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  • Internationalization for an Uncertain Future:Tensions, Paradoxes, and Possibilities

As higher education is increasingly called upon to play a central role in addressing the challenges and crises of today's complex, uncertain, and volatile world, internationalization efforts are intensifying. Emphasizing higher education as a space for critically-informed, socially accountable, and open-ended conversations about alternative futures, in this paper I reframe common approaches to complexity, uncertainty, and critique by offering a social cartography of three critical approaches to internationalization: soft, radical, and liminal. Mapping and historicizing diverse perspectives can complicate existing analyses, interrupt the prescriptive tendencies of critique, and illuminate new possible horizons of thought and action in higher education.

Zygmunt Bauman (2000) has observed a widening gap between the kinds of challenges that the modern university was designed to address, and the challenges we face in today's uncertain, complex, and rapidly changing world. He suggests, "The present educational crisis is first and foremost the crisis of inherited institutions and philosophies," which are "meant for a different kind of reality" (p. 31). The most common way of addressing this predicament is to suggest that higher education needs to develop a revised consensus [End Page 3] around the teaching and research practices that will best prepare students and societies for unprecedented ecological, economic, educational, and other systemic global changes and crises (e.g., Cobo, 2013; Douglass, King, & Feller, 2009; Duderstadt, 2010; Jones, 2002; UNESCO, 2013). This response is generally framed by the modern imperatives to engineer seamless progress and prosperity, minimize uncertainty, and guarantee better futures through rational planning and utilitarian management of populations and resources. Increasingly, internationalization is understood as a primary means through which higher education institutions can help ensure rational consensus and enact improvements at a global scale.

Yet, tellingly, these modern imperatives are produced within the very same ethical and political frames that produced many of the problems we now face. As Bauman (2000) suggests, "Coordination … between the effort 'to rationalize' the world and the effort to groom rational beings fit to inhabit it, that underlying assumption of the modern educational project, no longer seems credible" (pp. 41–42). Some have therefore suggested that what is needed are not new solutions posed within the same conceptual frames, but rather new ways of framing problems, asking questions, and envisioning and enacting different horizons of possibility (e.g., Harney & Moten, 2013; Morin, 1999; Nandy, 2000; Santos, 2007; Scott, 2004; Wynter, 2003). Recognizing the challenges involved in developing new possibilities that do not reproduce more of the same masquerading as something different, I argue that higher education can serve as an important site for reflexive, socially accountable, and critically informed conversations about alternative futures (see EIHE Research Project, 2013). This paper is an effort to contribute to such conversations with regard to internationalization.

Over the past ten years, Jane Knight's (2004) definition of internationalization as "the process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of post-secondary education" has become ubiquitous (p. 11).1 Internationalization has been deemed instrumental to preparing students, producing useful knowledge, and generating solutions for the proliferating challenges of an ever more interconnected world (Teichler, 2010). More recently, however, Knight (2014) suggested internationalization is "losing its way" (p. 76) and advocated for a re-examination of its guiding principles and values. Knight is not alone in her concern about current trajectories of this work. Voicing sober warnings about the risks of reproducing uneven global power relations and resource flows, the growing area of critical internationalization studies2 problematizes [End Page 4] and complicates the overwhelmingly positive and often depoliticized nature of mainstream approaches (Brandenburg & de Wit, 2011; de Wit, 2014; Dolby & Rahman, 2008).

In this paper I offer a meta-analysis of critical approaches to internationalization using Rolland Paulston's (2009) social cartography methodology, which maps diverse perspectives about an issue of shared concern. Because social cartographies honor complexity, emphasize context, and attend to partiality and uncertainty, they can denaturalize and displace normalized modes of academic realignment in which one universal truth is simply swapped for another, or in which the content shifts but the frames remain the same. Turning away from prescription does not mean embracing "anything goes" relativism, but instead emphasizes opportunities to expand available referents for thought and action, develop new lines of inquiry, and collectively re-imagine ways forward that do not require consensus around a single model of change.

I begin the paper with a note on the terminology employed in this paper, which is also central to understanding many critiques of internationalization. After this I offer an abbreviated history of internationalization, before outlining the current landscape. Next, I introduce social cartography and use it to map three critical approaches to internationalization. To conclude, I suggest that higher education's existing efforts to anticipate the future need to be interrupted so that new horizons might be imagined.

A Note on Terminology: De/naturalizing Enduring Colonial Divisions

Common modes of dividing the planet into bounded categories or geographies are neither natural nor neutral but rather are symbolically and materially (re)produced through processes shaped by highly uneven global power relations. In the 15th century, European colonization and enslavement forcibly divided the planet between Europe and the "others of Europe" (Silva, 2015) and constructed the latter as objects of European knowledge and intervention. Six centuries later, these colonial divisions continue to largely govern global political, economic, and social relations and modes of existence, in particular by naturalizing the perpetual expansion of capitalism, and re-inscribing a racial hierarchy of humanity that rationalizes the expropriation and exploitation of resources, labor, and land from non-Euro-descended peoples.3 Within this hierarchy, Euro-descended/white people are represented [End Page 5] as the civilized leaders of human evolution and masters of universal reason, while the rest of the world's inhabitants are represented as uncivilized, lagging behind in evolutionary progress, and lacking universal reason (Silva, 2007; Wynter, 2003). This hierarchy is then subsequently used to account for the ongoing economic disparities between the Global North and South in a way that disavows the effects of historical and ongoing colonial, capitalist global relations (Silva, 2015).

Since World War II and the subsequent decolonization of many European colonies, these planetary divisions have been given many other names with slightly different and contested meanings, including: developed/developing countries, First/(Second/)Third World, majority/minority worlds, and now commonly the Global North/South, the latter of which I use throughout this paper (McGregor & Hill, 2009; Mohanty, 2003). Yet, as Mohanty (2003) notes, even as the terms Global North/South "are meant to loosely distinguish the northern and southern hemispheres, affluent and marginal nations and communities obviously do not line up neatly within this geographical frame" (p. 505). As the wealth gap grows both within and between individual Southern nations, the conceptual coherence of these terms is further strained (McGregor & Hill, 2009). To uncritically employ these categorizations as part of an effort to deconstruct them is therefore a fraught exercise that papers over innumerable heterogeneities on each side of the divide. Any analysis that employs these terms must therefore attend to their internal complexity and to shifting configurations of local and global power, including in the context of higher education.

Yet despite their limitations, these terms do reference ongoing uneven relations that need to be named, lest they continue to be understood as natural or inevitable. In this paper, I therefore follow Said (1979) in his suggestion that

We cannot get around [colonial divisions] by pretending they do not exist; on the contrary, contemporary Orientalism teaches us a great deal about the intellectual dishonesty of dissembling on that score, the result of which is to intensify the divisions and make them both vicious and permanent.

(p. 327)

While most critical approaches to internationalization problematize this division in some way, they offer distinct diagnoses of its root causes and therefore conceptualize their responses somewhat differently; it is these distinctions that I address in this paper.

History of Internationalization

Any critical effort to make sense of internationalization in higher education today is enriched by situating the current moment within a longer colonial history. From the end of the Western European Renaissance to the [End Page 6] beginning of the 20th century, higher education was characterized by an emphasis on service to the nation-state (de Wit, 2002). At this time, the primary elements of international educational engagement were individual mobility, exchange of research, and the 'export' of European academic systems by way of colonialism. Colonial impositions of the European university model occurred first across the Americas, and later Asia, Africa, and the Pacific (Dolby & Rahman, 2008; Hong, 2008; Mignolo, 2003; Wilder, 2013). In the early 20th century, the U.S. established universities within its extracontinental imperial acquisitions, such as Puerto Rico, Hawai'i, and the Philippines (Bascara, 2014). Notwithstanding these and other earlier precedents, the post-World War II context ushered in a new era of international approaches to higher education (de Wit, 2002; Scott, 2000).4

Geopolitical concerns were heightened in the context of the Cold War struggle for global hegemony between the U.S. and its Western allies and the U.S.S.R. and its allies, including the contest for influence in the Global South (Cumings, 1993; de Wit, 2002). Many educational efforts in the post-War era took place under the heading of international development. Development models presume that human progress is unilinear and universal, and that the West is the most advanced and thus uniquely suited to lead the rest of humanity by sharing its knowledge and technology with 'less developed' or 'underdeveloped' regions. In higher education, development efforts often involved sending Northern faculty to Southern institutions to provide "technical assistance" (Goodwin & Nacht, 1991), as well as hosting international students from the Global South in the North (Kramer, 2009). The flow of students from South to North at this time frequently reproduced colonial-era mobility patterns (Walker, 2014), although some students from the South preferred to travel to the U.S. rather than to former colonial metropoles (Kramer, 2009). According to Kramer (2009), international students coming to the West often came from elite families "in pursuit of technical, policy, and institutional frameworks suited to the building of modern, robust nation-states" (p. 792). Meanwhile, Western nations positioned themselves as benevolently imparting international students with knowledge and expertise, so that the students might lead their home countries on the path toward modernization. Apart from perpetuating a Eurocentric politics of knowledge and knowledge production, this framing disavowed the West's ongoing responsibility for colonialism and failed to account for how the students were also understood as a means to foster international trade relations, spread political liberalization and capitalist economic models, and expand Western geopolitical power and market reach (Bu, 2003; Sidhu, 2006). However, the [End Page 7] students did not always align with their host nations' intentions, and some became disillusioned with the contrast between their expectations and their actual experience abroad (Kramer, 2009).

Overall, the role of Global North higher education institutions in the development of higher education in the Global South during the Cold War has been the object of celebration (Levy, 2005), critique (Gonzalez, 1982; Rhee, 2009; Sidhu, 2006), and calls for deepened examination (Naidoo, 2010). Some also argue that developmentalist models and uneven patterns of North-South educational exchange persist today, if somewhat more subtly (e.g., Lee, Maldonado-Maldonado, & Rhoades, 2006; Naidoo, 2010; Rhee, 2009; Shahjahan, 2013; Stein, Andreotti, & Suša, 2016; Tikly, 2004).

Internationalization Today

In the past few decades, colleges and universities around the world, but particularly in the Global North, have significantly expanded their commitments to internationalize (Altbach & Knight, 2007; Brustein, 2007; Stromquist, 2007). Internationalization is often framed as a response to globalization (Kalvemark & Wende, 1997). For instance, Altbach (2004) described globalization as the "broad economic, technological, and scientific trends that directly affect higher education and are largely inevitable" (p. 5), while "[i] nternationalisation includes specific policies and programmes undertaken by governments, academic systems and institutions, and even individual departments or institutions to cope with or exploit globalization" (p. 6). As Matus and Talburt (2009) point out, this cause-effect logic presumes "that internationalization is necessary, productive, and beneficial for institutions, citizens, and nations" (p. 515).

In response, some have questioned the framing of globalization as inevitable and internationalization as merely a reaction to this inevitability (Cantwell & Maldonado-Maldonado, 2009; Dodds, 2008). Gaffikin and Perry (2009) warn that when globalization is understood as a neutral descriptor of a self-evident phenomenon, global capitalism may also be understood as both "inevitable and benign" (p. 118). Blanco Ramírez (2014) further points out, "Globalization has been used to euphemize, negate or justify geo-political relations that are imperialistic in nature" (p. 124), while Connell (2007) notes a general failure to engage questions of colonialism in mainstream theories of globalization. While some critical perspectives do conceptualize the present era of internationalization as part of a colonial present, there is little sustained theorizing around this issue and its significance for mainstream internationalization programs. I consider this in greater detail in my review of the three critical approaches below. [End Page 8]

Others have problematized the relationship between internationalization and neoliberalization. Bolsmann and Miller (2008) argue neoliberal logics position "higher education as both an investment in human capital which will enhance competitiveness and rewards to the individual, corporations and the national economy" (p. 78). Despite significant and often under-examined regional differences in the localized effects of neoliberal transformation in higher education (Ortiga, 2017), there are some shared elements, including declining public funding, developing and commercializing new technologies for national economic competitiveness, preparing entrepreneurial graduates with high levels of 'human capital,' and the use of private sector logics in institutional management (Nokkala, 2006). This has prompted some concern that internationalization in the Global North is being treated as a means to generate institutional revenues and reproduce epistemic hegemony (Adnett, 2010; Enslin & Hedge, 2008; Haigh, 2008; Johnstone & Lee, 2014; Suspitsyna, 2015; Turner & Robson, 2007).

De Lissovoy (2010) suggests that the "transition to the global represents a moment of opportunity, as familiar frames of reference, organizational structures, and orders of intelligibility weaken" (p. 279). Internationalization indeed offers many opportunities, but it also generates a number of complex, contested, and contradictory political and ethical problems and dilemmas. If Shahjahan and Kezar (2013) are right that the effect of assuming the national boundedness of higher education is to naturalize "unequal power relationships and reduced responsibility for human suffering tied to national boundaries" (p. 27), there is nonetheless no guarantee that relationships will be more equal nor that responsibility to others will be more readily affirmed when the scale of consideration is globalized (De Lissovoy, 2010). To presume that local and global interests will be commensurable or complementary would flatten colonial realities and reproduce myths about the universal, global applicability of what are in fact the particular, local designs of the West (Shahjahan, 2013; Stier, 2004). Indeed, there may be considerable tensions between institutional, national, and global commitments and of different collectives within each, which raises questions without clear answers. For instance, how can institutions in the North enact ethical collaborations with institutions and communities in the South, given their often highly uneven positioning within the global higher education landscape (Collins, 2012; Dixon, 2006)? How does the rush to engage globally affect institutional commitments to address epistemic and material injustice in local contexts (Beck, 2012; Roshanravan, 2012)? On what grounds can universities justify receiving public support without reproducing nationalistic entitlements and exclusions (Brown & Tannock, 2009; Shahjahan & Kezar, 2013)?

Although higher education scholars and practitioners are increasingly attending to such questions and dilemmas, there is no perfect or unproblematic [End Page 9] approach to doing so. Rather than search for a single solution, I use social cartography to consider the complexities and contradictions that characterize how these challenges are conceptualized within critical Western higher education literature about internationalization (particularly in the U.S., UK, Canada, and Australia). Like any analytical approach, mine is limited. To use only English-language literature that largely emphasizes Northern contexts risks reproducing the very Eurocentrism that so many critiques of internationalization problematize. Though I do not claim to have transcended Eurocentric frames of reference in my analysis, this paper, along with others in this special issue, might nonetheless offer useful challenges to the uneven global power relations that are often naturalized and reproduced in the context of internationalization.

Social Cartographies for Engaging Difference

Rolland Paulston developed social cartography as a means to visualize divergent perspectives around shared concerns within a given scholarly community. According to Paulston (2009), "This process of mapping and translating seeks to open up meanings, to uncover limits within cultural fields, and to highlight reactionary attempts to seal borders and prohibit translations" (p. 977). By making explicit the political and theoretical assumptions and investments that otherwise might only remain implicit, cartographies can deepen engagement, name sources of tension, and create opportunities for new approaches to be imagined and practiced (Paulston & Liebman, 1994). Because of this intent, reviewing and mapping the different perspectives on a particular issue is only one part of the social cartography process; bringing the resulting map to relevant communities and inviting their responses is equally important, and will likely result in the production of multiple readings and rearticulations, including the creation of different maps.

In order to remain contingent and multiply possibility, social cartography balances a commitment to identify distinctions between existing, emergent, and even absent narratives of a particular field with a commitment to challenge, deconstruct, and pluralize those narratives (Suša, 2016). In this paper, I specifically employ a post-representational approach that is informed by post-structural and post-colonial critiques of modernist representations that attempt to comprehensively and objectively map (represent) their object of interest. In contrast, a post-representational approach creates a situated map that emphasizes particular tensions and defamiliarizes what is taken for granted (Suša, 2016). In this paper, I specifically identify and highlight distinctions between varied critical approaches to internationalization that might otherwise be overlooked or collapsed into a uniform critique (e.g., distinct conceptualizations of colonialism; different degrees of critique of [End Page 10] capitalism). This approach invites those who engage the map to loosen rather than fix meanings, to recognize the partiality of any perspective, and to encounter incommensurabilities without expecting or imposing order or smooth synthesis (Andreotti, Stein, Pashby & Nicholson, 2016).

For the above reasons, social cartography methods are not meant to be 'replicable' in the way other forms of research might be. Yet as Yamamoto and McClure (2011) suggest, what is lost in non-replicability is balanced by the insights gained from the mapper's strategic juxtaposition of different perspectives to make visible what might otherwise be taken for granted, and therefore create opportunities for moving existing readings into new realms of understanding or experimentation. Thus, the contribution of a map is measured not by how 'accurately' it captures an issue, but rather by the extent to which it facilitates deepened analysis. Because this also hinges significantly on the choices of the mapper, it is crucial to explicitly acknowledge and situate their particular investments (Paulston, 2009). For this paper, my mapping practice was organized by a concern that the pursuit of consensus or thickly prescriptive conclusions in the critical study of internationalization might short-circuit deeper inquiry and discourage difficult or ambivalent questions about how we think about education and its relation to global justice and social change. Contrasting different critical approaches to internationalization is a crucial task because there is more than one way to conceptualize a shared problem of concern, and, as Scott (2004) suggests, "the way one defines an alternative depends on the way one has conceived the problem" (p. 6). Enhancing our literacy around these differences can help us to reconsider or reframe problems from different angles and ultimately respond in more nuanced, strategic, and socially accountable ways.

Critical Approaches to Internationalization

Below I offer a social cartography of critiques of internationalization: soft, radical, and liminal (summarized in Table 1). Importantly, in creating this map, individual papers or authors were not categorized as embodying one of the three approaches; rather, I compiled and read the critical literature as a whole and mapped the distinct contributions, tensions, and limitations that emerged as significant.5 Thus, a single paper or author often had elements of all three approaches, although I do at times cite particular examples for the purposes of illustration. Further, there is significant overlap: all three approaches assert the dangers of neoliberalism and share a general consensus [End Page 11] that internationalization is often "far less innocent" than Knight's oft-cited definition would suggest (Suspitsyna, 2015, p. 24). Finally, the tentative distinctions that I map are open to critique and reframing as part of a necessarily ongoing effort to rethink the ethics and politics of how we study and practice the internationalization of higher education.

To further clarify the distinctions between the different critical approaches, I also consider how each approach addresses the issue of international students, particularly because so much of the effort around internationalization centers on this element. To provide some background, in 2013 over 4.5 million students studied tertiary education outside of their country of citizenship, with over 75% traveling to OECD member countries (OECD, 2015). Over 50% of international students came from Asia, with China and India sending the first and second highest number of students, and the U.S. and U.K. receiving the first and second highest number, respectively. As mentioned above, shifts in international student recruitment rationales began to occur toward the end of the Cold War. O'Mara (2012) describes this shift as one in which "leaders considered foreign students not merely future presidents but future CEOs as well" (p. 601). Today, international student fees are unregulated in many countries and tend to be considerably higher than domestic/public student fees (Bolsmann & Miller, 2008; Ziguras, 2016). International students also bring non-tuition spending, tax revenues, job creation, and innovation to their host nations (Altbach, 2004; Chellaraj, Maskus, & Mattoo, 2008; Owens, Srivastava, & Feerasta, 2011). As in internationalization research more generally, more critical analyses of international student mobility are appearing. However, I can only briefly review the existing literature in order to illustrate the different critical approaches; a more comprehensive review, while important, is beyond the scope of this paper.

Soft Critique

Soft critiques of dominant tendencies in internationalization are calibrated by a normative aspiration that a more civic-oriented model of the university should be reclaimed in the Global North and expanded globally. This model of higher education arose concurrently with the birth of modern nation-states in Europe and arguably reached its apex during the post-World War II era. In this approach, the democratization of access to higher education is highly valued, as is higher education's role in producing citizens and funding research and development in the service of a collective good (Collins, 2012; Shaker & Plater, 2016). This approach identifies significant shortcomings in a narrowly neoliberal approach to internationalization, but it remains supportive of higher education's role in expanding national economic growth in ways that will be sustainable and have broad benefits rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few. [End Page 12]

In part because strong universities are believed to have been primary contributors to the social and economic development of the Global North, soft critiques emphasize that Northern countries should contribute education, training, and technical assistance to Southern countries, so that they may achieve similar success. As a result, this approach is critical of what has been characterized as a post-Cold War move from "aid to trade" in international educational exchange (e.g., Cudmore, 2005; Trilokekar, 2010; Ziguras, 2016). Knight (2014) points out that competition-driven and income-generation projects and programs have increasingly replaced more collaborative and capacity building development initiatives that once drove international educational partnerships, while Johnstone and Lee (2014) lament, "Since the 1990s there has been a shift in Canada's policy from a pursuit of world peace and social justice to the imperial 'center and periphery' dichotomy that characterizes neocolonial globalization with monopolies of wealth, knowledge and power" (p. 212). For Marginson (2006), declining international aid for higher education in "developing nations" is concerning given that "higher education and research are integral to nation-building and to modernised national strategies able to secure purchase in the global setting" (p. 36).

Though some soft critiques may problematize the ideological motivations underlying development aid for higher education in the post-World War II era (e.g., Altbach, 2004), a firm distinction is maintained between North-South educational relationships premised on aid and those oriented by financial interests, with a noted preference for the former. From this perspective, colonialism is not ongoing; it was an historical era that is periodically revived in neo-colonial iterations (Altbach, 2004; Knight, 2014). More so than coloniality, a primary concern is inequality, for instance, the unequal global positioning and power of higher education systems (Marginson, 2006). Concern for equality also aligns with a commitment for higher education to generate global public goods whose benefits exceed national borders. Marginson (2007) asserts, "Global public goods in higher education are the key to a more balanced, globally-friendly, 'win-win' worldwide higher education environment" (p. 331, emphasis in the original).

In line with the idea of shared prosperity and exchange, soft critiques of internationalization are generally committed to revitalizing non-economic dimensions of international engagement, such as cross-/inter-cultural learning and international diplomacy (Lowe, 2015; Trilokekar, 2010; Ziguras, 2016). This includes strong support for programs that educate for the rights and responsibilities of citizenship beyond national boundaries, such as global citizenship. Global citizenship is framed as a more humane, cosmopolitan contrast to the pursuit of international engagements for more narrowly economistic ends (Baillie Smith & Laurie, 2011; Nussbaum, 2002). However, the two may also work in tandem, and the democratic presuppositions [End Page 13] of global citizenship may mask the power relations that striate 'the global' and one's place within it (Stein, 2015). In sum, the soft critical approach assumes that it is possible to achieve a better balance and greater understanding between local and global interests and populations in order to broadly share the benefits of higher education. However, in emphasizing the potential for collaboration, this approach may not always thoroughly address the contradictions and uneven power that shape these interests and situate these populations within a global system that is largely organized around the imperatives of capital accumulation and the preservation of existing architectures of social advantage, wealth, and power.

With regard to international students, soft critiques of trends in recruitment might express concern about the potential for brain drain (i.e., the migration of highly educated students from the Global South to North), which is understood to extract human resources and exacerbate disparities between countries (Altbach & Knight, 2007; Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). Yet soft critiques also emphasize the importance of Global South students studying in the North, as in Marginson's (2006) suggestion that it is possible to improve a country's relative position within the existing global system through "educational imports such as the 'brain return' of 'foreign trained nationals' and attracting 'diasporic investment'" (p. 37; see also Lee & Kim, 2010). Emphasized from this position is also a concern that Western host institutions are dedicating insufficient resources to serving international student needs (Forbes-Mewett & Nyland, 2013; Lowe, 2015; Marginson, 2012; Roberts and Dunworth, 2012). In addition to addressing direct, interpersonal racism experienced by international students (e.g., Brown & Jones, 2013; Lee & Rice, 2007), there is also concern that the students are a vulnerable population with insufficient protections. For instance, Marginson (2012) argues international students should have the same rights and responsibilities as local citizens, although he stops at advocating for them to have voting rights or domestic-level tuition fees (see also the "International Student Mobility Charter" from the European Association for International Education, 2012). Orienting questions about international student mobility from the soft critical approach might therefore be: How can we ensure that both local and international students have access to adequate resources and opportunities to succeed? How can we better ensure that international student mobility is mutually beneficial for students' host and home nations? How can the growing presence of international students support the development of local students' self-conceptualization as collaborative, cosmopolitan global citizens?

Radical Critique

Radical critiques of internationalization are oriented by the idea that universities not only tacitly reproduce but also actively contribute to the reproduction of global inequality and harm. This critique is premised on [End Page 14] concerns that the internationalization of higher education is often a pretense for extending Western nations' economic power and/or cultural and political hegemony. For instance, Tikly (2004) argues, "discourses around education and development have the effect of rendering populations economically useful and politically docile in relation to dominant global interests" (p. 174). Because radical critiques view capitalism, imperialism, and liberalism as tightly linked systems, this results in a more foundational political economic critique and more substantial demands for redistribution than are offered by soft critical approaches (Roy, 2006).

Radical critiques of internationalization problematize how educational institutions contribute to the highly stratified global division of labor and uneven distribution of resources; this includes universities as well as supranational institutions that are involved in higher education policy, like the World Bank (Brown & Tannock, 2009; Collins & Rhoads, 2010). This approach also articulates concerns about the colonial politics of Western knowledge production, which not only devalues non-Western knowledges but also produces colonial representations of the non-West that rationalize Western exceptionalisms and justify Western political and economic interventions abroad (Santos, 2007; Shahjahan, 2013). This pattern of knowledge production has colonial roots (Said, 1978; Smith, 2012; Spivak, 1988; Willinsky, 1998), continued in the Cold War (Bu, 2003; Cummings, 1993; Kamola, 2014), and remains ongoing (Campbell & Murrey, 2014; Chatterjee & Maira, 2014; Paik, 2013; Roy, 2006; Sidhu, 2006). At the same time, within this approach, universities are understood as potentially important spaces from which to resist dominance and "contribute to a more equitable global order" (Enslin & Hedge, 2008, p. 114). Thus, there is critical hope in the subversive potential to "reimagine the university as a site where different kinds of epistemological, methodological, and intellectual projects" can be enacted (Hong, 2008, p. 107).

Radical critiques of internationalization today can be said to have a predecessor in critiques of militarism in higher education during the Cold War offered by traditional disciplines (Kamola, 2014), then-new ethnic studies departments (Hong, 2008), as well as student movements (Chatterjee & Maira, 2014). Radical critiques draw on these traditions of protest and resistance and from more contemporary analyses offered by transnational and women of color feminisms, critical ethnic studies, and anti-/post-/de-colonial studies and social movements in which injustice is identified along overlapping and often-mutually constituting dimensions of domination and discrimination: race, Indigeneity, gender, sexuality, class, language, citizenship, and ability (e.g., Alexander, 2005; Chakravartty & Silva, 2012; Charania, 2011; Crenshaw, 1991; Grewal & Kaplan, 2001; Mignolo, 2011; Mohanty, 1984; Moraga & Anzaldúa, 1981 ; Spivak, 1988). [End Page 15]

As well, some radical critiques point out that in nation-states founded through the colonization of Indigenous peoples, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand, imperial global relations are only made possible through the continuation of colonialism 'at home' (Byrd, 2011; Thobani, 2007a). Thus, while the radical approach offers a much more detailed and comprehensive critique of Western and white global dominance than the soft approach, it also identifies the complex entanglements of local and global racial and colonial injustices. For instance, Brown and Tannock (2009) express concern that when the pool of potential students is expanded from a national to a global scale it may weaken the force of demands to guarantee more opportunities for minoritized local students, to publically subsidize tuition, and to support the interests of the local communities in which institutions are situated (see also Wanyenya & Lester-Smith, 2015). Overall there is a recognition and strong commitment to address the root causes and multiple vectors of oppression that variously implicate or subjugate people in structures of harm in the context of internationalization, not only between but also within the Global North and South (Alexander, 2005; Byrd, 2011; Charania, 2011). Radical critiques are committed to identifying these structures, subjecting them to in-depth analyses, and responding with proposals for reorganizing and reorienting institutions toward the pursuit of greater justice. There is also a commitment for these proposals to centre and be led by those most harmed by social injustice.

With regard to international students, radical critiques question whether what they view as ultimately-arbitrary national borders justify differential access to higher education and higher tuition costs (Enslin & Hedge, 2008). There is concern that international students are being treated as financial and symbolic resources for powerful nations to fight over (Rhee & Sagaria, 2004). For instance, Johnstone and Lee (2014) characterize the recruitment of international students in Canada as a kind of "conquest … achieved through the market" that "contributes to Western nation-building and hegemony" (pp. 211-212). It is also noted that because international tuition is often very costly, this may limit access for less wealthy potential international students in ways that reproduce or exacerbate inequality within their home nations (Lee, Maldonado-Maldonado, & Rhoades, 2006; Rhee & Sagaria 2004; Waters, 2006). In one response to these complexities, Tannock (2013) proposes globalizing what are currently only national equality of opportunity measures, "as part of a broader push for the equitable treatment of international students worldwide" (p. 450). Orienting questions about international students from a radical position might therefore be: What would affirmative action look like on a global scale? How can we expand access to ensure that incoming international students come from a more diverse array of countries, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds (Tannock, 2013; Ziguras, 2016)? [End Page 16] How does the presence of international students offer potential opportunities for transnational solidarity (Indelicato, 2015)?

Liminal Critique

A liminal critical approach to internationalization is still emerging, and for this and other reasons it barely registers within the internationalization literature.6 Often drawing from the same theories and frameworks as radical critiques, including those rooted in anti-/post-/de-colonial, feminist, Indigenous, and ethnic studies literatures and social movements, liminal critiques come to somewhat divergent although potentially complementary conclusions. This approach emphasizes that historical and ongoing processes of racial and colonial violence are not exceptions to or betrayals of the West's purportedly universal modern promises of progress, security, economic growth, and individual autonomy. Rather, this work suggests that these ongoing processes of subjugation are precisely what enables the production of the symbolic and material value that is necessary to fulfil those modern promises–in other words, they are the conditions of possibility for the modern world (Dussel, 1998; Mendoza, 2013; Mignolo, 2011; Silva, 2007; Spivak, 1988; Wynter, 2003). These processes include dispossession, displacement, enslavement, incarceration, exploitation, and resource extraction. This offers a significant challenge to the soft critical notion that it is possible and desirable to universally extend the promises of Western liberal democracy to the whole world, given that the white West's prosperity, power, and stability are understood to largely be a product of subjugation.

Not unlike what critical race theorists assert about racism (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012), empire is understood to be embedded in everyday life (Coloma, 2013). Thus, for example, the potential harms of internationalization, such as Northern universities taking advantage of Southern partners, exploitation or objectification of non-Western international students, or the reproduction of colonial paternalism through volunteer abroad programs, are understood not as exceptional acts but rather as normalized within the ongoing condition of colonial modernity. However, liminal critiques also point out that in order to assert its place as the benevolent leader of humanity, the white West continuously disavows its imperial entanglements (Fletcher, 2012; Spivak, 1988). Because of this, the task of untangling the ever-evolving knots of empire [End Page 17] is an enormous, non-linear, and contradictory process, including within the context of internationalization. This work requires denaturalizing and actively dismantling sedimented social, political, and economic architectures, enacting significant redress and reparations at symbolic and material levels, and confronting the West's stubborn and supremacist self-conceptions.

The liminal critique expresses concern that many existing internationalization programs, partnerships, and community engagements naturalize and uncritically expand colonial and capitalist modes of schooling, knowledge production, and social, political, and economic organization. This in turn contributes to the reduction of alternative possibilities for existence by erasing, invalidating, or actively destroying those ways of knowing and being that do not adhere to and/or offer significant challenges to modern educational promises and imperatives. Specifically, liminal critiques suggest that modern institutions, including universities, tend to activate and amplify particular investments and desires, including: accumulating knowledge that describes the world in an effort to control it; pursuing a single, linear story of human progress; and centering the autonomous individual and her pursuit of autonomy and affluence (Andreotti, 2014). Often these norms are assumed to simply be 'human nature,' but in fact they emerge out the specific history of the modern West and are asserted as universal (Wynter, 2003).

This problematization critiques both capitalism (neoliberal and liberal) and nation-states. The critique of the nation-state extends beyond a challenge to exclusionary nationalisms to a critique of the bounded, sovereign nation-state as a violent form in itself, in that it requires the commodification and enclosure of land for its founding, the militarized defense of borders, and the racialized and gendered management, containment, and ordering of internal populations in perpetuity (Spade, 2011; Walia, 2013). Arguing that the modern university would be unimaginable without both capitalism and the nation-state, and that it was founded within the same entanglements of empire (Andreotti, Stein, Ahenakew, & Hunt, 2015; Mignolo, 2003; Nandy, 2000; Wilder, 2013), this position demands a serious rethinking of higher education 'as we know it' and asks whether or not justice can be found within it, even as immediate harm reduction measures must be sought. At the same time, liminal critiques recognize the contradictions and even impossibilities of dismantling existing systems, institutions, and conceptual frames. This is the case not only because of the difficulty of challenging accumulated architectures of power, but also because even those who desire something radically different are also embedded and complicit in these same social architectures (Andreotti et al., 2015; Mitchell, 2015). Thus, this approach explores the edges and paradoxical limits of what is imaginable and what appears impossible–hence, liminal. In one example of inhabiting the contradictions of a liminal critical space, Agathangelou et al. (2015) consider the [End Page 18] possibility of "disinvesting" in higher education by changing one's relation and attachments to it, without preemptively exiting it:

We distinguish divesting from empire (that is, removing our lives, labor, and bodies from institutions of violence and war) from disinvesting in empire. Disinvesting in empire is an active project of building up alternative institutions and social relations so as to "crowd out" empire, much like prison abolitionists speak of the "positive abolition" of slavery that remains to have been completed (Davis 2003).

(p. 142)

Those offering a liminal critique of internationalization are similarly examining the contradictory possibilities of remaining within a harmful system, while also rethinking their attachments to it and exploring and experimenting with alternatives.

Like radical critiques, liminal critiques of current trends in international student recruitment attend to stratification within and between the North and South and consider how this reproduces differential life chances both locally and within international students' home countries, and often serves to expand Western influence and strengthen the reach of capitalist norms. The concern is to meet the immediate needs of international students while at the same time examining the conceptual frames and political forces that shape their recruitment and reception, and that also shape the students' own motivations for pursuing higher education abroad. Questions that might orient liminal critical approaches about international students are: What are the reasons for, and implications of, the globally growing desire to access Western higher education? What intersecting contexts and histories contribute to the production of the international student subject position as potentially both privileged and vulnerable? Why are the primary possibilities for institutional relationships to international students limited to treating them as customers, or as recipients of the West's benevolently granted knowledge, and what would be required to think beyond these two narrow possibilities?

Summary of Critiques and Their Contrasts

The soft critical perspective articulates a critique of neoliberalism and emphasizes the need for a better balance between the power of the market and the nation-state. It is likely that critiques of internationalization articulated from this perspective are the most numerous, as well as the most widely intelligible. The concerns they articulate draw on commonsense notions that the West has reached a certain level of progress and development, and that it has a duty to share its experience and knowledge with others. While there is some critical recognition of the possibility of resurgent colonial or imperial relationships, these terms are narrowly understood and not thought to be [End Page 19]

Table 1. Summary of critical approaches to higher education (HE) interna tiona lization
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Table 1.

Summary of critical approaches to higher education (HE) interna tiona lization

[End Page 20] endemic to ongoing geopolitical relations or to capitalism in general. This can obscure the violent histories and relational dynamics in which Western prosperity is, and has been, achieved. This perspective also works from a normative ideal of formal equality between all nations and meritocratic global economic equality of opportunity. The non-West is not presumed to be equal yet, but it is thought that it can 'catch up' with Western assistance. In this way, while the soft critical approach importantly contests the shift toward income generation-driven internationalization practices, it may also contribute to the reproduction of paternalistic, depoliticized narratives about Western altruism. For instance, radical and liminal critiques have identified how mainstream global citizenship-oriented programs often serve as a vehicle for (predominately white) Western students' self-actualization (Jefferess, 2008) and may assert as universal what are in fact white, Western political and ethical norms that are neither equally available to nor desired by all (Lee, 2014).

Radical and liminal critiques also contest income-generation driven practice, but resist what they view as the repackaging of developmental logics in soft critique. The often explicitly antagonistic stance of radical critiques demand the affirmation of difference and the redistribution of material and other resources. This approach critiques both the nation-state and capitalism, and calls for their significant transformation if not their dismantling. Although these demands may be unpalatable to some, they are fairly legible in that they offer a direct and principled refutation of existing values, ideals, or practices. Radical critiques of internationalization demand that marginalized voices be centred within curricula, and that international partnerships operate on the basis of solidarity with oppressed peoples and in contestation of Western and/or capitalist power. If such demands are met, the result can be an opening or renewed protection of important spaces for pluralizing perspectives and speaking back to harmful practices.

Yet while radical critique offers an important contestation of how neoliberal approaches and even some soft critiques maintain the West as the economic center, it may suggest that once we have identified, and disidentified with, harmful structures, we are no longer a part of them (Moallem, 2006). According to liminal approaches, no matter how much we oppose or disrupt capitalist and colonial relations, this does not mean that we have ceased to be embedded in them as subjects constituted within larger structures (Lee, 2014). The liminal perspective might therefore ask of the radical perspective: What assures us that the incorporation of subjugated knowledges and peoples will lead to disruption and radical institutional transformation instead of institutions instrumentalizing them as a means to relegitimize and thereby enable continuation of the status quo? To what extent is it possible to transform institutions whose foundations and ongoing maintenance are so intimately entangled with empire? [End Page 21]

Liminal critiques suggest the need to not only identify and address the gaps between ideals of justice and the current practice of internationalization, but also to consider how attachments to modern promises and institutional imperatives continue to frame even our most critical approaches to higher education, and thereby circumscribe what it is possible for us to imagine, including how we imagine the future of the university and justice itself. Like radical critiques, liminal critiques problematize both the nation-state and capitalism, and support immediate harm ameliorative measures. However, liminal perspectives emphasize the need for critical self-reflexivity about our shared but unevenly distributed vulnerability and complicity in violent and unsustainable systems and structures. This perspective is committed to experimenting with alternative educational forms (the likely failure of which is understood to be an important learning experience), rather than channelling all energies into transforming existing institutions.

From the soft critical perspective, the liminal perspective may appear impractical, particularly when it remains at the level of abstraction. In response, the liminal perspective might suggest that existing systems are themselves unsustainable and harmful, and in that sense no more 'practical' than its own position. At the same time, it is important to remember that grappling with the limits of what is possible is not an end in itself and does not preclude targeted actions to demand redress, mitigate existing harms, or try new experiments. Rather, a liminal critical approach encourages that, in imagining new possibilities and choosing any particular intervention, we take seriously the ways in which we (and our choices) are constituted relationally, in the context of (global) ethical-political structures that we have inherited and inhabit, even as we are critiquing them.

Scott (2004) suggests academic research often becomes unwittingly trapped in a cycle in which we continuously provide new answers to the same questions without pausing to historicize those questions or asking what might have changed and what new kinds of questions are begged by the current context. By mapping the different political and theoretical commitments that animate critiques of internationalization in a dynamic and relational format, post-representational social cartography can generate discussions that, rather than merely proliferating alternatives within the same frames, rethink the frame itself. Engaging difference without demanding a commitment to any one approach can open up strategic interventions inspired by any one or more than one of the three critical possibilities (along with other possibilities not mapped here), depending on what is possible within and demanded by a particular context. Taking such an approach to scholarship and practice might enable us to avoid the traps of either enacting "preemptive closure" or remaining "forever inconclusive" (Bauman, 2000, p. 43) in our efforts to address the complexities of internationalization in higher education. [End Page 22]


Much has been written about how internationalization can enable universities to produce more relevant knowledge and better prepare students for personal and professional success in an increasingly volatile, complex, and uncertain world. Even when framed in a way that ostensibly opens up new possibilities for knowing, being, and relating, in many cases calls for rethinking our international educational engagements are motivated by underlying anxieties: about growing competition and the potential loss of Western nations' exceptionalism, and their historical (unearned) economic and political advantage (George-Jackson, 2008; Tannock, 2007); about the unassimilable difference of the other (Brown, 2009; Povinelli, 2011); about conflict and dissensus, instead of the more comforting (false) promises of consensus (Suspitsyna, 2012); and about our own vulnerability, particularly to the very structures of harm that we have previously used against others in the name of our own self-preservation (Butler, 2004; Thobani, 2007b).

For this reason, as higher education institutions, scholars, and practitioners have responded to (or, in some cases, made) these calls to rethink internationalization, we have often done so according to inherited modes of problem solving without questioning the framing of the problem itself (Bauman, 2000). As a result, we may circularly try using the very tools that caused contemporary problems in order to solve them, thereby narrowing rather than pluralizing possible futures (Nandy, 2000).

The desire to minimize uncertainty and risk in an intensely connected world can also lead educators and researchers to arrogantly overstate the predictive and problem-solving capacity of modern knowledge (Morin, 1999). Considerable harm has resulted from earlier efforts to engineer human progress and guarantee certain outcomes; the imperative to maintain (the illusions of) security, control, and our own innocence has been used to justify the production and mobilization of knowledge in the service of preventative measures, extractive mechanisms, and modes of governance that diminish others' well-being and life chances (Nandy, 2000; Smith, 2012). If we do not find a way to interrupt these cycles of harm and reorient our desires toward different horizons, then we may continue to repeat them–that is, until the planet itself can no longer hold us. In order to imagine higher education differently, we may need to first historicize and denaturalize existing educational patterns, and face the complexities, complicities, and contradictions that make up our current system. This would likely include acknowledging our own investments in this system, and honestly assessing the gifts, harms, and limits of existing regimes of knowledge, including our own critiques. As long as we fail to do so, we may lose the opportunity to nurture other kinds of relations, experiment with other ways of knowing, and imagine other worlds than the one we have inherited. [End Page 23]

Sharon Stein

Sharon Stein is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of British Columbia. Her work examines the social foundations and critical political economy of higher education, with an emphasis on transnational relations.


I would like to thank the two anonymous peer reviewers, and the guest editors of this special issue, in particular Amy Metcalfe, as well as Dallas Hunt and Vanessa Andreotti, all of whom offered invaluable feedback on earlier versions of this paper.

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1. Others resist a fixed definition of internationalization, and instead highlight the varied, conflicting ideologies and investments that surround it (e.g., Callan, 2000; Hughes-Warrington, 2012; Stier, 2004; Turner & Robson, 2007).

2. I credit Amy Metcalfe with coining this term.

3. Today, rather than Europe and its others, we may be more likely to describe the division between West and its others, with the West including not only Europe but also the European settler colonies that became nation-states, like the U.S., Canada, Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and South Africa, where Europeans and their descendents have sought to displace Indigenous peoples assert European (white) domination.

4. The term "internationalization" itself only came into popular use during the 1990s, with "international education" having been the previously preferred term (de Wit, 2014).

5. This mapping is an offshoot of my dissertation research as well as my work producing a literature review for a multi-national research project about the ethics of internationalization (EIHE Project, 2013).

6. My use of liminal bears no direct relation to its use by Homi Bhabha (1994) in his famous theorization of hybridity. I selected the term to indicate a commitment to examining and inhabiting the limits/edges of justice in existing ethical and political frameworks, critiques, subjectivities, and economic and political relations. It does have some (unintended, but felicitous) resonances with Ladson-Billings' (1998) evocation of liminality in the conclusion of her path-breaking article on the use of critical race theory in education.

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