Community Engagement: Theory, Practice, and the Politics of Help


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Why do community service? What does it mean to help? What kinds of communities need help in order to thrive? Where should that help come from? What should that help look like? What is the difference between help and engagement? In this course, we will explore the uniquely American perspective on community service and community engagement in order to answer the aforementioned questions. We will begin with some historical foundations in the U.S. and then focus on contemporary ways to build community via engaged participation. At times, we will also challenge ourselves through comparative analysis of neighborhood-based responses to local and national policies. We will consider the place, significance, and outcomes of community engagement within the public realm using an asset based rather than needs based focus. Although this is a Sociology course, and the bulk of what we’ll read is sociological, we will also read literature and discuss concepts from other disciplines in order to better understand what it means to “help.” This is a project-based seminar. This means that everyone is expected to produce a well-thought out engaged project at the end of the course. As part of this, you are required to keep up with the reading and contribute to the intellectual environment of the classroom, which will, in turn, inform the development of your work for this class.


Resource Type(s):
Teresa Irene Gonzales, Knox College 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Social Welfare/Social Work 
Class Level:
College 200 
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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This is an elective course in Sociology, and also counts towards our Social Service Minor. The class is generally a mix of students from across campus who have a commitment to community service and social justice. Given this, I begin the class by breaking down socially held beliefs regarding "help"...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Describe and interpret the historical context for the development of the practice of community service in the U.S.; Name and define theories that have sought to explain/promote social or civic involvement in daily life.
Assessment 1:
The readings, videos, and speakers provide students with history and theories to understand community service and engagement in the U.S.
Goal 2:
Interpret and discuss the social, economic, and political processes that give rise to community service; learn to question and analyze what help is, how it should look, and where it is often located and/or directed; identify and analyze community assets.
Assessment 2:
The midterm assignment, the asset map, and the final project all provide hands-on experience for students to begin grappling with their own approach to service and ways to move towards community engagement.
Goal 3:
Take a critically informed stance on the role of moral, social, and civic responsibility in society and how individuals can affect social change.
Assessment 3:
The two reflection papers require students to engage with these issues.

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Com Eng Citation.docx
Gonzales Community Engagement - Theory, Practice, and the Politics of Help.pdf