Toward an Ideal Relational Ethic: Rethinking university-community engagement

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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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Research articles (Refereed)
Author Biographies

Steve Garlick, University of Sunshine Coast

Steve Garlick is Professor of Regional Engagement at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Professor of Regional Development at Swinburne University of Technology, and an adviser to the OECD/IMHE on regional development and higher education. Professor Garlick has been a regional development researcher since the late 1970s. He was a senior executive in the Australian Government for twelve years. Professor Garlick has a particular interest in the role of education in building the enterprising human capital capacity for regions to be competitive. In this he has published widely in relation to the role of higher education institutions, approaches to engagement, and evaluation methods. He has undertaken many single-region, multi-region, multi-country investigations including for the European Commission, Australian Government agencies, communities, and the private sector. He is currently an adviser and international evaluator for the OECD relating to the role of higher education institutions in regional development and in this capacity has worked in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Canada.

Victoria J. Palmer, University of Melbourne

Dr Palmer is an applied ethicist currently appointed as research fellow to the re-order study which examines depression care in the Australian Primary Health Care System. She has worked in local government, domestic violence and disability support including the design and development of an information website for deaf and hearing impaired communities on mental health. She is an adjunct research fellow with the Faculty of Arts and Social Science University of Sunshine Coast.