This paper explores the potential of cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT), to provide new insights into community service-learning (CSL) in higher education. While CSL literature acknowledges the influences of John Dewey and Paolo Freire, discussion of the potential contribution of cultural-historical activity theory, rooted in the work of psychologist Lev Vygotsky, is noticeably absent. This paper addresses this gap by examining four assumptions associated with activity theory: the rejection of a theory/practice divide, the development of knowledge as a social collaborative activity, the focus on contradictions in and across activity systems, and the interventionist approach aimed at transformation.
The preceding discussion asserts that CHAT provides useful theoretical tools for thinking about CSL in terms of activity systems. Engeström’s work, in particular, directs our attention to the intersecting activity systems involving students, instructors, and community partners in higher education and not-for-profit organizations. The four key assumptions of CHAT discussed above are consistent with the goals of CSL and help to reinforce it as a critical and reflexive pedagogy.