Grounding service-learning in South Africa : the development of a theoretical framework.
The focus of this research is Service-Learning. The research aims to construct a Service- Learning theory that is grounded in South African practice. The dynamic and challenging early decades of South Africa’s new democracy constitute the context into which Service- Learning has been introduced into Higher Education in the country. The potential of Service- Learning to make a meaningful contribution to the development of Higher Education, particularly in relation to its multiple roles in African society, is recognised. There is concern, however, that lack of adequate theorisation means that Service-Learning is poorly understood and that its practice and impact are erratic. I undertake the study from an underlying paradigm of constructivism, adopting a qualitative approach and employing Grounded Theory methods. Aligning with Charmaz’ (2006) “constructivist stance” on Grounded Theory, and conscious of the need to be informed by as wide a variety of experiences and voices as possible, I access a range of formal and informal documentation that cover Service-Learning activities at module/ project, institutional and national levels. The activities include the promotion of Service-Learning in all sectors of society, its implementation in a variety of disciplines and communities, policy and research initiatives and scholarly publications from South African authors. Coding and memo writing yield the major concepts on which I construct the theory, namely, Context, Identity, Development, Curriculum, Power and Engagement. Centered on the core concept of Engagement, the theoretical framework comprises four Discourses, namely Service-Learning as Scholarly Engagement, Service-Learning as Benevolent Engagement, Service-Learning as Democratic Engagement and Service-Learning as Professional Engagement. The Discourses each have a primary focus, i.e. knowledge, service, social justice and resource development respectively. The Discourses framework has implications for the definition, practice and evaluation of Service-Learning. In addition, the framework offers conceptual tools for the understanding of engagement in contexts other than Service-Learning. By their nature, the Discourses may be split, merged or elaborated as new knowledge and practice come to light.