Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

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Learning through civic engagement

In German society, civic engagement is considered both a traditional as well as a highly relevant current topic that has positive effects on social cohesion. In the German education system, civic engagement has been introduced as a form of teaching and learning. It links academic learning with social debate and the handling of concrete social tasks and problems, such as social integration and poverty. In the international context, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries and also in the EU, learning in civic engagement has established itself under the term Service Learning in education systems.

The subproject HAL_T_02 focuses on the ideas, experiences, and practices of the participating actors as well as the organizational forms and institutional conditions of learning students in civic engagement. Service learning activities and programs that are considered as established by the project participants or practice partners will be examined in the form of a formative - in-process – evaluation. The findings are to be integrated into the transfer process and will be further developed with the involved actors. The formative evaluation comprises both qualitative and quantitative survey methods, such as (partially) standardized questionnaires, expert interviews, participant observations, group discussions, and document analyses. It shall contribute to the mutual transfer of knowledge and the co-production of knowledge between actors and researchers.

Thematic Reference to Social Cohesion

Civic involvement is considered to make a positive contribution to social cohesion. One type of civic engagement is service learning by students.

Based on service learning activities and programs in the German education system, which are viewed as established by the involved actors, the project will critically examine whether and, if so, to what extent these activities and programs have an impact on social cohesion. The current state of research on civic engagement also leads us to expect differentiated results concerning service learning. On the one hand, civic engagement can contribute to overcoming social boundaries marked by class, origin, and status. On the other hand, civic engagement can promote processes of social closure, for example, by enabling socially privileged groups to increase their social, cultural, and economic capital in a selfish manner, thereby accelerating processes of social disintegration.

Based on the knowledge that the German education system promotes inequality, the question arises whether learning through civic engagement by students either contributes to social cohesion or possibly has no corresponding effect or even reinforces social disintegration processes.


Principle investigator: Holger Backhaus-Maul

Project member: Arne Arend



Publications (Selection)

  • Backhaus-Maul Holger/Gerholz Karl-Heinz 2020: Feine Gelegenheiten zur Kooperation. Wissenstransfer zwischen Universitäten und organisierter Zivilgesellschaft, erscheint in: Hofer, Manfred/Derkau, Julia (Hrsg.): Campus und Gesellschaft. Weinheim: Beltz-Juventa.
  • Gerholz, Karl-Heinz/Backhaus-Maul, Holger/Rameder, Paul 2018 (eds.): Civic Engagement in Higher Education Institutions in Europe. Zeitschrift für Hochschulentwicklung 13, Heft 2.
  • Backhaus-Maul, Holger/Roth, Christiane 2013: Service Learning an Hochschulen in Deutschland. Ein erster empirischer Beitrag zur Vermessung eines jungen Phänomens. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  • Speck, Karsten/Backhaus-Maul, Holger 2007: Service Learning an Schulen. Wissenschaftliche Evaluation des Programms „Service Learning – Schule gestaltet Gemeinwesen“ im Land Sachsen-Anhalt, Ergebnisbericht. Berlin: Deutsche Kinder- und Jugendstiftung.