Engaging Place as Partner  

Cheryl K. Siemers, Barbara Harrison, Patti H. Clayton, & Talmage A. Stanley

We are interested in the ways in which an intentionally “place-rich” (High, Siemers, & Downing, 2015) approach to SLCE might deepen its civic learning and public good outcomes, especially in the context of the intertwined local roots and global connections that characterize citizenship in the 21st century.


We would like to see SLCE that is not only “place-based” (focused on location) but “place-engaged” (in and with and of place). Foundational to this orientation is understanding place as partner – with a particular local voice, history, culture, politics, and ecology that, in an asset-based way, co-creates the sense of possible alternative futures toward which this work aims….

We are beginning to see four guiding principles as constitutive of a place-engaged orientation to SLCE and as specific, actionable means to enact such partnership: (a) integrating ecological perspectives and values, thereby taking into account systemic interconnections and leaving all partners with greater appreciation for their own relationship with and responsibility for the natural world; (b) incorporating diverse ways of knowing and being embedded in distinct places, which generates both learning and change strategies that integrate multiple cultural and disciplinary lenses; (c) taking seriously the power of story to make meaning and build community, or inviting and inquiring into the stories “engraved on the landscape” and embedded in the fibers of community life (Stanley, 2012, p. 153); and (d) grappling with contradictions and tensions that often surface when we realize that the past is always with us as a living legacy and that embracing both its joys and its sorrows is necessary to understand who we are and to envision who we might become…. We … examine … three examples [of] SLCE … for insight into how [these] four principles … might manifest in a place-engaged approach….

Attending more explicitly to place might … point the way to possibilities for deeper and more critical engagement with the complexities, identities, and values of local lived experience as well as the broader historical-political-ecological-cultural forces shaping the local and intertwining it with global contexts.


High, J., Siemers, C. K., & Downing, S. (2015).  Transforming place-bound to place-rich: Embracing narrative, electronic portfolios, and electronic learning as shared experience.  The International Journal of Diversity in Education, 14(2), 1-5.  

Stanley, T. A. (2012). Building in place. In D. W. Butin & S. Seider (Eds.), The engaged campus: Certificates, minors, and majors as the new community engagement (pp. 153-168). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

CHERYL K. SIEMERS lives in Kenai, Alaska, USA and serves as associate professor of English at Kenai Peninsula College (a branch campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage) where she facilitates a Service-Learning Faculty Fellows program and serves on the curricular Native Education group. She is an SLCE practitioner-scholar with interests in place-based and Indigenous education and incorporating local knowledge and Native ways of knowing in community partnerships.

BARBARA HARRISON, originally from South Africa, now lives in Erin, Ontario, Canada. She is an SLCE practitioner-scholar who consults with higher education institutions, mentors undergraduate and graduate students in community-based research, and collaborates with community members and organizations on independent community-engaged research projects. Her scholarship focuses on faculty engagement and learning, reciprocity, and relationships between SL and neoliberalism in higher education.

PATTI H. CLAYTON lives in Cary, NC, USA and is an independent consultant and SLCE practitioner-scholar (PHC Ventures). Her current interests include democratic engagement, co-learning among all partners in SLCE, the integration of community engagement and relationships within the more-than-human world, and the power of such “little words” as in, for, with, and of to shape how we understand and enact engagement.

TALMAGE A. STANLEY, a tenth-generation Southwest Virginian, is professor of Civic Innovation, director of the Appalachian Center for Civic Life, director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Civic Innovation, and director of the Bonner Scholars Program at Emory & Henry College. He teaches and writes on issues of place and civic life and on the role of story and place in public memory and public deliberation.

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2 thoughts on “Engaging Place

  1. Emily Stutzman Jones says:

    Posting for the group: “Place” is a term that many are drawn to but that is commonly defined by individuals in unique way. How can we move beyond “place” as buzzword? What emerged from our conversation was the difficulty in truly conversing/listening with community members around their objectives related to place-based service learning. These challenges emerge as a function of class differences, educational divides, language barriers, ways of knowing. We also delicately pointed out that the easiest aspect of place-focus is “(a) integrating ecological perspectives and values,” and that the most difficult is “(b) incorporating diverse ways of knowing and being embedded in distinct places.” We noticed opportunities to use the classic service learning “reflection” opportunities for “(c) taking seriously the power of story to make meaning and build community.”

    Liked by 1 person

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