Theoretical frameworks are essential for guiding research and then lens through which we see our studies. In research related to internationalisation of higher education, theoretical frameworks support with positioning research away from deficit narratives. Compiled below is a list of potential theoretical frameworks that researchers might consider, along with suggested readings to get you strated with learning about them and seeing them in research practice. While this focuses on research about the internationalisation of higher education, it maybe applicable more widely to other subjects in education and related fields.

Please note this list is an ongoing work in progress and is not intended to be fully comprehensive. Any suggested additions are welcome, including reference to your own work.

Theories about international student and staff experiences

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Ecological systems theoryThe multiple environmental and social systems that impact on an individuals’ experiencesOriginal: Bronfenbrenner (1979)
Further conceptualisation in higher education: Jones (2017)
Example in practice: Elliot et al. (2016)
Multidimensional transition theoryThe multilayered academic, social, and emotional transitions that individuals encounter when moving from one space to anotherIntroduction: Jindal-Snape & Ingram (2013)
Example in practice: Jindal-Snape & Rienties (2016)
Academic resilience theory Students’ capacity to adapt and develop under uncertainty or adversity  One approach: Holdsworth et al. (2017)
Example in practice: Singh (2021)
Rhizomatic transitionsConstruction of students’ transitions experiences away from linear pathways towards more fluid, ongoing experiencesOriginal: Deleuze & Guatarri (1987)
Further conceptualisation in higher education: Gravett (2019)
Example in practice: Balloo et al. (2021)
Student engagement modelModel of factors that impact students’ university retention and successOriginal: Tinto (1975)
Example in practice: Rienties et al. (2012)
LiminalityTransitional space that may lead to disorientation or ambiguity Original: Turner (1969)
Example in practice: Parker et al. (2010)
Academic capitalismThe increasing commodification of academic work Original: Slaughter & Leslie (1999)
Example in practice: Kim (2017)

Theories about identity development and the self

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Student agency theoryStudents’ capacity to make choices within the constraints of their lived realities One approach: Biesta & Tedder (2007)
Example in practice: Tran & Vu (2016)
Identity theoryThe construction of the self through interactions with experiences and cultureOne approach: Hall (1996)
Example in practice: Pham & Saltmarsh (2013)
Capability approach Theory that people achieve well-being through their capabilities to be and do what they valueOne approach: Nussbaum (2011)
Another approach: Sen (1973); Sen (1995)
Example in practice: Fakunle (2020)
Possible selves Approach to understanding individuals’ imagined “like-to-be” and “like-to-avoid” futuresOriginal: Markus & Nurius (1986)
Application to higher education: Harrison (2018); Henderson et al. (2019)
Example in practice: Yang & Noels (2013)
Intersectional theoryFramework for understanding how a person’s multiple identities lead to different forms of oppression and discrimination Original: Crenshaw (1989)
Example in practice: Forbes-Mewett & McColloch (2015)
Critical race theoryRecognition of race as a social construct and how social structures can be inherently racist Starting point: McCoy (2015)
Example in practice: Yao et al. (2018)
Asian critical race theory (AsianCrit)A branch of critical race theory focusing specifically on the racialised experiences of AsiansStarting point: Iftikar & Museus (2018)
Example in practice: Yao & Mwangi (2022)
Gendered racialisation The intersecting identities of gender and race Original: Selod (2018)
Example in practice: Karaman & Christian (2020)
RaciolinguisticsThe ways that language shapes our thinking about race or racialised practicesStarting point: Alim et al. (2016)
Example in practice: Dovchin (2019)

Theories about intercultural friendships / relationships

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Intercultural friendship framework Framework for understanding how intercultural friendships develop on higher education campusesKudo et al. (2019)
Intergroup contact theoryTheory that biases and prejudices can be minimized through positive contact with people from different outgroupsOriginal: Allport (1954)
More modern introduction: Dovidio et al. (2005)
Meta-analysis: Pettigrew & Tropp (2006)
Intergroup threat theoryTheory that encounters between individuals from different backgrounds can lead to discomforts or threatening feelingsOriginal: Stephen & Stephen (2000)
Example in practice: Harrison & Peacock (2013)

Theories about pedagogies with international students

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Critical pedagogiesApplication of critical theory to education; philosophy of education that focuses on issues of social justice, power imbalances, and dominationOriginals: Freire (1970); Giroux (2011)
Linked to international students: Khalideen (2015)
Engaged pedagogy Critical pedagogy approach that values relationships between student / teacher, teacher self-actualisation, humanistic approaches to educationOriginal: hooks (1994)
Linked to international students: Madge et al. (2009)
Academic hospitalityReflection on academic staff as ‘hosts’ to reciprocally support students as ‘guests’ Original: Bennett (2000)
Further conceptualisation: Ploner (2018)
Bernstein’s pedagogic devicesTheory focusing on the ways pedagogies represent symbolic control over knowledgeOriginal: Bernstein (2000)
Example in practice: Zeegers & Barron (2008)
Transformative learningEvaluation of past experience through the acquisition of new knowledgeOriginal: Mezirow (1991)
Example in practice: Nada et al. (2018); Nada & Legutko (2022); López Murillo (2021)
Pedagogy of possibilityReflections on the ways that pedagogy has the potential to contribute to the ‘service of human freedom’Original: Simon (1987)
Example in practice: Cassily & Clarke-Vivier (2016)

Theories about international students and the curriculum

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Hidden curriculumThe unwritten lessons learned about normative values, beliefs, ethics, etc. as a result of educational provisions and settingsStarting point: Apple (1989)
Example in practice: Kidman et al. (2017)
Internationalisation of the curriculumInclusion of international or intercultural elements into the content and delivery of educationStarting point: Leask (2015)
Further theorisation: Clifford & Montgomery (2017)
Example in practice: Vishwanath & Mummery (2018)
GlocalisationThe blending of global and local elements in the curriculumStarting point: Robertson (1994)
Further theorisation in higher education: Patel & Lynch (2013)
Tourist gazeApproach to learning about other cultures as a ‘guest’ or ‘tourist’ Starting point: Urry & Larsen (2011)
Example in practice: Vinall & Shin (2019)

Theories about society and social relations

Theory Purposefully over-simplified description Suggested reading(s)
Bourdieusian theorySet of thinking tools for investigating power and the way it impacts individuals and societies through structural constraintsOriginal: Bourdieu (1979)
Helpful guide: Grenfell (2013)
Situated in higher education: Heffernan (2022)
Example in practice: Xu (2017)
Foucauldian theorySet of thinking tools for investigating power relationships in society, including how they influence language or practice Original: Foucault (1977); Foucault (1972)
Helpful guide: Ball (2013)
Example in practice: Koehne (2006)
Goffman’s ‘performative self’ and ‘stigmatised self’Set of thinking tools for investigating the ways that people present and manage their identities in social spaces Original: Goffman (1959)
Example in practice: Li (2015)
Gramscian theoryTheory of cultural hegemony – how the state and high economic class use institutions to maintain power Original: Gramsci (1971)
Helpful guide: Mayo (2015)
Example in practice: Kim (2011)
Communities of practiceA set of people who share a common interest or practiceOriginal: Wenger (1998)
Example in practice: Montgomery & McDowell (2008)
Figured worldsDevelopment of the self in relation to the social types in their surrounding worldOriginal: Holland et al (2001)
Example in practice: Chang et al., (2017)
Cultural historical activity theory (CHAT)Relationship between the mind and action within an individual’s situated social worldOriginal: Engestrom (2001)
Example in practice: Straker (2016)
Social action theoryThe way behaviours are shaped and understood through social reactions of othersOriginal: Weber (1978)
Example in practice: Cantwell et al. (2009)

Decolonial / postcolonial theories

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Orientalism Negative portrayals and ‘othering’ of ‘the East’ by ‘the West’ which serve to maintain colonial power and assumed superiority Original: Said (1978)
Helpful guide: Leonardo (2020)
Example in practice: Yao (2018)
Subjugation Forced dominance of one group over another through (neo-)colonialism and violenceOriginal: Fanon, (1952)
Helpful guide in education: Leonardo & Singh (2017)
Third space / hybridity The sense of ‘limbo’ or ‘in between-ness’ of individuals’ cultural identities Original: Bhabha (1994)
Example in practice: Pitts & Brooks (2017)
Double consciousness The experience of dual identities in conflict within an oppressive society Original: Du Bois (1903)
Example in practice: Valdez (2015)
Epistemic violence Damage imposed on the knowledge systems of marginalised groupsOriginal: Spivak (1988)
Reflection in international higher education: Stein (2017)

Theories about mobilities

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Spacial theoriesRelations between socially-constructed spaces and times Original: Lefebvre & Nicholson-Smith (1991)
Further theorisation in higher education: Larsen & Beech (2014)
Example in practice: Waters & Leung (2012)
Migration infrastructuresInterlinking structures that enable or constrain mobilitiesStarting point: Xiang & Lindquist (2018)
Example in practice: Hu et al. (2020)

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