Naïve Hope? Hokey Hope? – Critical Hope in International Service-Learning

October 24, 2018

“We propose that the social justice turn in service-learning is premised on, and can be aided by, the necessary tension between criticality …&… a hope that is neither naïve nor idealistic, but that remains committed to ideals of justice, reflexivity, and solidarity” (p.14).

Kari Grain and Darren Lund begin the recently released Wiley International Handbook of Service-Learning for Social Justice with the reflection above. It embodies the tensions they explore in the introduction. Specifically, they name three trends they see gaining momentum in the fields of community engagement, service-learning, and higher education:

  1. A critique of roots in charity
  2. A problematization of White normativity, coupled with the amplification of diverse voices and perspectives
  3. The embrace of emotional elements including tension, ambiguity, and discomfort

These three trends were absolutely present in the Imagining America gathering I attend last weekend, but more on that in a later post. Lund & Grain argue for further centering these three trends in service-learning and community engagement, then lay the foundation for “critical hope” in community-campus work. To my sensibilities, it seems like critical hope as they describe it is precisely what we need more of – not only in service-learning and community engagement but in social action broadly. 

On page 15, they draw on several other scholars to distinguish critical hope from other less progressive notions: “naïve hope” that can be summarized as “blind faith that things will get better”; “hokey hope” that is rooted in an individualistic, tired narrative that folks who just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” can overcome any barriers and live out their dreams; “mythical hope” that is premised on “the false narrative of equal opportunity, emptied of its historical and political contingencies”; and “hope deferred,” which, while founded on progressive ideals, can get caught up in the process of critiquing inequitable systems and structures while stopping short of active engagement due to the belief that no pedagogical approach can have actual transformative potential because of the broader barriers extant throughout and beyond the education system.

In contrast, with these notions, critical hope engages with both the critical and the emotional: 

“To say that someone is critically hopeful means that the person is involved in a critical analysis of power relations and how they constitute one’s emotional ways of being in the world, while attempting to construct, imaginatively and materially, a different lifeworld” (Zembylas, 2014, p. 13).

After all, as Appel reminds us, “despair and cynicism only help those in dominance” (2015, p. xvi).

I am already loving this book and its insights. I’ll share some more posts about it in the months to come. A disclaimer: I am a co-author on Chapter 17: Ethical Global Partnerships: Leadership from the Global South. And another chapter author has already submitted a blog post related to that chapter on enhancing humility.  

A reminder: your blog posts submissions are most welcome as well.

Authors referenced above:

Appel, M. (2014). Foreword. In V. Bozalek, B. Leibowitz, R. Carolissen, & M. Boler (Eds.), Discerning critical hope in educational practices (pp. xii-xxii). New York, NY: Routledge.

Zembylas, M. (2014). Affective, political and ethical sensibilities in pedagogies of critical hope: Exploring the notion of “critical emotional praxis.” In V. Bozalek, B. Leibowitz, R. Carolissen, & M. Boler (Eds.), Discerning critical hope in educational practices (pp. 11 – 25). New York, NY: Routledge.

Eric Hartman is executive director of the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, lead author of Community-based global learning: The theory and practice of ethical engagement at home and abroad, and Editor and Co-founder of globalsl.


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