UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Beyond service : looking at power in community service-learning relationships Humphries, Charlotte


The research presented here is an analysis of power in the context of a community service-learning relationship. The theoretical community service-learning literature cautions that relationships in this context risk reproducing and reinforcing power inequities between community and the university. An analysis of this literature reveals that central narratives about power and relationships may not entirely reflect the reality of practice. The analysis of the literature also points to the unfulfilled need to more carefully consider the community within academic discourse and studies of community service-learning. Using a case study of the YWCA Vancouver and the UBC Learning Exchange relationship, this research explores the following questions: 1. How does power operate in the context of the YWCA-Learning Exchange community service-learning relationship? 2. How are power relations conceptualized by participants in this community service-learning relationship? 3. How do the results from this inquiry align with popular theoretical perspectives on community service-learning? The analysis of 13 in-depth interviews conducted with YWCA staff, UBC Learning Exchange staff, and students engaged in community service-learning activities with these two organizations reveals that actors in the YWCA-Learning Exchange relationship are aware of traditional power inequities between universities and communities. These actors actively reject traditional power relations and react negatively when they perceive a reproduction of these relations in the context of community service-learning. Results from the analysis of this unique case contribute to the community service-learning literature by adding new voices and complexity to the discourse. In contrast to the essentialist view of power that is proposed in the literature, power in this case is understood to operate along multiple dimensions. YWCA staff do not attribute different value to the types of service which the literature differentiates as charity or social justice. Finally, community staff do not identify as powerless in the relationship, and instead view themselves as integral to the operation and the success of community service-learning. Results point to a need for further research into the experiences of all actors in community service-learning with the aim of contributing to the discourses of power and relationships in this context.

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