Activity, structures and connections: A framework for researching teaching practices in international HE

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This CGHE Working Paper presents the ontological and epistemological reflections motivating the author’s conceptualisation of international higher education as a global practice-scape.
At the centre of this theory-building is the single actor, whose particular teaching practices shape and are shaping the macro-level changes commonly associated with the globalisation of higher education and research. This creates a challenge for the educational sociologist, who requires a framework that can simultaneously facilitate a need to ground any observations in empirical studies of specific agents’ action and interaction, and establish linkages between such activity at the individual level and events in other institutional settings, national systems and policy/geographical scales. A second challenge is ‘methodological nationalism’ as an empirical inquiry into lecturer experiences with international higher education can easily result in the foregrounding of ‘national difference’, encouraging informants to rely on a binary distinction between a ‘default culture’, embodied by those native to a particular national and linguistic field, and deviance ascribed to international students and staff.
As a solution, the paper proposes a ‘practice ontology’, suggesting that lecturers’ practical understandings be treated as the focal point when examining the phenomenon of ‘international education’. The author’s approach has been inspired by the practice theories of Pierre Bourdieu, Theodore Schatzki and John Dewey. Hence, it is recommended that an investigation of social practice include considerations relating to 1) the setting in which action is performed; 2) the specific activities that agents undertake; and 3) the implicit or explicit norms that guide actors’ evaluation of their own and other agents’ performance.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford, UK
PublisherCenter for Global Higher Education
Number of pages55
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2021


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