Experiential Extractivism in Service-Learning and Community Engagement

What We Take and What We Leave Behind


  • Sarah Eliza Stanlick Worcester Polytechnic Institute




epistemic justice, Decolonization, extractivism, community-based learning, social justice


Extractivism is so often characterized as resource extractivism – the exploitation of a community’s natural resources for economic gain. However, when we think about the relationships between community and university, there are many ways in which the university can take out of the community or benefit to an extent that extracts human, capital, and natural resources. I contend that some of the university-community engagement work that has been done in the last 20 years replicates colonial structures in ways that have harmed communities under the well-intentioned guise of service-learning, community-based learning, or “development.” Drawing on Du Bois (1947) and on Riofrancos’ (2020) work on colonialism and extractivism, this paper will explore the role of the university as both a transformer and oppressor through global learning. I will explore the promise and pitfalls for these engaged pedagogies, and propose pathways to avoiding unjust, extractive practices in the pursuit of learning and student development. I will end with recommendations for just, equitable, and critical community-based global learning and some promising examples.



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