Community-based research and service-learning (CBRSL) represents an important and expanding approach to academic inquiry and pedagogy employed by several fields, including cultural anthropology. Much of the theoretical work on this approach, while providing an essential foundation for research, fails to account fully for the complexities encountered in the actual practice of community-based collaborative work. Drawing on nearly a decade of my own field experience, both teaching about and participating in community-based research, I examine the concepts of “community” and “neighborhood” as they are constructed by collaborating partners to frame a discussion of the overall objectives of community-based projects. In particular, I outline and explore the lifecycle of an ongoing CBRSL project, its role in the systematic generation of local transformative knowledge, and I examine how, at each stage in its evolution, the process is shaped by the interaction of individual agents within the constraints of the cultural structure in which such research takes place. This approach is valuable because it allows us to both better understand the degree to which theoretical constructs are shared by coalition members and to explicate the ramifications that variation in understanding between members holds for project success. Success, in the case of CBRSL, is multidimensional and fluid, as expectations and goals vary between partners and shift across the lifecycle of the project. I conclude that what is of lasting value to all participants is the shared appreciation of the challenges and long-term benefits of coalition building between academic and nonacademic communities to address real world problems.
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