A philosophical hermeneutic orientation to practicing the civic art of community engagement
Marie Sandy, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee [sandym@uwm.edu]
Keywords: Philosophical hermeneutics, phronesis, social change, theoretical framework

Track: Theoretical or conceptual frameworks to advance research

Format: Research paper

Date & time: Thursday 3:20-4:30
Location: Salon 1

Philosophical hermeneutics – which means translation or interpretation – complements the pragmatic theory that informed the field of service-learning, and with its emphasis on community and respect for others, can offer an orientation to further our work in a mutually satisfying way for scholars, practitioners and community partners. Its theme of phronesis or “practical wisdom” provides an epistemological foundation to frame community engagement as a civic art that values conversation, participation, and the common good.

Phronesis is based on an ancient concept of knowledge that is involved with the art or craft of human affairs at both at the individual level and collective levels. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s approach provides an avenue for using phronesis as an epistemological foundation may help move us closer to actualizing what Goodwin Liu (1999) refers to as the necessarily “marginal epistemology” of community engagement where knowledge is understood as a function of conversation. This “personal-collective” framework also means hermeneutics understands political work as occurring anytime two people engaged in the world connect, if they are intentional about the interaction.

This perspective therefore encourages including a range of “charitable” and “politicized” activities in service-learning programs in ways rarely combined today (Mitchell, 2008). This paper describes Gadamer’s treatment of the roles of conversation, participation and the public good. These philosophical and methodological considerations also provide a specific framework for improving reciprocal communication within community-campus partnerships, community-based research and service learning programs.

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