My broader agenda asks how globalization and neoliberalism affect the state’s ability to develop the capacities of its citizens: I conduct wide ranging policy-relevant research, primarily set in lower and middle-income nations, to study how globalization, neoliberalism, and large-scale displacement impacts education as core sector of human development. The focus of much of my research is higher education.

I consider my research and teaching firmly situated in the field of international and comparative education; however, my research spans the disciplines of comparative sociology, public policy, the sociology of education, and international development. Disciplinarily, I am trained as a macro-sociologist, and my research draws on neo-institutionalism to understand how world cultural norms interact with historical factors and local political interests to influence individuals, national policies, and international development rhetoric.

I take an expansive approach to the study of globalization, and ground my theoretical interests in various strands of empirical research, which specifically aim to:

  1. Conceptualize the effects of cultural globalization and specifically, world-cultural norms, on educational policies and curricula;
  2. Understand the effects of neoliberalism and privatization on educational systems and state-citizen relations

Regional Focus: I have a regional expertise in the Middle East, where I have lived, studied, and researched over the past eight years. I have carried out extensive research in Morocco and Syria, and short-term research projects in Egypt and Palestine. I have also lived in Oman. One strand of my research agenda explores civil-society led development in the post-Arab Spring MENA region, namely through the promotion of social and hybrid forms of entrepreneurship.

Applied Research: In the past, I have also worked on a number of projects that examine mobile technology to and other ICTs to advance educational quality and equity in low-resource contexts. I have paired my academic research with applied research into how advanced technology can help meet future development challenges, including providing education in rural and under-resourced areas, meet the distinct learning needs in post-conflict societies, and make learning more engaging for students.

Methods: I have experience conducting both quantitative, cross-national research and qualitative (primarily interview-based and focus-group) research in varied settings.

Dissertation: My dissertation rejects the idea that the worldwide rise of private higher education is simply the result of economic determinism – the result of shrinking state budgets and rising costs of higher education. It argues that private higher education is an idea about who should bear primary responsibility for paying for higher education, and what the state’s role should be in organizing opportunity and developing the capacities of its youth. With that in mind, my dissertation analyzes the rapid, recent rise of private higher education around the world.

Recent Research Projects: My recent research projects have included: policies governing urban refugee education, teacher professional development policies in OECD nations, the link between educational inequality and violent conflict outbreak over the past four decades, the effect of private higher education on access to higher education in Egypt, cross-national analyses of how globalization is portrayed in textbooks over time, applied research on mobile devices as educational tools in Palestine and Tanzania, and youth attitudes to private higher education in Syria.

Globalization and Educational Policies

The Growth of English in Morocco

My interest in globalization started with an interest in multi-lingual education policies in Morocco, and specifically, the growth of English, which I conceptualized as closely related to Morocco’s integration into the global economy, and more specifically, the spread of American media and Morocco’s opening to Anglophone tourism. Drawing on 16-months of survey and interview-based fieldwork as a Fulbright grantee in Morocco, I argue in a recent book chapter that English is becoming a new platform for socio-economic competition in Morocco, by appealing to upper and lower classes alike. Upper classes view English as a way to maintain their privilege through work in international companies, as Morocco opens itself to the global economy. Many lower class Moroccans, however, who are weak in the French, the language of power in Morocco, view English as a way of sidestepping French entirely and engaging directly with the global economy on their own terms as low-paid labor in Morocco’s tourist industry and informal economy.

Globalization in Textbooks

In an article published in International Studies Quarterly, Garnett Russell and I explore cross-national trends in textbook content over time. We analyze the growth of mentions of globalization and global citizenship in the period spanning 1970-2010. We find that while mentions of both globalization and global citizenship are increasing over time, national differences do not predict mentions. Rather, we argue that: the discourse of globalization constitutes a new framework for discussing the world beyond a nation-state’s borders – one that blends internationalization with a sense of global interconnectedness and represents a new way for nation-states to portray the world beyond their borders. In contrast, global citizenship derives from the older concept of “world citizenship” or “citizenship of the world,” defined by ancient Greek and Roman philosophers as encompassing a citizen with loyalties to humanity on a global scale beyond local and national associations. Today, this former ideal of “world citizen” is re-constituted in textbooks as “global citizen” within the framework of global human rights and a global world community.

International and Comparative Higher Education

Changing Ideas about Higher Education in International Development

In this article, published in Higher Education, I document changing ideas about the relationship between the nation-state and the higher education system over the span of four decades. I conduct a quantitative content analysis of ~700 academic articles, conference proceedings and research reports published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I find that since the 1990s, there is an increasing emphasis on the private sector, and in response, the nation-state’s role shifts from one of manpower planning to one of strategic planning. Higher education is increasingly expected to promote standardized development goals and economic competitiveness in the global arena. However, I also find that the role of the nation-state does not disappear—although no longer portrayed as the primary funder and provider of higher education, the nation-state is imbued with important regulatory functions.

Access to Higher Education in Egypt

In an article published in Comparative Education Review, I examine inequalities access to higher education in Egypt, disaggregated by university sector. Findings suggest that recent trends in access to public universities are in line with equalizing logics – access in the public sector is growing most rapidly for women, rural youth, and middle-class Egyptians. Academic achievement is a key determinant of access and as such, the fact that the wealthy consistently perform better on secondary exit exams is an important contributor to inequality in the public sector. In contrast, access to private universities is growing most rapidly at private universities for males, urban youth, and the top wealth quintile, with wealthy but low-achieving youth seeing substantial growth in the private sector. The findings do not suggest that access to higher education is becoming equal in Egypt, but do indicate that continued expansion of the public sector will promote greater inclusiveness, while expansion of the private sector may exacerbate inequalities.

Higher Education in Syria

During the summers of 2009 and 2010, I traveled to Syria to interview young people on their perceptions of recent higher education reform. As part of that research, I developed a typology of youth responses to higher education massification in the Arab World. I argue that youth are critical of the higher education system broadly, and that their discontent stems from two sources: 1) the high level of state involvement in determining youth life paths when uncoupled from labor market security; and, 2) the perceived unfairness in university admissions stemming from connections and new forms of privatization. This youth discontent reflects a larger rejection of the state’s role in the higher education admissions process. Given Syria’s long-term commitment to a model of state-led development in the post-independence era, the failure of the Syrian state to successfully link expanded higher education to secure employment in the neoliberal era has contributed to a delegitimization of the Syrian state as a whole in the eyes of its youth.


Technology in Palestine In 2009, I traveled to Israel and Palestine with Paul Kim and Seeds of Empowerment. While there, we conducted two studies investigating how mobile devices can promote educational development — one on storytelling and one on executive functions, using mobile devices.
Mobiles in Tanzania In February 2012, I travelled to Tanzania to conduct research on mobile devices and the use of mobile devices to create a more interactive and student-centered learning environment.
Mobile Apps for Inquiry-Based Learning I am working with Paul Kim and Seeds of Empowerment on using mobile technologies to make learning more interesting and engaging, particularly in the developing world. The project is called SMILE (Stanford Mobile Inquiry-Based Learning Environment) and the concept paper is now available.