‘relatively untheorized’: Three
contributions to understanding service learning. Unpublished paper presented at the second
international conference on service learning. Nashville: Tennessee.
Mashinini, V. (2002). Financing rural development in Lesotho. Africa Insight, 32(1):30-36.
Mohan, G. (2001). Beyond participation: Strategies for deeper empowerment. In B. Cooke and U.
Kothari (Eds), Participation: The new tyranny? London: Zed Books.
Education as Change, Volume 11 Number 3, Dec 2007, Special Issue: CSL
Mthembu, T (2006). Engaging with society. Arena, 2 (1), 8-9.
National Department of Education 2001. The National Plan for Higher Education. Pretoria:
Government Printer.
National Department of Education 1997a. The White Paper on Education and Training. Pretoria:
Government Printer.
National Department of Education 1997b. A programme for the Transformation of Higher Education.
Pretoria: Government Printer.
Noffke, S. E., Clark, B. G., Palmeri-Santiago, J., Sadler, J.& Shujaa, M 1996. Conflict, learning and
change in school/university partnership: different worlds of sharing. Theory into Practice, 35,
Petersen, N 2007. Community Service Learning and Teacher Education: about ‘otherness’ and
locating the self. Unpublished dissertation: University of Johannesburg.
Rahnema, M. (1992). Participation. In W. Sachs, (Ed), The development dictionary - A guide to
knowledge as power. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.
Professor Ruksana Osman
Faculty of Humanities
Wits School of Education
University of the Witwatersrand
Private Bag X 3 Wits, 2050
Telephone office +27 (0) 11 717-3060
Fax+ 27 (0) 11 717-3009
Osman, R & Attwood, G Power and participation in and through service learning
... O'Brien (2012) stressed the challenge of negotiated power relations when interacting with the community and emphasised that CE relationships built on dialogue are more likely to bring about social change. The dialogic nature of communication (Freire, 1972) as part of CE requires time and effort (Schmied et al., 2010) because there is an underlying power relationship that needs to be acknowledged (Osman & Attwood 2007). ...
... SL emerged as a structured form of CE where there is a strong focus on student engagement in communities (Kruss et al., 2012;van Schalkwyk & Erasmus, 2011) based on Dewey's (1938) ideas of experiential learning. SL became a way to address the social responsibility of HEIs while simultaneously enhancing teaching and learning of students (Mtawa & Nkoma, 2020;Osman & Attwood, 2007). Although it is noted by Preece (2016) that universities as a macro-level facilitator tend to recognise the "good" in CE-based knowledge, there appears to be some limiting "institutional governmentality" (p. ...
Full-text available
This article presents a trend analysis of the directions, nuances, and theoretical developments in community engagement (CE) practices in higher education and training (HET) environments in South Africa since 1994. It focuses on the nexus of research, teaching and learning, and community engagement. The article identifies specific associations of CE with core HET activities, illustrating how this integrated approach has brought about positive change. The research was conducted in three phases. In Phase I, purposeful sampling was used to identify the published work of leading scholars in South Africa who had engaged with the call for adopting a more transformative and collaborative approach to research such that the very act of academically engaging with(in) community became an educationally visionary act. In Phase II, the scope of the sampling was broadened to include research in multiple disciplines. In the third phase, the sampling was broadened chronologically to include research since the 1990s, and limited to the social sciences in order to conduct a trend analysis that considered historical context and growth directions in CE in the social sciences. The discussion presents an analysis of trends that emanated from research responses to CE by HET.
... The papers in this special section underscore the myriad of ways that student partnership can lead to more socially just pedagogical practices. There already is ample talk of components, such as development, empowerment, participation, and caring for others in the discourse of partnerships (Osman & Attwood, 2007). We hope that the special section furthers the robust discussions and debates that take place in this journal and beyond about how student partnership in pedagogical design can challenge traditional power dynamics and create possibilities for a more socially just university and society. ...
... The most popular approach was to incorporate community engagement into the curriculum through service-learning courses. Students have the opportunity to participate in organised community engagement activities for which they receive academic credits (Osman and Attwood, 2007). Specific needs are address in an identified community. ...
Full-text available
Purpose The purpose of this empirical research paper is to investigate the self-perceived role of the community partner of a higher education service-learning and community engagement module. Design/methodology/approach A qualitative approach was followed by distributing a questionnaire to the community partners of a community engagement module and coding the responses using ATLAS.ti. A total of 36 responses were received from community partners who work with students enrolled in a compulsory undergraduate community-based project module at the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology. Findings The community partners share a common interest in the students' education. They are experts in their fields and can share their knowledge with the students and the university. Through these partnerships, long-term reciprocal relationships can develop. Community partners can become co-educators and partners in education. The pragmatist representations of community partners can be challenged when they understand their own stakes in service-learning or community engagement projects. This better aids higher education institutes in the management and evaluation of service-learning and community engagement pedagogies and curricula. Research limitations/implications Two main limitations underlie this study. Firstly, this research is based on data from one community module at a single university. Although a large number of students are registered in the module, the study would be improved by conducting it at more than one university countrywide. Secondly, the study was performed during the first coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown the country experienced. This was a completely unexpected event for which everyone was totally unprepared. Many of the community partners lacked the resources to receive or respond to an online questionnaire. The nature of the lockdown prevented the researchers from reaching these community partners for a face-to-face interview. The voice of these community partners is, therefore, silent. Practical implications The community partners reiterated their need to be seen as equal partners in the module and appreciated being part of a group of non-profit enterprises working together with a university to pursue a set of common goals. However, their status as peers depends on their willingness and ability to contribute sufficiently to the structure and demands of the service-learning module. The community partners who were able and willing to orientate each group of students to their organisation's mission and objectives, and who executed their roles according to the course requirements, experienced the greatest success in terms of project effectiveness and efficiency, and also in terms of future benefits when students returned to volunteer or provide donations. Given time, these community partners grew into an equal partner with the university's stakeholders, where both their own needs and those of the students were met during the various service-learning projects. Social implications Since all respondents in this study are non-profit organisations, the financial assistance and free labour afforded to them by the students are of paramount importance. The community partners also understand the longer-term value implications of successful student projects, as some students return of their free will to volunteer their services when gainfully employed after graduation. Originality/value Community engagement projects are rarely investigated from the community partner's point of view. This paper elicited their responses and examined them through the lens of Fraser's theory of social justice (Fraser, 2009).
... Service-learning, as an educational approach, is the most feasible means of incorporating these outcomes in the academic curriculum. In a service-learning module, students receive academic credit for performing community service (Osman & Attwood, 2007). This requires them to participate in a specific organised service activity. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Alumni and enrolled students' perceived value of the compulsory community engagement module in the undergraduate curriculum of the The Community-based Project (JCP) module, a compulsory module for all undergraduate students in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at the University of Pretoria, was implemented in 2005. This is the only compulsory service outreach for students in the Faculty. The community experience consists of a short-term engagement of at least 40 hours. The outcomes of the module include the ability to understand social issues in a specific context, perform leadership functions and work effectively in a multidisciplinary environment. The enrolled students of 2014 were requested to complete a survey at the end of their academic year. Alumni who graduated between 2005 and 2010 (after having experienced distance and emotional growth) completed a similar survey. The maturity of the alumni offered a valuable perspective on the value of this service-learning endeavour. The respondents (alumni, as well as enrolled students) were of the opinion that there is a place for a service-learning module in the Faculty's undergraduate curriculum and indicated the crucial role the module plays in raising students' awareness of their social responsibility. Overall, the enrolled students were more positive than the alumni about the role of the service-learning endeavour in the curriculum. The enrolled students were also more positive about the important role the module plays in raising awareness of their social responsibility. The alumni indicated that the module had influenced their decision to continue with community outreach projects. A high percentage of the enrolled students indicated that they would continue with community outreach projects after completing the module. The results from both surveys validated the outcomes of the module.
... Albertyn & Daniels (2009) and Erasmus (2011a), for instance ,question the extent to which the power differentials between grass roots community members and university members allow knowledge to be genuinely co-constructed. Similarly, when strategies for consultation are built into university-community relationships there may be several layers of community agents so that one layer of the community may have been consulted, but that consultation does not necessarily filter down to other layers (Osman & Attwood 2007). ...
Full-text available
exploration of model of university community engagement
The case study in this chapter is the Joint Community-based Project (code: JCP), a compulsory macro undergraduate course that is offered by the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. The course was introduced to teach students the soft skills they will need as graduates and make them aware of their social responsibility. More than 1,600 students register for the course annually. Generally, students work in 450 groups each year to help more than 250 community partners. The course, which has received recognition at institutional, national and international levels, requires students to work in a community for at least 40 hours, after which they reflect on their learning experience through a report, presentation and YouTube video. The identification and selection process of community partners is based on contextual criteria, while new cohorts of students can recommend new community partners each year. Community partners’ tasks include project coordination and student assessment based on the course’s assessment criteria.
This chapter uses the voices of the university’s leaders, staff, students and external communities to explicate the meanings, embeddedness, applications and experiences of human development processes and values such as empowerment, participation and sustainability in and through community engagement and service-learning. While showing multiple interpretations of the processes and values of human development, it also indicates the difficulties of foregrounding and implementing them in community engagement and service-learning imbued with power and preference differentials and inequality. The chapter therefore questions the notion of partnership that often assumes that all partners enjoy equal power and participate on an equal footing in the design, implementation and evaluation of community engagement and service-learning.
Full-text available
Service-learning is a form of community engagement deemed beneficial to both students and community members. However, while there is a large and growing body of research investigating whether service-learning does indeed advance student learning, there has been paucity of research on whether service-learning benefits community partners, and in what way. This study is based on interviews with community partners at a South African university, to explore how community partners experience service-learning. The findings suggest that community partners value service-learning partnerships and believe that the presence of students does, for the most part, meet a need in the community. However, the findings also show that service-learning partners long for greater commitment and attention from the university partner, and that few partners feel empowered to initiate and drive service-learning partnerships, which are instead typically set up by the university. These findings also suggest that service-learning partnerships are of value to partners, but that more needs to be done to address the power relations inherent in partnerships between universities and community partners.
Full-text available
Using empirical data from three different community service learning (CSL) courses offered at a South African university, in this paper we discuss the promises and pitfalls of this pedagogy for meaningful change within communities. The paper makes visible the challenging contradictions of CSL as a practice seeking to promote social change and CSL as a form of charity or paternalism. Drawing on in-depth qualitative data collected from interviews with lecturers, focus groups with students involved in CSL and interviews and focus groups with community members who participated in CSL, we examine the interface between poverty, inequality and privilege that occurs when universities and poor communities endeavour to partner. We argue that CSL ought to promote social change through fostering a sense of agency, empowerment, sustainability and capabilities formation amongst students and within communities. However, when CSL course design (and resultant implementation) does not sufficiently take account of the complex relations of power and privilege, particularly in the context of extreme poverty in communities, CSL practice risks undermining the social transformation that it seeks to foster. We draw on the work of Davis and Wells [2016. “Transformation without Paternalism.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities. doi:10.1080/19452829.2016.1145198] to propose procedural principles for democratic CSL design and implementation.
This chapter explores the origins and changing nomenclature for service learning, highlighting some of the differences in approach, particularly between South Africa and the United States from where the concept originated. The chapter outlines some key themes, pedagogical, theoretical and methodological perspectives across the literature, and critiques concerning the perceived rhetoric and reality of ‘doing’ service learning. It concludes with a reflection on how the capabilities approach might contribute to a curriculum for service learning. As an introduction I explain my own initiation into this aspect of community engagement.
Full-text available
Practitioners and policy makers are curious about service-learning and its effects. Ms. Billig details for Kappan readers what research tells us about service-learning today and suggests the kinds of questions that still need to be answered.
Full-text available
The 1990s have been called theempowerment era, yet growing evidencesuggests that empowerment programs often fail to meetthe expectations of both managers and employees. Toprovide a better understanding as to why empowerment programs often fail andto suggest how such failures may be averted, we examinethe power behind empowerment. Ironically, although powerand empowerment are inextricably linked, much of the work on empowerment in the businessliterature has been devoid of any discussion of power.We present a four-dimensional model which shows themultifaceted way in which power works. In it, we observe the similarities and differences in the waysthat different theorists have approached the study ofpower, notably those ascribing to mainstream , critical, and Foucauldian perspectives. We then use this power model as a lens with which to examineempowerment practices in business. This analysissuggests a number of possible reasons for the failure ofbusiness empowerment programs and provides directions for future research and practice which mightaddress these shortcomings.
Service learning integrates classroom instruction with community service to enhance learning. This article describes the service-learning model used in a multicultural counseling course. The feedback received indicated service learning enhanced multicultural counseling knowledge, increased examination of cultural bias, increased community feelings of support, and resulted in a powerful learning experience for participants. Servicios de aprendizaje integra las intruciones en la aula con el servicio de la comunidad para mejorar el aprendizaje. Este artículo describe el uso del modelo de servicios de aprendizaje en un curso de terapia multicultural. La respuesta acogida indica que el servicio de aprendizaje mejoró el conocimiento de terapia multicultural, aumento de examinación de la parcialidad de cultura, y el aumento de apoyo de comunidad, y resultó en una potente experiencia de aprendizaje para los participantes.