Transgressive Partnerships: Community engagement in a South African university

Martin Hall


Conceptualizing community engagement as intertwined with teaching and long-established approaches to research requires a consideration of the epistemology of knowledge itself. What is accepted as legitimate knowledge? And what is the scope of the university’s role in recognizing and validating forms of knowledge and defining curriculum boundaries, understood as the ways in which the university disseminates knowledge that it has validated as authentic? A working understanding of community engagement would include service learning, problem-based teaching and research that addresses specific wants and needs, the pursuit of alternative forms of knowledge and challenges to established authorities that control and direct research systems and the allocation of qualifications. This article considers why this kind of engagement has remained on the margins of the traditional university in South Africa – via a case study of community engagement at the University of Cape Town – despite a decade of clear public policy and asks: why does there appear to be resistance to its inclusion despite a number of incentives that include moral affirmation for contributing to social and economic justice.

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