From reciprocity to collective empowerment: Re-framing university-school partnership discourses in the South African context

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Patti Silbert


While partnerships are key to sustained engagement between universities and schools, structural and historical differences exist between partners at the level of both organisational boundaries and socioeconomic borders. Differential relations, particularly accentuated in contexts such as South Africa, are frequently masked by normative assumptions that have largely remained unquestioned.

Reciprocity and mutuality are two such foundational concepts, regularly enlisted in the partnership literature. Applied uncritically, these concepts function to obscure power differentials between partnering institutions – and between people who bring to those partnerships different histories and social positions. Using the example of a South African university-school partnership, the article draws on the scholarship of Keith (2005), Stavro (2001) and Young (1990, 1997a, 1997b) to develop a framework that moves beyond reciprocity and mutuality towards collective empowerment and solidarity. This discursive shift reflects the complexities of partnerships and partnering – and opens the space for more authentic forms of engagement, particularly in unequal partnering contexts. The article offers insights, from the perspective of the particular case presented, into how dialogic spaces might be created for interrupting normative discourses and practices, and for re-imagining new possibilities for partnering across contexts of difference. 

Asymmetrical reciprocity, university-school partnerships, mutuality, collective empowerment



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Research articles (Refereed)