Potential theoretical frameworks

Looking down onto the rocky beach near Portencross Castle in West Kilbride, Scotland. Shot from a DJI Mini 2.

The resource below is from AdvancedHE Pedagogies of Internationalisation theoretical frameworks. It’s meant to give a bird’s eye of what there is to choose from. These are various theoretical frameworks that can be used for far more than internationalisation for questions and issues related to, for example, critically reflective professional practice, education policy, education futures and many others.

Thanks to Sara for finding this one! I’ve slightly modified the formatting to the original source.

Theoretical frameworks are essential for guiding research about international students and framing their experiences away from deficit narratives. We’ve compiled here a list of potential theoretical frameworks for research with international students that researchers might consider, along with suggested readings to get you started with learning about them.

Please note this list is still a work in progress and is not fully comprehensive. We welcome any suggested additions.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

AdvancedHE Pedagogies of Internationalisation.

Theories about international students’ transitions and broader 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 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

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
Second approach: Sen, 1973Sen, 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, 2018Henderson 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 that social structures are inherently racist Starting point: McCoy, 2015
Example in practice: Yao et al. (2018)
Gendered racialisation The intersecting identities of gender and race Original: Selod (2018)
Example in practice: Karaman & Christian (2020)

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, 1970Giroux, 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., 2018López Murillo, 2021

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

Social learning theories

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
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

Sociological theories

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
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, 1977Foucault, 1972
Helpful guide: Ball, 2013
Example in practice: Koehne, 2006
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

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 Original: Edward Said, 1978
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

Theories about mobilities

TheoryPurposefully over-simplified descriptionSuggested reading(s)
Spacial 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


One thought on “Potential theoretical frameworks

  1. Cheers fer that wan Dustin man – what a set of useful summaries and links

    How ya finding yer move tae Glasgow?

    All best

    Work like you don’t need money
    Love like you’ve never been hurt
    and dance like no-one’s watching

    “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” Richard Shaull (foreword to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

    “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable.” Hannah Arendt (The Crisis of Education)

    “it is impossible to imagine a future unless we have located ourselves in the present and its history; however, the reverse is also true in that we cannot locate ourselves in the present and its history unless we imagine the future and commit to creating it” (Anna Stetsenko, 2015).

    “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out” Vaclev Havel



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