A-PhD-With-a-Difference

Dr Carol Mitchel challenges teaching and learning in her research.

Critical Reflection in Service Learning: The Construction of the Good Citizen, is the title of a thesis by UKZN staffer and doctoral graduate Dr Carol Mitchell of the School of Social Sciences in the College of Humanities.

A few years ago, Mitchell was invited to a student service learning presentation at a sister UKZN campus and while students presented their work, she made a striking observation – the students resembled their teacher.

‘They used her frameworks of understanding, they highlighted the issues that were most pertinent to her, they used her most familiar terms, and some even spoke with her passion,’ said Mitchell.

While at the presentation she became aware of the power service-learning practitioners and educators have. They inadvertently direct students to learn towards their priorities and frame of reference. In her study, Mitchell aimed to circumvent the dangers associated with this kind of production.

It was at this “eureka” moment that she chose to analyse service-learning as a mechanism for governmentality. Using Foucault’s conceptual tools, she adopted his notion of pastoral power to problematise the critical reflection process in a service-learning course, paying specific attention to the micro-level interactions in the process.

Findings in her study emphasised the need to be aware of service-learning practices and the ways they can instantaneously become forms of governmentality when desired subjects are produced.

Mitchell says the hardest challenge she had to overcome was working full-time and being a mother to two children.

One of the highlights was being supervised by Professor Kevin Durrheim. ‘I found the supervision process very inspiring. My supervisor really challenged me to produce the best work I was capable of. It was difficult yet rewarding. One of the highlights was reading the examiners’ reports and their positive comments about my work,’ said Mitchell.

Humbled and extremely grateful for the support she received from friends and family, Mitchell is adamant about emerging researchers building their own conceptual framework and then building from there. This is the best advice she can offer to anyone who wants to take his or her studies to the next level.

Words by: Ziphezinhle Silindile Biyela

Photograph by Rajesh Jantilal