Theoretical Framework Bank

Theoretical frameworks are essential for guiding research and the lens through which we see our studies. In research related to the internationalisation of higher education and international students, theoretical frameworks support with positioning research away from deficit narratives.

Compiled below is a bank of potential theoretical frameworks that researchers might consider, along with suggested readings to get you started with learning about them and seeing them in research practice. While this focuses on research about the internationalisation of higher education, it may be 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.

  1. Theories about international students’ and staff’s experiences
  2. Theories about identities and ‘the self’
  3. Theories about pedagogies with international students
  4. Theories about international students and the curriculum
  5. Theories about culture, society, and social relations
  6. Theories about intercultural friendships or relationships
  7. Decolonial / postcolonial theories
  8. Theories about mobilities

Theories about international students’ and staff’s experiences

Purposefully over-simplified description
Suggested 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 multi-layered 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 theoryStudents’ 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 ambiguityOriginal: Turner (1969)
Example in practice: Parker et al. (2010)
Academic capitalismThe increasing commodification of academic workOriginal: Slaughter & Leslie (1999)
Example in practice: Kim (2017)

Theories about identities 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)
Self-formation theoryThe enactment of agency and development of identity through higher education studyStarting point: Marginson (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: Glass et al. (2022)
Critical race theoryRecognition of race as a social construct and how social structures are inherently racist Starting point: McCoy (2015)
Reflection in education: DeCuir & Dixson (2004)
Example in practice: Yao et al. (2018)
Critical race feminismA branch of critical race theory which looks at the intersectional oppressions experienced by women of colorOriginal: Wing (1997)
Example in practice: Jones (2023)
Asian critical race theory (AsianCrit)A branch of critical race theory focusing specifically on the racialized 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 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 culture, society, and social relations

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested 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 spacesOriginal: 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)
Fraser’s social justice theoryA framework for understanding the causes and mechanisms of justice and injusticeStarting point: Vincent (2019)
Example in practice: Briffett Aktaş (2021)
Reception theoryTheory about the audience reception and interpretation of communication within their sociocultural contexts Starting point: Hall (1973)
Example in practice: Smyth (2009)
Flexible citizenshipTheory about the ways globalization have created a “transnational” publicOriginal: Ong (1999)
Example in practice: Fong (2011)
Halliday’s ‘small culture’ theoryThe avoidance of a national essentialism of culture through understanding cultural similarities of small social groupingsOriginal: Halliday (1999)
Example in practice: Johansen & Tkachenko (2019)
Everyday multiculturalismReflections on how multiculturalism is experienced in everyday interactionsOriginal: Wise & Velayutham (2009)
Example in practice: Oke et al. (2015)

Theories about intercultural friendships or relationships

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Intercultural friendship framework Framework for understanding how intercultural friendships develop on higher education campusesKudo et al. (2019)
Cosmopolitan agencyThe ways an individual may actively seek interactions that render openness, respect, reflexivity in the face of cultural difference Original: Kudo (2022)
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 (2009)
Blumer’s symbolic interactionismSymbolic meaning developed through social interactions and relationshipsOriginal: Blumer (1969)
Example in practice: Tran & Pham (2016)

Decolonial / postcolonial theories

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
OrientalismNegative portrayals and ‘othering’ of ‘the East’ by ‘the West’ which serve to maintain colonial power and assumed superiority Originals: Said (1978), Tibawi (1965), Djait (1977)
Helpful guide: Leonardo (2020)
Example in practice: Yao (2018)
SubjugationForced dominance of one group over another through (neo-)colonialism and violenceOriginal: Fanon, (1952)
Helpful guide in education: Leonardo & Singh (2017)
Third space / hybridityThe sense of ‘limbo’ or ‘in between-ness’ of individuals’ cultural identities Original: Bhabha (1994)
Example in practice: Pitts & Brooks (2017)
Double consciousnessThe experience of dual identities in conflict within an oppressive society Original: Du Bois (1903)
Example in practice: Valdez (2015)
Epistemic violenceDamage imposed on the knowledge systems of marginalised groupsOriginal: Spivak (1988)
Reflection in international higher education: Stein (2017)
DecolonialityResistance to the ‘colonial matrix of power’ that affects what we value, our laws, economics, knowledge systems and curriculum Key author*: Mignolo (2000), (2018)
Helpful guide: Maldonaldo-Torres (2011)
Reflection in international higher education: Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2021)
Example in practice with international students: Bardhan and Zhang (2017)
Whiteness as futurityThe ways that whiteness and supremacy of Western higher education perpetuates future neo-colonialismStarting point: Shahjahan & Edwards (2022)
Example in practice: Xu (2022)
*the conceptual history of decoloniality makes it difficult to trace the ‘orignal’ single author, but Mignolo is a good starting point.

Theories about mobilities

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Spatial theoriesRelations between socially-constructed spaces and timesOriginal: 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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