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One of the fundamental questions of power in the pedagogy of community-based research (CBR) is who gets to decide what is research worthy and what is the focus of CBR questions? The reality of the power imbalance in community-based research and learning is often reflective of a systemic disengagement with the broader community. Even when instructors and administrators are intentional in how they solicit feedback or think through the impact of their work, they may not know the neighbourhood. Prioritising the voice of community partners does not provide a simple solution, as the individuals we work with to organise community-based learning opportunities may not be residents of the neighbourhood.
This article adopts a theory-building approach to this crucial question. Building on the work of Boyte (2014) and Honig (2017), community-based research is reoriented as ‘public work for public things’ (Haarman 2020). After establishing the ‘public work for public things’ framework, the article explores how this new framework impacts collaborative research by addressing the power differential and creating new lines of inquiry – specifically the practice of ‘elicitation of concerns’. Through the lens of critical service-learning pedagogy (Mitchell 2008) and a practitioner-scholar framework (Lytle 2008; Ravitch 2013; Salipante & Aram 2003), we then interrogate two community-based research courses we have recently taught, examining how a ‘public work for public things’ approach would have altered the course and its methods.
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