The purpose of this research was to examine the practice of university engagement at one South African university. I have examined one feature of engagement: community-based research in the Greenveld region of South Africa. Three research questions framed this study: 1) How do academic research and community service interact?; 2) What are the particular ways that context complicates this interaction?; and 3) What meaning does reciprocity have for researchers and residents? How is reciprocity practiced? How is reciprocity experienced? In this study, I examined how a host of relationships (e.g., researcher/participant, administrators, grantors) and contexts (e.g., institutional, local, regional, national) complicated the practice of community-based research. Using interviews, observations and documents, I examined the practices of community-based research at a rural, South African research facility. In speaking with researchers and administrators affiliated with the facility, and local residents often affected by facility projects, a nuanced image of community-based research emerged. Local residents believed that given the resources at the disposal of the facility and the poverty in the area, community-based researchers should offer tangible goods and services. In contrast, researchers had diverse preferences and practices regarding their use of community-based research, local participation and reciprocity, often providing very little in terms of direct service or tangible goods. Amid these diverse opinions and preferences were contexts that further complicated the practice of community-based research. First, the facility was located in one of the poorest regions of South Africa. When overlaid with apartheid, the result was an area suffering from many social, political and economic problems. Second, the institutional context of the university complicated the practice of community-based research. While a post-apartheid culture worked to popularize outreach and engagement, many at the university did not fully embrace such practices. In the end, it is suggested that community-based research be viewed as a social practice. When focused on practice and experience, community-based research begins to appear more diverse than characterized in the literature. Approached this way, community-based research shows the imprint of context (e.g., local, regional, national, institutional) and individual preferences (e.g., perceptions of reciprocity and participation).