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  • Models of Engaged Scholarship:An Interdisciplinary Discussion
  • Dorothy Holland (bio), Dana E. Powell (bio), Eugenia Eng (bio), and Georgina Drew (bio)

Surely, scholarship means engaging in original research. But the work of the scholar also means stepping back from one's own investigation, looking for connections, building bridges between theory and practice, and communicating one's knowledge effectively.

(Boyer 1990, 16)

Ernest Boyer, an oft-cited early proponent of "engaged scholarship," called for a set of transformations to lower the walls between academic departments and disintegrate the insular behaviors between disciplines. To open up new space for redefining the full scope of academic work, Boyer explored interactions among five dimensions of scholarship: discovery, teaching, application, integration, and engagement. The final dimension, engagement, emphasizes how scholars might relate differently to their teaching, discovery, application, and integration activities by collaborating with people and organizations beyond campus and ultimately directing their work toward larger, more complex, and more humane ends (Boyer 1996).

Despite Boyer's catalytic definition, "engaged scholarship" is not fixed in its meaning. Rather it is an ongoing negotiation, being produced in different places through a range of university-based and community-based practices and the dialogues between the two. Meanings [End Page 1] of engaged scholarship remain up for grabs, interpreted through existing and emerging methodologies of collaboration, knowledge production, and experimental practice. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) an interdisciplinary working group of scholars (and scholar-activists) met for a series of discussions to reflect on various models of engaged scholarship and to construct new ways of understanding engaged scholarship theories and practices. While valuing existing models, this group sought to "un-discipline" prevailing understandings of scholarship, revaluing the position of engaged scholarship in our respective fields and networks of association. In doing so we evaluated several existing models of engaged scholarship and explored possibilities for renovating and innovating engaged scholarship as a critical, collaborative mode of knowledge production and political practice. We view this work at UNC as part of a broader ongoing effort at many universities and other sites to construct new meanings and methods of engaged scholarship, an effort that has emerged partly in response to pressures from academic institutions to develop practices of engagement with communities beyond the university.

This essay foregrounds our working group experience at UNC as a case study of the process of negotiating new meanings and methods of engaged scholarship. The process is valuable in itself, as one node of practice in a broader network of researchers constructing engaged scholarship suited to specific locations and particular urgencies. Drawing upon a series of intensive discussions among twenty to thirty faculty and graduate student participants, the essay is the culmination of a collaborative effort and an ongoing discussion. Although co-authored by four of the participants (two faculty and two graduate students), it is informed by the reflections and analyses of all of the working group participants and in all the diverse fields they represent. At the same time, the interpretation of six models of engaged scholarship, the articulation of specific themes and problematics, and the provisional conclusions presented are the authors' findings and analyses.1 Detailed later, these three areas map the terrain of one situated discussion in hopes of furthering the dialogue on fostering greater "epistemological equity" (Lassiter 2008) in research practices and relationships. In addition to this goal, we expect the descriptions and collective comparison of the six models to be useful for introducing one or more of the models to those unfamiliar with them and for critical reflection by those involved in defining engaged scholarship in other universities and venues. [End Page 2]

Challenges and Potentialities at UNC

For the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to become fully "engaged" in Boyer's sense is not without significant, systemic challenges.2 For instance, UNC partnerships with government, business, and private organizations, which all provide funding to the university, and especially the professional schools, are already deeply integrated into our academic work. In contrast, our partnerships with civil rights and social justice organizations, which represent communities who suffer from economic and social inequities, are not always held in the same esteem. That is, while surrounding...


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