Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Public Scholarship, Democracy and Scholarly Engagement

Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Public Scholarship, Democracy and Scholarly Engagement

Article excerpt


The main purpose of this writing is to engage with ideas about, and interpretations of, socially engaged or public scholarship, namely, scholarship that is derived from the co-construction of knowledge out of meaningful engagements between academics and the communities and publics of the university-especially such communities that are outside the university but reliant on the useful roles that can be played by academics engaged in critical thinking in institutions of higher learning. My approach privileges an engagement with those communities of the university that are most socially marginalised and whose access to social, economic, and political power is limited by the social relations in which such communities are implicated because they continue to remain, even in social democratic capitalist states, the most economically exploited and poorly represented politically, and are culturally and sociohistorically marginalised in both urban and rural society all over the globe.

Towards this, I will explore the following issues:

* Conventional academic interpretations of scholarship and their limits.

* Wider dimensions of scholarship-as socially engaged knowledge

* Who is the community for engaged scholarship?

* The wider purposes of science and public reasoning.

Conventional Academic Interpretations of Scholarship and Their Limits

Ideas about socially engaged and public scholarship might appear self-evident to some academics but it is hardly so amongst academics and intellectuals in general, and interpretations of scholarship, while not wholly conflictual and contradictory, are nonetheless riven by competing emphases and interpretations about its central tenets and characteristics. For our purposes, exclusionary academic approaches to scholarship are not only dominant relative to nonacademic conceptions, but also favour constructions that stress particular attributes of the concept less emphasised by those outside academia-to the extent that those "outsiders" engage in this issue at all.1

Conceptions of scholarship have a history. The concept of scholar, as Bitzer (2006) advised us, originates in the 11th century and was interpreted as having a social rather than an individualistic meaning. By the 16th century, it came to attach to "a learned and erudite person; especially one who is learned in the classical (i.e., Greek and Latin) languages and their literature" (p. 374). Bitzer referred (à la Talcott Parsons) to the "competence in mastering knowledge and the techniques of its advancement" and the "obligation of integrity, a commitment to the values of the academic profession" (p. 374), which are qualities that Booth (1988, cited in Bitzer, 2006) called "habits of rationality," and include "courage, persistence, consideration, humility and honesty, virtues of great consequence in shaping the intellectual work of the scholar" (p. 374).

Indeed, what is meant by intellectual in this instance is itself a matter for discussion because the term has had many meanings attached to it, historically. In contemporary Western society, it is used ad hoc (see Eyerman, Svensson, & Söderqvist, 1987)-referring to people with university degrees or in specified professions (writers, journalists, and teachers), or by concentrating on their alleged social roles or function, or through their psychological and behavioural traits. Structural, referring to "an observable position in the social structure," and phenomenological approaches, referring to "the self-understanding and perceptions of the individual as shown by his or her particular ways of thinking and acting," have also been used to define intellectuals (Michels, 1966, p. 3). But I do not here delve into this important issue which has significance in its own right, and which has also been written about widely (see Said, 1996).

It remains true that in most approaches,2 the idea that scholarship through research is the key to how we understand higher learning (Mótala, 2011). …

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