Community-Engaged Scholarship: Knowledge, Action, and Ethics In and Beyond the University

Course Description: How do you ensure that your scholarship matters? And who determines what “matters”? These are two central questions that underpin the broad, interdisciplinary field of community-engaged scholarship. At its core, community-engaged scholarship seeks active partnerships between the academy and the community as a way to generate, exchange and apply mutually beneficial and socially useful knowledge and practices. But what community-engaged scholarship looks like in practice takes on different forms and priorities depending upon the institutional program, the community partners and residents, and the individual scholar. Indeed, community-engaged scholarship encompasses a broad set of practices, including: collaborations with organizations through community-based learning and research; experiential learning that connects students with issues outside the classroom through field studies; and scholarship that resides on campus but aims toward social amelioration or public benefit. Although falling under the conceptual umbrella of community-engaged scholarship, all of these practices are not the same. Each accommodates a set of social assumptions and beliefs about research and education in the university. The varied definitions of community-engaged scholarship and which practices get prioritized in higher education reflects its contentious history within the university and American society more broadly. Afterall, some practices of community-engaged scholarship are deeply rooted in longer struggles and movements for justice that directly challenged the university’s practices and role in society. In this seminar, we will examine the historical roots, philosophy and practice of community-engaged scholarship while also considering how its history can better inform what we do as scholars and citizens in and beyond the university. As part of our inquiry, we will partner with local organizations to conduct participatory action research projects that will center around community dialogue and knowledge exchange. In the process, we will participate in a broader academic and public conversation about the ethics and politics of community-engaged scholarship, with a particular focus on the complex intersections of charity, service, social justice, and current debates on the role of the university and research in the twenty-first century.

Guiding Questions and Themes: The themes explored in this course reflect contrasting and sometimes conflicting ways of thinking about scholarship, collaboration and research methodology. Some guiding questions: 

  • What are the roots and approaches to community-engaged scholarship? How does community-engaged research differ from other approaches in defining problems, gathering information and using results in the university? 
  • How do scholars and community members collaborate in the process of knowledge development? What are the research methods (quantitative and qualitative) and steps in the process? What issues or problems arise from this type of work? 
  • How can community-based participatory research be an empowering process for students, scholars and communities? What difference does it make and for whom? 
  • In what contexts and situations is a participatory approach to research appropriate, and in what cases is it not? What are the implications for students, academic researchers and for community organizations? 

Syllabus