Toward an Ideal Relational Ethic: Rethinking university-community engagement

Steve Garlick, Victoria J. Palmer


This paper explores how an ideal relational ethic based on Zygmunt Bauman’s (1995) notion of forms of togetherness is needed to underpin university-community engagement processes and practices. We focus on the notion of being-for, and suggest that it can be used as an ‘engagement bridge’ between higher education institutions, the creation of human capital and communities, and can be a means to achieve ethical outcomes to local concerns. Much of Bauman’s (1995; 2001; 2007) theoretical development has focussed on the liquidity of modernity, to give the impression that community - in the spatially, physically located and fixed sense of the term - no longer exists. This paper proposes that spatial dimensions, particularly in the context of developing relational ethics, are important. This is particularly so for paying adequate attention to context-specific values, principles and issues in communities, for developing enterprising human capital via engagement, and for addressing matters of socio-political importance such as the environment. Contemporary neo-liberal times require ethical and moral leadership from universities. This paper suggests that such leadership can be developed from focussing attention on the forms of togetherness fostered by university-community engagement.

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