Critical Internationalization or Critical Internationalization Studies is a paradigm/framework emerging within the last decade, as a response to normative approaches to internationalization. As a leading scholar of Critical Internationalization Studies, Sharon Stein observes, “Critically oriented scholars and practitioners increasingly problematize the overwhelmingly positive and depoliticized approaches to internationalization that tend to dominate in universities, and identify the continuation of enduring patterns of Eurocentric knowledge production, exploitative relationships, and inequitable access to resources” (Stein 2021). Critically oriented scholars use methods from across academic and de-colonial spaces to challenge normative approaches.

Taking a critical internationalization approach involves challenging the status quo, in which internationalization itself may be viewed as neutral or normative. Critically oriented scholars (joining up with humanist and constructivist scholars as well) argue that mainstream internationalization advocates present the phenomenon of internationalization as a natural “force” or unquestioned assumption, much like globalization, and have normative theories of how “internationalization works.” They identify many of these theories with Western oriented, Eurocentric approaches to knowledge production and dissemination.

Critical approaches can vary widely. They may take the form of a revision of comprehensive internationalization, which has led leading scholars of internationalization to the formulation of “Internationalization for Society.” Others tend to see a need for rebalancing and radical redefinition.


Sharon Stein (2021) Critical internationalization studies at an impasse: making space for complexity, uncertainty, and complicity in a time of global challenges, Studies in Higher Education, 46:9, 1771-1784


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  • A New Definition of Internationalization of Higher Education – GlobalEd

    […] George Mwangi & Yao (2021) explain that “research on internationalization often centers the USA as the unit of comparison, thus contributing to academic imperialism. Higher education has become the new imperialism, with US institutions dominating” (p.267).  In recent years, a rise in research from researchers from the Global South began to diversify the analytical lens and confront this global dominance and influence. Research into areas of international student issues, access & equity in study abroad and new models of internationalisation have thus emerged, offering alternatives to the previous definitions, approaches and points of view. Much of the literature which defined internationalisation reflected neutral values-systems (Knight, 2012; George Mwangi & Yao, 2021). As stated by George Mwangi & Yao (2021, p.555), “Internationalisation is not just embedded in systems of power; rather, it is a tool used to wield power and therefore cannot be neutral. The process, concept, and construction of internationalization have power in defining which people, organizations, locations/environments, processes, outcomes, and (research) agendas are centered or silenced when HEIs engage globally.” The influence of globalisation on internationalisation continues to perpetuate the unequal power dynamics that distinguish nations and parallel those distinctions between institutions (Matapo & McFall-McCaffery, 2022; Maringe & de Wit, 2016; George Mwangi & Yao, 2021; see also GlobalEd’s page on Critical Internationalization).  […]

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