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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Contested imaginaries of global justice in the internationalization of higher education Stein, Sharon


An emergent ‘critical turn’ in the study and practice of higher education internationalization has generated incisive analyses of the ethical and political implications of international engagements. This reflexive moment, however, also risks renaturalizing an imperial global imaginary, which I trace in this dissertation to the fact that higher education scholars and practitioners in the Global North have yet to substantively unpack the transnational colonial dimensions of the modern Western university. I argue that practitioners and scholars of internationalization have an obligation to face higher education’s historical and contemporary complicity in empire, as well as our own. This is particularly necessary in the context of nation-states that were founded through conquest, and whose ongoing colonial entanglements have both local and global dimensions. Working from a decolonial orientation and an underlying commitment to denaturalize violent and unsustainable patterns of thinking, being, and relating, I ask how inherited frames of liberal justice and humanist theories of change operate in the mainstream study and practice of internationalization in the United States and Canada. In the areas of curriculum internationalization, international student mobility, and global citizenship, I identify a tendency to reassert as universal what are in fact situated, partial, and often Euro-supremacist epistemological and ontological assumptions about the world and the purposes of higher education. Further, these assumptions often calibrate even critical scholarship, which largely remains enframed by what is possible and desirable within the frames of colonial modernity and its promises of security, prosperity, and universality. By identifying the limits of justice within these frames, there is an opportunity to think, be, and relate differently, but at these moments of possibility there is also a tendency to seek out the old comforts and assurances promised by imperial frames. To interrupt this circular tendency requires tracing both the immediate symptoms and the root causes of global injustice, attending to our enduring attachments to the promises offered by the colonial architectures of modern existence, and making a commitment to wrestle with the complexities and difficulties of learning from past mistakes, disinvesting from harmful systems and subjectivities, and experimenting responsibly with alternative possibilities.

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