Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Language, Literature, Culture and Education 2016

Beyond Experiential Education: Knowledge and Power Relations in Service Learning

Nguyen Thi Hong Nhung

University of Western Sydney


The purpose of the research paper is to explore the representation of knowledge and power relations in literature on service learning. There is a need to consider the problem of whether and how work-integrated experiential service learning benefits all stakeholders through its institutionalization in higher education. The method used for this exploratory, analytical research was to undertake a selective review of literature on service learning covering the period of 2006 – 2015 using Rancièrian conceptions of knowledge and power relations – in terms of democratic power and police order. Not all the research literature for this period could be analysed here. Thus, only a selection of this research literature is analysed in this paper. It does include publications by leading edge authors in the field of service learning. There are two major findings from this study. First, research literature reviewed here on service learning indicates that students depend on teachers’ knowledge because of institutional requirements governing curriculum, pedagogy and assessment thereby reproducing intellectual inequality. However, there is some literature which suggests possibilities for students to produce knowledge through serving. Second, this literature foregrounds democratic power while neglecting the enabling or constraining power of the ‘police order.’ One of the implications of this study is that there is a need for a framework that addresses these contradictory forces. It is not a matter of either or, but of AND. There is a need for framework that addresses the tensions between already existing structures of inequality against any desires for intellectual equality, between the power of democracy and police order - simultaneously, rather than treating them separately.


Service learning, experiential education, power, democracy, knowledge

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