Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Diana Moyer, Faye Harrison, William Morgan


This study documents the problematization of service learning, the activation of a practice for cultural studies, and the use of a particular framework and theory called critical service learning. The framework centers around praxis and is comprised of four-stages—pre-action reflection, theory, action, and reflection—which articulates Freirean, critical, and engaged pedagogies with cultural studies theory in the reflective and theory stages and targets social difference and resultant injustices in the action stage. The theory articulates the feminist ethic of care and social justice theory within a frame of the generalized and concrete other, and promotes caring solidarity as the ultimate ameliorative aim of service learning partnerships.

This seven-month qualitative study details a service experience which partners US college students with two schools and two orphanages in Jamaica, and marks the first activation of critical service learning. Cast as an ethnography, this cultural study asks one over-arching question: “How does the critical service learning framework and theory play out in a partnership that seeks ameliorative change?, and seeks answers as to whether social justice and/or care may result from experiences in the partnership, what the potential enduring effects may be, and how the relationship of ‘server’ and ‘served’ might best be democratized.

The ethnography covers four and a half months of class-work and preparation, fifteen days working in Jamaica, and two months after re-entering the US. The “shared story” that results from the multiple data collection strategies thickly describes several key places visited and events that occurred during the experience. The data is interpreted and analyzed using a critically-interpretive approach.

From the analysis, three symbols emerge—butterflies, boundaries, and breadfruit—with attendant metaphors and limitations that provide (1) advice for enhancing and evolving the critical service learning framework and theory, in particular, and improving service learning, in general, (2) evidence that service learning is a viable practice for cultural studies, and (3) consideration for how the relationship of ‘servers’ and ‘served’ might best be democratized and what might lead to and encourage long-term ameliorative effects.

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