South African Journal of Higher Education

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The role of discourse analysis in the conceptualisation of service learning in higher education

J-A van Wyk


Despite high levels of interest in matters civic within and among institutions of higher learning in South Africa, service learning as a vehicle for transformation of teaching and learning, seems largely neglected and under-theorised. The challenge for academics as reflective practitioners is to engage how the discourses entailed in service learning, especially how they shape the way academics think and produce understandings and critical engagements of service learning practices in their various local contexts. Discourse analysis as a critical framework for examining the meanings we assign to social and academic practices seems highly relevant to understand the usually taken-for-granted assumptions that imbue the concept of service learning. This article problematizes the nature and purpose of service learning in the South African higher education context, especially against the backdrop of similarities and differences between academic knowledge and community knowledge, and how these practices assist academics in understanding how students reflect on who they are and what the purpose of their studies is. The article engages a specific example of service learning and unravels some of its dominant discourses which seek to produce and situate students, institutions and communities. What becomes apparent is that service learning practices are internal to the power discourses which constitute them.

SAJHE Vol.18(1) 2004: 303-321
AJOL African Journals Online